THE CHRIS GETHARD SHOW
by Ethan Stanislawski
For the past 2 years, I'd argue that the best music to be found on a late night television comedy show has not been on Conan, Fallon, or god forbid, MTV. It's been on a small, no budget, weekly call-in public access show in Manhattan. The Chris Gethard Show, hosted by the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) veteran Chris Gethard and featuring some of the top comedians in NYC performing an infinite variety of ridiculous improvised comedy bits. The show, which also has an Internet live stream and is posted as a podcast two days later, has already acquired a relatively small but insanely devoted audience from every corner of the world, and it has been critically praised in the New York Times, AV Club and countless comedy blogs. But one of most original aspects of the show is the way music plays a crucial role in both grounding the show and actively contributes to its own unique, bizarre sensibilities.
Each week, a new musical act plays two songs, broken up at roughly 20 and 40 minutes into the episode. Like everything else on the show, there's no divide between performer and audience. Everyone in the building gets up and dances, even if the music isn't particularly danceable. They've gotten some relatively big names on the show like Ted Leo, Craig Finn, and Kitty Pryde. Smaller bands, local Brooklyn and New Jersey weirdo bands who wouldn't have a shot anywhere else, are welcomed and embraced by the show.
"We get a lot of bands who e-mail us and some happen to be a perfect fit for the show" said Heidi Vanderlee, one of the show's music bookers. "Some are suggestions from people on the show or friends of people on the show. When we seek out a band, we definitely think about whether or not they fit the vibe of the show...it's a nice checks and balances system."
A recent episode featured Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up one of the more eagerly anticipated musical guests on the show's entire run. In that episode, the cast was doing a bit that wasn't going particularly well. So instead, they let Fucked Up take over the remainder of the show, playing an extra song and basically interviewing the band. This kind of thing would be completely impossible on just about any other television show with music; at best the change of direction would be staged. But for fans of the show, this veer is totally natural, a by-product of the free-flowing, organic nature of the show.
Beginning as a purely comedic stage show, music has played a crucial role ever since its switch to public access. According to Gethard, "The live show was more about the performance, and when we switched to late night TV, we tried to merge styles. Music is very important to me. It feels like an important aspect of late night TV that was worth going for."
For the bands themselves, playing on TCGS is a treat, totally different from any other experience, and super encouraging. "For a band at our level, this is high quality show. Everyone on the show is awesome," said Drew St. Aubin of Miniboone. "When you're hanging out (with) musicians you feel like they're your contemporaries, and The Chris Gethard Show is great for crossing that barrier between musician and comedian. It's really about bridging the gap between those communities and getting the recognition from the comedy world. We both have really shitty lives."
"The crowd we acquired through the Gethard show is much more approachable and not as chic as the people with pedals we often encounter in Brooklyn," said Kris Pabon, guitarist for Animal Tropical. "Even though they have experimental music, the lack of pretentious and glibness undercuts the whole New York experimental flavor. There's an attractive contrast between all these artsy bands and this juvenile, t-shirt humor. It's a great formula."
Cast members of the show are fans themselves. Gethard was never aware of bands like Shellshag, The So-So Glos and Mal Blum before they appeared on the show- now he goes to their concerts regularly (Gethard's desire to be friends with Mal Blum is one of dozens of running gags on the show). Cast members and bands have become off-camera friends. One of the shows most beloved characters, the 40 Year Old Goosey (named by a 5 year old who called in to the show), is appearing in a new video by Miniboone.
"Chris has some real credibility in the comedy world, so he's pulling some better known, somewhat celebrity status people," said St. Aubin. We didn't gain an extra 100 likes on Facebook or whatever. We just get to do a show with people who get it."
Gethard is a native of West Orange New Jersey, and like a lot of (modern) comedians, he has a lifelong devotion to punk and indie rock that goes back much further than his career in comedy. He grew up going to punk shows with his older brother, and grew up listening to WFMU, to which he attributed his "appreciation for strange stuff."
"One of the things that makes me most proud of the show is when people say it reminds them of punk rock and the DIY," said Gethard. "I feel like our show in spirit and approach kind of has a punk rock attitude- we get it done ourselves and distribute it ourselves if no one else wants to." Gethard mentioned that as the show expands, he'd like to book more bands with national recognition, but "only national bands have an attitude that fits with what we do."
It's difficult to explain the way the show gets musicians and audiences to open up, so let me illustrate with a story in my life. This past May, I attended a concert by Free Energy, a band I had loved since I first saw them in 2009, and who had appeared on the Chris Gethard Show a month prior. The show was very well attended, but in the center of the arena were regular cast and audience members of Chris Gethard Show, Banana Man, Bethany, Goosey, and more. Some dressed in costumed characters of the show, some dressed in costumes of their own. Sitting in the balcony, I spotted them immediately, as did my friend, another comedy nerd. Even as Gethard fans, we couldn't believe what we were seeing. Eventually, as the concert kicked into high gear, the Chris Gethard show posse stormed the stage, dancing in their trademark blend of shameless enthusiasm. For most bands and audiences, this would be a bizarre, what-the-fuck moment that only caused confusion and chaos. In this case , however, it made everything about the show better. Within 15 minutes, my friend and I were on the main floor, dancing shamelessly ourselves.
The Chris Gethard show airs Wednesdays at 10pm eastern time on MNN4 and thechrisgethardshow.com Miniboone's self-titled album is released September 10. Animal Tropical's most recent album Doom Years is available on their bandcamp page.
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