By most outward measurements, Chris Gethard‘s comedy career is great.
A longtime favorite of both performers and audiences alike at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, Gethard has taken his everything-and-everyone-is-welcome notion of a talk show from the UCB’s basement theater to Manhattan public-access TV to Fusion, where The Chris Gethard Show is prepping its second season on cable. You can see him on Comedy Central thanks to appearances on Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer, and he co-stars in Mike Birbiglia’s new movie about an improv group, Don’t Think Twice.
Inwardly, Gethard can doubt himself as much as anyone, and has let his thinking get the better of him several times during his younger years. More than once, his thoughts have drifted toward suicide, to the point where thoughts drifted dangerously close to action.
For the past few years, Gethard has proven himself a most engaging storyteller, as skilled at retelling strange-but-true tales from his life as he is in improvising funny scenes with teams, and he’s more recently expanded his performance palette into stand-up.
For the past year or so, Gethard has become comfortable enough to dig deeper into his past to make audiences laugh as he describes his experiences with suicide attempts, mental health, alcoholism, pills, and more in his show, “Career Suicide.”
“I will not make jokes about anything I’m not comfortable with,” Gethard tells his audiences, adding: “We’re good. I’m seeing a shrink.”
Onstage, Gethard shines. You root for him.
He knows that. “This is me at my most confident,” he says.
But catch him one or ten minutes after the show, just offstage or on the streets of New York City, or anywhere else, really, and Gethard might not know how to react with you. He knows that, too. Gethard says he still doesn’t react in what might be perceived as proper proportion to events.
He’s 35 now. But at 21, he didn’t know whom to turn to, and attempted suicide.
Mental illness and depression are not issues many of us can handle today, and 14 years ago, even less so. Gethard takes us through his own life experiences onstage with the UCB and off — as well as the lyrics of Morrissey (those tattoos Gethard has of his lyrical idol are no joke) — to show how art and artists have saved him; but also how friends and family have steered him toward help.
And as he has come to terms with his own mental health, Gethard acknowledges in his show how rare of a bird he is in speaking and writing about it. Even rarer that he jokes about it. So he finds himself now in the position of responding (or wondering how to respond) to other depressed folk who seek him out online. A few years ago, one suicidal fan reached out to him online, and he responded in great length publicly via Tumblr.
Here’s what he wrote to that fan, back then, in part:
“I’m not speaking in generalities or hypotheticals when I tell you – I’ve been where you’ve been, and things will get better. And I won’t bullshit you – they’ll get better for a while, then worse again, then better again, etc. But in my experience at least, the longer time goes on, the longer the stretches of the better times get and the shorter the stretches of worse. You learn how to live with what you’re feeling now and you’ll learn how to make those feelings a source of strength in the long run.
Because I can tell you right now – all these stories I just laid out for you are grim, right? Here’s the funny part. Years later, now that the pains that cause those incidents are so far removed from the current state of my life.”
Also, get help. Ask for help. You don’t have to go through life alone, or feeling you’re alone.
And if Chris Gethard is performing in your town or city, go see him. It’ll brighten your day and his.
Chris Gethard has performed “Career Suicide” most regularly at Union Hall in Brooklyn and the UCB Theatre in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, as well as festivals across North America.
Upcoming performances of Chris Gethard, “Career Suicide” include:
- March 11, 2016: PHILADELPHIA: with Tim Dillon and Jo Firestone – Philly MOCA
- March 17: SUNY PURCHASE: with Jo Firestone – Whitson’s
- March 19: NEW BRUNSWICK: with Mikey Erg! – In the West – ALL AGES
- June 2: CHICAGO: The 3rd Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival (The Onion/AV Club)