After dribbling itself from format to format and network to network over the years, The Chris Gethard Show has one goal for this week’s return to truTV. “This is the first time that the show has taken a break, and when we come back we’re not on a new network, or we’re not completely [changing] the format…” says Chris Gethard. “There’s always been massive structural changes that we’ve had to spend time strategizing leading up to the show. This is the first time that we came in to start producing things and coming up with ideas, and all we had to worry about was what’s the funniest shit we could possibly make… Let’s lock and load.”
Both locking and loading have been two of the show’s biggest fortes on its journey from a regular show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre to a live public access show to a thirty-minute, pre-taped show on Fusion to an hour-long, pre-taped show on Fusion to an hour-long live show on truTV. It doesn’t look like that will change when it comes to Tuesday’s episode, featuring Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and power-pop outfit Charly Bliss in an adventure called “We’re Giving Away Cars!”
And the show has only gained more momentum during its hiatus from the increasingly intertwined tendrils of Gethard’s multiple fanbases, a reality he freely acknowledges. A recent show at the new Brooklyn Comedy Collective advertised Gethard’s performance thusly: “No suicide talk” (his HBO special Career Suicide), “no emo phone calls” (his podcast Beautiful/Anonymous), “no insane characters screaming on T.V.” (you get the idea). “If I could get all [those fans] in one place, it would be a pretty formidable army,” says Gethard. “But at the end of the day, I think I’m a pretty restless person, and I love jumping from style to style, and I love making things that feel different from each other… It’s definitely a self-created situation, but I feel lucky that I have any of it.”
Gethard’s different careers may represent different aspects of his personality—meaning no one of them can be singled out as the purest expression of what he wants to do—but in the pursuit of organized chaos, you can’t really do better than The Chris Gethard Show. And organized chaos is the name of the game. Though each segment of the show is carefully outlined and planned, its golden moments exists in the spaces between the plan. “My goal is to go out there and execute the game plan,” Gethard says, “but then very close behind that, my next goal is that if it doesn’t go according to the game plan, I want it to completely fall apart. I want it to be a true disaster. I really think that so many things about talk shows… so many of the things you think of are sort of arbitrary, and I want to break that over my knee… I like the ice bucket thing going awry. I like Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer just completely dominating. I like getting beat up by jiu-jitsu fighters on the show. I feel like that’s when the show’s kind of at its best; when you have those moments where there’s nobody at the wheel.”
It’s one of the main takeaways from last year, when Gethard’s biggest regret was an episode featuring Timothy Simons, hypothesizing an alternate reality where Gethard had gotten Simons’ role on Veep and Simons was hosting a talk show. “We tore down our set completely and built it back up all in the course of a commercial break…” says Gethard. “And we did it so well that everybody watching thought we had just pre-taped it… To me that’s just proof that my show is not at its best when it goes well.” Though, not to editorialize, but since an entertaining show is, after all, a show that goes well, it may be more that the Gethard Show thrives when the possibility of actual, unentertaining failure is immediate and real.
This disposition, one that defines Gethard’s interests as well as many of his fan’s, is perhaps most evident in his curation of the show’s musical acts, which run the gamut from bands whose primary successes were a little while ago (Less Than Jake, They Might Be Giants) to underground bands with smaller but extremely devoted fanbases (PUP, The Front Bottoms, Mal Blum). Their inclusion on the show is something Gethard has fought for, and it’s something he’s proud of. “As far as things that feel like hungry artists who are motivated to go out there and do some damage, I think we’re the ones putting those people on TV most consistently,” says Gethard. “I just really don’t have interest in dealing with A&R reps who are trying to push product for bands who are already well on their way to becoming millionaires.” It’s also a responsibility that goes beyond preference and principal—a matter not of paying it forward but paying it back.
Gethard has not forgotten that the show’s public access run was not an unqualified success from the word ‘go.’ “Our first six months were grim,” he says. “Nobody was watching the show, nobody liked the show. And the people who stepped up were musicians… Those bands started showing up and playing our show, and telling us that what we were doing had some juice to it. That is was valid. And I feel greatly indebted to the underground music scene.”
As much as ‘comedy is the new punk rock’ (punk is the most well-represented genre on the show’s lineup) has become a somewhat tired point of comparison, The Chris Gethard Show is probably a case where its an appropriate one. “A lot of people say that comedy has come to occupy something in young people’s minds in the same way music did for my generation,” Gethard notes. “You identify yourself by the bands you like—you identify yourself by the comedians you like.” And when it comes to Gethard himself, those two fanbases are most definitely all in one place.
Specifically, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where Gethard made a surprise appearance in December to bring his friend Jeff Rosenstock on stage. The crowd completely lost it, reacting as if a fourth band (the bill included past Gethard Show guests Laura Stevenson and Chris Farren) had shown up. “That reaction…” recalls Gethard. “I definitely felt cooler than I ever have… The fact that the punk community sees me as their guy really does make me feel like I’m selling out in the best way possible… We’re not on public access. We sold out. There’s money involved. We’ve now been on two cable networks. Things are progressively growing. We’re selling out… This thing’s gonna get cancelled someday. All TV shows do. And when it does, I want to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I did a thing I’m proud of, and I did it the right way.’”
When you’re talking about a show that defines itself by riding the line between success and catastrophe, the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. But as long as the show is running, Gethard intends to grow and change with it. “Sometimes we fall into the trap—like everybody does—[where] you kind of fall into a tone or stock things that work,” he says. “We really avoid that. We don’t want to do, like, set recurring bits just because we know they work.”
And if that approach led to a situation where The Chris Gethard Show is heading into season, say, twenty? “I’d like to think it would be, creatively, very similar,” says Gethard. “But I have a lot less hair.”
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.