The Chris Gethard Show has taken on many forms in the past five years—starting as a variety show at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the cult phenomenon moved to MNN, a Manhattan community access channel, in 2011. Now, after years of false starts and existing as New York comedy’s best kept secret, it’s finally breaking into cable. The Chris Gethard show will be launching on Fusion this Thursday, with a live-taping of the first show happening tonight. The timing is not without poignancy, as David Letterman’s departure from late night weighs heavily on fans of comedic television programming. Gethard’s obscene and absurd variety show, which has featured characters covered in all kinds of bodily fluids and chants of “eat more butts,” is certainly more provocative than its late night contemporaries, but what it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in heart. Audience involvement (to the extreme), frank talks about depression and anxiety, and a large communal support system surrounding the show add a degree of humanity to the otherwise sterile late night landscape.
I spoke with Chris about his hopes and fears for the new show in honor of the first episode’s live taping this week.
You’re beginning your show on Fusion just as David Letterman leaves his hosting gig after 33 years. Do you think The Chris Gethard Show has come at this time to fill this void?
Nothing will fill the void left behind by Letterman, and never in a million years would I claim that my show will do so. That being said, do I take it as a massive inspiration? Absolutely. Is there a part of that sees the random timing of this as a challenge? Yup. Letterman is one of the most profound influences I have, an absolute hero I grew up watching. I’ve never met him and assume he will never see my show, but almost every day while working on TCGS I tell myself I want my show to make him proud. I keep a photo of him across from my desk. But no, we will not fill that void.
You asked fans to send you things to be a part of your TV set, what was the weirdest object you received?
Definitely the vibrator. It’s a heavy duty one, the kind you plug in. The girl included a note specifically to tell us that it was used but she cleaned it.
Your fans also carried you to work to promote your show a few weeks ago, which proved to be a surprising success. Why is it so important to you to keep fans involved in such a hands-on way throughout the promotional process?
I truly think that this show is what it is because of the people who have embraced it. Over and over again during our UCB and public access years, fans would contribute in ways that I never saw coming and that totally changed my vision of what this show should be and could be. So I try to find fun things for them to participate in all the time, they keep me going on a personal and professional level.
What changes have you made to prepare the show for cable, content-wise? Is there an approval process as far as nudity, cursing, or “borderline-criminal acts,” as The Atlantic puts it?
Our network is really down to let us do this our way, and I can’t thank Fusion enough for that. That being said, sure there are standards and practices now. Cursing and nudity will probably be much less of a factor on our show. That’s not a bad thing. Those things are easy comedic crutches and I like the challenge of working harder than that. We used to lean on those things too much. Though I definitely look at our idea list and there are a few on there that still qualify as near criminal acts. I’m super happy about that.
As a UCB veteran, what tips have you taken from improv to hosting your live show?
Listening, always. Good improv trains you to listen then react, listen then react. And also to listen in a way where you’re not just waiting for your turn to talk, but rather to use the information people are giving you to take things further and to move as a group. Weirdly enough, for a televised experimental talk show, I kind of think of our show as an improv show at its core.
Has your musical taste influenced the show’s musical guests? Who’s your favorite band currently?
Our music bookers bring the heat. I think they influence my musical taste more than I influence the music that appears on the show. That being said I love punk rock and Brooklyn DIY stuff in a big way and that shows up on the show a lot. Lately I’ve been really into my pal Jeff Rosenstock‘s album. It’s so good. Being friends with musicians is a fun time, and having an actual friend put out an album you would love even if you weren’t friends is such a good feeling.
What is your worst nightmare for the first taping this Tuesday?
That I would be forced to wear a suit and tell pithy jokes about celebrities and politicians.