After starring in The Chris Gethard Show on television, staging the one-man show Career Suicide, writing a memoir, and hosting the hit podcast Beautiful/Anonymous, Chris Gethard is returning to the outlet where it all began: public-access TV. Gethard has shared with Vulture details of the new show he’s creating for TCGS’s former home on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network titled Chris Gethard Presents, which is slated to debut later this month. Instead of hosting the show, Gethard will serve as curator and give some of his favorite comedians live hour-long slots to play around with experimental, restriction-free comedy. Gethard already has episodes lined up with comedians like Carmen Christopher, Christi Chiello, and Rachel Pegram and hopes the show evolves into what sounds like an underground version of Saturday Night Live for offbeat and innovative comedians who deserve their big break.
“Worst-case scenario, this becomes a playground for New York’s comics to have a platform to try out their ideas in an unfiltered way. I’d love it if people were to say, ‘You know, I have this idea that no one’s going to fund, or no network is going to buy, but I think it deserves to exist — let me take it to MNN,’” Gethard said on the project. “And best-case scenario, maybe we can catch some momentum and turn this into a place people go to find the next big thing … In a perfect world, the momentum of this thing will establish it as the place you go to see people doing what they really do with no interference — the place where we get to show off how badass and bonkers stuff gets on stages in this town.”
Read Gethard’s full note on the new show below:
Basically, I got a call after TCGS was canceled from one of the heads at MNN. He told me they were all bummed to see the show go and proud to have been such a big part of everything that happened with us. I was really appreciative. And then he told me they wanted me back at public access. My initial instinct was the obvious, “Wait, I can’t move backwards like that. No.”
But then we got talking, and he said that in a nutshell, they love having New York comedy on their airwaves. They loved the foundation we laid with TCGS and the way Brett Davis and the gang from The Special carried the torch. The infrastructure for comedy is in place on Manhattan’s public access airwaves, they felt like it would be a shame to see it go, and maybe since I clearly have some free time now I could be the one to keep the torch burning.
I told them that while I don’t think I can host a show at MNN anymore (it would be pretty disingenuous for me to try to somehow reclaim any underground credibility I had back in 2011), that maybe I’m in a pretty unique position to be able to help the people who are currently at the same place in their careers/mindsets that I was back then. I pitched the idea that I might curate a running slot showing off some of the people that I think are doing really balls-out, cool stuff in comedy, and that’s exactly what they were hoping to hear.
So that’s what launches on June 26th: Chris Gethard Presents. Each week, I hand off a live hour of television to someone who I think is doing funny, unique stuff. Maybe the host is cut from an odd cloth and isn’t getting that mainstream rub that they deserve. Maybe they ARE getting that momentum going but still need a home for their most experimental, batshit ideas. I want this to be the place where smart comedy viewers go to find that type of cool shit.
Worst-case scenario, this becomes a playground for New York’s comics to have a platform to try out their ideas in an unfiltered way. I’d love it if people were to say, “You know, I have this idea that no one’s going to fund, or no network is going to buy, but I think it deserves to exist – let me take it to MNN.” I love the idea of building something that can be seen far and wide that shows off the type of stuff that you actually see on stages all over NYC before any notes or corporate sponsors or mandates get involved.
And best-case scenario, maybe we can catch some momentum and turn this into a place people go to find the next big thing. I think it’s beautiful that so many comedians come through New York, find their footing, thicken their skin, and then wind up working on one of the big shows. But I also find myself frustrated sometimes, seeing people who are experimental and odd and doing balls-out stuff getting sucked into the gears of big pre-existing machines. Those places are great and well-intentioned and I’m always so psyched any time young comics pay their rent and get health insurance, but sometimes I find myself going, “Ah, I wish the world could see what they really do.” And that’s where maybe this could become a nice tentpole in the comedy world. In a perfect world, the momentum of this thing will establish it as the place you go to see people doing what they really do with no interference — the place where we get to show off how badass and bonkers stuff gets on stages in this town.
Towards the end of TCGS, one of the most fun parts left for me was getting to hire new writers, and getting to cast actors to come play characters on our show. If you look at my track record, I think it’s pretty evident that I’ve always had a good eye for who’s doing the coolest shit and who’s on their way to bigger and better. I’m so proud that if you look at the IMDB page for our show, which was a pretty rinky-dink production at the end of the day, already a lot of the people who passed through as writers and actors are going for bigger and better and kicking ass and subverting peoples’ expectations along the way. I take meetings now and people point that out to me pretty often — “Oh, we always kept our eye on your show so we knew who to steal away from you next time we needed a writer, ha ha.” It’s a funny thing to hear, but also an immense point of pride for me, and I would love it if that reputation extended to this project, and the powers that be in comedy come to realize that I’m trying to shine a spotlight on people who are really funny and interesting and good.
On some level, I think about my age and how long I’ve been doing this, and I realize that I’m on the other side of a lot of my own “angry young man” battles that kept me fueled and fighting throughout my career. I just turned 39 years old and had a kid. I got my show on the air, 47 episodes on cable, and over 200 when you count our public-access run. I don’t know if I’ll make anything as cool as TCGS again. I don’t think I’ll make anything as heartfelt as Career Suicide. I don’t know if I’ll stumble into another project that strikes a chord like Beautiful/Anonymous does for its listeners. And I’m not listing my credits to be arrogant, I’m pointing out that in the past year I’ve had no small amount of panic wondering what’s next and if I’m done.
But then I think about how I got where I did, and so much of it is because people who built their own platforms used those platforms to help me up. Judd Apatow got my back and made Career Suicide exist. Mike Birbiglia saw me transitioning from improv to stand-up and took me under his wing and put me in his movie and helped his audience find me. He didn’t have to do that. Ira Glass featured Beautiful/Anonymous on This American Life and now I just signed a new contract that makes it my job for at least the next two years.
And most of all, I think about the Upright Citizens Brigade. They got themselves a TV show on Comedy Central and they poured the money they made from it into a theater. That theater became a playground for a few generations of people who wanted to try comedy. I am a major beneficiary of that selflessness.
So at my age, and where my career’s at, I think maybe this is my chance to build some small version of what all those people built for me. I remember what it felt like to show up at UCB in June of 2000, a young kid who felt like nobody wanted to hear the dumb ideas in my head, and having all these people who’d proven they were good enough to make it in this world say to me, “Actually, we will let you try.”
I think this is my opportunity to attempt building something that does for a lot of the people in the trenches of comedy now what the UCB Theater did for me twenty years ago: It will give them a chance to go up, follow their comedic instincts in their truest sense, and see what happens. If they succeed I hope they reap huge rewards. If it falls on its face, they’re free to blame me.
I’m starting out with a batch of people from different corners of the comedy world, people I think are good and captivating and hard working and who deserve every bit of spotlight that they can find.
Carmen Christopher is going to be the next Zach Galifianakis. He’s bold and confident as a performer, so weird and captivating to watch, and it’s nuts no one has made a bunch of money exploiting his talents in the mainstream yet. Christi Chiello is one of my favorite people and performers. You put her on any stage in NYC and she walks away with the room in the palm of her hand as well as every comic’s respect. She can go in and smoke people at a Roast Battle, go charm the New Yorker-reading crowd by putting on a solo show at Joe’s Pub, then go put on the boldest weirdest shit with the Bushwick scene, and everyone in all those corners of comedy walk away feeling like she stole the show. That’s a rare ability. Martin Urbano is the perfect blend of crisp joke writing, stage persona, and troublemaker. He’s killed it on late night sets, he kills it locally, he sets up DIY tours, and he’s just one of these people you can’t take your eyes off of when he’s onstage. I’ve watched Rachel Pegram grow over the years into someone who can walk into the most standard set-up punchline room and whip out rapid-fire characters that blow everyone away. Joe Rumrill is like a pure mix of Mitch Hedberg and Pee-wee Herman. I just reached out to my old dear friend Josh Sharp about this project and said, “I want this to be the place you come to do your most unapologetic, aggressive shit.” My old TCGS cronies are chomping at the bit too. Riley Soloner always murdered on my show as Vacation Jason and he’s working on an idea for CGP so strange I can’t even type out a succinct description. Keith Haskel makes these beautiful comedy documentary life experiments that are sort of like a mix of Tom Green’s antics and Conan’s remote pieces.
And that’s just who we’re coming out of the gate with. I’m making it clear: If you’re good, and you work hard, and you feel like you have ideas that there’s no home for, this is the home for them. As long as you’re nice and you’ll put in the work and you won’t be shitty to the people who work at the MNN studio, I got your back. I’m going to bring in more of my friends from the alt world, the UCB world, the club world … and honestly, outside the traditional comedy sphere, too. I have friends who are musicians, filmmakers, artists … if they have ideas of a comedic bent, let’s blend all those art worlds together and remind everybody that New York City is a pressure cooker where stuff bounces off each other in the best way.
I want to hear from people outside of New York, too. If you have an idea that deserves a shot and it’s not getting it, talk to me. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — I can’t guarantee I’ll put you on, but I promise I’ll respect your idea and help as best I can, and if we don’t know each other yet I will watch your shit personally to see what I can do.
I’m pretty exhausted after the last few years I’ve had, and I don’t think I need to lift up a whole production ever again in my entire life. BUT even after twenty years in this town I feel so inspired by my community, the artists around me, the people setting the bar and making the coolest stuff. If this goes well and people get behind it, we might just be able to have a hub, a piece of infrastructure that supports and shows off and gives back to that community. It would make me really happy to put my name on something like that.
Chris Gethard Presents will premiere on MNN Wednesday, June 26 in TCGS’s former 11 p.m. time slot, which comedian Brett Davis took over with his show The Special from 2015 until it wrapped up its run last week. Check out a promo for the show right here: