During his 2017 HBO special “Career Suicide,” comedian Chris Gethard dives deep into his personal struggles with mental health. Divulging some dark secrets, including his ongoing battle with depression, he details how knowing that his therapist sometimes isn’t the best at her job makes him more confident he’s on the right path to recovery.
On his long-running podcast “Beautiful/Anonymous” Gethard often finds himself acting as unqualified therapist, as the show centers around a very simple concept: one hour, one phone call, no names, no holds barred. Began in 2016, the podcast has Gethard receiving a call from an unnamed caller, who then decides what they’d like to talk about. The show has had hundreds of episodes in the six years since, where Gethard has come to chronicle the breadth of modern humanity with real moments of humor, insight, sadness, and honesty.
“Since the show first broke out, I’ve had people say that it’s such an interesting concept or an interesting format for a show, and I think that sounded very depressing,” Gethard said. “Because the idea of having an hour long conversation where we don’t get distracted by some other thing, that feels innovative in modern times, that’s depressing. It shouldn’t feel innovative to sit and listen to each other, and the fact that that seems like a formula that some creative person dreamed up in a lab somewhere, that’s just silly.”
On his current America’s Loosest Cannon Tour (coming to The Pyramid Scheme May 21), Gethard will perform two shows, first hosting a live taping of “Beautiful/Anonymous” where the audience listens in on the call, and then returning to the stage later to perform a standup set.
“It’s so fun for me, because I have this one skill set that I’ve spent 22 years of live performing, and then I have this other skill set where I’ve figured out all these ways to kind of connect with people and make them feel comfortable on the phone,” Gethard said. “And the live shows are such a joy for me because they’re like keeping both balls in the air at once.”
Gethard’s latest standup special, “Half My Life,” released last year, followed him on tour, pre-pandemic, and captured a crossroads in his career as he hit 40, and became a new parent.
Having spent his entire adult life pursuing comedy, from starting out doing improv at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Manhattan, to hosting his own public-access TV show, “The Chris Gethard Show,” which went on to have two seasons on Fusion, and one on truTV, he has embraced the chaos of a life in comedy, with the punk rock ethos of his youth.
“I just feel really, really blessed because I came up as a punk rock kid growing up going to shows in basements in New Jersey and the scene is just really, really strong,” he said. “I got to see so many examples of kids who weren’t that much older than me making art and doing things in an unlikely way. At the end of the day, I think a lot of comedians would say I’ve managed to find more ways to sneak through the backdoor, and more ways to pay my rent through my art while not having to play by the rules of an industry that I don’t always like.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, and the acting roles he often got dried up due to lockdown, Gethard said he took that time to really connect with his wife and newborn son, and reexamine his career.
“Honestly the number one benefit of this is I will never take it for granted,” Gethard said. “I think I’ve always been somebody who really loves connecting with audiences. I think anybody who has come and seen me live will say you can feel my appreciation. You can feel my adrenaline. I get a dopamine rush out of doing it. But you do anything for 20 years, it starts to feel routine in a way, and it definitely pushed the reset button hard on my ability to really appreciate the things that I love about it.”
Returning to something of a sense of normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic eases here in the U.S., Gethard said that he acknowledges that a podcast like his has taken on a special significance as many people have forgotten how to interact and listen to one another, and he hopes the live shows help bring out more of those genuine connections.
“I really feel lucky that I’m in this position that I get to archive the human experience one call at a time,” he said. “We’ve now got over 300 of those in the can, and the Library of Congress archives the show, which I felt so honored by, because maybe in 50 years somebody might listen to this in the classroom, and go, ‘This is how people spoke back then. This is what people worried about back then. This is how people dealt with their problems and communicated with each other back then.’
"If somebody turns on an episode in 50 years, we might be talking about things like Facebook and Twitter, and people might react to that the same way that you or I might still have some vague memories of the rotary telephone. And the pandemic really emphasized how lucky I feel to have a job where I’m connecting human beings at a time that I think in a lot of ways we’re temperamentally off track from how we used to connect with humans.”
America’s Loosest Cannon Tour
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Dr. SW, Grand Rapids
May 21, 6 p.m. (“Beautiful/Anonymous” podcast taping), 9 p.m. (stand-up), $20-30, All Ages