Unless you somehow peaked early like Gossip Girl’s “underdog” hero Dan Humphrey, your high-school experiences probably fall between middling and unspeakably horrifying on the unofficial scale of shame. Thirty-year-old Los Angeles–based David Nadelberg thinks those humiliations ought to be fêted. He views the heinous hook-ups, appalling relationship debacles, and unbearable unrequited romances of adolescence as glorious train wrecks that most of us survived.
Consequently, only the most excruciating love stories comprise his romance-themed anthology Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 304 pages, $14.95). If these first-person accounts don’t make you feel better about your own shitty teen years, well, then you’ll finally have something perversely healing to relate to that doesn’t air primetime on CW.
“This is youth for once and all,” says Nadelberg. “It’s an ugly experience, and it’s a beautiful experience, and it’s an unfortunately hilarious one. It’s an experience that we’ve all had.”
Love Is a Battlefield is the second volume of Mortified books based on the cult-favorite stage show of the same name. (Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic. was published in 2006.) In seven cities across the country — including Boston, where a chapter has been running at the Paradise Lounge for the past two years — volunteers regularly entertain live audiences with readings from their diaries, journals, song lyrics, poems, e-mails, and various other personal relics. Once a mere grassroots comedy collective, the concept has won itself a devoted Internet fan base, including Mortified disciples outside of the US (there’s a stage show now running in Sweden), and has recently expanded to include an animated Web series called the Mortified Shoebox Show.
Nadelberg compares his job choosing dark-meets-funny stories to that of a documentarian’s — with a little thoughtful editing, a wonderfully sad narrative emerges. There are a few token suburban-crush pieces in Love Is a Battlefield, though the majority of the 34 valentines approach passionate angst from uniquely fucked-up angles.
Jane Cantillion’s “My Life as a Biker Babe” details her 1970s affair with Bear, a member of Hells Angels. In “The New Girl,” a pre-pubescent Leonard Hyman, growing up in American Samoa, freaks out when he ends up falling head-over-heels for the very girl who threatens his “resident child genius” status.
“There’s this undertone in a lot of these pieces where they don’t feel like they’re being heard, and ‘Woe is me!’ While that’s funny, I think it’s important for kids to finally be heard,” Nadelberg says. “Twenty years later, someone’s listening and laughing, and doing so in a way that is supportive rather than snarky. We always want our audience to laugh at, but cheer for.
“You take these artifacts, these things that are what they are, and through just enough shading and context, you can understand — oh my God, there’s an interesting and funny and often heroic story hiding in those pages. Our job is to simply bring those out.”
David Nadelberg will sign copies of Mortified: Love is a Battlefield at Mortified Boston, February 6 at 8 pm, at the Paradise Lounge (967 Comm Ave, Boston). Admission is $12. Visit getmortified.com for more info.