‘Mortified’: a night of humiliation

Lissette Vargas

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A group of people tell stories from their humiliating childhood diaries, journals, and love letters for the ‘Mortified’ stage show at the DNA lounge. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)

Six hundred and fifty people crowded the DNA Lounge last Friday where brave adults stepped behind a microphone to share excerpts from their humiliating childhood diaries, journals, and love letters.

Gray, a petite blond appears on stage with a seventy page blue spiral notebook in her hand. Confidently, she begins to read from her middle school journal that chronicles her seven-day plan to get her crush to fall in love with her; it is titled “Operation Metamorphosis.”

The self-conscious child writes about taping back her big ears as an attempt to get him to like her. Instead of love, the act lands her a humiliating moment worthy to take the stage at Mortified. In front of her crush, the tape comes undone and her ears pop out. He looks are her in wonder and asks, “What’s that behind your ear?” In sheer panic she says, “It’s tape… yeah it is.”

The purpose of Mortified is to “crack the lid off our cultural shoebox and expose our inner geek,” listed on their website. Back in the late 1990s, Dave Nadelberg began sharing old embarrassing love letters with his friends. They cultivated their first show in 2002, when they brought together a diverse group of people who wanted a chance to redeem themselves from their past through mortification.

The show has now grown with branches across the country including performances in Austin, Portland, and Brooklyn. This fall, the show crossed a new platform with a documentary streaming on Netflix, Mortified Nation. The documentary follows performers as they audition, go on stage and answer the question of why they would agree to reading their intimate diaries to a room full of strangers. The film hopes to remind us that we all share the same pains and struggles and inspire us to take what once brought you shame and laugh about it.

The DNA Lounge is home to Mortified San Francisco the second Friday of every month. New performers are constantly gathered to ensure a new and unforgettable show every time.

The doors open an hour before start time and almost instantly the few seats near the front of the stage are taken. The late arrivers quickly fill any open space along the balcony upstairs and around the stage’s perimeter. The sold out show’s crowd patiently waited with a pizza in one hand and an alcoholic beverage from the bar in the other.

The show begins with a brief introduction from the house band, The Freeze, whose improvised hip-hop routine is sparked by inspiration from the performer’s most embarrassing tales.

Tonight’s show was made up of five performers whose childhood tales were each funnier than the next. The diary entries included passages of insecurities, sexual tension, and quests for self-identity.

Younger, nerdy Sarah meets her dreamy badass boyfriend at the age of fourteen despite her parents’ conservative upbringing. Her act is made up of the notes they would pass back and forth in high school Spanish class and letters from the summer they were forced apart by their parents.

Katie’s journal was filled with details of her horny make-out sessions from her sixteenth summer of love. “Dear journal, Aaron asked me out last night. We dry fucked so much my twat bone hurts. My twat bone is still kind of sore but not really. Love always, Kate,” she reads from her journal.

Will, who was dubbed the “gay kid” at school, got the most awws from the audience because he was constantly beat up at school. “A kid said he’s going to kick my ass. I don’t even know him. I don’t know anybody,” he reads from his diary.

Sometimes it is easier to laugh at others than to laugh at yourself. This comedy show full of real people sharing their most intimate thoughts with strangers is almost therapeutic for those who come to watch. The show reminds us of the awkward years that make up our childhood memories and give us an opportunity to remember that we are not alone.

The show ends with a simple memorable statement from the MC, “We are freaks. We are fragile. We all survive.“