Justin Linville is a 20-year-old comedian from Texas. He currently works for Chris Gethard, selling merch, ticketing, and stage managing for Career Suicide, Chris’s one-man-show about “suicide, depression, and all the other funniest parts of life.”
On Sunday night, Chris Gethard directed Linville in a one-time-only performance of Chris Gethard: Career Suicide at the Annoyance Theatre in Brooklyn.
Linville had invited me to see Career Suicide back in December. We stayed after the show to talk with Gethard, whom he worried was wilting from talking about suicide to hundreds of strangers eight times a week. The three of us drank celery soda and talked for hours and hours. Last week, I went back to the Lynn Redgrave Theatre to talk with the duo again—this time about Linville’s imminent revival—and drink more soda.
Mary Houlihan: Whose idea was it to do Justin Linville: Career Suicide?
Justin Linville: It came about ‘cause we were joking about who would be Chris’s understudy if he got sick.
: We did a Facebook Live chat, and someone left a comment saying he’d love to actually see you do it.
JL: I also kept joking about how I had “forty percent of the show memorized.”
CG: Which later proved to not be true. I think you only had about five percent of it memorized.
JL: No no—I think I had pieces of it memorized—I didn’t have, like, sequentially forty percent of it memorized… but I think I had pieces—and they accumulated to forty—- you know what, this math doesn’t matter.
MH: You said in the show’s Facebook event that you had to ask Judd Apatow if it was okay to do the show. Can you explain that?
CG: So, I couldn’t do the Off-Broadway run by myself. I needed backing—producers putting up money—that’s how it works. So I sent an email to the producers, asking if it was okay. I emailed Judd’s assistant and he was like, “you’re gonna have to call him.” I called Judd, he said, “Yeah. I don’t care.”
CG: We’ve become really close through the course of this run. Early on, I severely underestimated the negative emotional impact of talking about suicide six-to-eight times a week to a room full of strangers. As that reality was setting in, my wife had to go out of town for a month. So I was just talking about suicide and then going home to a lonely house. And in a strange twist of faith, Justin Linville was my rock. He gave me a lot of pep talks. He started asking other comedians to the show and he would specifically tell them that they needed to hang out after and talk to me because I had no social interaction in my life and he was worried. I feel like I owe him a lot.
MH: Justin, how do you feel about the show? Anxious? Worried? Excited?
JL: I feel good. I don’t really feel worried.
CG: The height of confidence! Twenty years old! I’ve never felt that confident! I’ve never done a show and not felt like “I’m gonna let everybody down!”
MH: You’ve been listening to recordings of Chris’s show to memorize it—do the words make you sad, or does it not even affect you like that?
JL: It’s at the point that sometimes I listen to it and it’s just words. It’s like if you listen to your favorite song a million times it just becomes words and sounds.
MH: Would you say Career Suicide is your favorite song?
JL: Of the one-man-shows I’ve seen, it’s my favorite.
MH: ...Have you seen any others?
CG: Something that’s fascinating to me about Justin is, he’s not driven by emotion. Like some people see the show and they start crying—I don’t think that was ever gonna be your bag.
JL: No, but there are moments in the show that I’m like, “Oh, I really connect with that.” Though I do think I’m driven by a lot of anger, and that’s something we connect with.
CG: Big time. Quiet, nerdy exterior but underneath, a bubbling rage. That’s where 20-year-old me and current-day you cross over.
Some sunrises and sunsets after this conversation, Sunday night rolled around. I sat in the packed theatre filled with Linville’s friends and enthusiastic Chris Gethard fans. The show went phenomenally, Justin remembered every single word, and Chris announced that he would retire Career Suicide, as Justin’s rendition was clearly the Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” to Chris’s Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”
The show started with a bang. The audience roared with laughter at the sight of Linville entering to Gethard’s entrance music, hands behind his back, perfectly mimicking his vocal cadence and mannerisms. Then, a minute in:
We watched in real time as it dawned on Linville that maybe he didn’t have the show completely memorized. We all laughed empathic laughs as he struggled to remember the words, banging on the wall in celebration when he got a joke right, berating himself when he stumbled on words and made up new ones. A character in a story who wore Daisy Dukes was rewritten to be wearing a Minnie Mouse shirt. Justin followed up with an exasperated explanation: “Shit, I was thinking Daisy Duck, and she’s friends with Minnie.”
Gethard fed him lines from the front row, and at times tagged in to tell stories that were too personal or hard to remember.
Linville exclaimed, “This show’s exhausting! Physically exhausting and emotionally exhausting!”
It was an insane, manic, turbulent ride. But also: hilarious, charming and heartfelt. I caught up with the two of them for a post-show debrief.
MH: How are you feeling?
JL: I feel good. I feel like the goal of the show was for it to be worth $12, because that’s how much the tickets were. It was a fun show.
MH: In our previous interview, I feel like a central theme was that “Chris is emotional / Justin is not.” But there was this climactic moment when you said, “WOW, this is emotionally exhausting.”
JL: Yeah! The show’s heavy! When I first saw the show, I thought, “Oh, Chris is a really good actor, he’s really handling these heavy moments.” But now I’m like—oh, he’s not acting. He’s really emotionally putting himself through what he experienced every night, like eighty-six nights. It’s a different thing to watch this emotional show than perform it. That’s why I just copped out and tagged in Chris.
CG: I feel really great! It probably wasn’t exactly what Justin nor I thought it would be going into it. I didn’t know I was gonna come on stage and perform parts of the show. So it really evolved in an organic way as it went on, and I was proud of that. I felt like we really got through it, and it was raw, and he threw a lot of high kicks, and he threw in a lot of catchphrases, knocking on the wall, lotta nervous tics—it was a beautiful display of hubris, and also like, just going for it, just shamelessly going for it—and I’m proud to be a part of it and very proud of my friend Justin Linville.
MH: Final words?
CG: Watch out for Justin Linville! He’s a young buck, he’s gunnin’ for the title! He’s the young lion of the New York comedy scene! Every other comedian should watch your back!
JL: I dunno… Follow me on Instagram.
Mary Houlihan is a comedian, artist, and blonde woman living in Brooklyn.