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Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Comedy Central Bought a Pilot of 'The Chris Gethard Show', and We Talked to Gethard About It

Last night, it was announced that Comedy Central has ordered a pilot of the long-running and much-beloved Chris Gethard Show. The pilot will be produced by Funny or Die, with executive producers Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, Owen Burke, and Adam McKay alongside Gethard. Gethard made the announcement on the latest episode of his show, a special edition which was devoted to big announcements. Wearing a homemade t-shirt with the slogan "Find a Way," Gethard welcomed a parade of recurring cast members and characters, each of whom had their own major announcement to make, ultimately culminating in Gethard's big news for TCGS.

The Chris Gethard Show began as a stage show in November 2009 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. For the last two and half years, it's aired live on Wednesday nights on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public access channel in New York. For the uninitiated, check out our primer on the show from back in 2011 and have a look at some of Gethard's favorite moments from the first 100 episodes. Because we got the news a little early, I got the chance to talk to Gethard a couple days ago about moving the show onto a real set, potentially being the redheaded stepchild of Comedy Central's late night, and why he thinks his show will surprise a lot of people.

How are you feeling?

We’re all obviously super thrilled about that. It feels pretty good. It feels like we pulled off something that we weren’t supposed to be able to pull off, or that maybe even we were feeling like the boat had passed us by. So I’m really psyched to see it happen and hopefully it goes well and we can bring this weird thing we’ve been doing to the next level.

Tell me about the pilot.

We’ll be shooting a pilot in January. We’re renting a studio where there’s gonna be tons of staff to help us. We will finally be able to set up a set and leave it there at the end of the night instead of packing it back into the trunk of my car. We're gonna go for it for real. They’re going to really help us put some muscle behind it and see what happens when you give The Chris Gethard Show a budget. It’s really exciting, because now it’s time for us to put up or shut up. We’ve done all this stuff on a shoestring budget and part of the charm of the show, I think, has been the fact that it falls apart so often and that it does have so many moments that are rough around the edges. So I’m really excited to take on the challenge of, like, now there's no excuses. Now we get to do it for real. It’s no longer going to be about the fact that we can’t make it happen because we’re the underdogs. Now we get to see what happens if we’re on the same playing field as everybody else.

How did it all come about?

You know, I think many people sort of had an eye on us here and there over the years. Interest had come and gone from different producers and thing like that, but it just never totally stuck with anybody. And then I was filming a small part in a movie that Adam McKay directed, and Will Ferrell was in it, and when were on the set, McKay was telling Will Ferrell about my public access show. And I was really blown away by that because I couldn’t believe he knew about it, and he said he watched a bunch of clips. And he was kind of like, “Do you have anybody helping you pitch that?” And I was like, "No," and he was like, “We should do it.” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s team up on that. Let’s get it going.” Obviously, you know, my jaw kind of hit the floor. So those guys got on board, and then right in the same time frame, within a couple of weeks, was when we had Zach Galifianakis on. He came and did the show, and then he sent me a very nice email, like, “I feel like what you’re doing is really interesting, and I don’t know if you want to keep it as this outlet for you to keep doing what you want, but if you ever do want to push things, to see where it can go, I’d love to help.” So all of the sudden we went from feeling like we were in no man’s land on our own, to having Adam McKay and Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis champion it. So that really helped a lot, and it’s obviously something that’s going to get people to pay a little more attention. I think those were the votes of confidence that we needed for somebody like Comedy Central to feel comfortable taking what we do and bringing it to their family, if you will, under their umbrella, hopefully for longer term than just this pilot. It’s just a matter of, kept doing the show every week, slugged it out for a couple of years and finally some people who could help noticed and they helped. And now we have our shot.

If it gets picked up, do you know when the show would air? 

That I have no idea. That’s putting the cart before the horse. All those decisions will be made if it actually goes well, which would be kind of a miracle. But if you think, @midnight’s being so successful, and obviously Colbert and Daily Show, it’s a real exciting place to be thrown in as, like, the redheaded late night stepchild. I that's actually kind of the perfect position for us, with what our show already is, to get thrown into that mix as the completely unpolished punk rock kids who are going to do some weird late night thing once a week. That could be really perfect. It would be a dream.

Any idea yet about what, if anything, would change? Or would you try to keep it close to what it is now?

I think it’s going to be a half-hour long instead of an hour. It’s going to have commercials. So that means we go from having an hour to get everything done, to having a half hour that’s gonna to be, like, let’s get to it. We’re going to set it up, we’re going to knock it down, it’s going to be all the stuff that we’ve workshopped over the past four years between UCB and public access. There’s a whole lot of stuff that we know works and there’s a lot of physical stuff that we do, and I think it’s going to be a matter of distilling it down, putting it into that format, learning how to come in and out of commercials now that they exist.

But I do think it would be unwise to try to force it to look like public access. Everything that happened on public access happened very organically, very naturally. The reason our show looks the way it does is because it is what it is. We push that studio to its fullest capabilities. But I’m kind of excited to clean it up a little. I'm kind of excited to bring it to a place where it doesn’t have to look so banged up and thrown together. Public access is a really beautiful, wonderful thing; they've taken really good care of us. But we show up, we have an hour to set up, and then we do the show. I think it’s going to be really cool to be able to sit down and brainstorm and go, now we can make it look different. Now we can turn this into a totally different animal, and see how it mixes with the vibe of Comedy Central and their viewers. I wouldn’t want to force it to look like public access just because that’s what we’ve already been doing. I feel like, to me, one of the most powerful things about the show is that it’s very genuine, and the kids who connect with it can feel that we’re not putting on airs of any sort. So I wouldn’t want to force it to look the same as it always has, because I think that would feel false, just in the sense that we’d be constructing it. I want to see what it organically turns into in this form. That’s part of the fun of living this life.

Do you think you’ll still have callers?

Fingers crossed, we do. There’s no guarantees that it can remain a live show, but right now the plan is to put a lot of thought and effort and see if we can't pull that off as a live call-in show. I think that would be really amazing on Comedy Central. It gets me excited to think about the kids that are watching Workaholics and South Park. I’d really love to talk to them on the phone and see what they’d force us to do on the air. I think it’d be a cool audience to connect with, and hopefully we can pull that off, because I think there would be a lot of potential for really amazing moments and also beautiful disasters to put our content and safety in the hands of the Comedy Central public. It’s such a fascinating idea to me, and I’d love to just blow the door open on that.

So what’s going to happen with the public access show now?

We don’t know. We're coming up on the holidays, so were going to take a couple weeks off anyway and do some pre-taped specials. So that will fit really nicely into the prep time for this thing, that’s kind of serendipitous. And then we shoot this thing at the beginning of the year sometime, and then we just sort of have to see what happens from there. And while we’re waiting, I think we’ll keep doing the public access show. I don’t know if the public access show will continue if the show doesn’t go on Comedy Central. And that’s not because the point was to get money or a deal — it wasn’t. I think the point was to do some really creative stuff, and we’ve done that. I’m at a point where I feel like I’m holding a lot of people hostage, who work on the show for free because they really believe in it. I don’t think I can do that much longer. A guy like JD Amato is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and he puts in like 30 hours a week, 40 hours a week sometimes, on a public access show for free. Dru Johnston and Noah Forman have been writing almost every bit we do since we got to public access. Those guys, every week, are running all over the city, making sure that the props we need are in place. They’re casting the actors, they’re coming to my house so we can all run bits past each other. I can’t keep asking all these people to do all this stuff. I’m very, very proud that all these insanely talented people have come together for this show, but I also think it needs to be something that they move on from and I move on from. So it will probably end at some point in the next year if we don’t get picked up. But with all that being said, I’m really insanely proud of some of the stuff we’ve pulled off and I don’t regret it. I think we’ve taken it further, in so many directions, than people thought we could and would. It will be something that I’ll always look back at proudly, once it’s gone. And since we know it'll end, we get to wrap up all the bizarre story lines that we’ve built up for ourselves. Hopefully we’ll have a strong finale that’s airtight with no holes in it, just like Breaking Bad. We won’t leave viewers dissatisfied like The Sopranos.

I know there was talk about the show ending at the end of this year.

I’ve been saying that on the air. I have no problems letting the people who watch the show know that. I just really, really respect the audience. The audience of the show has been eye opening to me because they’re so invested in it, and I feel a real responsibility to a lot of them. It’s definitely fanatical at times, which is both an honor and somewhat terrifying. So I just wanted to let them know that this thing’s not going to last forever. But luckily right in that window, all this other stuff came together and allows us to really experiment with the idea of pushing it further.

And I kind of think, the idea that we are actually getting the chance to make a pilot is, to me, one of the funniest things that the show has ever done. I think the kids who have watched the show in its current form and the kids who used to watch it at UCB are going to laugh really, really hard when they hear that we got a pilot. I feel like the journey of the show itself, like, this kind of foolish thing we all started doing, it’s actually looking like it might work out. It has worked out on some level, and I think all those kids are gonna get a good laugh out of the fact that it’s happening even this much. I’m happy we didn’t have to end it this year and we can instead have this massive punch line that hopefully leads to even more cool shit.

I came to the show late, and I don't watch it regularly enough to keep up with all the characters and story lines. How do you anticipate bringing in brand new people who don't know you or the show?

Well, it’s a very good question. I wish I knew the exact answer. Even to me, the show is, at times, incomprehensible. [Laughs] I think we’re coming up on 120 episodes, and then with specials and that election thing we did, we’ve got like 140 hours of content. It’s a very hard-to-digest thing. Really what we have to do is, we have to be respectful of the people who might find it new, and we have to push the reset button. We have to let a lot of things that are beloved but maybe inside jokes that would feel insular go. We have to rebuild from square one.

But I think the most important thing is, I really understand that the show is odd. Everytime that it’s ever been written up anywhere, people note that it’s kind of strange and on the fringe a little bit, and obviously I know that and that’s partially by design. But the other thing I know about the show for a fact is that the kids who connect with it, they connect with it for real. And the emails I get, the correspondences they have with me and other people involved in the show through social media, through email, through all the different avenues we set up — the people who give a shit about really, truly give a shit about it the core. There’s something about the show that connects with a certain type of person in a way that I’m really blown away by and surprised by, but after a couple years I think it’s not arrogant to say that it’s real. So if we can not overthink this and we can do it in a way that reflects the stuff we’ve already been doing, and we can find that heart and put it in this new version of the medium, I feel like it really has the potential to connect with even more people in a really solid way. I think it’s going to surprise people. I think spreading it far and wide will be definitely difficult, but I think the potential is there for it to really surprise a lot of people. I’m not very confident in many areas of my life, but I’m really quite confident in the fact that people can connect with this show in a way that's very honest. And if that is something we can capture in a new format, and Comedy Central’s willing to help distribute it in a much bigger way…I dunno. I feel like it’s already connecting with so many kids, so many odd, weirdo kids. I feel like all kids at some point feel like they’re odd and weirdos. There's this whole subset of them that has our show as the place to hang out while they’re getting through that. And I feel like I’ll always be that guy and the show will always be that show. And if we can do it right and not tinker with it too much — not fuck it up, basically — the potential is there to really surprise the shit out of everybody. Maybe that’s the part of me that grew up in New Jersey and will always have a chip on my shoulder, but I think we can really surprise everybody and really bring in a lot of people. I think it speaks to a certain type of kid, and I think those kids will find us.

As you can see, I just turned into like a fanatical lunatic with that answer, but I really believe in it. If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have spent all these years sticking to my guns and making it my main priority.

No, not all. Not to be grandiose, but I think your story is inspirational for a lot of young comics. I feel like we’re all pulling for you.

I do love that combination. A lot of people in the comedy world say things like that to me, like, “We’re all pulling for you.” I don’t know quite what to make of it. I feel like there are people who root for me hard, and people tell me I’m inspiring. But I’m also very well read, and a borderline tragic figure as well. [Laughs] So I feel like this will be – however this experiment goes, I think, will determine ultimately whether I’m inspiring or a cautionary tale.

Aww, I didn't mean it like that.

But it’s true! What other comedian do people say, “We’re pulling for you?”

Maybe it's true. I think it's just that we all share that insecurity, and you wear it so comfortably that we all relate to you.

Yeah, I do. Insecurity, it fits like a glove. I’ve been wearing it for years.

And we all have that inside and we're too scared to show it, so we like that there’s someone out there who can.

That’s very nice. I’m glad that the insecure people of the world have come to look me as a role model in embracing insecurity. I genuinely am, I say that without any facetiousness. It means a lot to me.

Every episode of The Chris Gethard Show can be watched online, and Chris Gethard can be found on Twitter at @ChrisGethard