'Mortified' Finds Success in Public Humiliation A Hollywood stage show has become a hit by playing juvenile angst for laughs. Mortified features adults from all walks of life reading aloud from diaries, letters and poems they composed as teens for the amusement of total strangers.

'Mortified' Finds Success in Public Humiliation

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

You know all that really embarrassing stuff you did when you were a kid, things you're glad no one knows now? Well, those experiences are the stuff of a hit show in Los Angeles called "Mortified." A couple of times a month, people read aloud from diaries, letters and poems they composed in the depths of juvenile angst. It's all for the amusement of total strangers, including NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Who knew public humiliation would become so hip? As the audience for "Mortified" begins to pour into the M Bar in Hollywood, producer Dave Nadelberg said he unexpectedly rediscovered his own mortifying past about three years ago when he came across a love letter he wrote to a high school classmate named Leslie(ph).

Mr. DAVE NADELBERG (Producer, "Mortified"): And it tries very, very, very, very hard to impress her on so many levels. I try to be sweet, so I'm referencing, you know, `I love sunsets and volleyball and candles, and I love John Cusack movies.' And then I try to be, like, funny, so I'm referencing ninjas and, you know, things that really butter up a 16-year-old girl. It fails on every single level.

JAFFE: Nadelberg, now 30, read the letter to some of his grown-up friends.

Mr. NADELBERG: It was just fun, and I thought maybe there's other people out there who are even worse writers than I am. And it turns out that there are a lot.

Ms. ALEXA ALEMANNI (Actress): Hi. My name's Alexa, and...

JAFFE: Alexa Alemanni explains she was an intense and obsessive kid.

Ms. ALEMANNI: So when I was 15, I spent a summer at a musical theater camp, and I feel deeply, deeply in love with Steve, Stephen, the clarinet player from Milwaukee.

JAFFE: And despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing between them, she spent months writing him letter after letter, about 50 in all, and she kept every single draft.

Ms. ALEMANNI: My reply to his reply, draft one. `Steve, do you remember this place? Do you remember the touch of synthetic fabric? Do you remember the touch of your hand on my face? Do we not speak of such things? Do you think of me? What do you see behind my mask, my untouchable heart? Maybe I can show it to you sometime. Alexa.' Discarded that one.

JAFFE: Alexa Alemanni is an actress. There are a lot of actors and writers performing on this particular night. Not surprising; it's Hollywood; that's who lives here. But Nadelberg says over the past couple of years, there have been more than 100 performers, and they've come from all walks of life, especially in the "Mortified" shows that have recently started up in New York and San Francisco. On this night in Hollywood, an architect takes the stage, Gabriel Antonio Lopez.

Mr. GABRIEL ANTONIO LOPEZ (Architect): So I'm from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Basically I grew up a very mean kid. I used to make fun of every single person in my neighborhood in a very mean and cruel way. I will make songs about them and I will sing them and force them to listen to me until they cry. So...

JAFFE: Of course, Lopez's songs are all in Spanish, and "Mortified's" rules bar changing the source material, so he's joined on stage by translator Daniel Kirschner.

Mr. LOPEZ: Here we go. (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. DANIEL KIRSCHNER (Translator): I have a friend, and his name is Albert. We call him the cheese ball, the cheese ball.

JAFFE: The motto of "Mortified" is `Personal redemption through public humiliation.' But Lopez, who has never before performed anything anywhere, doesn't really feel humiliated; he feels like a star.

Mr. LOPEZ: As soon as I take that microphone, I just close my eyes and I feel that I'm home, and I feel comfortable with the crowd and I just go on, go with the flow.

JAFFE: "Mortified" has gotten so popular that it's attracted the interest of some celebrities, says producer Dave Nadelberg. But they lose interest quickly, he says, when they find out they have to audition. Yes, you have to audition to be in "Mortified." Not every 13-year-old's deepest feelings and creepy confessions are interesting to other people, and nearly half of those volunteering to publicly embarrass themselves are rejected. How mortifying is that? Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

BLOCK: And if you're still hungry for mortifying prose, go to npr.org. You can hear and read diary entries by Melissa Wolfe. When she was 13, she filled 200 pages writing about her crush on the boy next door.

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