- PHOTO PROVIDED
- Chris Gethard.
Sure, he’s flirted with mainstream success, appearing in episodes of the hugely popular sitcoms “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” and co-starring in the 2016 Mike Birbliglia film “Don’t Think Twice.” He was even the star of a short-lived sitcom, “Big Lake,” on Comedy Central.
But Gethard’s main gigs have been decidedly unconventional. Even his 2017 stand-up comedy special on HBO, titled “Career Suicide,” was a humorous, but honest look at his personal struggles with alcoholism, depression, and suicide.
“Everything I've ever done that's mine is hard for people to understand, sort of off-putting to a lot of people, and kind of proudly confusing — you have to buy in for real,” Gethard said in a recent Zoom conversation. “And I go, ‘Well, that's it. That's why you don't get more mainstream jobs, ’cause you've never wanted them and everything you've pursued proudly holds a middle finger up to the very idea of mainstream jobs. So try not to stress too hard, dude.”
The 41-year-old entertainer brings that offbeat approach to Rochester on Saturday, Nov. 6, when he plays Anthology — taping a live episode of his podcast “Beautiful/Anonymous” for the early set at 7 p.m. and performing his stand-up at 9:30 p.m..
Gethard (pronounced Geth-erd), the father of a toddler, teased a joke about the pressure of naming a child, and how picking a name reflected his own need for creativity. “I have a whole bit fantasizing about how I briefly wanted to name my son Phoenix, in this burst of creativity,” he said. “And then I said the phrase ‘Phoenix Gethard’ out loud, and just realized how much I was setting that kid up for failure.”
Quirkiness ruled the day throughout the nearly seven-year run of the talk show “The Chris Gethard Show,” which got its start on TV in 2011 on a public access channel before moving to cable.
On the episode “Til Geth Do Us Part,” Gethard officiated three marriages in one episode, with Will Ferrell serving as the best man. On “We’ll Sleep When We’re Canceled,” Gethard deprived himself and his team of sleep for 36 straight hours before a live taping of the show. And for “One Man’s Trash, ” Gethard famously spent the entire show having viewers call in and guess what was in the Dumpster onstage (spoiler alert: it was award-winning actor Paul Giamatti).
“The Chris Gethard Show” was simultaneously irreverent and sweet, and startling in the way that it showcased vulnerability. “I was just in a place in my life at that time where I had a lot of feelings to get out,” Gethard said. “And I had a lot of stuff that I didn't want to swallow or sit on, and made a kind of a conversation with the viewers.”
Gethard has continued that conversation in “Beautiful/Anonymous.” Each episode consists of Gethard fielding a phone call from a random person and talking to them for an hour. The caller never reveals their name, and Gethard can never hang up on the called. A half-hour TV version of the podcast, consisting of four episodes to-date, was created in early 2021.
He acknowledged that the live show can either be compelling, funny, or surprising — with a disembodied voice being in the limelight — or downright awkward. The one-on-one dialogue that happens in the podcast makes for an intimate show.
Gethard initially believed his podcast would attract the same audience as “The Chris Gethard Show,” which he cast as an “island of misfit toys” made up of college students, “punk-rock kids,” and “queer kids.”
But “Beautiful/Anonymous,” he said, attracts a more professional set, particularly married women and mothers.
A common thread between the audiences, he said, was that each felt like nobody wanted to listen to them. They needed to be heard, and they were angry.
“The people who like me the best are about 18 to 24 months out from taking to the streets,” Gethard said. “That’s my fan base.”
Earlier in his career, Gethard said, his performances were about filling a void and satisfying a need for connection. He now feels he can use his humor to help other people.
“What can I say, what can I do to give them a show that’s worth that time and money?” Gethard said. “And I've been talking about it onstage lately a lot, too. There's somebody in the room on any given night who's feeling the worst out of anybody in the room, somebody who's in their head or depressed about something, or they just got fired or they just got dumped. They’re having a real shit time of it lately, and I can cheer them up. And I remember when I was the person who needed that.”
Gethard’s gig at Anthology isn’t just another stop on the tour for him. The comedian says Rochester is his kind of town, and he’s no stranger to the eccentricities of the area.
In 2005, he wrote the book “Weird New York: Your Travel Guide to New York’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” in which he covered such regional curiosities as The White Lady’s Castle in Irondequoit and the Mushroom House in Pittsford. He’s also familiar with Rochester’s abandoned underground subway system.
“Everybody's getting back out on the road right now, and everybody's trying to go, ‘Get me to Chicago, get me the biggest markets so I can make back the most money,’” Gethard said of his fellow entertainers. “And I've always been cut from the cloth — and I think this fits my overall personality — where I'm like, ‘Get me to Rochester.’”
Chris Gethard will perform two shows on Saturday, Nov. 6, at Anthology, 336 East Ave. The early performance (6 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. show) is a live taping of the podcast "Beautiful/Anonymous" and the late performance (9 p.m. doors, (;30 p.m. show) is a stand-up comedy performance. $20 per show, $30 for both shows. All ages. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test required. 585-484-1964. anthologylive.com; chrisgeth.com.
Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.