Somewhere in our apartments, we’ve all got one — a box filled with written mementos, whether they’re old diaries, letters from sleep-away camp or lyrics for that career as an acoustic singer-songwriter that never took off. But the difference between most of us and the cast of Mortified, a confessional show that’s launching its Dallas chapter this weekend, is that we keep that box safely stowed when company is present. We don’t particularly want to share the time in 7th grade when we got dizzy playing handball during lunch and threw up on Kyle, the frosted-tipped hottie, but to the intrepid souls who will take the stage at Dallas Comedy House beginning 7:30 p.m. Friday, those embarrassing moments are comedic gold they’re more than willing to mine.
Mortified got its start in 2002 in Los Angeles when founder David Nadelberg came upon a hilarious love letter he’d written in high school and put out feelers to see if he knew other people holding onto funny, embarrassing artifacts of their youth that they were interested in sharing publicly. It turns out there were plenty of willing participants — so many, in fact, that 14 years later, Mortified has taken root in 10 US cities as well as nine abroad. (Apparently, growing up in Helsinki was just as awkward.) Perhaps you know about Mortified from the Netflix documentary, Mortified Nation; listening to the podcast; reading the books they’ve published; or hearing about it on This American Life. But until now, Dallas has been without its own show.
That changed as Anne Jensen-Smith, who has produced for Mortified in Los Angeles for nine years, began planning to relocate to Dallas with her husband. Around the same time, Stephanie Mojonett, a Dallas resident and longtime listener of the Mortified podcast with strong business sense, reached out to the LA Mortified team, expressing an interest in establishing a Dallas chapter. Jensen-Smith and Mojonnet joined forces, with Jensen-Smith producing and taking the creative lead and Mojonnet running the business side of things, and with the support of another Mortified fan, Dallas Comedy House’s Amanda Austin, they’re primed to take over the city, one mortifying tale at a time.
Love gone wrong is predictably a huge topic at Mortified, so Valentine’s Day has always been one of its biggest shows. That makes this weekend particularly appropriate for kicking things off in Dallas. Jensen-Smith gave us a sneak peek of some of the subjects the cast of the first show will be delving into: One guy will be sharing and perhaps even performing some songs he wrote as a teen, while another performer will reveal the depth of her love for the Backstreet Boys. Jensen-Smith says the relaxed layout of the new Dallas Comedy House on Main Street in Deep Ellum, which includes a full bar up front, is perfectly suited to Mortified, and they hope to continue hosting the performances there in the future. There are already plans to put on a second show in May, and shows even more frequently after that.
The response to calls for submissions in Dallas was enthusiastic, Jensen-Smith says. Anyone can apply to participate — you don't have to be a resident of the city where the performance is taking place — through Mortified’s website. If you're called in, a producer, in this case Jensen-Smith, will ask you to bring your materials so you can read excerpts from them as she teases out their most interesting and entertaining aspects. "I'll ask, 'Who’s this Mary girl you keep talking about?' or 'What's in the pink glitter journal over there?'" Jensen-Smith says.
Mortified provides an opportunity for catharsis, because it reveals just how universal most insecurities are, however unique and catastrophic they may seem at the time. So perhaps it's not totally unexpected that the experience of working closely with people as they explore memories from the most vulnerable phase of life, adolescence, has pushed Jensen-Smith to pursue a graduate degree in psychology and, ultimately, a second career as a therapist.
The intimacy and vulnerability of the Mortified experience could also have another side-effect this Valentine’s Day: causing love to blossom. The show has fostered plenty of romances already. Jensen-Smith met her husband through Mortified (he was in the house band), and it's how co-founder and artistic directer Neil Katcher met his wife, too. Who knows, maybe if you dig through that box in your closet and muster the guts to submit to future performances, this can be your golden opportunity to meet a sexy bassist for that faux-Alanis Morissette act you've been holding out on all these years.
See Mortified's first two performances in Dallas at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Dallas Comedy House, 3025 Main St. Tickets are $15-$20 at dallascomedyhouse.com.