Published May 29, 2017Chris Gethard is a paradox. He describes himself as "unintimidating" and admits that "almost everything makes [him] sad," but his actions are not those of a small or fragile man. Though Gethard identifies with Morrissey's gloomy music to the point where he's got two Smiths related tattoos, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" could just as easily be a fitting theme song for the New York-based standup comic.
"The number one thing I would try in life is failure. Just do something that you're going to fail at hard and realize that failing is not as scary as we all think it is. It's a pretty crappy feeling, but crap is also a fertilizer," Gethard tells Exclaim! "It tends to lead to stuff you don't expect, and that feels more honest. So I'm not looking for an easy life. I'm looking for one where I can experience the most."
A guy who literally preaches "Lose Well" as his catch phrase, Gethard certainly hasn't shied away from risky endeavours. His latest special for HBO, Career Suicide, is a candid discussion of his lifelong journey with depression and anxiety. It's far from sugar-coated, yet it still manages to make people laugh and connect with his darkest moments.
"Intimacy was very important to me for [Career Suicide]; especially where I grew up, the conversation about mental health issues is not one that people are comfortable having," Gethard explains. "But if I can make people feel like they're in their living room while they're watching it, I think it goes a long way. So the set looks a lot like a suburban basement, and we made sure the people in the front row were lit and you can see the eye contact I was having with them. I'm not wearing a leather suit like some comedians with their big specials do. I'm just a real guy talking to you."
Gethard is also not hesitant about taking chances when it comes to his talk show. When The Chris Gethard Show began on public access television in New York City, its staff were all volunteers and it ran with basically no budget for over 150 episodes. He often worried whether it was going to pay off, but now it's a cult hit heading into its third season on TruTV after two critically acclaimed seasons on Fusion. With executive producers Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell and guests like Paul Giamatti and Jon Hamm, it's hitting big-time success.
"I have a lot of love for Fusion. They kept it going for years," Gethard reflects. "But TruTV feels like a comedy community that didn't exist at Fusion. Also there's just the raw data that Fusion is a smaller network. TruTV is on in 90 million households — no joke."
Though The Chris Gethard Show is getting a larger platform and some of its writers have also been hired to write for mainstream programs like The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live, Gethard is insistent on making his show more experimental than ever. After two seasons of taped and edited episodes, The Chris Gethard Show is going back to being live-to-air like it was in its public access days.
"Public access is the wild west of television. The fact that TruTV is letting us do the show live is pretty crazy. The cast and the writers of The Chris Gethard Show, we're a bunch of fucking troublemakers and we always have been. We've never hidden that," Gethard laughs. "I said to the TruTV head of programming just the other day, 'You know half of these are going to be train wrecks, right?' and she said 'Yeah. We think the train wrecks are some of the best ones.' They let the comedy nerds run this network! It's insane."
After years of listening to people call in to his talk show from around the world, Gethard has also launched a long-form interview podcast called Beautiful/Anonymous. Each episode is just a full hour of Gethard talking to an unidentified stranger about anything they want, and the results range from funny to heartbreakingly poignant.
"There were a bunch of times during the public access days of The Chris Gethard Show where I would take phone calls and they would last really long, so we'd stop paying attention to the theme of the show and just see where things went. At Fusion, we couldn't do that and it felt like a big loss to me. I also remember being a kid and when the phone on the wall in your kitchen started ringing, you didn't know who was on the other end. Could be good news, could be bad. I think I have some nostalgia for that."
Chris Gethard is about to tour through Canada with a show that's partly standup, partly a live edition of Beautiful/Anonymous. The comedian who's made appearances on The Office and Broad City "could not be more psyched to come back".
"I've always heard that Vancouver is a great city, so I'm excited for that." Gethard smiles. "In Toronto, I did Career Suicide. I always point to that JFL42 show as the one where Career Suicide really cracked open. It's a show that made people uncomfortable a little bit, even in Brooklyn where I have the most support. But in Toronto, the reception was like: 'We get it. It's funny, it's scary, and it's a little sad, but it's worth it.' Then Just For Laughs in Montreal led to it being on HBO, so Canada is very special in my heart."
Don't miss Chris Gethard in Vancouver on May 30 and in Toronto on June 8. Tickets are available here.