Rolling Stone named Chris Gethard one of the 50 Funniest People Alive Right Now. He hosts the wild Chris Gethard Show on TruTV, the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People on Earwolf, and performs standup comedy. Gethard starred alongside Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher in the 2016 dramedy film Don’t Think Twice. His off-Broadway one-man show Career Suicide became an HBO special in May of 2017. A native of West Orange, New Jersey, Gethard comes to Philly on June 9 for a live recording of ‘Beautiful/Anonymous’ at the TLA. We spoke by phone about the upcoming tour, as well as how he lives and works these days.
What can fans expect from a live Beautiful/Anonymous show? Are anonymous calls taken with you and a microphone in front of the audience, or do audience members get to participate?
People at Earwolf said you could set up a curtain and bring up somebody from the audience. I was like, “I think people will listen to a phone call.” I’m building in interactive elements. I’m telling people to have their phones out and tweet questions at me. I’m just the captain of the ship. The caller is on the phone with me and the entire audience at TLA. It’s a little less intimate, but the caller has to deal with the whole crowd. Especially in all my shows in Philly, people like being involved. If you hear something you like, start cheering them on. I am conscious of the fact that we don’t know what we’ll get. We once had a show where a guy was on a SEPTA train, telling us who else was on the train. If that one came through live, people would go apeshit. At the end of the day, it’s real people sharing their honest opinions on their lives and experiences. It can be entertaining on two levels: it can feel like magic if it’s a good call, or the audience watches me sweat it out as I cringe for an hour. A good onstage trainwreck is one of my favorite forms of comedy. Of course, I’m going to do a whole chunk of comedy with Joe Rumrill before we get going, so hopefully people will feel like they got a good show beforehand.
Beautiful/Anonymous normally has this intimate feeling that’s part interview, part therapy session. How did you develop this particular interactive voice, which is not like a regular conversation? You’re performing it for people but still genuine.
A lot of that comes from the course my career took. I took things that felt smaller and more real. I started at UCB in 2000 and a lot of the people there then went on to these national platforms. That never happened for me, through luck and personality. I was a punk rock kid at American Legion Halls at age 13, 14. I loved the things that feel safe. The unifying thing about people who love my work is they feel like outsiders. I was a dorky kid who loved comic books and punk and pro wrestling. The musicians I loved were the ones who were yelling “The world isn’t fair! You’re right! You’re not alone!” It makes sense I built a podcast where the premise is “You talk, I don’t care, go for it.”
How do you keep up with what your friends are doing, their podcasts and their HBO specials?
I don’t always have the time to consume. A part of me opts out of consuming comedy so I don’t rip anybody off. If I watched a ton of late-night shows I fear it’ll get into my brain in the writers’ room. It’s somebody else’s job to say “Somebody already did that.” At my most creative, I stop consuming other people’s projects so I’m not overthinking things, so I can get whatever’s in my brain out of there, before we start the process. Don’t stress, just put it on the page, but before you put it into the world, double-check. I always try to make sure we do our due diligence. When you’re working on a talk show, Letterman and Leno have gotten to everything already? There’s something frustrating about the amount of times our network said “what’s the hashtag for this” but there is a fun twist of it. What if Letterman had had Twitter in 1985? That’s how I get to be original.
Do you still keep up with comic books and wrestling?
I stopped reading current books a few years back because individual issues got too expensive! One of the last books I read regularly was Invincible. I loved it, then they put out an issue that’s a crossover with [The Astounding Wolf-Man]. And I was like, “I can’t spend 5 bucks. I gotta wait and see if these are good. I’ll get the trade paperbacks.” Marvel Unlimited has been a game-changer for me. I’m married now, so I can’t have books lying around my house. With Unlimited what’s been cool is these legendary runs that happened before I was a reader, I can go back & read them. Like Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. I remember seeing pictures of Beta Ray Bill on Marvel Cards in fourth grade, and thinking it was lame, then Bill became my favorite.
I’m a subscriber of WWE Network, but I don’t watch RAW: I’ll watch documentaries. There’s a show that’s Legends of Wrestling just talking about the old days. I watched the whole Cruiserweight Classic, the UK WWE classic, something a bit smaller, more self-contained.
You’re managing a number of projects at once that are very public and have a team of people behind each, but you’re the creative mind. Can you share a bit about your workflow? How do you cope?
As far as coping emotionally, I’m assuming this will all be over in six months. It’s only the past two years I’ve felt like I had any success. One of the main keys is finding your allies, not just collaborators but allies who think the same way you do. People who remind you of how you’ve always wanted do do things. Find your tribe, and also listen to them. Listen to the people you trusted before you had success.
As far as logistics, most is through Google Calendar and Google Keep so people can be on top of me. It’s nice to have other people calling my bluff. One of the really nice things is I’ve always appreciated people who took care of me. Birbiglia took me on the road for a year. I learned how to play in houses way bigger than what I was playing in. Now my job is, I got a little success so I can help people out.
Is there anything else fans should know about the tour? I know some shows are just standup, some are podcast recordings.
In Philly it’s gonna be a big blowout where it’s both. TLA’s a very big venue, the biggest on the tour. It’ll be super depressing if nobody shows up, so if you’re reading this, take mercy and come on by!
Chris Gethard: Beautiful/Anonymous Live Podcast Taping
Friday, June 9 at 8:30 p.m.
@ Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South St.
Get your tickets from Live Nation