Chris Gethard On Moving to Cable and the Magic of New Jersey TV

Comedy Features Chris Gethard
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Proud New Jersey native and Morrissey fan Chris Gethard is the creator of The Chris Gethard Show, the diamond of New York City public access television. With over 150 episodes, The Chis Gethard Show is a free for all low budget by design variety/talk show that harkens back to the Wild West attitude of some early cable access, MTV and WWOR shows. Drawing from local television heroes like Uncle Floyd, Joe Franklin, Morton Downey Jr., Richard Bey and Howard Stern, Chris Gethard wants to make sure you are entertained. Having recently signed a deal with the cable network Fusion, Chris hopes to take The Chris Gethard Show to the next level, while retaining much of the style and feel of a show that is based on the idea of fun and unpredictability.

Paste: So you’re leaving… is it public access or cable access?

Chris Gethard : I feel like those terms are rather interchangeable. In three years of participation I haven’t learned the difference. I’ve always called it public access but mostly I just like that they give us the studio for free. As long as they do that, and they’ve given us so much freedom, we can call it whatever we want.

Paste: So you have a big announcement. What’s happening with the show?

Gethard: A month or so back I was able to say on the show that we had finally got picked up by a cable network, and now the paperwork is far enough along that I can start talking about it. We’re this underground show and definitely have been doing things our way and absolutely would love for it to be our job but it was important to me that we all got to do it together with the crew that’s been doing it, not compromise the voice and crew that built the show, and this network we met with named Fusion, a relatively new, very cool network, was definitely kind of altering what their programming is to look for stuff that’s a little subversive, a little on the fringe, and we met and quickly realized it was a good match. I started telling them about a lot of the comedic ideas we have, also the way we’ve used the internet to build a fanbase and they smiled and nodded and were like ‘yeah we think we can cause some trouble together. We think we could help you get out there and cause trouble straight up.’ And that was the kind of phrasing they used. They told me they want the show to get big, they want the show to be weird, so we’re going to do ten episodes with them this spring. None of us are going to become millionaires off of it but we get to do it with a budget for the first time. We get to do it our own way. Everybody involved with the show is ready to attack it, ready to go to war, ready to prove some people wrong. I definitely have a chip on my shoulder and now we get to do it.

Paste: You have a substantial presence on Youtube with over 100 shows easy now, right?

Gethard: Yeah, I think we have over 200 hours of free content that we’ve put up. Just generating it y’know. And sometimes it’s really funny, sometimes it’s a mess but it’s always very honest and I’m proud of that.

Paste: How big is the crew that you have?

Gethard: All told between the cast and the house band and the production guys it’s around 30 people that work on the show on a regular basis. Everybody’s just been showing up for free for years. Now we all get to take this step together. It’s like, all we’ve been saying for years is ‘just give us a chance, give us a chance’, and now it’s just on us to not drop the ball. Hopefully we don’t fall on our face but if we do at least we’ll go out in our own way. We’ll fall on our sword.

Paste: I know a lot of people use the word but if you’re doing it yourself it definitely has a punk rock mentality behind it. You’ve had like the Ergs on and other bands. Were you ever in a band? Were you inspired by the way bands work in the way you promote the show on the internet?

Gethard: I was never really in a band. I feel like if I had musical talent, I wouldn’t be doing comedy. I’d be that because it’s much cooler. In high school I was in a hardcore band for about three weeks. Our name was Ground Zero 1945. We never played a show.

Paste: That’s a powerful name!

Gethard: Oh it’s a good name, solid name, but it went nowhere, we had one song. When I say we rehearsed one or two times, that’s not an exaggeration at all. We were barely a band. But that being said, my brother and his friends used to bring me to shows starting when I was in 7th, 8th grade. I just had an early look at Jersey people and they’re only a couple years older than I am and they’re doing this thing small on purpose so that they’re in control of it, like it might be something you only know about if you hang out at VFW hall shows in Jersey, but that being said the people that cared about it really care about it. I remember thinking from a young age that that’s a beautiful thing.

I had that example and I also worked at a magazine called Weird New Jersey for many years that was another DIY thing that was such an unlikely idea to be successful and it wound up being really successful. I just had lot of examples of things when I was young that were, you know, kind of bad ideas or unlikely ideas that people made work way more than anybody thought they could, so hopefully I can prove some people wrong and this thing can work too.

Paste: Do you have some television inspiration people, like growing up in New Jersey? Like Uncle Floyd, stuff like that?

Gethard: Huge inspiration. Uncle Floyd was actually the first person I asked to be a guest on The Chris Gethard Show on public access and nobody has rejected me harder. Nobody was more vocal about not wanting to appear on the show than Uncle Floyd, which was heartbreaking because I loved him growing up in North Jersey. And Steampipe Alley, that Mario Cantone hosted. The Richard Bey show is great, and also Howard Stern when he had a show on Channel 9 in New York—that show is bonkers. Morton Downey Jr.—pretty much anything that shot at Nine Broadcast Plaza in Secaucus, New Jersey is an inspiration for our show. We actually pushed really hard, I wanted to see if we could get our studio to be at Nine Broadcast Plaza in Secaucus but it was not well received.

Paste: “I would like to have a true authentic weird show vibe by having it next to the Hackensack River.”

Gethard: Dude. Nothing would make me happier. As a proud son of New Jersey, nothing would make me happier.

Paste: I understand. When I watch your show I’m like ‘oh it’s kind of got that mentality going for it’, where even like a show like Steampipe Alley, which is a kid’s show, it’s strange.

Gethard: For sure. I think we grew up in an era where TV wasn’t so fully formed yet and there’d still be just hours they’d have to fill, where they’re like ‘we’ve got this blank hour, we can either rerun some B movie or we can give Mario Cantone a kid’s show and let him go nuts’, and people would do that.

They were like thrown together ideas but the nostalgia for some of those thrown together ideas, stuff that was just filler, is actually some of the stuff I remember loving the most. It’s weird to say that I’m intentionally trying to recreate filler material that aired in the middle of the night on low rated local television, but that was really my favorite stuff to watch as a kid.

Paste: Yeah, I agree. A lot of UHF, a lot of weird television. Joe Franklin just died, which is sad.

Gethard: I know. It was such a bummer. Such a bummer.

Paste: And that dude had everybody. There’s an amazing interview with him and King Diamond. Like how did this even happen? Why did this happen?

Gethard: Yeah, Uncle Floyd’s the same thing. I remember you’d find Uncle Floyd’s show on the upper channels, growing up in New Jersey, and it was so bizarre, like puppets yelling at him, the camera man is not focused properly, and then all of a sudden, like, ‘that’s DeeDee Ramone’!

Paste: Right! And then they’d have art that the children would draw and send in. It’d be like ‘oh it’s Barry from Totowa. He drew a McDonald’s.’

Gethard: I always really love when terrible things are actually great.

Paste: Did you know Pals Cabin is no more?

Gethard: That’s a huge piece of my childhood. That was the landmark of how to get to my house growing up. Make a right at Pals Cabin, that’s how people got to my house.

Paste: Now you can tell them to make a right at CVS.

Gethard: Yeah then they’ll just keep making rights because there are CVS’s everywhere.

Paste: So the other day somebody threw a diaper of poop on stage?

Gethard: Oh that was last night. That was a mess, man.

Paste: Was that expected?

Gethard: Oh, no. That wasn’t a thing we planned. That’s the kind of thing that if somebody suggested it we’d probably ask that person to never work with us again. One of the cast members on our show, a great dude, he was actually the minster at my wedding, I was the minister at his wedding, he’s one of my best friends in the world. We were doing this bit where we were all wearing adult diapers and seeing who could pee the most in front of a crowd. A pretty dumb bit. Like, that’s already enough. That’s enough. That’s already at the limit of what it should be. And he got very intoxicated on stage and, you know, he defecated in his diaper. I’ll use the technical term. He squatted down and we could tell he wasn’t quitting by the smell and we started to realize he’d probably had one too many. At one point in the show he got very mad at another cast member and he reached into his adult diaper and throw fecal matter at Drew Johnston, one of the head writers of our show. It was shameful and degrading for everyone involved.

Paste: It’s kind of barbaric. Like it wasn’t cool in the GG Allin way he probably thought it would be.

Gethard: It is not good. It was not cool. It wasn’t even him thinking it would be amazing or funny, he was just actually really upset at Drew throwing snow at him. It was really a horrible experience, but I’m proud to have my name on it in a twisted way. That’s the kind of highbrow television we’re proud to finally get to bring to cable television.

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