Dan Misener isn’t embarrassed by many things, especially not the things he wrote when he was six, nor by the things he wrote when he was sixteen. Since 2006, he’s been sharing his childhood writings in public readings and Toronto. The reception was so positive that he, along with his wife Jenna, went on to create the successful CBC show and podcast Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTWK). The show is coming to Montreal and I talked to Dan Misener about its creation and its significance.
Misener describes the show as “super simple, a group of people in a bar reading their childhood and teenage writing.”
Readers come to the shows with “a wide range of stuff,” Misener says. “Cute little kid writing, angsty teenage writing, everything in-between. It’s a wide range of stuff. Different types, different formats. Letters from camp, poetry, diaries, lists, song lyrics.”
People sign up in advance to read and the Montreal show was booked up months ago. “We look for a diversity in the readers,” Misener adds. He recounts that at the Ottawa show, he had the oldest reader ever. “He was 90 on the dot. He got up and read some letters from camp in 1932. They were great, full of dirty jokes. They’re exactly the same as dirty jokes you tell now when you’re 8 years old now — all fart jokes.”
Who was the youngest? Misener says the youngest was around 19 years old, reading something from when he was very young. “A 19 year old reading something written when he was 18 is too close. We ask people read stuff that is at least a decade removed from their current age.”
Although getting up to read your childhood writing can be a “scary thing to participate in,” as Misener says, “Often what happens is that people will come and be part of the audience, and next show, after seeing the live environment, they do a reading.” Misener puts this down to the welcoming nature of the crowd and the overall vibe of the event.
“A lot of people use the word ‘cathartic’ to describe the experience. It’s a positive experience. It depends on the material. Some people share stuff that is cute and funny, some of it is ha ha ha funny or weird funny. Sometimes they get up and share stuff that is difficult to talk about. They get on our stage and talk about parents dying, or read stuff they wrote about self harm and eating disorders. Especially for stuff that’s more difficult to talk about, it’s really freeing to share that part of yourself. Also, you know that you’re sharing it with a bunch of people who empathize.”
“My favorite moments are when people read stuff that’s difficult and during the break, they’re surrounded by audience members who surround them for having shared,” says Misener.
Good pieces are easy to find. “The stuff that gets the biggest reaction is stuff that was once secret. Private and personal stuff, poetry and diary entries, that kind of thing really elicits the biggest reactions. It can be the hardest to share. It’s what makes this stuff funny, the act of taking stuff that was private and making it public.”
Misener shares a story he had about a boy slow dancing with the girl of his dreams at a high school and had an ill-timed boner. “We found out later was that in order to read that piece on stage, he had to call his mom and have her read it to him over the phone. He didn’t have the original journal with him. His mom transcribed it for him. First share an embarrassing boner story. Then it takes even more guts to have your mother read it to you first.”
GRTWK is itself part of a small community of events that entail reading things out loud, such as Mortified, Teen Angst, and Salon of Shame. “There’s a small community of people who do similar things,” Misener says, “We do different live shows. Some have podcasts, some don’t. We all kind of know each other. I’ve had lots of good conversation with Sarah Bino who runs Mortified. If you run a show like this, you meet lots of people.”
Misener stresses that GRTWK is a live show first and foremost. “We’re all about a bunch of people getting together in the same place to have fun, to be open and honest and vulnerable. The podcast is a lovely, wonderful side effect of that. The two feed into each other. People hear the podcast and it’s a lovely, virtuous cycle. They feed into each other. The live show started in 2007, and started traveling in the summer of 2014 and has been picking up the pace. We went north for the first time to Yellowknife.”
Misener is excited to come to Montreal because he says it “always brings weird and awesome stuff.”
Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids takes place on November 30 at Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent). 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. $12. Tickets HERE (the show is sold out).