Tonight, The Chris Gethard Show airs our 100th episode on public access television. Before that, I spent two years doing the show as a stage show at the UCB Theater. On the public access show alone, between the episodes, pre-taped specials, and our 12-hour long election coverage special, we’ve created almost 120 hours of free content. And that’s on top of stage shows at UCB, times we’ve traveled cross-country, and all the other dumb shit we’ve put together.
It’s an overwhelming thing to step back and realize. It’s even more overwhelming to realize that it seems to mean a lot to people. Not everyone enjoys the show, and it remains a cult thing even within the world of cult comedy, but the people who like it really love it, and that means everything to me. I can’t even begin to explain how much the community that’s sprung up around our dumb public access show has motivated me and kept me afloat on many levels.
Thank you to anyone who’s ever watched or supported TCGS. Even if you checked it out once, hated it, and never checked it out again — thank you for giving us a chance. A thousand times over, thank all of you for giving those of us involved in this thing a platform to get creative upon.
Anyway, Splitsider has asked me to list my ten favorite moments in the history of TCGS. I never watch episodes — I get too insecure about how I look and sound — so this was hard. But in scanning the episodes and having my memories triggered, here are ten that stand out. This list could change tomorrow — I’ve had so many fantastic comedic and life experiences due to this out of control and unexpected show — but these are ten that come to mind right now.
10. The Debate Between Connor Ratliff and Jimmy McMillan
This remains one of my early favorites, because it happened completely by accident and forced us to go way bigger than we ever had before. Up until this episode, TCGS was a mish mosh of call-ins, games, animations, and other weird stuff. We hadn’t really dipped our toes into elaborate themed episodes that all tied together.
Then Connor Ratliff, who was running for president, formally challenged every other Presidential candidate he could find to debate him on TCGS. Mitt Romney’s people wrote back a letter refusing, and no one else responded — except for Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, who accepted.
He had called our bluff. We had planned on doing a bit where Connor debated sadly to a row of empty chairs. Instead we had to stage an actual presidential debate on what we thought was going to be a Halloween episode of TCGS.
9. Genuine Sadness
This is probably my favorite episode of all time. Basically, I was really sad. That happens to me sometimes. I did NOT feel like putting on a comedy show. This was legit. I was in a real rocky place in life. I told my writers that I didn’t have it in me, and the only thing I was capable of talking about on this week was that I was seriously in a bad, sad mood.
They reminded me that we’re on public access and we can do whatever we want. We took a chance on doing a whole hour of calls that were genuinely sad — we got calls from a guy who discovered his wife was cheating on him, kids whose parents were in the process of getting divorced, and most gruesome of all a man who told us the body of his brother had been found two days prior. It was intense.
But it also reminded me that the community we’ve built is a strong, strange, real one — people are willing to share anything on these weird phone lines of ours. I was proud we could be an outlet to people when we needed it, and I was thrilled to know we as a show are not so desperate for laughs that we can’t tap into other emotions along the way.
8. The Hintmaster
I made up a word game. It made NO SENSE. The writers informed me that it made no sense. I told them to trust me, it made sense. One of our head writers, Dru Johnston, off-handedly said “I might come up with a dumb character called The Hintmaster just in case this one goes off the rails.” I rolled my eyes at it but it wound up being beyond necessary.
All that being said, I wouldn’t trade that shitty awful episode with that incomprehensible word game for anything, because we turned lemons into lemonade and in the process created a bizarre sensation amongst our fans. They fucking LOVED this Hintmaster thing. We riled off some t-shirts the week after he debuted and they sold faster than any other product we’ve ever offered.
We quickly turned The Hintmaster into a villain, culminating in him running the show after kidnapping me and locking me in a dog cage. That show also featured one of my favorite musical guests of all time, Bad Credit No Credit. Dru also made a Hintmaster video and it contains what I think is the single funniest line ever said on TCGS, though to be fair the context of the episodes is probably necessary. “Here’s a hint for you, people of all religions: I am your God now.” That being said by an asshole in a red track suit with googly eye glasses and a can of snake peanuts reminds me that Dru is one of the funniest people I know and destined for a future of stardom in sketch comedy. If I made hires at a sketch comedy show, I would hire him as an actor or writer immediately.
7. Fucked Up and Screaming Females
I love that we get great bands on the show. Our bookers really know their shit. Bands that haven’t broken yet, bands that have, they have a great sense of bands our audience will like.
Screaming Females and Fucked Up are definitely two bands that came in, already had a reputation, decided that they wouldn’t act too cool for school and threw down and went for broke. We have had DOZENS of bands that I’ve loved play the show, but these two really strike me as ones that show what happens when talented bands embrace our show and decide to use it to get creative in their own right.
A lot of the bands that play the show watch it and enjoy it and tell us that they watched it before they were booked. It makes me feel less insane to do this show when cool people I respect let me know that.
6. Getting beaten by a stranger on the air
We did an episode where a dominatrix dictated how I hosted the show. I was her sub, and had to also host a comedy show while that was happening. It was physically painful and emotionally jarring.
At the end of this episode she offered to let anyone in the audience hit me with a flog while I wore a ball gag. It was painful. Most of these people I knew.
At 58:11 of the episode, a man in a sweater takes the flog, calmly says “This was my first time here… and my last.” He then hits me SO HARD with the flog that my eyes fill with rage and I start screaming “WHO WAS THAT?” through the ball gag. I watch this footage and am completely amazed at how angry I am. The pain has made me react with insane instinctive aggression. Even the dominatrix is taken aback.
That guy came back to the show one other time, like a year later. He was like “I don’t know if you remember me.” I was like, “Yeah, I do.”
5. Crazy Don and the Election Special
We did the longest broadcast in NYC public access history when we did a twelve hour long coverage of last year’s presidential election. I was on camera for all but about 20 minutes of it.
During one of my very brief breaks, my friend Dan Klein wound up hosting the show. Dan is a super talented comedian who did fruit reviews on our show. (To my delight he later turned this bit into its own video that racked up hundreds of thousands of hits.) Dan had only been on our show two or three times prior — we have a strong community of funny weirdos who attend the show. Dan was aware of this.
While he was hosting, a completely insane Asian man named Don was the only other person on camera with Dan. No one involved in the show has any idea who he is. He showed up one other time and was acting really paranoid and out there. We were later told that he once accidentally locked himself on the roof of the public access station and slept overnight there.
I don’t judge anybody for their problems, I’m just saying I never anticipated this guy would be co-hosting a show with my name on it.
The best part? Dan Klein had NO IDEA this guy wasn’t a regular on the show. Our show is so bonkers that even a semi-frequent guest can’t tell when he’s dealing with one of our regular contributors or a truly random oddball.
4. The Time Travel Two Piece
Sometimes we get bored and want to shake up our format. It’s a luxury we have on public access — no one cares about us. It literally doesn’t matter if we fail, so sometimes we try to go really big and out of the box.
One thing we came up with was an insane time travel episode. Basically, Anthony Atamanuik, one of the most talented comedic actors in NYC, had previously played a time traveling character called The Keeper of The Battledome. He went on an insane improvised tear detailing where all the TCGS cast members wound up in the future, or what their descendants were doing.
We decided to do an episode where we traveled to that future. Then, the next week, because we are assholes who take jokes too far, we did a bit where we said the time machine broke and we wound up accidentally overshooting our present and winding up in Ancient Rome.
Smash Cut From The Past also featured musical guest The So So Glos. Months later they went on to play Letterman, and made sure he said it was their NETWORK television debut. Super cool of them.
Those two weeks were so fucking fun.
3. The Beef Off
Straight up, I think this is our funniest episode ever. An effort to see which member of our crew is the beefiest. A simple concept, with the added challenge of wanting to do a genuinely homoerotic episode without making that the joke. I think there’s too many gay jokes in comedy, and not enough honest explorations of sexuality. I like to think that we had a fun episode here with a lot of intentional homoeroticism without making that feel like a big deal or anything bad. Just something to have fun with like any other crazy topic we pick. I know it might sound insane, but there’s a part of me that hopes by maybe making some jokes with gay overtones without making gay jokes about being gay that maybe some sexually confused kid who likes our show will realize that sexuality, like everything else, is something you can have fun with, laugh at, make jokes about, and explore. I don’t know. It probably just reads as another in the pile of gay jokes that comedy creates, but in my heart that was the intent. Anyway, I think it’s fucking funny. Rob Malone and Jesse Vandenbergh end this episode with an intense minutes long stretch that makes me cry laughing when I see it.
2. Murf Proposes to Diana
Diana’s been doing bits on our show since episode one. Murf became a panelist early on, just by stepping in when I barely knew him. He quickly became a regular and a fan favorite.
None of us knew what he was up to, but I’m glad I helped create an environment where something this genuine can happen. It was a wonderful thing to witness and I can’t believe Murf did this on our show.
These two people met in an improv class I taught and we all participated in a dumb public access show I laid the foundation for. Now they’re two of my best friends and they’re also getting married.
I also love that Diana asks “Am I shaving you?”, thinking Murf is going to shave his whole body as a bit for the show. Among fans of TCGS, “Am I shaving you?” has now become slang for “I am in love with you.” I think that rules.
1. Random Jean
Nothing can TOP Murf and Diana, but I think this next one made the show the staging ground that could allow for it in the first place.
During our second episode ever on public access, we got a call from a girl who said she didn’t quite get what we were going for. We told her to jump in a cab and hang out in the studio and maybe she’d understand more.
She actually did it. And when she did, we told her to come hang out on the air. Then we told her she could come back if she wanted to. She did so, for fourteen weeks.
Jean started a tradition where we always have someone we don’t know as part of the panel on our show. They’re called the Random — Random Jean, Random Andrew, Random Melissa, Random Ellen, Random Meneascha, Random Maxine, and Random Messenger Bag mark the different “seasons” of TCGS in a way.
But Jean came out of nowhere, during an episode we weren’t even supposed to be doing since we had zero prep time. We just walked onto another show’s set, started taking calls, and a new cast member wound up on the show because of it.
During her months on the show, Jean always surprised me. She was sometimes sweet, sometimes confusing, sometimes infuriating, but always genuine, always down to go along with our stupid bits, and always made things interesting and alive and new.
She came out of nowhere, but she showed me that the show had the potential to go to places and meet people that I hadn’t been thinking of. It made me realize that I shouldn’t even want to be in control of this show — that public access and the internet and all the things we were merging had the potential to create moments that I couldn’t possibly predict.
Jean is a lovely, lovely person. She’s going to hate that I am bringing her back up! She signed on for a ramshackle little public access show and had fun with it — in the many months since she left the show, the cult keeps growing and fans keep contacting her online, which I want to discourage. Jean brought so much to the show and has moved on with her life.
Random Jean is in so many ways the spirit of TCGS. Not even the person, but the idea of Random Jean — we beam this thing out into the world. Some of you guys find it. And when you do, we want you to be a part of it. We want you to surprise us. We want this to be your show.
We titled our bizarre, meant-to-be-a-throwaway second episode “The Episode Where Everything Started”, and that’s because when a person you don’t know walks through the door and is game to be a part of the dumb insanity you’ve got your own name on, the rules and parameters evolve — a community has now been formed — someone new has received the transmission, reacted to it, and answered the call. And at that point, it’s on the show, starting with myself, to step up and react to that and evolve.
Nothing else above on this list would have ever happened if Random Jean didn’t walk into our world and in doing so, define what that world could be. We wouldn’t have continued with the show for more than a few months. We wouldn’t have met so many wonderful people. We wouldn’t have explored so many fascinating things.
Random Jean is the representative of the audience we hoped to find and somehow did. Thank you all for allowing us into your fascinating, fractured, fucked up lives. This show is your show, not mine.