Chris Gethard has made his mark as an entertainer you can’t really categorize. We attended one of his book readings to get an up-close impression of this comedian and satirist and author and advocate… (And to learn about his new book.)
We’re Old Friends. Okay, No We’re Not…
The tweet shows up on my screen, so I hop in my car and drive to Brookline Booksmith. I get to see Chris Gethard up close and personal! After I park, run across some intersections and dodge some hipsters, I enter the bookstore to find the event is in the basement. (Creepy….)
At the bottom of the stairs our gazes meet, between pairs of horn-rimmed glasses; he is half-hiding behind a bookshelf. I wave as if he is an old friend, he waves back in the same manner. We both seem equally star struck?
It’s an awkward, but strangely intimate Chris Gethard moment of a lifetime. No, I didn’t get a photo. That would’ve ruined it. I promise it happened; I’m sure Chris is bragging about the time he met Lisa Benson. (I know he’s not, but don’t ruin in for me….)
But Who is Chris Gethard?
Gethard (or “Geth” as he is called by many fans) has built a career on being himself; performing nerdy, DIY, creative and heart-on-sleeve type comedy. His cult classic, “The Chris Gethard Show,” started on New York public access TV before moving across platforms to finally find a home on Truvia until August 2018, when it was canceled. His “Career Suicide,” an HBO comedy special where he tells his story of living with mental illness–punctuated by his singing Smiths song lyrics–manages to be funny without turning depression or anxiety into a punchline.
Geth Also Has a Podcast, though it’s not a Comedy Podcast (It’s probably still funnier than this website though…)
Gethard has also become well-known for his Podcast, “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People” (AKA Beautiful Anonymous), where he tweets out a number and the person that gets through can talk to him for an hour: no rules, except that our funny and empathetic host cannot hang up on the caller. If it sounds worse than being caught on the phone with your great Aunt Mildred explaining her stamp collection, you’d be surprised how good it gets.
H uses his improvisational skills of thinking on his feet and keeping a conversation going, and topics can range from the ridiculous (one caller looking at random items in a Wal-Mart in “In The Candy Aisle, episode #97”) to the deeply personal, for example, another caller discloses that he and his wife no longer have sex in “4 Kids, 0 Sex, episode #10.”
I may have tried (though failed) to get on the line a few times…. #fangirl #someday
The podcast has almost 150 episodes, and though they are mainly about the various caller’s stories, if you listen to all the episodes you can begin to weave together Gethard’s story of trials and failures leading to current success as a comedian. The Podcast’s popularity surged after This American Life featured the episode, “Ron Paul’s Baby, episode #1,” about a hopeful comedian frustrated with his day-job, and Geth’s enthusiastic encouragement that the caller gets out there and perform.
It’s no surprise that Gethard decided to draft that encouragement for all hopeful creatives into a book, titled “Lose Well.”
In the basement of the Brookline Bookstore, Brookline, MA on October 20th 2018 (yeah, yeah, I know, it took me forever to write this article), a openly nervous Gethard (who says he is much calmer in front of larger crowds—the crowd that night was the size of a high school classroom) reads from a chapter telling the story of how he became the unlikely lead for the middle school play. It’s a classic underdog story—perhaps one that anyone who chooses to spend a Saturday night in the basement of a bookstore (still creepy) would appreciate. The story goes like this: he was the nerdy kid, but when the cool kid quits the lead, Geth takes his place since he had the entire show memorized and becomes a sensation in the middle school auditorium.
After the reading, I ask Gethard if he likes self-help books.
“By the tone of your question, I can tell how you feel about self-help books!” he answers. He’s right on point, I’d rather read a self-deprecation book. Chris may have a similar view, but he cites “On Writing” by Steven King as one of his favorite books in the former category as King gets right down to the “nuts and bolts” of what to do to create. Gethard explains that this is what he tried to do with his book.
The stories of his successes and—more importantly—his failures, illustrate how he was able to define what was important to him as a performer and over the years refining his efforts to be more fulfilled. At one point, he describes how he would create an offbeat show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, which would be widely successful, only to follow up with several more conventional shows, afraid of failure and being too different. When he finally started to break past and embrace his oddball ideas, such as a bus tour through New Jersey of many of the landmarks where his jokes take place, he started to finally come out on his own.
He may call his book dumb, but it’s full of smart advice.
Some of the points I think readers can glean from his book are:
Be yourself and embrace your inner weirdo, it will pay off.
Put in the work and be willing to do what needs to get done. Unless you don’t care enough, in which case why bother?
And lastly: Failure is inevitable but it’s better to have tried and learned than to have not tried at all. So we tried to write an article about it. Ha! Maybe you should try to read the book. And then go take up singing.
Or not. Up to you.
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