‘The Mortified Guide’ lets you laugh along with brave strangers as they reveal the most embarrassing stories of their younger years.
A Netflix subscription can be similar to a gym membership: You use it for a month or two and then don’t, while continuing to pay. My Netflix account often suffers this fate. When I found out The Mortified Guide would be releasing on the platform after it played The Sundance Film Festival, I made sure my account remained active. After years of hearing about the hilarity of Mortified’s live shows, which feature everyday people sharing embarrassing stories from their childhood, I could not pass up the opportunity to see a compilation.
It did not disappoint. In fact, The Mortified Guide docuseries has become my go-to before-bed entertainment. Life isn’t always easy, and laughter helps you relax, lowers stress hormones, eases anxiety and tension, and generally improves mood — all good things before dream time. And I don’t have to watch an entire episode. Stories are different lengths, so if I have only five minutes, I can still get a much-needed dose of laughter.
You have to experience The Mortified Guide to fully understand why it’s so darn entertaining, but here’s a glimpse of what to expect.
Every story has a beginning
Think back to your teenage years. Now, after you’ve stopped cringing over your hairstyle and what you were into, consider that everyone has something they’re embarrassed about from their youth. I still can’t admit what musician I was obsessed with at 17 (and beyond). If I wanted to share the letter I sent him inspired by a scene from Reality Bites, though, the place to share it is Mortified.
Since 2002, Mortified has welcomed people from around the world to share, live onstage, in front of strangers, the most humiliating “artifacts” from their angst-filled younger years. Mike Mayer, director and showrunner, tells Crixeo that hundreds of submissions come in — and everyone is interviewed. “Our casting session is really an opportunity for people to share their writings and for us to ask questions and dig deeper — literally — into their piles of writings,” he says. “We’re looking for stories that are funny to strangers — and that show a particular point of view from childhood.”
Having strangers find the material funny, whether it’s a love letter, short story, diary entry or something else, is the backbone of the show. You laugh with the presenters because you can relate, and you feel empathy and respect for them for having the courage to share in raw, emotional fashion. Mayer says people who don’t get chosen to present can actually be receiving a compliment — their writings may be too sophisticated and good. And don’t even think about suggesting a surrogate to present on your behalf — “You have to share your own writings and own up to who you were when you wrote it,” Mayer says.
Mortified has traversed multiple mediums — podcasts, books, webisodes, film — but the stage show is its core. With The Mortified Guide, attending a stage show isn’t required to revel in the hilarity and “share the shame” of people’s pasts (you should still go, though, if given the opportunity).
Bring on the laughs with The Mortified Guide
Six hour-long episodes make up The Mortified Guide. Each has a specific theme — love and sex, family, fitting in, sexuality, pop culture — and even the most heartbreaking shares can bring laughter. And the content isn’t derived solely from the stage shows, so it stays fresh and unpredictable. The unifier of them all: intense laughter. So much so that before long, you may be crying and your abs might ache. You’ll also feel like your teen self just received a great big hug. “It’s incredibly cathartic and empowering to realize you’re not the only one who had fears and hopes when you were a kid,” Mayer says.
The docuseries doesn’t feature a presenter who shared my obsession with the aforementioned musician, but the Jon Bon Jovi story by Mandy Donovan in Love & Sex Volume 1 did touch a nerve as it brought back my active teen imagination. It just happens to be one of Mayer’s favorites, too. “[Donovan’s] highly sexualized and sexually naive fan fiction is perfect teenage fantasy,” he says. “Her and Bon Jovi doing it in the school hallway. The idea that he tells her he loves her even though he doesn’t know her name.” Mayer’s also a fan of Shawn Hollenbach’s story in Growing Up Gay: “It’s hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. You hear the desperation in a gay teenager trying to find and create a safe place the only way he knows how.”
I’ve watched the pop culture episode multiple times because I feel connected to the stories. You don’t grow up creative (translation: weird, as my mother lovingly says) and an uber-fan (aka nerd) of movies, television and — wait for it — professional wrestling without obsessions that others don’t understand. For example, idolizing Hulk Hogan so much that you wear a Hulk Rules tank top in public is perfectly acceptable behavior. And yes, I still have it — bandana, too. When others admit in The Mortified Guide to their fixations on the Power Rangers, Harry Potter, Hootie & the Blowfish, Star Trek, boy bands and more, it’s freeing.
Surely everyone can relate to at least one story in The Mortified Guide. More than likely, multiple will affect you. The trouble is the desire to retell to others the stories that made your belly hurt. You shouldn’t. The brave strangers’ presentations — their inflection, how they tell their stories, their body language and their pauses as they force the words out — are what make them work. The months of preparation it takes to develop a story for the stage are evident. A summary can’t do it justice.
When you’re ready to take a trip down memory lane, as Mayer puts it, watch The Mortified Guide. And I agree with Mayer: “A cocktail or two never hurts” to prepare for this journey. Like your youth, it may hurt. In retrospect, though, your young life may be the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced.
If you’re interested in being publicly humiliated with Mortified, all the details are here.