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‘World’s Nicest Comedian’ Chris Gethard on Replacing Jon Heder

When the news broke last week that former SNL writer and popular UCB comedian Chris Gethard had been tapped to replace Jon Heder as the lead in a much-anticipated Comedy Central series, we couldn’t help but think Gethard’s good career luck had something to do with his niceness. Just a few weeks before the surprise casting announcement (Heder dropped out just two days before filming began), Gethard was getting attention right here on Vulture for a heartwarming stunt in which Gethard flew a young comedy fan named Fesh to New York City for the star-studded weekend of his dreams. Next thing you know, Gethard (pronounced “GETH-erd”) found himself working alongside Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell in the Will Ferrell and Adam McKay–produced comedy, tentatively titled Big Lake. We talked to a stunned Gethard yesterday about his whirlwind week, instant karma, and what it’s like to fill Napoleon Dynamite’s shoes.

So, are you having best week ever?
It’s been kind of overwhelming!

How did you find out you got the job?
It was kind of this crazy turnaround. Last Tuesday my agent called me and said she had an audition for me. She was like, “I know you get nervous, but this is kind of a big one.” A spot opened up on this show and they weren’t auditioning too many people. So I stayed up all night with a friend, another actor, running lines, and he kind of pumped me up for the audition. Wednesday was the audition and Thursday I got a callback, and I was there with Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell and I was like, “What am I doing here?” I was supposed to go on a trip to L.A. last week and my agent called and said, “You should cancel that,” because things were starting to move. Wednesday it was looking good enough that I called my parents. Then Thursday I found out that it was 100 percent definite, and Friday was my first day of work.

Wow. What a whirlwind. So you’re filming in New York?
Yeah, we’re filming at Silvercup Studios in Queens; we’re on the old Sex and the City set, which I think is hilarious. On Friday, my first day of work, everyone was like, “Where do you live, man?” and I said, “Actually deeper in Queens than this. A less glamorous section of Queens than where we are right now.”

Not to sound too Drew Barrymore–y, but this big break coming right on the heels of the good deed you did for Fesh seems like karma. I know the two are probably unrelated …
I really thought of doing that thing for Fesh as its own reward, but just on a practical level it did help me because it got a lot of write-ups and kind of made the rounds, and a lot of people thought it was a cool thing to do, and all that press happened a week or two before all this stuff started to happen. So in a real way it definitely kind of put me on people’s minds who normally wouldn’t have thought of me. It definitely didn’t hurt that a week before the audition there was all this press going around, calling me nice or whatever.

Is there anything you can tell us about the show?
This is going to sound so dumb, but it’s totally true: I don’t know much more than what’s out there; I’ve only worked one day, going over stuff with the writers and Chris and Horatio. It’s been such a whirlwind, you probably know more than I do. I can say that I was so excited to work with those guys and for the opportunity, and was just happy about that, but then I read the script and thought, Oh this is actually really funny. This could be a really funny show.

Do you have any thoughts about replacing Jon Heder? Did you think of yourself as a Jon Heder type before this?
I don’t know if I think of myself as a Jon Heder type, and I don’t know what happened with all that stuff. It’s definitely intimidating — I read one article on the Internet that was like “When Jon Heder left word went around ‘What name are they gonna get to replace Napoleon Dynamite?’ And it’s Chris Gethard? Who is that?” [Laughs.] They’re big shoes to fill and I’m an unknown quantity. I don’t think they’re expecting me to come in and impersonate anybody. They’ve been very up front about how they want me to do my own thing.

Do you think that this is an example of the comedy industry starting to be less cutthroat? Comedians aren’t particularly known for their generosity usually.
It’s a community where there are so many talented people and so few jobs to go around, but it’s like a family. The New York comedy community does have a feel that you’re down in the trenches with each other. It’s amazing how many people have reached out just towards me. I’ve been working for ten years, and sometimes you have to wonder if anything’s ever going to happen with your career, and people have just reached out. One comedian friend of mine told me that she started crying when she found out I got the show! [Laughs.] I think coming out of the UCB community, you kind of buck that trend of people being cutthroat, though. It takes away a lot of the pressure to know that there are so many people who’ve been so incredibly nice.

‘World’s Nicest Comedian’ Chris Gethard on Replacing Jon Heder