An Interview with Dave Nadelberg

Below is one of the interviews we conducted with the fabulous featured guests at Nerdcon: Stories 2015 in Minneapolis, MN. Originally, there was audio for all of our interviews but our engineer (Kal) is a schmuck and some of them didn’t turn out very good. So, transcribed here, is the text of our interview with Dave Nadelberg, which Kal was forced to type hanging upside-down as punishment. You can check out some of the interviews that *did* work elsewhere on the site or on iTunes @ The Just Enough Trope Podcast. Enjoy! (whip cracks) Keep typing! Three more paragraphs and you can have some oxygen.

Kaliban:  We’re talking with David Nadelberg, who is the creator and founder and writer and producer of the multi-media storytelling project Mortified. It’s been a stage show, a TV show and a documentary. Do you get people who ask you to come out and do a Mortified show or do you tour the show?
Dave Nadelberg: Quick clarity; I am a writer but I’m not *the* writer of Mortified. The premise of Mortified is that adults are getting on stage and sharing some of their most embarrassing childhood things that they wrote. If anything, I am the editor and curator. It’s a team of us all around the country who are stationed to kind of help people in local cities…in fact, we’re opening up a Mortified here in Minneapolis and I’m so excited. In early 2016, there’s going to be a Mortified show in the Twin Cities. Tomorrow, I’m going to be training a team of local producers in what makes bad writing good writing so they can meet people who wrote awful things when they were teenagers and help them figure out which ones are good for strangers.

K: I read a little about your background, that you had a love letter that you’d written and wanted to share…what’s the story there?
D: I like that that’s my ‘background’.
K: (laughs)

D: “My background is that when I was 15, I wrote a love letter.”
K: Better than some…
D: Yeah, I did. I wrote a love letter to a girl when I was 15, growing up in Michigan and I found that letter in my early 20’s and I started reading it to friends…
K: You forgot to mention that it was written on the back of a poetry magazine submission form…
D: Oh, you’re a good researcher…that’s right.
K: Which in my opinion is the most earnest form of paper.
D: The back of a poetry magazine submission form?
K: Yeah.
D: I’ll say this: the name of the poetry…it was for my high school poetry magazine…
K: It’s getting better…
D: It’s getting better…which I was the editor of, which would imply I’m a better writer.
K: (laughs)
D: But anyway, the magazine was called Etchings.
K: (laughs) That’s it. We’re at the peak.
D: “Every year, we’re going to take submissions for Etchings. Sweet, sensitive poetry and artwork for Etchings.” So, I submitted to Etchings…”Etchings”…and on the back I wrote this love letter to this girl Leslie. I have no idea what happened to her, but for the past 15 years of my life, I’ve been doing this project because of a crush on some girl who does not have any clue. How creepy is that?
K: She must know who you are now.
D: Not a clue. I mean, I don’t know what happened to her.
K: Thanks, Leslie.
D: This is the most elaborate stalking project ever.
K: (laughs)
D: We laugh ‘cause it’s true.
K: And you did it in L.A. when you first got it up on its feet?
D: That’s right. So, Mortified began as a stage show in Los Angeles and since then we do stage shows all over the world. We’re opening ones up in Dublin and London. We just did some in Amsterdam recently and the very international spot of the Twin Cities coming soon. But also we’ve done a film and you mentioned TV, we did a TV spinoff a couple of years ago where it was the Mortified sessions which was like a talk show. But, the main thing that we do now is the Mortified podcast.
K: Which can be found at…
D: You can find the Mortified podcast at, iTunes, Stitcher and it’s a weekly series and it’s free. I think it’s the culmination of so much of what we do and it’s one of the best expressions of what we do and I’m so excited that now we have a version of Mortified that anybody can access for free, regardless of their geography, their age, they don’t have to be 21 or over to get in…
K: Oh, really? I think that would be a bar. If you’re a kid…”here’s a picture I drew of a pony when I was 4 and I’m mortified”. If you’re 18 years old, what do you have to bring?
D: Well, we don’t have 18 year olds performing in the show…
K: Oh! I’m sorry…
D: I just meant enjoying it.
K: We can cut that out. I’m an idiot. (to Mika) Cut the part where I’m an idiot out.  
D: No! You’re not an idiot. It’s a fair…
K: I was thinking “Oh, I can’t believe this picture of a pony I drew…right, guys? We’re all 16 here…”
D: Wait, are you *mortified*?
K: Yes!
D: Did you make that mistake on purpose to promote my…that’s amazing!
K: Uh…yeah! Yes. The curtain comes back…
D: Very clever.
K: (laughs) You meet with a lot of people for stories for Mortified, don’t you?
D: Yeah, I meet with strangers all the time, they give us their…and not just me, the whole Mortified team…childhood diary entries is our main bread and butter…love letters, lyrics, poetry, home movies, bar mitzvah videos, whatever you got…
K: And part of your job and your staff’s job is to curate the experiences?
D: That’s right.
K: Something you mentioned on your website is curating and trying to remove the more the self-indulgent and exhibin—exhibithibiba—
D: Exhibitionistic.
K: That’s the word I’m looking for!
D: It’s a hard word.
K: —elements so it’s more true and more ‘real’?
D: We curate everything as opposed to doing an open mike because not everything we saved as kids is actually funny to strangers. Some of the stuff we wrote, it requires a certain context. For instance, yesterday, here at Nerdcon: Stories, I read aloud a poem I wrote about an imaginary bagpiper, which is a very bizarre thing for a kid to have written. And it is only funny, in my opinion, when you know a certain context which is that I wrote this poem not wanting to write a love poem or a sex poem, because lots of teenagers were writing that and for whatever reason, when you hear this poem about a bagpipe, not about sex, there are certain moments that sound very sexual. It’s funny only when you can hear it through that filter…
K: You consider the subtext.
D: Yeah. And so we try to help people with that filter. We say “here’s what’s going to help people invest and laugh at your childhood writing.” And for whatever reason they agree to that.
K: They do agree to it.
D: Did you write anything as a kid?
K: Argh…I’m trying to think…I probably wrote…I loved the Transformers, so I probably wrote Transformers fan fic. They didn’t call it fan fic back then…
D: You think you really did?
K: I’m pretty sure…
D: Do you live close by?
K: Uh…
D: I’m stalking you now.
K: (to Mika) We need to get a shredder right away. You have to talk to a lot of people; what’s your secret to getting people to relax and let things out and let you into their Transformers fanfic *trails off*
D: Alcohol?
K: Oh, ok.
D: Basically, when people come to us and this is very nerve-wracking when they say, “Hey, I’ve got some journals and stuff to share with you”, the good news is when something’s ten years old, it feels like a lifetime ago, though it’s revealing and raw and it’s sort of like an audition but it’s not. We’re not here to judge your stuff. One of the rules we have is no “Simon Cowells”. I do not want us to be judging someone, like “you’re not good enough”. They didn’t write this to impress us or to be impressive and our job is to help them…we’re looking for ‘minutes’. At worst, we’d find one minute of good stuff, so our ‘rejection’ would be that we didn’t find enough; we found a little, but we’re looking for 8 minutes of material that can make an audience laugh.
K: Is it primarily to make people laugh and about comedy?
D: The primary function of Mortified is to make people laugh. That said, I think the reason we’ve been able to survive and be around for over 14 years is that people show up for the laughter and we sucker punch them with pathos and poignancy. It’s something that…I wouldn’t say is therapy, but it’s therapeutic. There are Mortified people, especially if you watch Mortified Nation (which is on Netflix), there are moments in that…we tackle anything a kid deals with, including things as unfunny as child abuse.  But, we’ll find a way to balance heartbreak with humor. And I find that very…politically, even though our show is not political, I find that very uplifting. I find it very upsetting when I see things in pop culture where people have an illness or they’re facing a hardship and it’s presented intensely dramatically and that’s not how life is. There’s a range of emotions and we try to show the roller-coaster.
K: What do you think is the secret behind the success of the show? Is it the catharsis? Or connection?
D: It’s the Transformers fanfic…
K: (laughs) It’s coming soon!
D: (laughs)
K: Is it people sharing things?
Mika: (still laughing about the Transformers thing)
K: Why is it so successful? Why do people like seeing people humiliate themselves?
D: I think that there’s something about…obviously they have to reveal some sort of availability…I think there’s something that when you listen to the writings of people when they’re young, as opposed to a ‘memoir’ show when you’re writing about a past time, they don’t have an adult perspective. It’s like a kind of time travel. It’s like a Jedi mind trick. That kid who wrote about their pain and struggle, he has no clue…it’s cliché to say “it’ll get better” and “I will survive” and some people may roll their eyes but it’s something I firmly believe in and that people can latch on to. I think that’s what it is.
K: And it makes that thing smaller. Whoever your past self was, making a bigger deal out of something than they thought…obviously, you’ve made it to here. It gives you distance.
D: Yeah, the thing you don’t know when you’re a teenager, if you’re going through depression, life doesn’t ever get perfect…sometimes it gets worse, sometimes it does get better, but what’s different about you as an adult as opposed to when you were twelve is…it didn’t kill you. That’s an important message I want people to walk away with. At the end of every show, we say “that’s today’s show and we’d like to remind you as we do on every edition of Mortified, we are freaks, we are fragile and we all survived”. That’s something I believe in.
K: Yeah.
D: Is that too heavy?
K: And funny! It’s funny.
D: All right.
K: Primarily, it’s funny.
D: Hilarious.
K: It’s the Mortified podcast, you can find it at and on iTunes. We’ve been talking with Dave Nadelberg. Thanks for joining us!
D: Thank you.
Idiot’s editor’s note: As another in a string of mea culpas, I want to say we turned the mics of *way* too early, as Dave stayed and talked with us for twice as long as we had been recording about Mortified, the Mortified Sessions TV show, the Mortified Nation documentary, pitching for humorless Comedy Central executives, why LA gets a bad rap sometimes and more about Mortified expanding to the Twin Cities and beyond. So, “sorry” from an interviewer still learning the ropes and it looks like I owe Dave some Transformers fan fic. Thanks again!

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