Chris Gethard is the funniest man in New York. This is of course debatable, since Louis C.K. also lives in New York, but your odds of going to UCB and seeing Louie on any given night are much lower than seeing Gethard. Chris Gethard is a street-level New York guy who built his career on honesty and reliability, as well as being really funny. His self-titled late-night variety show is making the transition from MNN, Manhattan’s public access channel, to the cable network Fusion, giving him his biggest platform yet to bring his brand of combustible comedy out from the New York comedy scene and into the wider world. The show premieres on Thursday May 28. The big question facing this new incarnation of The Chris Gethard Show is, how will it transition from its public access weirdness and looseness to a more-structured cable environment while retaining its essential Gethard-ness? I attended the taping of the first episode on May 26, so I can answer, “pretty seamlessly.”
The prior incarnation of The Chris Gethard Show aired on public access TV. It streamed online, too, but public access was really the spiritual home of TCGS. Its assortment of oddballs, low-budget DIY attitude, and total commitment to reckless spontaneity was perfect for a channel built on the principle of “anyone can do pretty much whatever they want.”
The format has always been a call-in show, where Gethard and his panel take calls from the viewing audience about a topic. The topic is always something weird, like playing an impossible word game or what the callers are sad about. In the new show, the callers use Skype instead of the phone, so it’s more TV-friendly. The title and topic of the first episode is “Show Us the Weirdest Thing About Your Body,” with special guests Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Broad City. They’re perfect guests for this topic, especially Glazer, who’s clearly fascinated by everyone’s body and super enthusiastic and positive and nonjudgmental. Some of the old friends from the public access show are there too, like the Human Fish, the hula hoop lady, and excellent house band the llc, led by Gethard’s wife Hallie Bulleit. Every person who showed their weirdest body part was charming and sweet.
The best part of the public access show was an earnest and inclusive atmosphere, which the Fusion show is working hard to retain. Gethard has become a sort of therapist and cheerleader for sad, weird kids. Gethard himself is a lifelong sad, weird kid, and it’s become something like a mission for him to create a safe space for people to be honest about who they are and always feel encouraged and cared for. The Fusion show keeps that earnestness and inclusiveness. On most other shows, people showing off their weird bodies would be displayed as freaks, but on TCGS they’re cool and brave for doing so, and their weird body parts are things to be proud of rather than ashamed.
Even the taping itself had a warm, fun, inclusive atmosphere. A spontaneous dance party broke out when Gethard’s sidekick Shannon O’Neill and the llc improvised a song during a set change. Everyone sat on the floor like kindergarteners at storytime. Gethard was totally honest about how nervous and uncomfortable he was. At the end of the show, while the musical guest the Front Bottoms performed, Hallie Bulleit jumped off her stage and ran into the dancing audience and embraced her husband. It was a tender moment that the cameras probably didn’t even capture. The raw feed was livestreamed, so the show wasn’t just for TV or the studio audience, which helped keep it zipping along.
The biggest change from the public access show to the Fusion show is the imposition of structure. The public access show was incredibly loose, just some folks in room seeing what happened. It was freeform to the point of always feeling like it was on the verge of collapse. But the Fusion show had a four-act structure. There were segments that built on each other. It didn’t go off the rails. But it still managed to feel loose and spontaneous, thanks to the cast’s improv chops and the fact that they didn’t know exactly what body parts they were going to see.
I don’t predict that The Chris Gethard Show on Fusion will be a hit. The show’s target demographic of weird depressives and “jabronis,” according to Gethard, is not particularly valuable to advertisers. The Fusion network itself seems to be in trouble. And the show is just too weird and culty and underdoggish to be a runaway hit. But being the next Jimmy Fallon has never seemed to be Gethard’s goal anyway.
(Photo: The Chris Gethard Show)