Chris Gethard’s public persona is as much about human connection as it is about his comedy career. His podcast Beautiful Anonymous allows strangers to talk to him for an hour, about anything. His comedy itself is built on his frank discussion of mental illness and suicide. Half My Life keeps this signature humanity at its core, including behind-the-scenes moments where Gethard laments being away from his family or goofs off with tour opener Carmen Chrisopher (who you may recognize from the bachelor party episode of Joe Pera Talks with You or his excellent Street Special on Peacock). Spending an hour with Gethard is both grounding and side-splitting.
Half My Life’s magic partly comes from a genuine sense of place. So many specials filmed in large, opulent yet sterile theaters include a moment where the comedian looks around in awe and opines about always dreaming of performing there. The implication is that every venue before was a stepping stone, a footnote on their ascent to the big time. Throughout Half My Life, Gethard is quite the opposite in his approach. Numerous venues are featured in the special, a haphazard patchwork of locales featuring familiar haunts that the comedian introduces with a loving smile or anecdote. Gethard lives out that tired yet all-too-true cliche about the journey being more important than the destination.
When it comes to the actual jokes, the comedian delivers handily. One of Gethard’s best bits focuses on an unlikely Orlando tourist destination known as Gatorland, which—no spoilers—comes full-circle in the most satisfying way. His storytelling is as sharp as ever, innately colloquial and comfortable.
Gethard’s connection with the various audiences enhances his performances throughout the special. Calling it crowd work feels a bit cheap; he’s truly present in the moment, ready to handle whatever people throw at him. At one point, an audience member even comes onstage to demonstrate a wrestling move on him and Gethard quite literally rolls with the punches. His comedy has always benefited from a lack of artifice and a desire to meet people on their level, and both of which through clearly during Half My Life.
The New Jersey native reveals something unsurprising yet still moving in the special: the reason he does stand-up is to help the person in the room having the shittiest week. Making that one person laugh or smile is his ultimate goal, and his methods to achieve that are simple. There’s no smoke and mirrors, but a decided choice of reality over fantasy. Gethard recognizes that there are enough hilarious, horrible, and awe-inspiring phenomena in our world to entertain audiences for over half his life.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.