My 5: Neil Katcher of 'Mortified' Finds Teen Dream Gold in These Coming-of-Age Movies (Exclusive)
By Emily Krauser
In the 15 years since its inception, Mortified has blossomed from a little project Dave Nadelberg created "to simply make people laugh" into a bona fide storytelling hit and its own podcast.
The idea of Mortified centers around adults sharing embarrassing writings from their teenage years in front of total strangers, and it has since blossomed from that simple idea into a series of books, the Mortified Nation documentary and a Netflix TV show, The Mortified Guide. The transition into the podcasting world actually only came in 2015, when they joined the Radiotopia team, but since then, many more fans around the globe have been able to laugh, cry and vent along with those brave enough to share their heartfelt, and often hilarious, teen musings.
Neil Katcher has been with Nadelberg since the first live show took place in Los Angeles years ago, and since then, he's helped co-produce many of the Mortified projects, including hosting The Mortified Podcast. "What I love about making the podcast is every week, I get to put something out into the universe that has the potential to make people laugh and reconnect with their past, and always in surprising new ways," Katcher tells ET.
"Currently, I’m obsessed with the adolescent diaries of a Mortified participant who grew up in the 1990s and somehow had a crush on 1930s comedian Harpo Marx. I sorta get Richard Marx, but a member of a comedy trio from the 1930s who never spoke and often made weird fart noises?" he muses. "I love getting to celebrate what makes us unique but completely universal at the same time, so it’s stories like this that remind me why I love what I do. I’d also like to think the podcast speaks to what unites us as humans in an era where it’s so easy to feel disconnected."
With over 130 podcast episodes, in addition to all the live shows and publications, it's clear that fans love hearing about other people's misery. But why share our embarrassing stories with others? "In my experience, some of us do it because we simply like to make others laugh. Some do it purely because the idea of being vulnerable in front of a packed room of strangers sounds really scary, like emotional skydiving. But I think most of us do it because it can be cathartic," the producer-writer explains. "The act of sharing something we once kept so private can be freeing. By airing our awkward past and hearing laughs of recognition, it allows us to let go of that embarrassment and reveals that everyone pretty much feels like a weirdo growing up."
One of the coolest things about the podcast is that it allows for more time with each of these stories, which means you get to dig in deeper and find out about the storytellers' lives, which doesn't happen on stage. "I get to talk with people from all over the world about their adolescence, often for hours. It’s like therapy without the therapy part. Getting to talk to complete strangers about their lives in a way you rarely do in day-to-day life is so rewarding," Katcher says. "But if you asked my wife, she’d say my curiosity isn’t always a good thing. Like, if you’re an Uber driver, you do not want to accept my ride request."
That kind of curiosity and fascination over the intricacies of secondhand embarrassment isn't new for Katcher -- he has quite a few favorite coming-of-age movies that have lead characters that always remind him of the real teenage diaries people read through on his podcast. Here are five of his favorite teen flicks that'll make you feel like an awkward youngster all over again:
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
"In retrospect, [this is] a true cultural milestone when it comes to shame. Napoleon taught us that you can be both inescapably awkward and brimming with confidence at the same time. Even if you didn’t vote for Pedro, you still rooted for him to let his freak flag fly."
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
"There aren’t many depictions of middle schoolers that capture pure mortification better than Dawn Weiner -- her name alone says it all. And there’s no safe zone for poor Dawn, not school, not home, nowhere -- the original FML. She’s Napoleon Dynamite if Napoleon Dynamite was secretly a tragedy. Though she’s only a fictional character, thoughts and prayers are still a good idea."
Better Off Dead (1985)
"This '80s classic pretty much raised me. Even though I never learned to ski as a kid, few pop culture offerings captured my own social dread at the time better than John Cusack’s Lane Meyer. How can a 13-year-old not relate to a character convinced nothing will ever work out for him and that everyone else in the world knows it too?"
"No one captures the voice of an entitled teenager with zero self-awareness better than Cher Horowitz. While Cher is never self-aware enough to feel mortified in the moment, she is the epitome of a teenager you would be mortified to discover you were just like when going through your old high school diaries."
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
"Some call it the O.G. teen coming-of-age movie. Jim Stark is bullied by the cool kids, he can’t stand his dad, but he’s so self-destructive that he’s definitely the poster boy for why dudes should really keep diaries. Paging 'Toxic Masculinity': there’s an emergency in the 1950s."