THE BLOG

Let's Get Mortified

01/30/2012 08:41 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2012

On the first day of my memoir-writing elective for this school term, my teacher handed out a sheet of paper with a series of diary-style letters on it. These letters were written by a really random variety of famous people (everyone from J.K. Rowling to Hugh Jackman to Suze Orman to Stan Lee) to their teenage selves. At first, when I read some of the names on the paper, I thought the letters would just be generic suggestions of celebrities telling themselves how famous they'd someday be, or to invest in Mac or something. But even for the celebrities that I had never thought anything much of to begin with, it was interesting to get a glimpse of who they were as awkward teenagers, aside from the guarded people we see today in the media. After reading the letters, my memoir class was then asked to write our own "Dear Me" letter, only to our future selves. What essential qualities would we hope stays the same? What would we hope changes about ourselves?

I was still thinking about this activity a few days later, when I was flipping through the TV, in an attempt to find something other than a Kardashian marathon to watch. On the Sundance Channel, I saw a new show was premiering that night, listed as The Mortified Sessions. The name alone sounded like some sort of paradoxical horror-comedy, but I decided to check it out. I tuned in just in time for the opening credits, which showed a shoebox with "PRIVATE: KEEPOUT" written on it, spilling open with precious childhood memorabilia. Then the screen panned over to a crumpled piece of paper taken out of a diary, the diary moved pages, revealing old photographs. Some of them were recognizable faces like a young Will Forte (MacGruber) and Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing), but others were indiscernible. Whoever these memorabilia belong to, it didn't really matter, because it was clear I had entered a magical world that had little to do with horror (unless it was the under the bed kind) and everything to do with celebrity confessions about their formative years.

The Mortified Sessions was a project started by Dave Nadelberg, which began in a live stage setting where celebrities and amateurs alike are asked to bring a shoebox full of all the songs, poems, art, love letters from their adolescence, to chip away at our exterior and expose our inner geek. Sundance has the televised adaptation of the project, where each week Dave interviews new subjects, who bring Dave a shoebox full of their past. It interesting to see what these childhood artifacts, unearths not only about their pasts, but even often unlocks something that they hadn't realized about who they are today, before they go through the process with Dave.

The premiere episode that I saw was with Ed Helms, who plays Andy, my favorite character on The Office. Even in the first few minutes of the show, when Ed read a diary entry he'd written when he was little about refusing to give out Valentine's had me hooked on the project. The other guests this season were equally illuminating. There was this one episode with married couple and comedic geniuses, Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman. In looking at what they shared from their shoeboxes -- Nick was kind of the "class clown" and into sports while Megan loved to write and spend time alone in her room making up stories about fairies -- both of them did things to seek attention in their own right. It was in seeing that episode, going through their old photos, old homework assignments, and such, that you could see they had realized it too.

I wonder who Dave Nadelberg's target audience is, because everything about his project makes me, as a 16-year old, so incredibly happy. Watching the show somehow makes me nostalgic for a time that I am currently going through. What I mean by this is that I wish I kept everything I ever wrote, a diary, and was generally more sentimental about things pertinent to my childhood. Ever since the show started, I've been a packrat, though, making sure to keep everything for a shoebox session that I will someday have with myself. Maybe Dave will join me for this.

Sometimes the guests on The Mortified Sessions will say things like "this is like a therapy session," or "Dave, you know me better than I know myself," I guess that sounds a little cheesy when I write it out, but ever since I've watched The Mortified Sessions every week since its premiere, it feels like I'm hanging out with my heroes in their living room (literally, the show is often times filmed in their living rooms). But more than that, it's getting to open a time capsule with them, through hearing about milestones like crushes, first jobs, college, and beyond -- not only do you realize how they became the person they are today, but how they are really not that much unlike the awkward teenager they once were. Which is nice to hear, because we're all human, you know? It makes me think that there's no reason to fetishisize celebrities and put them on absurd pedestals, when really, their jobs, be it acting, singing, directing, whatever it is, is just a job for them... It's us as audiences who make it anything more.

I have dreams that for season two, Dave Nadelberg will ask me to switch places with him for episode so I can interview him for his own Mortified Session... Do you hear that Dave???

he last episode for season one The Mortified Sessions premieres tonight, January 30, 8:00 EST on the Sundance Channel.