Sam McManis roams the region to find where you want to go

Discoveries: 'Mortified' making Bay Area laugh - and cringe

03/04/2012 12:00 AM

03/04/2012 2:06 PM

BERKELEY – He is thin and so pallid as to be nearly translucent, befitting a sun- deprived Oregonian. Though pushing 30, his voice retains the escalating pitch and whine of adolescence. He dresses suburban casual, in jeans and T-shirt.

Seems, you know, like a regular guy.

Yet here is Tynan DeLong, standing before a live microphone in front of more than 400 habitues of a chic nightclub called Shattuck Down Low, baring his soul, sharing his deepest, darkest secrets, exposing his erstwhile teen angst for all to mock.

"Growing up," he says, voice at near-crack, à la David Sedaris, "I was a sensitive softie who dreamed of being a tough-guy gangsta-rapper type, a dream born when my mom bought me Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic' for Christmas. I was 10 years old."

The mere idea of this mild-mannered Everyman harboring phat hip-hop aspirations is whack enough to elicit chortles and squeals of glee among the audience members at the monthly cringe-fest known as "Mortified," featuring people reading from their real childhood diaries to judgment-passing strangers.

To some, it might come off as pathetic, an exercise in self-flagellation. To those in attendance – and, yes, even those reliving humiliation onstage – it's great fun. And maybe, just maybe, it will serve to salve DeLong his suppurating psychic wounds from teen years straight outta Eugene, Ore.

"I didn't want to be any rapper," he continues, after the guffawing abates, "I wanted to be a member of the Wu Tang Clan, rapping under the alias Golden Playboy."

This is just too much. The crowd howls at the incongruity, dissolving into peals of laughter. And DeLong hasn't even started reading from his diary, detailing in '90s hip-hop patois his deep and abiding love (at least for two weeks) for Heather Hinkleine, whom DeLong calls "my personal Winnie Cooper."

Already, on this night, the "Mortified" crowd has been treated to Amy Wilson's frank, boy-crazy Excel spreadsheet list of "guys I kissed on the road to having my first boyfriend"; David Levitt's recollection of his teen self putting smooth moves on a "middle-age lady" (age 30) next to him on an airplane; Jaime Ford's lists of teenage grievances growing up in Fresno; and Joan Franzino's fantasy "first time" that wickedly parodies Judy Blume at her most overwrought.

"Mortified" shows originally sprouted in late '90s Los Angeles and, after being featured on the radio program "This American Life," spread to other major cities. In 2011, the Sundance Channel aired "Mortified Sessions," featuring famous actors looking back at their youthful indiscretions.

Bay Arean Scott Lifton brought the franchise to San Francisco and Berkeley six years ago, and this Thursday's show at the DNA Lounge (see cover box) in San Francisco will be taped for a documentary on the movement.

Cynical types might dismiss this form of entertainment as just so many retro hipsters gathering to sneer at the earnestness of youth. In actuality, the vibe tilts more to a therapy-group- session purging. People love to hear others' cringe-inducing tales of woe, perhaps because it absolves them of their own After School Special antics.

"It connects to some inner-past of yours," says David Melis, an Oakland resident and repeat "Mortified" customer. "It's that awkwardness that's really relatable. We're like, totally cool in the Bay Area, like, 'Yeah, I live in the city.' You forget about those years. But they are part of you."

You laugh at others, says audience member Laurie Pantell, because you relate to their teen foibles and, in a way, forgive your own transgressions. Plus, as an Oakland psychotherapist, she says hearing stories in a humorous context lets her indulge in something she can't in her professional capacity – laughter.

"I really get a kick out of it," she says. "I always hear people's stories about their childhoods and young lives, so this appealed to me. You can't sit there cracking up in (a session)."

There is much to amuse the listener, though please note: A good portion is, alas, far too explicit to document here.

We hear about Levitt's "sexual frustration" as a 17-year-old and his vow to rectify that by the end of summer either with Veronica, Stephanie or Kate – or all three. "July 27, 1:09 a.m.," he reads. "I'm beating myself up for not being a man. I was bar mitzvahed five years ago, but I don't think I'm a man! I remember that Thanksgiving of 1999 when Veronica told me she thinks friends should have sex. I don't think anyone would disagree that that was a direct invitation.

"Twice, we've slept in the same bed and, despite wanting her more than anyone in school, each time I copped out, not making a move."

The crowd, which has been giggling throughout, emits a group "Ahh " by way of sympathy. But the jollity's soon back when, his summer over and no sexual triumph notched, young Mr. Levitt makes a desperate move on his seatmate on a cross-country plane ride. Wincing hijinks ensue.

But it's not all sexual shenanigans. Much mirth comes from hearing twisted teen perspectives on life.

Ford, the Fresnoan, cops to being a chronic listmaker who pens letters to her unknown future husband. She recites a wrenching poem to the boy who takes her virginity.

Then there's her ultimate list, "Things I Want in a Man."

To wit: "1. Balances his checkbook. 2. Doesn't subscribe to any porn magazines. 3. Doesn't own a gun (actually hard to find in Fresno). 4. Drives an American car 5. Loves '80s music and Neil Diamond."

She's still looking, by the way.


Next shows: 8 p.m. Thursday at the DNA Lounge (375 11th St., San Francisco); 8 p.m. Saturday at the Shattuck Down Low (284 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley)

Tickets: $15 advanced; $20 at door.

Purchase at:


Reason to go: Relive those awkward teen years by listening to your peers read embarrassing snippets from their diaries.

About This Blog

Sam McManis has covered travel and recreation at The Sacramento Bee since 2011, criss-crossing California to report on interesting, humorous, unexpected and sometimes truly strange stories. When he's not driving all over the state for work, Sam likes to run on the many mountain trails California boasts. Reach him at or 916-321-1145. Twitter: @SamMcManis

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