Angst for the memories


By Will McKinley

Grown-up writers share their adolescent shame on stage and in print

At the age of twelve, Sara Barron was the cutest little pornographer you ever did see.

Perhaps some explanation is in order. Now a twenty-something writer, Barron is one of many contributors to “Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic,” a painfully hilarious collection of adolescent embarrassments such as diary entries, notes, lyrics, poems and yes, even young adult erotica. At a recent live “Mortified” show at the Tank in Tribeca, Barron (with a cast of supporting players) performed an excerpt from the “epically dirty movie script” she wrote as a misguided youth. Who knew that porn could be so cute?

“Mortified” (which includes a photo of the pubescent Barron with a totally awesome side ponytail) is without question the funniest, laugh out loud book I have read in quite some time. And the live version of Mortified is the funniest, laugh out loud show I have seen in quite some time. Even the Mortified website (www.getmortified.com) is a hoot. The whole concept — adults sharing teenage schadenfreude — is one of those why-didn’t-somebody-think-of-this-sooner enterprises that immediately touches a collective nerve. And, from the waves of knowing laughter that swept through the capacity crowd at the Tank, it would appear that the time has come to get “Mortified.”

Created by David Nadelberg (who also edited the book) “Mortified” is an old-fashioned, grass-roots success story. The celebration of adolescent angst was born when Nadelberg found a “wretchedly lame unsent love letter” from high school and read it to his roommates. Next came a live “Mortified” show in Los Angeles in 2002, followed by the expansion of the franchise to multiple cities and now, appropriately, a triumphant return to the page.

The live shows have become notoriously hot tickets, and the recent, packed-to-the-rafters New York City installment was no different. A line of excited twenty-somethings snaked down Church Street in the blustery winter chill. Once inside, a greatest hits collection of 80’s pop hits provided a cheesy overture to the live performance of high- (and low) lights from the book.

“Can you turn off the music?” co-host Giulia Rozzi pleaded, as she opened the show with a reading from her seventh grade diary. Rozzi, a self-possessed young comedian who looks like she might have played Rizzo in a high school production of “Grease,” shared with the audience her tale of unrequited preteen love.

“What do I want from this thing called life?” the budding existentialist asked her diary. Apparently the answer was “a Guido named Jimmy.” He may have broken her heart back in ‘91, but who’s laughing now, huh Jimmy?

Next, Anne Altman took the stage, wearing a black and white dress that looked like an Escher drawing. She read from a composition book (also black and white — coincidence?), but her offerings were not diary entries. They were transcriptions of rambling, stream-of-consciousness notes passed back and forth between Altman and a popular girl named Melissa in junior high school — instant messaging 1.0.

For the next hour, a collection of performers took the stage to share their shame. Some were polished. Some were raw. All were real, and very funny.

“I’m not really ready for a relationship,” newly minted teen Rylan Morrison wrote way back in 1992. More than fourteen years later, her precociousness was met with bent-over laughter from the predominantly female audience.

Former small-town farm boy Jake Goldstein represented for the male portion of the crowd, regaling the audience with tales of his mercifully brief stint as a teen rapper in an ensemble known as the Smooth Boyz. His tight rhymes about crack smoking and Elizabethan sonnets proved that young men also have plenty to be embarrassed about.

Brianna Jacobson, the youngest performer on the show, shared a poem she wrote in tribute to actor Seth Green way back in 2001(!) If it’s true that tragedy + time = comedy, Jacobson left this reviewer unsure about whether her teenage wounds had fully healed. Maybe things can still work out, Brianna!

Next came Barron, whose hysterically unsexy teen porn left the audience in stitches. This is where “Mortified” truly shined brightest. What is more relatable than youthful confusion about sex? We’ve all felt it. Fortunately, unlike the rest of us, Barron chose to commit hers to paper.

Ari Scott, at age 32 the apparent senior member of the angst patrol, read her 1988 diary entries about her love for a boy named Evan — and a presidential candidate named George. They were half diary/half political commentary. Scott was a wonkette before Ana Marie Cox ever picked up a pen.

“Just as a final note,” she added. “I’m no longer a Republican.” It was the evening’s only apology.

The show concluded with John Friedman, whose school-assigned journal was partially forged by his older brother. The teacher must have enjoyed the bogus, obscenity-laden posting: Friedman got an 84 on the assignment, a fact that the audience found to be applause-worthy.

Co-host Brandy Barber provided a bittersweet epilogue to the evening with the announcement of her New Year’s Resolutions for 1989, which included making love to then 46-year-old Mick Jagger and Dave Gahan, the gay lead singer of Depeche Mode.

For Brandy’s sake, I hope these loves — like all the rest of those shared by her partners in Mortification — remain forever unrequited.