February 8, 1984: Today, Victor told the whole fifth grade that I kissed Tommy, and he also told my math teacher, and he said he was going to put it in the newspaper. If he does, I will put something mean about him in it. I think my relationship with Tommy will last longer since I kissed her.
Well, not always. Though Nadelberg and Katcher don't write any of the material - it's always taken verbatim from childhood scribbles - there is an editing process. This is entertainment, after all. So funnier stuff is extracted and condensed to a quick and concise dialogue until the producers are convinced it will not only hold an audience's attention but keep them in stitches as well. Therefore, wannabe actors and comedians have a leg up on social workers from UCLA and writers from American Way.
"Though the idea is deceptively simple, we are in no way an open-mike, teen-diary free-for-all," says Nadelberg, who goes by the title of creator-producer-angstologist. "And while our show is certainly not rocket science, there is a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of shaping each piece for the stage. We craft each piece into unique autobiographical tales that we call a 'diagraphy.' It's a very odd transformation process - comedic, cathartic, and creepily voyeuristic."
Steve Scaia, whose writing credits include Judging Amy and Jericho, was in similar shoes to mine when he auditioned for Mortified. It was clear that he was better off out of the spotlight. But Nadelberg and Katcher worked with Scaia to extract a story from two years' worth of childhood letters he had written to Mr. Belvedere (yeah, that Mr. Belvedere) and ensured that Scaia delivered it on stage in a humorous way. It's now one of Mortified's most popular routines. Seems like a no-brainer - after all, what 12-year-old would spend two years of his or her life writing to a fictional television character? Hysterical.
"It was a school assignment," says Scaia. "The teacher had us keep a journal and told us it would be easier if we kept it as a letter to a friend. But - this is where it's pathetic - I was a fat kid. I didn't have any friends. All I did was watch TV. At the end of every episode of Mr. Belvedere, he would write in his journal, so I locked into that and started writing to Mr. Belvedere."
Scaia, no longer overweight and now an I-told-you-so Hollywood writing success by the standards of his Midwestern upbringing, felt vindicated after performing for Mortified. "When I was a kid at my most miserable, I remember thinking, 'Someday I'm not going to be like this. I'm going to be a somebody. I'm going to build a time machine and go back in time and find my fat little crying self in my room all alone and say, It's okay. You're going to grow up to be this.' Reading the diary, I thought, 'Wow. I really did do this, everything but the time machine.' I got a standing ovation."
Mortified has been so successful that Nadelberg has inked a book deal with Simon Spotlight Entertainment, a division of Simon & Schuster. Mortified in book form, due this November, will anthologize most of the best material from the shows, as well as diagraphies of teen spirit thus far unperformed.
Who knows? Maybe mine will end up there, because it’s clear my performance needs months of fine-tuning if I intend to ever present it on stage. In the meantime, I’ve been paid for this article, so I suppose all those diary entries weren’t written in vain after all.
For more information on Mortified, or to find a show near you, visit www.getmortified.com.