Sure, you've seen it before: A bunch of crazy Broadway hopefuls get up on stage and tell us what they did for love. Or, let's be blunt, love and money.

But these kids are different. Theirs is the dark side of the trade. The heartbreak, the shame. And rarely has an evening of actors pouring it out seemed so honest, so gripping, so, well--hysterical.

Big Kiss, now at the Miranda Theater, is brilliant fun, featuring "New York's funniest unknown actors telling their most humiliating audition stories."

"You might ask yourself, why can't we all just, you know, call each other and talk about this stuff?" says host Henry Alford. "It's because, for a true exorcising of demons, it has to be public. And there has to be an element of pain involved." Pause. "Now you're glad you came."

Alford's career--he's now a co-host at VH-1--started at the tender age of 34, when he decided to lay down the pen he had successfully pushed for the likes of Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine, and take up the mantle of struggling New York actor. A step up? You make the call. The next few years gave him fodder for his newest book Big Kiss: One Actor's Desparate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top.

The next step was a lucky publicity coup. Jonathan Karp, senior editor at Random House and publisher of Alford's book, decided to put together a gala evening of shame. He held an open call for actors willing to self-lacerate in public with their worst experiences. The response was incredible. Now on it's feet, the show is a riot.

The stories are as varied in subject as they are alike in sheer horror. A non-dancer decides to audition for the same Broadway chorus he performed in junior high. A woman is forced to dress up as a Koala and copulate--and, to her horror, she finds that she likes it. A young actress explains her first commercial calls, and now no one will ever think the same way of the words, "And crannies!"

For me, the emotional heart of the piece is when Hillary Howard tells of her big audition for the NYU/Tisch graduate acting program. The tension, the preparation, the self-loathing. When it comes to her jaunt through blank verse, we get an excruciating blow-by-blow of Nina's line from The Seagull, "You can't imagine what it's like to feel that you are acting abominably."

As these actors step up to the confessional, one forgives them anything. There are no weak moments, and some that make the audience roar. Double entendre subtly builds in Matt Meyer's poultry audition. And there is simply no way of explaining Micheline Auger's crowning piece, "Poop". It must be seen to be believed.

This is the sort of thing that should go to Broadway. It won't, but it should. Sure, these kids don't have the gold sequin hats, and tonight the gay guy doesn't break his leg. But this is the magic that people eat up--have always eaten up--the magic of big dreams keeping artists alive through all the worst.

One leaves feeling very full. And a funny thing happened as I walked to Port Authority. For every Broadway sign, I saw a thousand rejected chorus boys with snapped dance belts. For every star in the footlights, there were at least a hundred more with flubbed lines and bitterness in their hearts--and stories to tell.

By god, this may be a city full of heartache. But you're not going home until you've laughed it all off.