Chris Gethard Embraces Weirdness in Denton

photo by Robert Warren

Working through a benign tumor, devastating heartbreak and possible loss of healthcare (among other staggered thoughts), an anonymous caller releases during a live phone call with comedian Chris Gethard. The call was for Gethard’s podcast Beautiful Anonymous, which had a live taping at the UNT Lyceum last Friday. 

Gethard, now doing this podcast for almost a year and a half, has had several dark conversations amid more light-hearted ones. From a woman who escaped a religious cult to hospital holding rooms awaiting their child’s diagnosis after long-term cancer, phone calls on Beautiful Anonymous have put Gethard’s life in perspective.

“Because I’m so immersed in comedy day-to-day, the ones that hit me are the darker ones,” said Gethard in a pre-podcast interview. “My whole life is being around funny people, and I get an hour a week where it’s real, actual, genuine human emotion.” 

In the beginning of his taping Friday, he played an audio bit from his first episode where he was talking to a Denton caller. He had never been to Denton but had heard enough punk bands and things about the town–enough to rant to the caller to get out and enjoy it. After just ten minutes with the Denton crowd, Gethard was already entranced by the audience’s strange interactions with his Twitter hashtag #FixMyBrain, a reference to Denton band The Marked Men. 

“Oh Denton, you’re the weird town I was promised,” Gethard said. 

After some banter, he picked up the phone and it began. 

The idea for Gethard's podcast came from his program The Chris Gethard Show, where he takes phone calls. When the show got moved from public access to cable, the calls had to be shorter. He missed those interactions. 

Gethard said at times he tends to get into his head about what he alone is experiencing, but these calls have allowed him to take a step back. 

 “If I can make my life a little more about remembering that I’m not the only one on planet Earth with concerns, worries, troubles, and triumphs, it makes my life a little more peaceful and well-rounded,” Gethard said.

Gethard’s HBO special Career Suicide, released in May, delves into his own encounters with those heavy sentiments. The special, produced by Judd Apatow, navigates through Gethard’s depression, alcoholism and finally getting help. Regarding the latter, he reiterates to creatives what was said in the special: don’t romanticize mental health.

“Don’t fall in love with the idea of the sad-clown comedian who is destined for drug abuse or suicide,” Gethard said. “That’s a really bad dialogue to fall in love with.”

Gethard said people often talk themselves out of getting help because of this dangerous romance. They fear their demons are what make them funny or creative, and they will lose this part of them if they receive help or medication. 

“You’re creating a loop of wanting problems in your life to go out of control, so you have jokes, and that’s a bad priority,” Gethard said. 

Although he said it may seem counterintuitive to his 90-minute HBO special, Gethard advises comedians not exploit their mental health. Gethard said he worked for three years on Career Suicide. He always made sure the jokes were funny to a certain level, but careful not to exploit his issues. The sincerity of a show, in his opinion, should take priority.

“The best comedy is honest,” Gethard said. “Even the people who do the most absurd, strange alt-comedy bits, there’s always something honest and truthful behind it.”

Gethard’s career has picked up in recent years. From the podcast, his show getting picked up on cable, and parts in other shows and movies with respected comedians, he’s aware how grueling the process can become.  Aside from his take on honest comedy, he said another notable piece of advice for comedians: “Learn how to eat shit and keep going.”

After doing comedy for seventeen years in New York, he has seen people come and go. He said sometimes he sees people leave comedy who are funnier than those who have been successful simply because they can’t handle failure.

“Being resilient is almost more valuable in your first few years than being funny,” Gethard said. “Don’t give too much credit to the good nights, don’t give too much credit to the bad nights.”

Years of getting just close enough to the tipping point of the standard means of success for comedians contributed to Gethard's depression, he said. Knowing good and well he now has marked successful points in his career, he said he still feels like it might all be over in six months, but he has found comfort in his career choices. 

“When I actually started to feel like I had any sense of a safety net was when I stopped pursuing the traditional stuff,” Gethard said. “I gained the confidence to self-determine what I wanted it to be; even if that meant it was on a smaller lever, I knew it was under my control.” 

The Denton live-taping of Beautiful Anonymous will be available on Ear Wolf when it releases.

Photos by Robert Warren
Header image layout designed by Mateo Granados