David Nadelberg’s “The Mortified Sessions” is one of the quirkiest and most unique programs of any season.
Nadelberg’s concept is based on a stage production called “The Mortified Project.” Years ago David rediscovered a particularly awful love letter that he wrote in high school. He knew great material when he saw it and he knew that surely he couldn’t be the only one who’d kept embarrassing adolescent writings, or photographs or recordings. How right he was. Of course there’s a landslide of subject matter and in 2002 the stage production was born.
Last year saw the premiere of “The Mortified Sessions” on the Sundance Channel. This year the program was renewed, and there’s a documentary about the stage show in the works.
David Nadelberg glad to be back on Sundance
Speaking to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News from his home in Los Angeles, Nadelberg observes:
“On the surface it seems like a comedic show, especially from the title, but it really is a comforting show. Things like nostalgia plays quite a bit, but there’s a relatability that we’re able to get to with this show that I think you pretty much can’t find on television.
“Television tends to be a place where there’s a lot of reality but not necessarily a lot of honesty. I feel that this show is an opportunity for some really refreshing and raw human emotion. When you get people to talk about their past, it stirs up a lot. They become a little rough around the edges. I can’t say the show is always sweet or tidy or funny. It shows that life is complex. Because of that, there’s a sense of comfort, of shared experience.”
Nadelberg sums it up with, “It’s not an accident that the word ‘Sessions’ is in the title. In a weird way, the show is about embarrassment therapy, if that were a branch of psychology.”
Private lives exposed for all to see
A decade of digging up people’s private past, diaries and love letters, whether from accountants in New Mexico or celebrities in L.A., is pretty revealing.
A few folks sharing their mortifying past this season are actor Busy Phillips (“Cougar Town,” “Dawson’s Creek”), filmmaker Mark Duplass and comedian Mark Maron.
“Mark Duplass read some song lyrics he wrote as a kid that are just ridiculous,” Nadelberg recounts. “He went through this whole ‘Indigo Girls’ kind of stage. He wrote about healing and sensitivity and for some strange reason, Africa. This, from this total white kid from the suburbs. And I just love that. Here’s Mark Duplass, a very respected writer and artist who really does speak from his heart. And here’s a version of him speaking from his heart as a kid.”
“Getting to see them not in red carpet mode, getting to see them in a stripped down human level is gratifying and moving; that we were all that same weirdo when we were 12.”
“We’re talking to people who are a little ahead of the cultural curve, people who are shaping pop culture. We’re taking a lot more chances by talking to people who are really at the forefront of what’s happening in art and entertainment at the moment.
“We’re using this as a forum to start with something funny, like, ‘Oh, look at that embarrassing haircut you had in 1976 at the homecoming dance,’ and taking that photograph and using it to dig deep into someone’s psyche. Tears are not uncommon, and laughter is certainly not uncommon. I’m a big fan of things that can combine that whole range of the human experience.”
The endearing hook to “The Mortified Sessions” is the format. The show is all about equalization. In an overwrought world stuffed with inequity, on a planet of haves and have nots and a country of 1-percenters vs. 99-percenters, it’s good to be reminded that all of humanity starts off pretty much the same: awkward, earnest, ridiculous and charming.
The show is a hilarious and touching reminder that we all put our pants on, one leg at a time.
“The Mortified Sessions”
Season 2 premiers Monday, Oct. 8, on the Sundance Channel.
Kurt Niece writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., who will be soon relocating to Lakewood, Ohio. He is the author of "The Breath of Rapture" and an artist who sells his work on his website.