Chris Gethard.

Chris Gethard’s Next Chapter Involves The New Jersey Comedy Scene And Launching His Own Non-Profit

Chris Gethard.
Chris Gethard.

At a small record shop just outside of Toms River, NJ, fans sat amid punk rock action figures and Marvel memorabilia, chatting with each other while waiting for the closest thing New Jersey has to a comedy folk hero, Chris Gethard, to appear two feet away from them. Gethard, who was on his New Jersey tour, has famously cultivated success through a combination of punk rock ethos, inclusivity, and genuine comedy chops. On iterations of his call-in show, The Chris Gethard Show (TCGS), fans felt safe among the wild, fun chaos that routinely broke out on set, because they trusted Gethard saw something in them he wanted to protect. After all, Gethard had been honest about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts or impulses with them via his comedy, and always advocated for hope. In his HBO special, Career Suicide, he makes it a point to mention his Morrissey tattoo, which reads “It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

Now in his 40s, Gethard and his fans are a bit older, but at the record store stop, there was still an unmistakable sense that they were looking to him for guidance, safety, and acceptance. With TCGS and his special beautiful artistic time capsules of his life in the 2010s, Gethard stood before the crowd respectful of what they’d helped him build, but also distinctly freed from having to worry about any of the old concerns he’d had as a lightning rod for the odd, sweet, and lost. His comedy was freer, he seemed happy, and he gave himself permission to accept both his cult-status and regular-guy-ness, which made for maybe the best jokes he’s ever told outside of his HBO special. Sure, he was Chris Gethard, but he was also just Chris Gethard.

Over and over again, the story of Gethard’s career involves building something strange and beautiful, and creating and supporting a community that loves it. Recently, he’s been trying to give back in a way that suggests a desire to mentor and pay it forward, helping break comics on his streaming network, Planet Scum, listening and engaging with strangers on his Beautiful/Anonymous podcast, and creating BeautifulCONonymous, which allows fans to spend time in proximity to Gethard while also introducing audiences to amazing comedians like Brittany Carney and Jes Tom. His latest efforts to help comics and his community include volunteering as an emergency responder in his town, launching a tour of his home state and using his fame to help comics in the local scene get in front of new audiences, and starting a non-profit that looks to employ artists to help kids learn social skills at school.

As for what sparked the start of this shift, Gethard explained that the scene in New York began to feel less unified and more fractured, which made it hard to find his footing: 

“I think club comedy has risen up. I think the aggressive style has risen up and displaced it a little bit. I also think there’s a really beautiful quasi-cabaret scene that has so much joy and value to it, but it doesn’t feel as working class as the alt scene used to. Not that the alt scene was ever, like, people in overalls and work boots doing shows after they got off their jobs working as longshoremen. I’m not saying that. But the accessibility was there, and now there’s a new scene that feels a little bit more, like, young and hot. It’s an awesome scene, don’t get me wrong, but (laughing) as a 43 year old white guy whose hairline is sprinting in the wrong direction, it’s hard for me to find my place in that particular version of the alt scene.”

After moving back to New Jersey and not wanting to have to pay a toll every time he wanted to try out a new joke, Gethard took a look at what was happening in his home state and found his love for stand-up reignited. Home to shows like Power Bottom, which sees top comedians do a set in a restaurant basement in Asbury Park every month, and choc-a-bloc with performers like Allie Mae, Mike Sicoli, Franco Danger, Keegan Tindell, Gordon Baker Bone, Colin Armstrong, Alex Grobard, Kate Nichols, Devon Hall, and Nick Fierro, the state is building a scene of versatile comics. As Gethard puts it, “The local scene here is really thriving. It’s almost not even fair to say scene, because there’s like six or seven little micro scenes that all cross over with each other. I’ve just been super impressed by them, and super inspired by them.”

These scenes might not have anything in common, stylistically, but in true New Jersey fashion, the comics have a work ethic and respect for one another that helps them to bond and build shows together. In doing so, Gethard explains, each comic is learning how to do it all, from storytelling and characters, to roasting. The hunger to get better exists, but in an emerging comedy ecosystem, no one can be too picky about the shows they’re doing. 

“It’s that classic thing of being in New Jersey, and you’re so close to Philly or New York, there’s going to be some opportunities there. But there’s not so many opportunities day to day in Jersey that you can turn them down, so these comics don’t end up going down any one track, they just become versatile.” 

On his New Jersey tour, Gethard is trying to highlight these comics, sharing the stage with them as equal parts grateful member of the scene and notable elder(ish) statesman. Each stop on the tour has Gethard performing with two comics in different towns and counties across the state, which has allowed him to write more quickly and know that rather than have to see his family through a screen out on the road, he’ll get to sleep in his own bed. It’s manageable for Gethard, who realizes that the bigger things were for him in the past, the less they felt like him. This includes The Chris Gethard Show.

“A lot of the fans would say that when we went to cable, the show got a lot worse. I would actually argue that if you go back and watch the old public access shows, some of them are really bad. They fall apart. They don’t make sense. They’re not that funny. But people really loved the spirit of it. For me, I realized that that spirit is what sort of fuels me to be my best.”

As he gets older (Gethard is 43), there’s an interest in happiness, which is difficult to come by in an industry built on constant visible achievement. Gethard explains that it’s not easy to reconcile the two, and that focusing on how he can help and grow in new ways is something he’s doing as much for his family as for his mental health. “Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and go Don’’t get caught up in this idea that you need to make more than you did a few years ago. Don’t get caught up in this idea that that’s the only determining factor.”

He’s trying to remind himself to celebrate younger comics gaining fame, rather than be bitter or jealous of their successes. Gethard’s next special might not be on HBO, and trying to not view that as a failure is important to his sense of artistry. Focusing on what gets him excited about comedy, about working out material on his terms, is what he is looking to as an essential component to his enjoyment of the art form right now, telling me: 

“Sometimes, for me, the thing that will make me the most happy in the middle of a given week is a show in a coffee shop in Boonton, New Jersey. Where there’s fifty people there, and I can rant about how depressing the Chuck E. Cheese in East Hanover is on a Monday night, and they’ll get it because they’ve actually been there. It’s very, very far away from HBO, but it makes me happy, and I have to trust that, and I have to have faith in that.”

Along with this, Gethard is trying to work on a better solution to the artist’s age-old question in America: how do I get health insurance? For Gethard, the answer for years was to get it through acting. “Back in the day that would be ‘try to get a commercial or two’ Eventually it became ‘try and get enough spots on tv shows.’ And that’s fun, but to be honest, I think I’m a decent actor, but I just don’t really love it.” Recognizing he’s lucky to have parts on shows like Space Force, but feeling odd about it, and especially that that’s how he gets his son’s health insurance, he opted, in typical Chris Gethard fashion, to take a risk, saying: 

“I did a lot of soul searching about what was important to me, and who I am. I’d done some speaking work for this organization called Wellness Together, and we stayed in touch. I told them I was thinking about maybe having some life changes to try and have insurance through something that wasn’t entertainment and was a little more meaningful to me. They told me that if I was serious, they’d take a shot on hiring me, and they’re allowing me to build this whole organization called Laughing Together.”

The hope, Gethard explains, is to mobilize artists to help kids by going into schools and helping them have a positive relationship with learning through play, to feel less alone, less anxious, and handle failure well. Studies show that comedy can help with these issues, but it’s not therapy, only therapeutic. With this in mind, Gethard is working with therapists to build a program that’s safe and responsible.

“My hope is that it’s a win-win for everybody. School environments are starving for people who care to come in and help, and I can provide that. Artists are always starving for gigs, and I can provide that. My hope is that we can have a real grassroots push toward trying to help young people who are in an environment right now where studies show that they don’t really know how to connect with each other in all these ways that used to be fairly standard.”

So far, Laughing Together has held a benefit that included Gethard, Aparna Nancherla, Eddie Pepitone, Dylan Adler, and Christi Chiello. There were already 400 teachers and social workers there, but through the strength of community (in this case, the Beautiful/Anonymous mailing list), around 400 more showed up to support the cause. With any luck, Gethard will once again inspire others to follow his example. 

RELATED: Stream & download Eddie Pepitone's special For The Masses on 800 Pound Gorilla.

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