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On Monday afternoon, in a long Facebook post, Chris Gethard announced the end of The Chris Gethard Show. The series has a long and somewhat torturous history: It began as a monthly live show at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade in 2009, when Gethard was an instructor at the legendary improv theater, and moved to the public access channel Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) in 2011. Comedy Central commissioned a pilot in 2013, but declined to pick up the series. The show aired out of MNN’s 59th Street studio until 2015, at which point Fusion picked it up — and cut it down from an hour to thirty minutes — for two seasons. For its third and final season, which ended in May, TCGS hopped to truTV. And now, more than 200 episodes later, it’s over.
A freewheeling phone-in series with an anarchic spirit, TCGS had a punk-rock heart and an air of spontaneity that is rare for television these days. The late-night show had a simple conceit, centered on host Gethard; his “sidekick,” longtime UCB artistic director Shannon O’Neill; and “internet liaison” Bethany Hall, who would facilitate live Skype calls from fans all over the world. Regular viewers came to know and love recurring characters like the Human Fish (David Bluvband) and Gethard’s nemesis, Vacation Jason (Riley Soloner). Despite the looseness of the format, most episodes were built around concepts like, “Show Us the Weirdest Thing About Your Body,” the first episode to air on Fusion, in 2015, with guests Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The season two finale, “Fight for the Fish,” features a wrestling match between Gethard and Vacation Jason (Jon Hamm shows up and dons a sumo suit). The season two episode “One Man’s Trash,” from May 2016, was an instant classic: A dumpster is wheeled out at the beginning of the episode, and Gethard and guests Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer spend the entire hour taking audience guesses as to what’s in it.
In his Facebook post, Gethard, 38, writes that the end of his namesake show was a mutual decision between himself and the executives at truTV. “With my hesitation to continue and truTV’s need for numbers improvement,” he wrote, “it’s time to throw in the towel.”
The Voice spoke to Gethard — who is looking forward to some down time before jumping into his next project — about the reaction to the show’s cancellation, the struggle to break into the mainstream, and making TV with heart.
This must’ve been an intense week for you. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling pretty good, honestly. It’s been pretty nice to feel people’s love as they reach out and also, as I said in the thing I wrote online, it feels like a bit of weight off the shoulders. I’m sure it’ll hit me at some point and I’ll get tremendously sad and grieve it. But for now, I gotta say, I’m letting out a sigh of relief that the pressure is off.
There are over 200 comments on your Facebook post. Have you read them?
I’ve read a lot of the reaction online, yeah. It was really beautiful. I’d say 95 percent of it was just really nice, people telling me what the show meant to them, saying that it had some effect over the years and that’s really overwhelming. When I think about it, the fact that anyone gave a shit is still so remarkable and flattering to me. There was three percent of it that was like, truTV fans that were like, “Good! Now we can get more of the programming we like back.” Then there’s the two percent that really rattles my nerves, which is old fans who say we sold out anyway, celebrating our demise.
So much late-night TV these days feels geared to producing short clips that can go viral, but your show felt almost like the opposite. It had this kind of “You had to be there” vibe, like going to a late-night UCB show — like the point of it was to hang out for an hour.
Well, I certainly wasn’t opposed to having clips go viral, and we tried our best. We had a whole team of people who were trying to make it happen. My hope would always be, float out that clip, get people interested, and then they’d want to come in for the whole long-form show. But I think my experience is just proving more and more, that is not how people’s attention spans work right now. There are other shows that I think are built to accommodate that more and sadly I think ours is a little bit more of an experience where you had to buckle up and come along for the ride. It just wasn’t happening. I know I sound a little dismal and defeated, but what can I do? I feel like nine years of banging my head against the wall is enough banging my head against the wall.
At the same time, and maybe this was the show’s tragic flaw, but I think it worked because it was smaller and more intimate — it felt like something special in this little corner of a really crowded TV landscape. There aren’t that many shows that really foster a community the way yours did. Do you think that’s possible to do in TV these days?
It’s funny, because if we did anything it was build a community. So I guess it’s possible — we did it. The real question now on my mind is, “Is it possible to build a community that can grow to a mainstream size?” and we came a couple inches short of the goal line on that. So I don’t know; I don’t know if that’s what people are interested in right now. I was happy to give it a shot and I have no regrets because the community was a very active one, it was one that I was really a part of in a big way. I don’t think I was just some figurehead from afar. I’ve spent the days since we announced the show ending thanking a lot of people who have tweeted at me, sent me messages — people who watch the show and used to show up at the studio, people who used to call in. I know who they are, I know their names. They really did mean a lot to me and the show meant a lot to me, and the fact that the show could be a gathering place where I got to meet all these interesting, unique, odd people — it was the best thing about it.
It almost feels like an earlier era of the internet, where certain websites would foster similar communities — like the website Videogum, maybe a decade ago. Or the GLOW, the 1980s wrestling show that the Netflix series is based on — it was scrappy and goofy and small-scale and I don’t know how long something like that can last without changing fundamentally. It almost spells its own doom.
That’s totally true. One thing that I cop to is, I still have a chip on my shoulder, but it’s not the same chip on my shoulder I had when I came up with this idea. You mentioned GLOW, and there’s a whole bunch of examples of these scrappy local TV shows. I think of Uncle Floyd, who I grew up with in New Jersey. I think of Steampipe Alley, this weird kids’ show I grew up with. Clearly somebody was fighting to get those things through. Nothing that weird can exist without somebody fighting. I think I’m just ready to fight some different fights. I’m older now.
There’s also a real embrace of sincerity on your show that can be hard to come by on television, and in comedy. Do you feel like that’s something people are craving more of?
My assumption, knowing my career, is that now that we’ve ended my show, eighteen months from now sincerity’s gonna become the biggest thing in the history of the world. That just seems to be how things go for me. Now that I gave up, it’s gonna become all the rage.
How does that make you feel?
If I was gonna worry about that I would’ve ended [the show] many moons ago. I just had to keep my head down and do it because it was fun.
I did an appearance on a talk show a few years back. One of the executive producers pulled me aside before I left and he was like, “You know, your show is really popular in writers’ rooms.” And I was like, oh, that’s really cool, got the respect of my peers. And he was like, “No. Your show is really popular in writers’ rooms — watch your back.” At first I was like oh, he’s telling me everyone’s gonna rip us off. There was a part of me that was real worried about that but I was like, you know what, rip us off, take what was good about it, make it better. I think what was good about the show was that it had a lot of heart, and if people rip off having heart, find ways to make it more palatable and more mainstream — big thumbs up at this point.
You’ve still got your podcast, Beautiful/Anonymous. Does that feel like a nice change of pace from doing such a chaotic live show?
There’s no pressure on it — there’s not like a big brain trust of people that get together and rubber-stamp everything for approval, which is how TV works. On a creative level, I feel like the entertainment I love the best feels really personal, feels a little small. I think I think The Chris Gethard Show really fit that description when it was at its highest peak. The show was maybe starting to grow to a point where I wasn’t necessarily feeling that as much. Doing smaller stuff feels good. The podcast feels good; it’s one-on-one. And I’ll tell you what always feels best, and will always feel best till the day I’m on my deathbed, is performing live. Just getting onstage in a roomful of people where I can see their eyes, I can react to them. They can see me, I can see them, and we can all feel like we’re a part of something together.