Chris Gethard is redefining what is possible on late night television. Gethard’s passionate ode to DIY entertainment, The Chris Gethard Show, has shifted platforms over the years, first from the stage of UCB, then to cable access television and the Fusion Network, and now finally on truTV. Still, the show’s essence and mission statement remains the same.
Gethard and his unconventional team of characters have often been described as the “island of misfit toys,” but the show’s latest season has shown that in addition to that, they can help revitalize a genre. Nothing is off limits with The Chris Gethard Show and it remains to be one of the few programs that is capable of being genuinely surprising and unpredictable.
The Chris Gethard Show is already airing its inaugural 16-episode season on truth and we got to chat with Chris about why television should be a dialogue with the audience, how this latest season is like “the public access stuff on steroids,” and a whole lot more (including ALF).
DEN OF GEEK: It’s nice to see the show slowly moving from home to home but still remaining the same and not losing its heart and essence along the way. Has the latest move to truTV allowed you to do anything that you haven’t been able to in the past?
CHRIS GETHARD: Yeah, it has in a couple of cool ways. First off, I think it’s actually allowed us to take a deep breath and get back to our roots, comedically. TruTV is a comedy network, after all, that is interested in great comedic shows. Fusion was so good to us and kept the show alive. They allowed us to have a budget for the first two seasons. A lot of their network was focused on things like social justice work or documentaries about issues, for example. They wanted us to tie a lot of our programming into that. So there were some hoops to jump through back then. But the idea that we can now just bust out some paintball guns and get back to our public access roots without having to tie our programs into anything larger is one of the really great things about truTV.
The other side of it, as far as budget goes, is that we’re a bigger budget show now. I’m really proud that I’ve been seeing a lot of old school fans commenting that this feels like public access with a real budget. To me, that’s the experiment. To take something so niche and weird and then do it on this mainstream scale.
I heard that Tru were also the ones that proposed returning to the live format, which is super awesome. Has it been nice to return to doing the show live and recapturing that energy of the cable access version?
Yeah! I was blown away by that. They took me out to lunch, asked me that, and I kind of couldn’t believe it. Marissa Ronca, one of the executives over at truTV, I told her that I was almost feeling guilty over that sort of setup. I said to her, “Look, full disclosure, if it’s a live show then some of them are going to be trainwrecks. They’re not all going to go well.” Her response was, “Yeah, we actually think those are the ones that people are going to respond to the most.”
That blew me away. I was like, “Wow, they actually get it.” They understand how experiments like this work. All of that has me feeling like I’m in extremely safe hands. They’re really letting us take a big swing with what we do and if it fails, we can at least walk away proud and knowing that it was on our own terms. It can still be a little hard to wrap my head around though.
I like that you guys really embrace the character-based comedy aspect of late-night television and talk shows. Do you think that sensibility of the “genre” is somewhat being lost now?
It’s hard to say. Everything goes through changes, right? I think that’s cool though. I’m not bad talking what’s going on at the moment either. When I think about the people who really influenced me in terms of late night, I think of the absurdism and format breaking of Letterman combined with the character stuff that Conan did. That’s the show that I’d want to watch as a senior in high school. I worshipped the altar of both of those people. Even that old writing staff on Conan—Kevin Dorf, Brian McCann, Brian Stack, Jon Glaser, Andy Blitz—that’s just one of the best sketch teams ever assembled, it doesn’t matter if it happens to be taking place on a late night show.
I also think that just as a show that was operating out of New York for so long, it really made me see closely that there are dozens and dozens of comedians in New York City that are doing interesting stuff that might never have a chance at mainstream appeal because they’re experimental or dark and strange.
There are just so many talented, hungry people in New York. I know the people that helped me on my way up who gave me opportunities and let me use their platforms. So I’d love to return that favor and help give comedians their first acting or writing job on television. It’s just the right thing to do to try and show off my city and show off my scene.
You’re two episodes into this season now. How do they feel in comparison to the other shows that you’ve done? Is the same sort of vibe, or have you noticed any differences?
It feels like the public access show on steroids. If the old show drank like nine Red Bulls. I’m really proud of our first episode and I really want to make sure that we also show off that our show can get really personal with the fans and just sit down and talk honestly with them. That’s the one piece of the puzzle that I just really want to nail.
Well it’s funny that you say that because I love the stunt that you guys did between the first and second episodes where you delivered all of that stuff to that fan in Missouri. That level of connectivity with your online army and audience is obviously what the show is all about, but I love that you guys are still working so hard to still give back to the fans.
Well thanks! I’m glad that you’re noticing it. For me, that stuff’s not bullshit. Some of the highest praise that this show can get—the stuff that means the most to me—is when someone says, “I just moved to a new city, I didn’t have any friends, and your show made me feel like I was a part of something.” A lot of the times fans say that they don’t believe me, but the fans are who saved me. If I helped you go through something, I was getting just as much out of that experience.
It’s beautiful to be able to connect with so many people that took a chance on a public access TV show. I always want to connect with those people. That’s always what this will be about. They got me through some hard times in my life and I always need to put that on a pedestal above everything else.
What crazy experiment or stunt that you’ve pulled off in the past on the show are you the most proud of? Is there one that really stands out to you?
Good question! Let’s see…We did a thing—it was sort of part of the show—but it involved me going to Bonnaroo. I had to make my way from Los Angeles to Tennessee.
So I had to accept rides from fans, sleep in their homes, and all sorts of stuff. That was the thing that I was really proud of because if you sleep on someone’s basement floor and then have breakfast with them in the morning, it’s of course kind of weird, but looking at in a different context makes it really special. One of my essential goals is to rip down this idea that people on TV are far away from you; that they’re living fantasy lives. Nope. I’ll sleep on your basement floor and I’ll be super grateful about in the morning. That’s not me putting on airs, that’s just what I’m comfortable with doing. Really proud of all of that.
I also really like this one that we did back on public access called the “Genuine Sadness Episode” where we invited people just to call up and let us know what they’re going through and that we were there to listen. It was pretty much because I was going through a pretty bad stretch, but people calling up and sharing weirdly made it not just one of our darkest episodes, but also one of the funniest. It was just brutally honest. I’m really proud of that one, too.
One of my favorite episodes is your “One Man’s Trash” dumpster guessing episode. I’d love to see you guys somehow do another version of that, but it’s kind of a one-off. It’s also something that becomes limited when you’re doing a live show.
Yeah! I really love that episode. That was the first time that I walked away from an episode and was like, “That was it. This is what our show can be when all of the roadblocks are removed.” Let’s just do what we do and be confident about it. It’s dumb, but it’s smart. It’s moving at 100 miles an hour, but it also feels really personal. Creatively, I love that episode.
You’ve got a sizable season of 16 episodes this year. Have you figured out all 16 of them? Have you only thought about part of the year so far?
We plan like two episodes—okay, so we just shot the second episode yesterday and today we’re in the writers room brainstorming what episode three should be and having some big conversations about episode four. I think the show is at its best when it’s in the moment. We really love the idea that in one episode we can say we’re going to a fan’s house and then show video of that in the very next episode.
I like the idea that the show is a living, breathing organism that adjusts week to week. I think that fits the mission of the show, rather than if we had episodes locked from six weeks ago and there was no room for them to adjust or breathe. To me that’s just playing it too safe. If we’re going to say that our show is guided by our audience members and interactions, then we’ve got to really do it. So it’s not in our interest to plan things out too far in advance because they’re going to end up changing anyway.
In addition to the show, I’m also a huge fan of your Beautiful/Anonymous podcast and really love the premise behind it. You also did your one-man show, Career Suicide, last year, too. Are there other outside projects or career goals that you’d like to tackle next or are starting to think about?
Well it’s funny. I’m always somebody who thinks that the best way to approach this industry is to just assume that whatever you’re working on could just end abruptly. The place that I’d really like to get to in the next few years is that if I can get a few things to be successful enough and garner enough credibility, I could maybe be in a position where I could help produce and pitch stuff for other comics. I just look around the city and I see so many people that are just doing so much cool stuff.
That’s one of the driving goals of The Chris Gethard Show at this point in time. If I can get this thing to finally break out and be a hit in some kind of way, then maybe I can grab the other young heroes and they won’t have to spend five years on public access TV to prove that there’s something there. Maybe less stuff with my name on it and more behind the scenes work to help others in the trenches.
I’m a tremendous ALF fan and I know that you are, too. I particularly enjoyed all of your hypothetical ALF movie stuff. Are you hopeful to actually get to somehow work with or reboot ALF in some way? Or maybe even get him on the show?
I mean if ALF wants to come on the show, I’d let that happen in a heartbeat. That’s a no-brainer. And if that ALF movie ever happens, I’ll be an extra. I’ll be in the background. I’ll scrub dishes in a scene in a diner and hash it out with Willy if I have to! Whatever it takes to work with ALF, for sure. Super weird show, but you can’t argue with the joke writing and the quality of the content.
Lastly, is there anything about this new season that we haven’t touched on that you’re particularly excited for people to see? And what would you say to turn people onto the show that have never seen it before?
I think if anything, I would say that it can be an overwhelming experience the first time you turn on the show, but I think the main things about it is that it’s got a lot of heart, we’re not lying and trying to go about everything we do in a really honest way. We’re really trying to let people be a part of it. What I think is really cool about it is that people realize that the more they want to reach out and be a part of things, they can be. Call in and let us know what to do. It’s kind of a really big experiment, but I really don’t want this to be a one-way thing. I don’t think we live in a world any longer where you just stare at the screen and take whatever is being given to you. Be a part of it! The more people that latch onto this thing and become not only fans, but participants, the more it might survive, grow, and get out of control.
I just really want to do a talk show that looks nothing like the talk shows that have come before it, but captures the spirit of what we all love about the ones we love. It’s a weird show, but I think it’s pretty fucking funny and it has a lot of heart.
The Chris Gethard Show airs every Thursday, live, at 11pm on truTV