"I assure you this is a comedy show," Chris Gethard said at the outset of his hour-long show at Montreal's Mainline Theatre, after explaining that his material dealt with depression, alcoholism and suicide. The crowd laughed and hollered in support.
The Brooklyn comic, who hosts the cult public access television program The Chris Gethard Show and is the author of the non-fiction collection A Bad Idea I'm About to Do, has become a mental health advocate since an open letter he wrote to a suicidal fan went viral in 2012.
His hour-long Just For Laughs set focussed on his own history with mental health issues, beginning with his first suicide attempt in his early 20s. After describing how he drove his car into the back of a pick-up truck and survived, Gethard made jokes about the Northern New Jersey community he grew up in, specifically how every woman speaks like Carmella Soprano, and how the man who pulled him out of his overturned car — who he in some ways owes his life to — used a racist slur after helping him.
The intimate venue gave Gethard's plainspoken set extra weight. His performance style throughout was restrained and charming, and he clearly has comedic talent in spades. Using recurring references to his strange therapist and callbacks to Smiths songs as a way to structure the show, Gethard portrayed a number of his experiences with paranoia, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts with honesty and care.
It's clear that Gethard understands the public service value of simply talking about mental health, a topic that is far too often hidden away, and the crowd was appreciative of his willingness to speak so candidly. His airing of his own experiences with depression clearly comes from a desire to communicate and share, and it is never needlessly dark or excessive.
There were plenty of humorous and joyous moments mixed in, including his description of driving across America to work on a comedy show in L.A., and playing basketball with two Mexican crew members who were also huge Smiths fans.
When speaking about his most recent troubles, Gethard's microphone began to crackle. He admitted that his hands were sweaty because this part of the show made him "really nervous, so the microphone is probably full of my sweat," before a tech passed him the backup mic.
It was a vulnerable moment, moving even, one of many in a show where Gethard fearlessly opened up about his personal life in order to tell an honest, emotionally resonant story about his struggles with the chemicals inside his brain.