In 2011, a man in swim trunks stood on a public access television show and was announced as “The Human Fish,” and in that moment, a movement was created. At least, that’s what the story might sound like if one were to make a dramatic legend out of “The Chris Gethard Show.”
The truth actually goes back a little further. As die-hard Chris Gethard fans, or self-labeled “Gethheads,” would be quick to point out, the television program actually began as a live show through the Upright Citizens Brigade, a prominent improv and comedy group of which Gethard was a member. And when the transition to television finally arrived, what could have been a monumental first episode turned out to be an hour of good humor and shoddy planning. Even now, the official Youtube recording of the pilot episode is preceded by nearly 2 minutes of Gethard himself offering disclaimers and explanations for its poor quality.
So with such a contentious beginning, what was it that made this show gain so much traction? How did the man turn into a movement? It only takes watching one episode, even the oft-maligned pilot, for viewers to understand the answer: This combination talk show, variety show and sensory overload is held together by downright honest weirdness.
Flash forward to last Friday, when Gethard came to Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco to celebrate and pay tribute to this legacy of weirdness — a legacy that finally reached its end after the show was canceled in 2018. He arrived with a cast of familiar faces from the show, including Riley Soloner (also known as Vacation Jason), David Bluvband (The Human Fish) and the show’s “Internet Liaison” Bethany Hall.
Those stage names alone should key in unfamiliar readers to the type of comedy that was present in “The Chris Gethard Show.” Each episode was a raucous event, with random callers, unforeseen events and comedic bits galore. It was only fitting that the San Francisco panel held onto a bit of that chaos that made the original show so compelling. None of the panelists seemed to know exactly where the panel was headed at any moment, nor was there any clear moderator. And in the biggest twist of the night for both the audience and Gethard, two loud and energetic surprise guests appeared in the form of Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas.
At the same time, there was an underlying tension within the panel that was almost difficult to place. Gethard has always been known for his energetic rants, of which he had several that night, but instead there was more of a moral quandary plaguing the stage. There seemed to be an unasked question floating around: What happened to the show? Perhaps the question was left alone because some thought they already knew the answer; in fact, during a round of open questions, one audience member said outright that Gethard had sold out.
This callout was a larger can of worms than the panel was equipped to deal with at the time, but in hindsight, it invited a serious look at what we value in our media — especially when talking about something so beloved for its authenticity. But what is authenticity? Is it randomness, is it weirdness? Is it, as the show’s unofficial motto goes, the ability to be a loser and yet “lose well”?
Even with its chaos and tension, however, the panel seemed to be proof that Gethard and his friends hadn’t “lost” anything at all. At one point, Hall commented that she and the other panelists simply weren’t the same people as when they started, and maybe that’s the honest truth of it. Maybe growing up isn’t an act of betrayal. Although they may no longer have a platform, the members of “The Chris Gethard Show” have something few others can boast: a surviving community of friends and fans alike, and a good legacy to look back on.