Nick Kroll decided to turn his and his friends' awkward Jewish adolescences into an animated series for Netflix called Big Mouth. It's been a bit of a sleeper hit for them, with some great lines and has coined a term people realized they needed but didn't have ("mons push").
It's a nice, clever show but though it has a cast of known semi-famous comedians, I had to Google most of them, except Fred Armisen. And if you're on Netflix, well, woohoo, but unless you're a subscriber you really don't know what's there, so Kroll had an issue with getting eyeballs on his work.
Kroll and company along with Stephen Colbert hit on a novel way to promote the series. Using the hashtag and name PuberMe, they decided to raise awareness of pubertal awkwardness. They paired it with the need to raise money for the recent Puerto Rico hurricane disaster - which works well in Colbert's favor because Colbert hates Donald Trump and him helping where Trump is dragging his heels is a good personal and professional move, as well as a standup thing to do.
It may seem like the most First World Problem awareness raising ever at first. But if you think about it, adullts - if asked - would mostly say they generally do not want to repeat adolesence. I mean, there are some things you'd appreciate about the possibility - who hasn't seen a fortysomething woman look with great envy at a teenage girl's gravity-untouched body. That never to be truly experienced again electric charge of a first kiss in the dark - one with intent and when the hormonal mass and general lack of life stress made it a brain-altering moment.
But just as how people romanticize the possibility of time travel (everyone is like "ooh, to have lived in Downton Abbey" as opposed to "ooh, to have died at 10 of tuberculosis living with 12 brothers and sisters in a rat-infested room being abused daily and eking out the barest subsistence as a chimney sweep") people either mock their own adolescence or look at it through rose tinted glasses. Breasts that defy gravity and a metabolism that could inhale McDonald's three meals a day yes please, but no acne thank you keep the mood swings and make sure my dating pool isn't Beavis and Butthead. But that's not how life works.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer used the allegory of high school as a literal hell mouth for a reason. Most people might be nostalgic for the music they listened to in high school, or newer people might remember that Nintendo game or computer system. But very few people would truly say high school were the best days of their life. Not unless they were the promising high school quarterback that learned to his dismay college ball is harder, faster and more demanding, and that NFL dream isn't gonna pan out - and once life evolved beyond high school cliquery they were found wanting. Or the high school cheerleader who got pregnant just before prom and got married and now sits annoyingly on a couch mocking the man she married, who sells shoes.
There's a Chinese commercial in which a man is pinned fatally under a boulder on a hiking trip with his girlfriend, and they're tearfully saying their goodbyes to each other. Some kind of celestial being descends from above to decree that since the love they have impresses even Heaven, she is granted one wish. As the man is expectantly waiting for her to wish for him to be delivered from being painfully crushed to death under a giant rock, she immediately blurts out "I want the skin of a sixteen year old!" and as the guy looks at her with a look that says, "Really?" we cut back to her and her face resembles a cheese pizza given all the acne.
None of this helps the immature brains (not making fun of adolescents, just recognizing that their brains are still developing and can't process information the way adults do) going through the process, either hearing their crisis du hour romanticized for the good parts, or dismissed with indifference. Truth be told having passed the crisis of adolescence most people lock it away and throw the key well over the fence.
The gist of it is, Colbert and Kroll decided to do an "it gets better" for adolescents of all types, not just the gay ones - and highlight that we generally do a shitty job of shepherding the next generation through their issues well meaning though we may be.
Colbert and Kroll decided to ask celebrities and the world at large to publish photographs of themselves at their most teenage awkward in order to show that even the glamorous Hollywood types started out as gangly tweens with the general poise of a five minute old giraffe trying to walk. The money raised through these candid pics would raise money for the victims of Puerto Rico and raised a million in record time.
The photos ranged from Arnold Schwarzenegger as a scrawny young teen in The Andy Griffith Show style clothing, to a decidedly face-still-coming-together Bill Clinton. George H.W. Bush contributed a grainy shot of himself from the beginning of the 20th century, and it's amazing to see just how much Stephen Colbert has changed. John Oliver's manky British teeth really didn't work well with acne and silver 70s aviator glasses. Vanna White was a shy brunette.
Even those whose looks remained good throughout adolescence had something interesting conveyed in a shot. There's generally no risk for a comedian to announce their teenage years were ugly and sucked, especially if they're of a self-deprecating nebbish Jewish "no respect, no respect at all" persona in which that's practically their ACT. But for someone whose income depends on them being glamorous (for a given definition thereof) you can tell that even though they had flawless skin and were just younger good looking versions of themselves - James Van Der Beek seems to be trying to look more confident than he is with his "hey, how you doin'?" stare, there were times when they weren't that comfortable in their own skin. Questionable fashion choices, hairstyles that suited the period, but not them, etc. Or demonstrating that they had very geeky interests - who knew that Patton Oswalt was an alto saxophonist in band?
Most interesting were submissions from child stars - ones who were meant to be in the spotlight as examples of an idealized adolescence. Mayim Biyalik chose a fascinating portrait, clearly posed, in which she's smiling while wearing what could be most charitably described as having been put together by a 90s stylist. The lighting is artful, but if you look closely, you can tell everything is posed, including her smile - but there's something about the slight stiffness in her arms and something about her eyes that indicate that she's not really 100% comfortable in her own skin on this, and the fact that Ms. Biyalik chose that photograph seems to confirm my suspicions. Melissa Joan Hart shared a sweatpants and T-shirt backstage no make up just two girls relaxing shot of her and Brandy - for a moment not two teenage millionaire stars, but two kids goofing around backstage the way two kids do.
Each photo was chosen for a reason. Nobody seemed to game it at all - if they weren't physically awkward they were psychologically awkward - even if it doesn't appear to be aware to be so. And it's kind of interesting and telling to look at the photos and realize that literally everyone has photographs they never look at and don't want to be reminded of.
I'm curious to see where this goes. Hopefully it continues beyond that one-time charity cum advertising spot and turns into a larger dialog.