Chris Gethard is having a good 2017. His one man show, Career Suicide, recently aired on HBO. The Chris Gethard Show moves to TruTV on August 3. He’s currently on a stand up/podcast tour for his stand up and podcast, Beautiful/Anonymous. He’s in the very well received, just added to Netflix 2016 film Don’t Think Twice. In other words, he’s doing very well.
Chris Gethard is doing well because he’s doing himself. His talk show began because he wanted a show. So he went to public access. Which lead to Fusion. Which led to his very successful Earwolf podcast. Which led to Tru TV. Which led to more exposure to his one man show. Which led to his Judd Apatow produced HBO special.
Brightest Young Things: How are you?
Chris Gethard: I’m good. How are you?
BYT: I’m fine. Do you think people ask you more how you’re doing after the special on HBO?
C.G.: I think people do ask me how I’m doing a little more often and they also want to tell me how they’re doing a little more often and both of those things are quite nice.
BYT: That’s good. Before we go any further, do you consider yourself a success?
C.G.: I would say that in the past year I have had to begrudgingly admit that I am finally a success of some level, sure.
BYT: Why did that take so long?
C.G.: Well, I think it wasn’t up to me. Life gave me a weird path to walk and it wasn’t a very traditional path and that’s good, I enjoyed it greatly. But I don’t think that it was anybody’s traditional definition of success but I really am thankful for it because I think for a long time even when I was doing well like with the public access stuff I was like yeah, but its public access what exactly is going on. There was a lot of soul searching but at the end of the day I looked back and realized it was all worth it and successful in its own way and it’s led to me having this career that’s much more in my hands and in my control than it would have been otherwise. I really don’t regret a minute of how I got here.
BYT: Do you ever wish that you maybe started earlier or later or didn’t try so hard on one thing and just embraced who you are from the start?
C.G.: If there’s one regret I have of my time in comedy it’s that I really I was so obsessed with improv for so many years and I exclusively did improv for the first six years or seven years. I was doing comedy and then I started doing solo work and stand up, a bit of writing, making videos, and really going into it on that end. When young comedians ask me for advice that’s the one thing I always say is if they’re improvisers, “I’m like do improv, don’t make that your sole thing.” Because at the end of the day when you do your best work you also just kinda, by definition flush it down the toilet and never do it again. And that’s great and there’s something pure and beautiful and artistic about that but that’s the one thing I look back on and think, well, I maybe could have started everything a little sooner taken some stress out of my life if I actually wrote things down and did second drafts and didn’t wait over half a decade to get that process started.
BYT: Do you think that you could have actually done this a decade ago or a half decade sooner or it just maybe took all of the other art forms to catch up? Because when you started performing, podcasts didn’t exist and The Moth was not everywhere, and Death, Sex, and Money was not an outlet for you to tell your story. There were one man shows, they’ve always been there, but the way that people consume media was quite different.
C.G.: Oh for sure, and I’ve been a pretty big beneficiary that there are so many ways to put yourself out there into the world right now in small ways that are on your terms. For sure I think that at the end of the day if I got started a little sooner on stuff that was more written more permanent I would have just made a lot of mistakes earlier. I don’t know if it would have led to earlier success but I think it would have led to thicker skin and it would have gotten the ball rolling.
Everyone needs some trial and error figuring out how it’s gonna work for them. I could have gotten that out of the way a little sooner but I think you’re totally right, the way I kind of think about things and the way I wanted to put myself out there doesn’t fit the traditional side of things. I needed things like podcasts and YouTube and things that allow you to get it out there yourself and stand in the flames.
I actually, I don’t even know how true that is because at the end of the day, I think public access television has more to do with my career than anything else in the world. And that’s a system that’s been around of many decades and is something that people think is so outdated that they don’t even think it still exists.
I benefited from all the new media stuff and I also figured out a pretty tricky way to use a very dusty form of old media. So at the end of the day it’s by hook or by crook, right like I just figured like I’m either gonna make it happen or I’m gonna go insane. So I better just find a way to make it happen, pronto.
I was doing this show at UCB and it was really strange and I wanted to turn it into a TV show and producers had talked to me and there was a lot of buzz around it and it just wasn’t happening and I realized if I want to make it happen, public access is kind of the only outlet. And the thing I didn’t anticipate was that we can live stream it now and I can Tweet about it and I can put it on Facebook. You can grab clips, you can grab images, you can make GIFs, you can make these memes out of it. All these ways to get it out there that didn’t exist before so it definitely was this thing of well the public access studio is a free studio and that’s the only way I can get three cameras pointed at my show and do my show and then along the way pretty quickly into it we realized this might take on a whole different life because of all this technology and I do look and think, we were the first ones to kind of realize that. In the process of doing so over the past 6 years, we also built this like fan community that’s really engaged and that participates to an insane degree. And in the past six years that’s come to be what networks want and that didn’t make any sense in 2011 and I think our show actually makes a lot more sense now to a network.
So it’s kinda like, you know, the traditional media readjusted at the same time we were figuring out the new things with public access.
As far as the NPR thing, I actually think that’s been a nice step for me but it’s also been almost like this concurrent step for me. I think if you watch The Chris Gethard Show it’s pretty nuts, it’s like people burritos on my naked belly.
That’s not necessarily an NPR crowd thing. But, being in New York and being a thoughtful guy, I think a lot of the NPR personalities looked out for me and embraced me. You mentioned Death, Sex, and Money, Anna Sale and I met because she was a fan of the public access show and asked me to get lunch. She was like, “You’re doing it all yourself, I think I wanna do that,” and I was like, “Oh, you should,” and she has a podcast and chose to forgo the traditional radio side of it. And I think there were a lot of kindred spirits there even though the content doesn’t scream NPR, I think like, NPR is a pretty progressive place and what was underneath it all matched up so nicely.
BYT: You’re doing a podcast as well, you mentioned that so I feel like this is a fine time to bring up Beautiful/Anonymous. I have absolutely no fear of talking to a stranger face to face, I have no fear going on a stage. I have no desire ever to pick up a phone call, let alone to call someone who I have no idea and I have no background or anything. So, simple question is: Why?
C.G.: It started mostly because we took phone calls on the public access show and we took so many of them over the years and I loved them and then when we switched to the Fusion Network they made the first season of the show half an hour, so the phone calls had to be really punchy quick and I just missed it, I missed talking to random people on the phone. It was a weird skill set to develop, especially in the current climate of things, is that we’ve switched to text messages, we do anything we can to avoid being on the phone.
But I liked it, and a lot of things when we were young growing up, before cell phones, it was just like a phone on the wall and it would ring and you wouldn’t know who it was and there was something kind of exciting about that like you didn’t know if it was gonna be a telemarketer or if it was gonna be a relative, whether it was gonna be good news or bad news, you had no idea- there was no caller ID. I think I felt pretty nostalgic for that.
The other thing that I realized through public access was like even when we had people Skype in and you could see their face it was just a totally different tone because phone, nobody knows who you are and sometimes people say anything and sometimes people have things in their lives that they don’t talk about and they need to get off their chest and the phone, it turns out is a pretty good outlet for that. And just like the public access station for me it’s like another kind of outdated medium that maybe had some usefulness that maybe we had forgotten about.
Most of it was curiosity about that, missing having phone calls on my TV show, and even then we weren’t sure it was gonna work or have any appeal. But the first time we did it I Tweeted out the number and calls just poured in and all the producers at Earwolf were like, “Oh, there’s something here.” We got very lucky and thankfully there’s a lot of exhibitionists who want to tell their stories anonymously and there’s a whole lot of voyeurs who want to feel like a fly on the wall and hear about people’s lives.
BYT: It’s definitely the thing you do that makes me the most uncomfortable.
C.G.: Yeah, and I do a lot of uncomfortable things. So that’s saying a lot.