There’s a Jersey comic we want you to meet. You might have seen Chris Gethard already on “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Don’t Think Twice”. But you don’t know him. Not like this. Here’s Maddie Orton with NJ Arts.
Orton: So, let’s talk about your show, “Chris Gethard: Career Suicide“. You know, it strikes me, and it seems to be striking a lot of people, that suicide and clinical depression may not be the most obvious subject matter for a one-man show that is a comedy.
Orton: What made you think this is something that will keep people entertained and laughing for 90 minutes?
Gethard: Well, a lot of it was I had a conversation with my friend, Mike Birbiglia — he’s a great comic. He asked me, just as a friend, “Like, what’s the deal with all of that stuff?” I’d joked about it a little bit here and there in my work. And I told him some of the real stories, and he was like, “That’s hilarious,” and I was like “This is not at all hilarious!” But he was like, “Dude, if you can make that funny, you have something really special on your hands.”
I also should be clear. I agree that suicide is not a funny thing. Depression isn’t either. This is not like me making jokes about those things. I’ve lived through a lot of experiences with that stuff, and it’s me speaking really honestly as someone who’s been on the inside of some of those experiences… I kind of feel like, if I can get people to come in and just laugh at this as a comedy show, and then maybe let their guard down a little bit about how stigmatized this stuff can be, or how hard this conversation can be to have, that would be a very nice byproduct of being a comedian.
Orton: I mean, you talk about speaking frankly, you speak very frankly. I think people are potentially comfortable saying, “I’ve battled with this, I’ve battled with bouts of that,” but you go into a level of detail that I respect, but I’ve got to tell you, I thought, “Oh my god, his mom is watching this, these strangers are all here.” How did that feel the first time getting up here, in a theater that looks very much like a comfortable living room or somebody’s parents’ basement, and being really intimate with these strangers for a period of time?
Gethard: It was scary. I started workshopping this show about two years ago, and I remember probably the first six to 10 times I did the show, I would get off stage and be shaking, and just be like, “What am I doing? Why would I do that?” But a lot of it was the encouragement of people who would reach out and say, “Hey, I identified with that.”
Orton: What do you say to people when they come to you after the show and say, “Chris, I heard this. I relate to it.” And that happens a lot, right?
Gethard: It does. It happens more often than not when I do the show. People will wait and tell me their story. And I’m very flattered by that. I’m also very upfront with them with, “Hey, I’m a comedian, and I can’t solve your problems for you, but I hope maybe this show spurs you on in some way to seek your own help.”
Orton: A lot of the focus in the show is about the stigmatization of medication, of seeing a therapist. You talk about medications for mental illness being the one medication that people can say, “Why are you doing this?”
Gethard: Yeah, yeah.
Orton: Tell me a little bit about that.
Gethard: When I was 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, I really resisted medication because people would outright say, “That’s fake. That’s quackery. Who needs that?” It’s medicine. I avoided taking medicine because other people had these opinions… And I think especially as a creative person — especially a comedian — there’s like this sad clown thing of you kind of have to be dark and brooding to be funny. And I bought into that and resisted getting help for awhile, and man, was that not smart.
Orton: You mention Jersey. I think we’re sitting on a map of New Jersey now?
Gethard: Yeah, you’ve picked up on that. Many people don’t even realize it’s a map.
Orton: I think this is 287 somewhere?
Gethard: Look at that! Wow!
Orton: Right? Am I right?
Gethard: This map, this backdrop, is positioned in a way where a lot of the show, New Brunswick is over my right shoulder, and West Orange is up here… My whole life, I’ve been all about Jersey… I went to Rutgers, I worked for years at Weird New Jersey Magazine, which is, like, the coolest job I’ve ever had… As an artist, I thank God I’m from Jersey because I think it puts such a chip on my shoulder. And I also think being from Jersey, there’s a little bit of like, “Oh, you’re going to be an artist?” Which is like, if you’re going to do it, you need to go hard, so it made me fight really hard for it, and I always love that.