Originally published in The Columbia Chronicle prior to the series pickup of The Chris Gethard Show on Fusion.
Failure is nothing new to comedian Chris Gethard.
Gethard’s self-titled weekly variety show has had its fair share of ups and downs in its six-year run. From having P. Diddy appear on the show to getting rejected by Comedy Central, “The Chris Gethard Show” has never let an obstacle stand in its way, a mentality Gethard learned growing up in his hometown of West Orange, New Jersey.
“Growing up in New Jersey definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Gethard said. “You’re right in between New York and Philadelphia, which are two big towns. Growing up in this little place that everybody overlooks and makes a lot of fun of. It teaches you that if you’re a creative person, you have to go for it.”
Since debuting on public access station MNN and streaming live online every Wednesday, “TCGS” has garnered quite the cult following and brought on a slew of celebrity guests such as Zach Galifianakis, John Mulaney and UCB founder Amy Poehler. At the peak of its success last October, Gethard announced a pilot order from Comedy Central for the show. Unfortunately, the network passed on the series, which put things into perspective for the comedian.
“That was a real reality check for me,” Gethard said. “Comedy Central was a good experience, but it put all these pressures in my mind that it had to become this professional thing for all of us. It was a really good reality check that everyone was like, ‘We never signed up for a paycheck. We signed up to have fun.’ That was really healthy for me to get in touch with.”
Since receiving the news of his failed pilot, Gethard and his friends decided to start fresh with “TCGS,” naming the new batch of episodes “Season 2.” J.D. Amato, director of “TCGS,” said after a long discussion this past summer, they decided it did not make sense to end the show.
“There was just something that felt emotionally wrong about not meeting up with our closest friends every week to put on this weird show,” Amato said. “We decided that it didn’t make sense to stop doing this show because, whether or not it’s on TV or [whether we] make money, it’s something we all love doing.”
In light of his past bumps in the road, Gethard said he sees his failures as just another step along the way to success.
“I really believe in the idea that if you have an idea, you have to try and get it out there,” Gethard said. “You’re going to fail. You’re going to be bad. You’re not going to come out of the gate with your voice fully formed. It is going to be a long time before you feel that you’ve really got your legs under you as a creative person. You just have to get the failure over with.”
Gethard came up with the idea for “TCGS” in 2009 after years of taking improv classes. The show began as a monthly show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. It was not until Gethard reached out to rapper P. Diddy about possibly participating in a show that everything changed.
“I have no idea why he said yes,” Gethard said. “He was super cool and truly intimidating but in a really positive way. After that, our show really exploded. The New York Times wrote about it, and there was just no way that we were ever going to top it. No matter how much effort we put into the show or how hard we tried, it wasn’t Diddy, which was kind of a discouraging thing.”
Dru Johnston, head writer of “TCGS,” said the show’s current incarnation is far different from its early years as a UCB stage show.
“When we started, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” Johnston said. “We were kind of just throwing s–t at the wall hoping it would stick. If you go back and look at the first episode, it is a complete shadow of what it is now. It just took us time to figure out what worked and what didn’t work.”
“TCGS” has helped Gethard make a name for himself in the comedy world, as well as for his fellow UCB members. After years of struggling as an aspiring comedian and actor, the show helped Gethard find an outlet for the kind of show he wanted to make.
“I wanted to figure out a way to spread something that was the most bizarre version of my voice,” Gethard said. “I was at this point in my career where I was like, ‘Well, do I keep trying to audition for traditional things, or do I keep doing these shows in the underground New York comedy scene?’ It was really born out of necessity and this gut instinct that I should put my voice out there and not move on from it just yet.”