Why Texans Are Lining Up to be ‘Mortified’

Why are people from all over Texas driving to Austin to hear strangers read their old diary entries on stage? And why are people lining up to publicly share their embarrassing stories?

By Laura Rice and Filipa RodriguesMarch 2, 2015 9:54 am

It’s called Mortified – and it’s an appropriate name.

“It really is mortifying. It really is. And the first time you do it, it’s all nerves,” Tony Napolillo says.

Napolillo got on stage in Austin recently to spill his guts to a sold-out room of strangers.

“It’s daunting and then you get into it and then you’re in it with them. They are on your side,” Napolillo says.

Mortified got its start in L.A. but has since expanded to nine chapters – including one in Austin.

“We have a lot of interest in Dallas and Houston. But with the podcast and we might be having another TV show. So with all of that going on, it’s just difficult to get a chapter started,” Mortified Austin Producer Pierce Purselley says.

Along with Mortified books and a documentary film, there’s the brand-new podcast. The first episode features a Texan.

“I grew up in Texas, I’m still in Texas and around middle school years I was a straight A student, just every stereotype you can think of. I won the middle school spelling bee when I was in 6th grade – beating out the 7th and 8th graders – still proud of that,” Kevin Miller says in the podcast.

So what’s so great about sharing embarrassing moments on stage?

“It’s very cathartic in the sense that I am able to let go of a lot of those insecurities,” Napolillo says. “You don’t realize you’re keeping those going as an adult and then when you just kind of give it up to the audience and they laugh with you it’s like, oh yeah, that’s ridiculous.”

Michelle Dahlenburg works with people interested in sharing their stories and being Mortified.

“Probably 80-90% of the people that I’ve worked with one-on-one since 2008 have cried at some point during the process. But in a good way, in a cathartic way,” Dahlenburg says.

It also has a way of bringing the people on stage and the audience together.

“And if we could send kids to this… it’s not appropriate but you want to teach kids that things get better,” Napolillo says. “After every show that I’ve done, I usually get a guy that comes up who’s in his early 20s saying ‘that’s me, I feel that, I have those troubles too, those insecurities.’ And the only thing I can tell them is it does get better.”

Many of the stories are funny but that’s not the ultimate goal.

“Mortified isn’t just about being embarrassed. It’s about being honest,” Purselley says.

So what do you think… would you go up on stage and read your diary?

“No I don’t think I would. No,” Jackson Albracht says.

“Yes. It made me wish I had saved my journals growing up because I could relate to a lot of it,” Annie Schiflet says.

But that may not be such a problem. After all, the way we’re recording our lives has changed.

“I’m wondering if at one point Mortified, years years down the road, if we’re going to be reading tweets and Facebook posts – which, to me, just sounds crazy,” Purselley says.

But perhaps the biggest attraction of Mortified is that it’s universal – we’ve all been there at some point.

The next Mortified Austin shows are in April.