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'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.

The concept started with producer Dave Nadelberg. About three years ago, he says, he unexpectedly re-discovered his own mortifying past when he came across a love letter he wrote to a high school classmate named Leslie.

"It tries very, very, very, very hard to impress her on so many levels," Nadelberg says. "It tries to be sweet and funny and smart, and it fails on every single level. "

Nadelberg, now 30, read the letter to some of his grownup friends.

"It was just fun, and I thought, 'Maybe there are other people out there who are even worse writers than I am.' And it turns out that there are a lot."

Given that Mortified is staged in Hollywood, it's not surprising that many of the performers are actors and writers. But Nadelberg says that 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.

Mortified has gotten so popular that it has attracted the interest of some celebrities, Nadelberg says. But they lose interest quickly, he says, when they find out they have to audition. Not every 13-year-old's deepest feelings and creepy confessions are interesting to other people. Nearly half of those who volunteer to publicly embarrass themselves are rejected. How mortifying is that?

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Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."