Life’s a party at ‘The Chris Gethard Show’

On Tuesday nights, one of the best parties in town happens in a nondescript midtown office building where “The Chris Gethard Show” tapes its live broadcasts. This late-night comedy show with a small but loyal following lures in its dedicated crowd with a pretty simple premise: anything can happen.

The program loosely follows a traditional variety format. Gethard and a celebrity guest (or two) chat, they take phone calls from viewers at home, there are oddball sketch characters and a house band, and it ends with a musical guest. Yet, Gethard finds a glee in letting the show be derailed — if something goes wrong in a comedic bit then he doubles down on the failure; if someone calls in and tells him something bizarre, he asks more questions.

“I am pretty comfortable floating in the unknown,” host Chris Gethard told amNewYork. “My background as an improviser gives me the confidence that I’ll find something on my feet. I also love punk rock and pro wrestling and a lot of other things where chaos happens and things go wrong at a moment’s notice. I really respect chaos. I think we need a little more of it in our lives, and I’m happy to provide some.”

He also loves a good stunt. During the March 20 episode, the show returned from hiatus with Gethard’s Oprah-inspired moment. He gave away free cars to any caller his guest Abbi Jacobson (“Broad City”) deemed worthy of a vehicle. However, there was a catch: the cars were used and in bad shape and some could not even be driven. The best car was a giant limo decked out with a cartoon version of Gethard dunking on a man who looked a lot like Jimmy Fallon.

“I’m not jealous of [the late-night shows’] time delays, but I am bitterly jealous about their budgets,” the comedian admitted.

Before the show found its current home on truTV last year, it had a long history in New York. What began as a staged talk show at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2009 eventually moved to the small screen on public access station Manhattan Neighborhood Network, then entered the national market with a brief stint on Fusion. Over that time it developed a rich tapestry, full of recurring cast members (often made up from the local comedy scene) and a crew that’s almost as recognizable to fans as Gethard’s sidekick Shannon O’Neill or Human Fish (that’s a character who wears goggles and flippers, played by actor David Bluvband).

Audience members who score free tickets to a taping (made available though the show’s Twitter handle @GethardShow), become another part of Gethard’s zany cohort, adding to the unpredictable nature of the show. Instead of just providing the laugh track to Gethard’s jokes, they often are involved in the episode’s main action and occasionally have a will of their own. During one episode last year, they even abandoned their host to follow actors Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer to the street outside the building as the show was still being broadcast.

While the late-night shows for the big networks, like “The Tonight Show,” use a time-delay and pack their audiences in large theaters on comfy seats, “The Chris Gethard Show” is all about that DIY ethos and presenting live, embracing the possibility that everything can go wrong. The crowd sits with crisscross legs on the floor or on the stage, unless they feel so moved as to get up and dance because, well, why not? When it comes to commercial breaks, a member of Gethard’s cast might just decide to body surf, any risks of physical harm be damned.

Within the crowd there is often a mix of longtime fans, newly converted Gethard followers who love his popular podcast “Beautiful Anonymous” or his 2017 HBO special “Chris Gethard: Career Suicide,” and some people just there because their friend told them it would be fun. Some come wearing outrageous outfits (like fairy costumes) perhaps hoping to pop on television, and others play expert, talking loudly with other audience members about the show’s inner workings. When the guest band finishes their set at midnight, many exit together to the designated bar around the corner where the audience can hang out, knowing they have at least one weird (and wonderful) experience in common.

“We’ve definitely built a community,” Gethard said. “There was one guy at the premiere who has been coming to the show since it started at UCB in 2009. I love seeing all the familiar faces, and knowing that a lot of these kids have found their circles of friends and support systems by rallying around my dumb show, where we give away nonfunctioning cars. At the end of the day, the show is about the people who embrace it, not me.”

‘The Chris Gethard Show’ airs Tuesdays at 11 p.m. on truTV.

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