On Monday Chris Gethard announced the end of The Chris Gethard Show. After seven years, three networks and over 200 episodes, its star and creator is wrapping it up in what he calls a “mutual decision” with its latest home, TruTV. And although Gethard has framed it as something of a relief in his Facebook post and a Village Voice interview that went up today—as an opportunity to focus on new projects—it’s still sad to see TV lose something this unique.
During its time on the air, The Chris Gethard Show resurrected the anarchic spirit of early cable TV, when many hours had to be programmed and the industry was less rigid in how it would fill them. Anybody who grew up watching local TV, public access, or end-of-dial cable in the ’80s and very early ‘90s probably remembers how ramshackle TV could get when ratings and dollars were in short supply. It was the kind of freedom often found in the early days of a new medium—even though TV had been around for decades, the cable explosion of the ‘80s essentially created an entirely new business—and as usually happens that freedom was gradually beaten out of cable during the ‘90s.
The Chris Gethard Show dredged up that freedom and embraced it as tightly as possible, though. Instead of sequestering its crowd to an unseen set of bleachers, it let them sprawl out on stage, making them a crucial part of the show. Instead of the typical canned, preplanned celebrity interviews, Gethard turned his guests into active participants in whatever absurd activities were planned. Instead of musical acts from big labels pushing product, Gethard brought on punk bands like Downtown Boys and personal favorites like Jeff Rosenstock. If it wasn’t for the Skype calls and viewer emails that Gethard would respond to every episode, almost everything about the show looked and felt like it could’ve been straight from 1986.
I wasn’t a regular viewer of The Chris Gethard Show. A little bit of its chaos went a long way, and also coming into the show late, as I did, made it feel a bit impenetrable—full of in-jokes I didn’t understand and a dynamic built around a familiarity I simply didn’t have with the show or its characters. I respected the hell out of it, though, mostly for its fearlessness. Here was a show that knew exactly what it wanted to be— it was basically a punk house show on TV, a freeform party that broke down the walls between audience and performer—and never deviated from that path, even when it moved from public access to two different cable networks. It wasn’t necessarily comfortable to watch for an outsider like me, but it was obvious that, for its creators and fans, it was a deeply comforting weekly release, despite the unruliness.
Gethard has built his career on relatability and sincerity. He’s remarkably open in his comedy and in interviews, and doesn’t hesitate to discuss his mental health and emotional state. That’s created a kind of special bond with his fans, and The Chris Gethard Show was the physical manifestation of that connection. For its fans it wasn’t just a TV show but a place where you could see your friends and escape the stress of the real world, like a favorite bar or club. For the occasional viewer it was a glimpse into a secret society with its own fascinating rulebook, and also back to a freer, more exciting era of TV. The decision might not have been as mutual as Gethard describes—it was the lowest rated show on TruTV, something that Gethard is justifiably proud of—but he’s absolutely earned the right to end the show on his own terms, and anybody who saw that powerful TruTV finale back in May probably agrees that it was about as ideal a final episode as possible. Don’t fixate on what might be lost, but reflect on what was gained by the show’s existence, whether you were a regular viewer or not. For us, that boils down to this simple truth: The Chris Gethard Show was good, and cool, and shall be missed.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections and also writes about theme parks. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.