Before I continue, I must clarify: the gentleman’s last name above is pronounced “geth-ard.” This is not a post about porn.
The only live talk show taping I had been to previously was Live! With Kelly, and while it was certainly an experience, it wasn’t a goal of mine to ever again be apart of an audience filled with the Real Housewives of Middle America cooing at Daniel Radcliffe.
I was excited, though, when MV and AS invited me to attend a taping of The Chris Gethard Show. I had seen Gethard perform at a friend’s comedy show, the now defunct Mish-Mosh. I remembered that not only was he super funny, but he had an approachable-ness to him that I find a lot of comedians don’t have. It wasn’t just the fluffy blond hair or the thick-frame glasses because, let’s be real, you can find that anywhere in Williamsburg, but there was a silly goodness on the inside that came through. To the taping we would go!
At around 10:30 on a Wednesday night, we walk to the Manhattan Neighborhood Network television station (“You’ve always wanted to be on TV. Now’s your chance!” says the MNN website). What’s interesting about The Chris Gethard Show, or TCGS, is that it’s filmed on a public access channel. Even so, the show has a cult following and has been on the air since 2011. This following began at the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade improv theatre in 2009, where the show (not yet filmed) was known for attempting and following through on wild stunts like “using Twitter to book Diddy as a guest, staging a show to make a depressed teenager from Ohio have the best night of his life, and pulling off a cross-country tour.” Since then, the show has seen press in the likes of New York magazine and Splitsider.
Inside MNN, MV, who at this point is somewhat of a regular, says hello to some familiar faces in a small space already crowded with people. There are Taco Bell tacos up for grabs. Man-boys and girl-women with glasses wear brightly colored shirts with cute, funny cartoons on them and talk loudly about other times they’ve gone to see the show. A man with red glasses wears a banana costume and dances about. I have no idea what to expect when they say things like ‘Human Fish.’
At 10 minutes to 11, we’re ushered in to the small space, which includes a white sheet painted with ‘The Chris Gethard Show’ in giant black letters set up to designate a stage on the left. It is signed in permanent marker by all the bands that have played in front of it. On the right, there’s a series of chairs, a screen, and a three-person band called the LLC (including a singer who uses a kazoo and maracas).
Normally the show is centered around a theme, be it an International theme and ‘Foreign Language Bingo’ (in which audience members were given bingo boards with names of countries and languages written on them and asked to mark them off when a caller from a particular country called in) or ‘Fuck School, Fuck Math,’ (where callers were asked to share education horror stories and math problems). Then, Gethard talks to guests along with a cast of characters including but not limited to Random Melissa (a dark-haired young woman with thick black eyeliner and a hole in the knee of her jeans), 40-Year-Old Goosie (who is actually a 20-something man in a parrot costume, but was named such by a child who called in one time), Human Fish (a rather hairy gentleman wearing swim trunks, goggles, and flippers), Bethany (a sweet redhead with bangs wearing black thick-framed glasses who is known as the show's conscience) and probably even more. In the background an older woman performs hula hoop tricks (“and we’ve got Mimi on the hoops!” Gethard says). There will also be shenanigans, stunts, and a musical guest who will perform twice during the hour-long show.
Viewers can watch the show on MNN or livestreaming online and tweet at Gethard as it’s happening—there’s a screen on the set that’s constantly refreshed, that Gethard and crew occasionally turn to to read especially hilarious or relevant tweets audience members have sent through. Viewers can also call in to the show and talk about anything related to a set topic up for a discussion on a particular night. Regular callers and Tweeters are known by name.
There are regular audience members, too. As we enter the seating area, they rush over to the seats they have perpetually chosen for themselves, like in college where you always sit in that same, perfect spot so you’re close enough to hear the professor, but far enough away so you don’t get accidentally spat on.
Tonight the show is purposely unplanned: “Whatta we got? We got nothin’!” we’re asked to sing, and we all comply with delight. As the LLC finishes playing the theme song (“Come take a ride with the weirdest guy I know!”), the audience begins chanting “Taco Night, Taco Night!” for the sole purpose of making Gethard uncomfortable (“Chris hates it when people chant things for an extended period of time,” MV tells me. But people do it anyway, for laughs.)
But the show doesn’t go poorly at all—Gethard, an amicable host who’s man-sassy with a lot of heart, takes some calls from viewers, who literally ask him about everything from the current state of hip-hop (Gethard prefers De La Soul) to advice on a ‘get wasted’ high school graduation trip. Human Fish contemplates ‘Bowties versus Taye Diggs’ and ‘Tupac Shakur versus Yom Kippur.’ A girl, Random Jean, gives out Swedish treats from Ikea that we all share and pass around the audience. Superfunky hip-hop/soul band Electric Monday performs and everyone gets up and dances. I’d say it was quite a success!
After the show, MV tells me, everyone—audience, cast, and crew alike—heads out to a bar called Lincoln Park close by. There’s a terrific sense of community that revolves around the show, a sense of belonging that’s not off-putting or exclusive. To be around it is to feel others’ excitement for it, quite honestly. And how delightful that Gethard and his zany television show are at the center of it, a playground for absurdity with a big heart.