If you have no idea who Chris Gethard is, then you obviously haven’t been watching The Chris Gethard Show, quite possibly the most quietly addictive show on the Internet. Simultaneously broadcasted on Wednesday nights on Manhattan public access and Ustream (the episodes are also archived on iTunes and Blip.tv), the show features Gethard and a peanut gallery of sidekicks, including ornery best friend Shannon O’Neill, various people in costumes, an old lady who constantly hula-hoops and Human Fish, a man who’s mainly covered in swim trunks, flippers and an unbelievable amount of body hair.
With their assistance, Gethard has done awesome (and awesomely weird) episodes like “Night of Zero Laughs” (where Gethard and company tries not to laugh during the whole show), “Monologues Only” (an entire episode where Gethard does late-night talk show-style monologue jokes) and “The Dominatrix Show” (whatever you’re thinking of, yes, that was the show).
This weekly dose of usually off-the-cuff nuttiness is something Gethard, who is both a regular of New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and an author who has dabble in weird, strange things (along with writing for the Weird U.S. travel-guide books, he has just released his own book, A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure).
Luckily, he’s bringing this show to the Cat’s Cradle on Friday, as part of the N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, which comes to a close on Saturday. We spoke to the 31-year-old, Queens-based Jersey boy about his show and why he prefers the company of weirdos like himself.
ARTERY:An easy place to start would be where the hell did The Chris Gethard Show come from?
GETHARD: I’ve been doing comedy in New York for 12 years and have done all the traditional types—improv is my base, I do storytelling, stand up, pretty much anything. But, along the way, I also got a reputation for staging some sort of out-of-the-box, stunt-driven stuff. Eventually the UCB Theatre gave me one night a month as a home just for those bigger, weirder ideas. A lot of it was spurred by the time I rented a bus to take people all over New Jersey showing them where my stories took place. That event’s high point was taking 60 strangers into the basement where I lost my virginity. It was weird, but people dug it. That led to a lot of momentum that lead to my very weird show.
You seem to be a person who has built a bit of a rep for basically capturing general weirdness, whether it’s on your show or your work with Weird U.S. Where did that desire to unearth weird stuff come from?
I think being from New Jersey helps a lot with it. New Jersey makes people really appreciate odd stuff and out-of-the-box stuff, and also sort of puts a chip on peoples’ shoulders. In my case, that meant growing up to be the type of person who likes to see stuff up close, likes to deal with things head-on. I just have always had a very curious side and a lot of willingness to take things slightly farther than they probably should have been taken.
How did the show make the leap from the UCB Theatre to New York public access?
After we did the #DiddyGethard event [Gethard spent nearly a year getting Sean “Diddy” Combs on his UCB show, even getting a Twitter campaign going with the #DiddyGethard hashtag], it felt like we weren’t going to top it. The show needed to evolve or get put to bed. Right around that time, my friend Keith filled me in on his day job working at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Manhattan’s public access station. It sounded like it had all sorts of great stuff to offer and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a great fit. We took the plunge and went for it, and I’ve been very, very happy with how things have turned out there.
Would you say finally getting Diddy to do your live show finally brought you out there in the limelight?
I think it gave me some buzz for sure. But getting press for being a weirdo doesn’t necessarily lead to the limelight, per se, as much as it gives you a reputation for staging odd events.
And have you considered trying to get other famous, usually unobtainable people on the show?
I have, but I also don’t want to get a reputation as “the guy who hassles celebrities into doing his show.” I think the content of the show is strong with or without celebrities, and if it’s just about getting celebrities, it doesn’t have much heart.
When you watch the show, it seems to be such a quintessentially odd, only-in-New York show, like the ones Joe Franklin and Glenn O’Brien did. Were those guys inspirations of yours, or did you draw upon other inspirations for your show?
Joe Franklin is definitely a guy I respect a lot and have viewed a ton of. I grew up loving Andy Kaufman, David Letterman, Howard Stern, Bloom County, punk rock and pro wrestling, and I think they all show up in my show. On top of that, New Jersey was the home of a legendary figure in the world of homemade TV, Uncle Floyd, and he is a definite, definite source of inspiration for the stuff I’m doing now.
What made you decide to take the show out on the road? And what are the fans like?
We started taking the show on the road when we were still housed at UCB. The show had gotten a reputation for pulling off some cool, weird stuff and at that point people could only hear about it, not see it for themselves up close. It felt like getting out there would be a fun, interesting thing to do, and it has been. The fans have been great! We find that we have some like-minded weirdos everywhere we go, which has been inspiring and encouraging.
How do you feel about doing the show at NCCAF? Is this your first time doing the festival?
This is my first time at NCCAF, though I have performed in Chapel Hill at DSI a number of times. I am very excited to do NCCAF. It has a great national reputation and everyone I know from NYC who has attended has nothing but glowing, positive things to say about the experience. I hope we step up to the plate and deliver with our show in a way that honors the tradition of the festival.
Will you also be there hawking your new book? How would you describe your journey of becoming a full-fledged, published author?
We will be hawking the book! I try not to be too ashamed of that. Becoming an author was a fun, scary, intimidating and rewarding process. Basically, it involved working very hard, being persistent, having thick skin in the face of multiple rejections, and hoping that someday the book would come to exist. I’m very happy to say that it does in fact exist.
Your show is very eccentric, to say the least. Can you give novices a brief summary of what they can expect?
Basically, if you watch our public access show, you’re going to experience a highly interactive show that aims to make TV a two way experience. You can call us, tweet at us, email us, really have an impact on the show. There’s a whole crew of oddballs that comprise the world of the show, and on any given night you might see something insane—from our dominatrix episode to our kickboxer episode, to a presidential debate double booked with a Halloween party, to any number of things. MNN is great about giving us almost complete and total freedom to stage what we want and we try to make each week feel like a unique event worth watching. Basically, it’s fun, it’s weird, it’s funny, and if you watch enough you will really feel like you’re a part of it!
Finally, what do you want people to take with them after checking out The Chris Gethard Show?
I hope people walk away feeling amused and feeling like they saw something unique. Also if they are a person who feels like a loser in general, I hope they feel like they just encountered a bunch of other losers who are owning it and having fun with it and not being ashamed of their loser status. We’re just a bunch of losers who have a public access show and a stage show and like being funny and weird.
The Chris Gethard Show is at 9:30 Friday at Cat’s Cradle. Tickets are $16 ($14 for students). Go to www.catscradle.com for more details.
Hey, here’s an hour-long episode recommended by the author of this post. —ed.