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Poor, Poor, Pitiful Us

Dave Nadelberg '97 finds humor in the heartaches of youth.

Imagine unlocking that top-secret diary you kept as a kid and reading of your teenage angst—when you just knew it wasn’t puppy love, and there was no such thing as a foolish heart—from your perspective today. If the thought of that makes you cringe, imagine reading those entries aloud to an audience full of total strangers—or publishing the entries for the entire world to read.

Well, this is exactly what onetime television-radio major/creative writing minor Dave Nadelberg ’97 has done for the past four years, mortifying not only himself but also scores of others—simultaneously entertaining audiences around the country.

In his mid-20s Dave discovered, tucked away in a shoebox, an unsent love letter that he had written to his teenage crush. After reading it out loud and finding it both mortifying and quite hysterical, he figured he couldn’t be the only one with such embarrassing high-school secrets.

Dave decided to create a stage show featuring ordinary adults sharing their real-life stories of teenage mortification. In 2002, despite having no experience with stage productions, he introduced Mortified to Los Angeles audiences. Today Mortified routinely packs houses in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco with people eager to watch others be humiliated. So far there have been more than 80 performances, and there is no sign of the show’s popularity waning. “What excites me about Mortified is the message we’re sending about survival,” says Dave. “You can walk away from Mortified knowing that no matter who you were as a kid or where you grew up, we all had drama to varying degrees. It felt huge to us then, but now, as adults, we realize the drama doesn’t go away but we can handle it.”

Mortified creator David Nadelberg sparked a craze for spilling deep, painful secrets; the book (also see "Turn & Spin,") may incite a new craze.

Comedian-writer Giulia Rozzi ’00 produces both Mortified NYC and Mortified Boston, and TV-radio graduate Neil Katcher ’98 coproduces Mortified LA. Along with many other Ithaca alumni, they have shared their own teen ignominies with audiences. Dave didn’t particularly seek out Ithaca graduates, but somehow they found him. “You’ve got to be good at playing yourself,” he deadpans, “and you’ve got to have written something pretty atrocious. Ithaca has put out a lot of people in those categories!”

Now, just when everyone thought a stage show was debasement enough, these tales of teenage angst have become a book: in November Simon Spotlight Entertainment published Dave’s Mortified: The Big Book of Angst (Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic.). It’s a collection of diary entries and unmailed (and mailed) letters to friends, former friends, sweethearts, and would-be sweethearts. Among the other contributors are Neil and Giulia (who are credited as associate editors on the book), Gabe Lewis ’97, and Amy Woods ’99.

The Mortified phenomenon celebrates, and makes light of, those dorky teenage years when the majority of us were (or at least felt) weird, awkward, and alone. “Everyone can relate in some form,” says Dave, “to the incredibly candid, often funny, definitely pathetic, not always grammatical, overly dramatic, and always real words on the page.”

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What a Team!
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Love of Her Life