Comedian Chris Gethard is a storyteller through his books, a new album, and a show that's captivated a growing audience in New York and increasingly across the country. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
It's not every comedian who can say they played Giants Stadium. Chris Gethard did with the 1996 West Orange, N.J. High School Marching Mountaineers.
"It is an exclusive if you air the marching band footage because it is really, it's bad," he says. "If you cut to it right now, everyone watching will be like, 'Ooh, yeah, he is right. It's bad.”
Gethard is perhaps unlike any comedian you've seen or heard. He's an alum of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv company. He's performed with SNL stars, done standup all over the country, showcased his work on Conan. He's also written several books, and he has a new comedy album called "My Comedy Album."
What really sets Chris Gethard apart is what happens every Wednesday night on the Manhattan neighborhood network, public access: The Chris Gethard Show.
"It's like a kid, I think," he says. "I don't have a kid, but from what I hear, they make you really proud, and then sometimes, you're like, 'Oh, how do you share my name?' That's my exact relationship with the public access show. So many times where I'm like, 'This it one of the coolest things going,' and then there are times where I'm like, 'Well, I'm pulling nine wiffle bats and the Nerf cannon out of the trunk again. I'm 33 years old. What exactly is the end goal with this?"
Gethard calls it "the most bizarre and often saddest talk show in New York City. It's relatively free-form, with themes like "the night of zero laughs" and "the hour-long song show." There's a rather interesting cast of characters, including the human fish and Mimi on the hoops.
You may not know the show, but plenty of people in New York and beyond in their teens and 20s love it.
"A guy on a bike will just be like, 'Gethard!' And I'll be like, 'What's up, man?'" he says. "And I've realized, oh, public access is, people in New York find it, but also, it's theirs, and you can feel that."
Gethard first did the show on stage at Upright Citizens Brigade before bringing it to public access in 2011. What started out as experimental comedy evolved into a safe haven where everyone, especially those drawn to Gethard's non-traditional humor and approach, could join in, in studio, online, on the phone.
The show has also given viewers a place to talk about serious topics like mental health. Gethard has discussed his own battles with depression on the show and in his book.
"I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of with that stuff, either, and I think that's part of why some of the kids who watch my show have been comfortable reaching out to me about it, because it's like, I wouldn't be ashamed of diabetes if I had it, I wouldn't be ashamed about any of that, so I’m not going to be ashamed for going on medication for another disease, just because it's in my head," he says.
It has not been your standard show business trajectory: the comic with a large cult following on public access who once starred in a short-lived Comedy Central sitcom created by Will Ferrell called "Big Lake." It lasted only one season, and Gethard took the brunt of the criticism.
"When it failed, it didn't break me like I thought it would if that happened," he says. "If the big jobs, if the big brass ring jobs aren't going to kind of fulfill me in the way I thought they were, I might as well do the things I want that do fulfill me."
That's one reason why Gethard has chosen to stay here.
"I think if I go to L.A., it's going to be all about getting jobs, it's about getting on a sitcom or getting on a writing staff, whereas here, I can try strange projects," he says. "I can run a public access TV show, and that doesn't feel like career suicide. That feels like an interesting experiment."
However, he's also realistic.
"It's a very romantic notion that I don't know what's happening in six months, but there's also times where I'm like, 'I'm getting married, man. I can't really, can't keep doing that forever. I need to know that I'll have health insurance in a year and a half,'" he says.
Gethard grew up in West Orange, N.J., close to New York but a world away from Upright Citizens Brigade and the comedy venues that would become his home.
"Being a comedian and an actor, it was not something you were really supposed to do being from a blue-collar Irish neighborhood in northern New Jersey, so it really, I think, made me commit to it hard and feel like I had to kind of fight for it if I wanted to do it," Gethard said.
He was influenced by punk rockers and comics. At Rutgers, Gethard struggled, so he started attending classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York.
"I found a community of comedians and oddballs, and it was a really good fit, and I kind of look at UCB as my real college experience," he says.
To make some money, Gethard didn't go the usual struggling artist route. He worked at a magazine called Weird New Jersey, writing ghost stories.
"I don't think I could've been living a life more disconnected from actual reality for the first half of my 20s," he said. "I was just really off in a very specific world. This is really the first time I've realized that. There's no one else who I think will ever do that or has ever done that, professional ghost hunter by day, comedian by night."
Gethard has often put himself in adventurous spots that other comics might avoid, such as getting assaulted by a kick boxer on his show and volunteering to hitchhike from California to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee.
"I tried to hitchhike, and a homeless woman attacked me with a stick," he says. "This traveling woman just came out of the, she came from around the corner and was like, 'This is my spot. I've been trying to get a ride for hours.' And I was like, 'My bad.'"
Almost every part of Gethard's life can become his comedy material. On the award-winning public radio program This American Life, he recalled his awful behavior as a toddler, torturing his mother.
"I remember feeling like I ran the show, like, 'I'm in charge. I'm in charge here,'" he said on the show.
"It's funny to think about, but it's also like, 'Wow, that wasn't easy for her,'" he says. "Most of my comedy, right under the surface, there's some pain."
Gethard does bring a lot of joy to his many fans, creating a television home unlike any other.
The Chris Gethard Show has shot a pilot for Comedy Central. Gethard's challenge is balancing his ambition as he tries to stay true to himself and his devoted audience.
"I really believe in it," he says. "I know it's not for everybody. A lot of people who find the show have no idea what's going on, but for the people who love it, they really, really love it, so I knew we were on to something. For me, I think if we got a chance to bring the show to a broader platform, if it wound up on cable, if it wound up on a platform that people could find it more easily, I really think it could do some damage. I really think it would turn some heads."