Before his time on cable, public access and the Upright Citizens Brigade, Chris Gethard was a student at Rutgers University. An admittedly anxious man, the unforgiving city of New Brunswick may not have done him much good in the moment, but it produced a famous comedian and actor with a recent HBO special and a beloved, unique talk show, The Chris Gethard Show, that is soon to continue its run on truTV.
Gethard came back to Rutgers in late March to perform stand up, where he shared some now-funny memories of his time spent at the State University of New Jersey. After, he graciously sat down with The Medium for a quick interview.
He was nervous at first, because The Medium, which is now generally filled with socially awkward introverts, had a bit of a rough-and-tumble reputation back in the early 2000s.
With Gethard’s show to debut on truTV this Thursday, we proudly share our conversation with him.
Note: While The Medium publishes quality satire for your enjoyment, we promise this interview is completely real.
Chris Gethard: A friend of mine freshman year, The Medium did some really harsh stuff about Jesus, and he was really Christian. He went to a meeting to try to say something and they were like, “You wanna fucking fight, bro?!” There was almost like a fistfight in The Medium.
The Medium: Oh no, we’ve changed.
Do you still have those classified ads?
Yeah, but then like Yik Yak came out, so now we’re only down to one page of personals. The internet affects us, too.
Ah, the personals was classic.
Yeah people used to submit personals…
And you’d send messages to other people.
Yeah now we just have one guy on the computer just typing, just talking to himself on the computer. It’s kind of sad.
If you were in a class with someone and you thought they were cute you’d be like, “Uh, whoever’s always in the third row James Reed’s history class, I think you’re cool and I like your hair.” You’d always get stuff like that. It was the best.
Who are your comedy idols?
The person I obsessed over the most was Andy Kaufman. I think mostly because as a kid I was really obsessed with pro wrestling, and there were a lot of specials of him doing pro wrestling in Memphis, and I thought that was the funniest thing in the world. He also did a lot of appearances on Saturday Night Live in the first few seasons, so then I started going back and watching all those. It was Andy Kaufman, David Letterman. Growing up in North Jersey, I don’t agree with a lot of the stuff he did morally, but Howard Stern. I look back and realize that a lot of people who were East Coast people who did whatever they felt like doing were kind of the big influences. Those are the big three. And then Eddie Murphy was big for me.
Have they influenced your work?
I think so. Like with Kaufman, he would go super deep into characters. I feel like I’m someone who overshares on stage, which is different, but I think the thing I always admired about him–which I try to emulate–is that his stuff is funny, but it always had something else. It was funny, but it might make you really mad. It was funny, but it also might make you really sad or break your heart. There’s always this other layer. Like funny is the baseline, but he’s also going to poke you in a certain way. Do you know his Great Gatsby bit? He’d just read The Great Gatsby on stage to an audience. It was really funny, but also just boring. The idea of not just giving an audience what it expects, but give them something that pushes them a little further and challenges yourself as well, I always really admired that, and I try to do that in my own stuff.
What was it like writing on Saturday Night Live?
I was only there for two weeks, so it was like a whirlwind. Basically, if they have extra money in the budget they’ll bring people in at the end of the year for two or three weeks at a time, so I did that. It was cool. I wound up writing a sketch that went to dress rehearsal and I got notes on it from Lorne Michaels, and that was terrifying because he’s like a terrifying man I’ve been watching since I was a kid. I came up at UCB, and Amy Poehler was on the show and she owned UCB, so there was a lot of crossover between the communities. I tried to show up, not be intimidated and have fun. It was a real kick in the pants, too, in the sense of like, I kind of realized that I could actually make a career of this. Up until then I was just happy to be on the periphery. I was like, “Oh, I actually did okay there. I should actually try.”
Any updates on your show?
There’s so much stuff that’s gone down behind the scenes. It will be back in some fashion. It’s still being nailed down exactly what that will entail. It’s been like a very dramatic few months of me getting a lot of stressful phone calls. I’m really very appreciative of the fact that not many people know about the show, but those who do love it, which is so nice. I get asked on Twitter every day when the show is coming back. You have to believe me, if there’s anyone who’s more anxious about that than you, it’s me. Trust me, trust me. I think I should be able to have news within the next few weeks.
So you got me and my group of friends really into the Smiths. We were arguing over who we prefer, Marr or Morrissey, so do you have any opinions on that?
I think at the end of the day I’m a Morrissey guy, just because I love lyrics so much. I think all of the music I listen to, at the end of the day, it just boils down to if it has good lyrics that’s usually what’s hooking me in. The Smiths are one of those bands where people either really love them or totally make fun of them. Sometimes I think people say like, “I just really like Johnny Marr,” as there way of saying they’re not really a Smiths fan. I kind of feel like it’s a little bit of a cop out. You have to like the whole package. I’m a Morrisey guy myself, which is no offense to Johnny Marr, but it’s the lyrics that do it for me at the end of the day. But I have friends who are like guitar nerds, and I understand he’s someone–like they worship at the altar of Johnny Marr, but I don’t think of it that way.
Which episode of The Chris Gethard Show was your favorite to film?
It’s interesting because we did the dumpster one, and magazine wrote about that and said it was the best hour of TV this past year, and that’s crazy. We’re such a tiny show. I think it was Vulture or The Atlantic. I forget. They both wrote–I think that one was Vulture. It’s just super nice to feel like we’re this show that nobody knows about or cares about and we’ve just been fighting to survive. It was nice to do that one. I don’t want to spoil what’s in the dumpster because that’s the whole bit, but sneaking what was in the dumpster into the studio without anybody knowing was very, very fun. And what was in the dumpster was like–hint, it was a human–was like, “If they don’t guess what it is, you’re wheeling me out of here. I will not reveal it if they don’t figure it out.”
How much talking into it did it take to get him into the dumpster?
Not much. He actually came and hung out a couple times in the studio audience when we were on public access, so he was down. But it’s funny because when you ask me which ones I had the most fun filming, our public access days the episodes were so up and down, but filming them was always fun. There was such potential for disaster. There was one episode we had where the lights kept turning off during the show, and I was like this is pathetic, but in a way that made me so happy. The idea that we’re broadcasting this live. At that point we had really caught like the cult momentum and probably had like a couple thousand people watching us online, and we can’t even figure out how to get the lights to turn on. That’s like so sad, but it makes me laugh so hard. I really enjoyed some of the disaster ones from back in the day. Like the human crane, which just like never worked. Just like failing on live, public access TV when I’m like 33-years-old. Like what am I doing. You know those gravity boots that you can hang upside down? I went and bought those boots, and chains and poles, and had to fit them in my car. I spent like $400 and it didn’t even work. I think back and I’m like that was so pathetic, but pathetic to me has always been one of the funniest things in the world. I really stink, I really feel humiliated right now, to me that’s always been my creative sweet spot.
Alright, I think that’s our time.
It was really nice talking to you guys. I was definitely scared when I heard it was The Medium.