- Mitchell Hurwitz talks about the resurrection of Arrested Development
- Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor on the show’s return and inevitable movie
- Katie Aselton on going from mumblecore to thriller—and directing her own nude scenes
- Michael Cera on the evolution of George Michael Bluth and working in Arrested Development’s writers’ room
- Sarah Polley on laying her family history bare in the new documentary Stories We Tell
An audio version of this interview originally appeared on Bullseye, a weekly radio show and podcast hosted by Jesse Thorn. You can listen to it on select public radio stations, at the Maximum Fun website, and via iTunes.
Chris Gethard first gained a following for his work at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, where he staged a regular show with bizarre stunts. Once, inspired by his own battles with depression, Gethard advertised a contest to make a young, struggling fan a rock star for a weekend. True to his word, he flew a young comedy fan named Mitchell Fesh out to New York and tailor-made him a festival starring his favorite comedians. Last year, Gethard used the power of Twitter and YouTube to convince Sean “Diddy” Combs to make his comedy debut on the show. Then, when Comedy Central pulled the plug on his sitcom Big Lake (which also starred Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell), Gethard turned to the next best thing: public-access. The Chris Gethard Show, viewable on New York public-access television and the Internet, is based on his stage show at the UCB. Each week, anything goes, as a fun, chaotic panel of regulars (and strangers) gets together and viewers are encouraged to tweet and call in suggestions to drive the action. We talked to Gethard about his do-anything, get-punched-by-anyone spirit, which ties together the experiences in his new book, A Bad Idea I’m About To Do.
The A.V. Club: New Jersey is really at the heart of your book, which is largely about your adolescent and post-adolescent years. Tom Scharpling on The Best Show On WFMU has always been a promoter of New Jersey in the face of New York, and he’s a sweet guy, but very angry, and that same tone shines through in your description of New Jersey. Is New Jersey sweet but actually very angry?
Chris Gethard: I think so. I’m a Scharpling fan as well. He’s been a guest on my show, and I’ll be in one of his music videos that’s coming out this year, and I definitely think that I can identify with him. It’s not uncommon. Growing up in New Jersey, it’s the total suburbs by and large, but it’s a very weird place that puts a chip on your shoulder. You grow up in New Jersey, but all you ever hear on TV is about Real Housewives and Jersey Shore, and a million jokes about how dirty and gross it is. I feel like being a kid there really sets you up to have a chip on your shoulder for sure. And I think for a lot of the creative people—not just comedians, there’s a lot of music that comes out of Jersey—I think so much of it is born out of that. You are young and you’re consistently told over and over again that because you’re from this place, this is an awful place and you’re a product of it, and everything that comes out of there is garbage, mobbed-up or spray tanned. That’s all you hear about, and it puts a chip on your shoulder. I think it’s a very unexpectedly odd place to grow up, but I enjoy it and have such a love for it, and it really has informed most of my creative projects. New Jersey’s right at the heart of things.
AVC: Most of New Jersey really is quite beautiful, but it’s also immediately proximate to the most urban parts of the United States.
CG: It’s true. Growing up and being a kid, I knew that creativity was at the heart of what I wanted to do. I always had this feeling of wanting to be a comedian and wanting to be an actor, but where I grew up was a very blue-collar place where [it was thought] that’s impossible, that’s just not something people from here do. And in the meantime, when I walked out of my front door and looked to my left, you could see the skyline of New York City. Your dreams are so close, they are literally visible, you could see the New York City skyline from my town. It was very emblematic of, “I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to try to bust loose of this.” A kid from Tulsa, when somebody tells them they can’t have their big-city dreams, they don’t have to be looking at the city while somebody tells them that. They can’t physically see it when somebody tells them that.
AVC: The book reads as though your childhood involved children roaming the streets like packs of wolves.
CG: I don’t think that’s inaccurate. I grew up in a neighborhood that was very, very Irish. My one set of grandparents lived across the street and my other set of grandparents would be blocks away. I had one aunt who lived three houses away, another four houses away in the other direction. And there were a lot families like that. It was a very, very neighborhood vibe. Every kid I knew would wear blue jeans and a white T-shirt and had a crew cut. It was very West Side Story. I think we were raised on very old-school values in that area of the world, because everyone was so entrenched in the neighborhood they grew up in. We roamed a lot in the summers. When I didn’t have school, my mom would open the door at 10 a.m. and would say, “All right, see you at dinner,” and we would go and see what trouble we could get into. Which was fun as a kid, but it was only when I was an adult that I started to realize how messed up and odd things were around the town where I grew up.
AVC: What kind of stuff did you do that when you were 25 you realized was not all that typical for someone who was born at the beginning of the ’80s?
CG: The first house that I ever lived in, the kid who lived next door to me was a dwarf, and he was about six or seven years older than me, but because we were the same size our parents would be like, “You guys go hang out.” So I look back on that, and that’s not a cool thing to do to me or the dwarf. I was like, three or four, this kid was nine or ten, but because we were both little, that was the logic, that we could play together. He was furious, you know? This kid who had to play with this little infant. And he used to torment me, he used to push me around and there was a sandbox in my backyard and he would throw the sand at me, intentionally throw it in my diaper. I used to go nuts and cry and tell my parents but they could never catch him in the act. But finally, when I was three years old, the dwarf pushed me too far, and I grabbed a wiffle bat and I beat him with it, this child who was older than me. My parents still say to this day that they watched from the window and laughed because, “He kept pushing you around and you finally fought back and gave him what he deserved.” That was the sort of thing that as I got older I realized was not normal. Your parents shouldn’t watch from a window as you beat a dwarf with a bat at the age of three. That’s not a funny, charming family story we should be telling at every holiday. That’s weird. There’s like, nine different things about that that are really weird.
AVC: You have a whole chapter in the book about this kid in the neighborhood named Koozo, who feels like a mythic ogre that lives in your village.
CG: Yeah, like I talked about in the book, he used to ride a moped around and terrorize people. He’d pedal to our street and then you’d just hear him hit the engine, the headlights would come on, and he’d literally chase us on a moped. He was a very scary person. When I was a kid, that was just a part of your everyday life, that this maniac on a moped shows up and hunts you like an animal. That was just how we grew up. And I was talking to my mother about that in the process of writing the book, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m writing this story about Koozo”—we call him that in the book so he won’t sue us—“and I look back on him and he was really terrifying, but to adults he must have been some kid with ADHD,” but she was like, “No, he was legitimately terrifying, he was a terrifying human being.” And our neighborhood dealt with that by allowing him to do whatever he wanted all the time, even though we all knew it was a problem. Being raised like that was psychologically damaging. I look back now that I’m a little more well-adjusted. Hopefully it led to a funny book.
AVC: There’s also an element of emotional unpredictability when you write about your grandfather and other relatives who lived nearby. It seems epically tumultuous.
CG: I think that’s a very adept two-word phrase that sums up my being a child at most times. It was weird because it was such a family vibe; my family was around, a lot of the kids who I grew up with, their cousins and aunts and uncles all lived in the neighborhood. Which you would think would make it a very warm place, but in reality the attitude was kind of, instead of being protective, more like, “Go deal with it yourself, go be a tough kid and go handle your own business.” It was sort of an old-school mentality that way. I’m glad that I find it so comedic, but there was a very damaging element to it. We were kids who grew up and there weren’t very many consequences to things. Outside of the stuff that I turned into comedy, that’s all rooted in the weirdness of growing up in a place where there was strange violence. There were kids who would behave in a way that was very dangerous and no one ever did anything about it, so you did feel like you were on your own, which is probably magnified by the fact that you live around all your aunts, parents, and grandparents. Those feelings bounced off one another in a way that really messed me up as a kid, as I talk about in the book. At the same time, I’m so glad I grew up the way I did, and I have so much love and affection for New Jersey, probably because it sort of shapes you unlike any other place I can imagine.
AVC: Were you the kind of adolescent who schemes and fumes?
CG: Oh yeah, I was an angry young man. When I first saw the movie Rushmore, I was astounded at how similar Fischer was to me. I was that kid who did every activity when I was in high school. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t stay after school to do something. I just had my hands in everything. And I was similarly very, very angry. I was an angry little guy. A lot of drive, but also a lot of surging emotions that teenagers have. But I was the kid who was constantly trying to stay as busy as possible, trying to get momentum going by just getting involved in something. I was a very short late-bloomer who was full of anger.
AVC: How did that affect you when you moved out of the house?
CG: Pretty quickly after I started at Rutgers University. I did not stray far from my hometown. By the end of the four years there, I knew I had to straighten things out. I quit drinking before I graduated college—I think there’s very few people who say that. I was in therapy shortly after I graduated college. So as soon as I got out of my hometown, it was a pretty rocky period of realizing that, whoa man, now that I’m sort of seeing the bigger picture of how the world can be, I’m kind of messed up. The way I behave, some of the things I’ve been around growing up are not necessarily normal and I need to straighten those out. So pretty quickly I started branching out; went to college, started traveling to New York City pursuing comedy, starting to see the world. It was a very quick process of realizing that things were off. It was not an easy or pleasant process, but within four or five years I did realize that I needed to get a shrink. Clearly that needed to happen.
AVC: You write a little bit in the book about realizing that you are bipolar. There’s this Stephen Fry documentary about being bipolar, The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive, and he interviews all of these different bipolar people who all have these terrifying stories: One woman had a manic episode where she thought her child was Jesus; one guy threw himself under a bus. But they all end up saying that they wouldn’t change that about themselves. If they could go back to zero and not be bipolar, they wouldn’t.
CG: I would say the same for myself, actually. I’m not convinced any of my relatives are Jesus, but I had my own quirks and my own flaws and versions of that episode. Knock on wood, I’ve been really on top of it, much healthier the past few years. But I also think I’m a unique person and I think that those sorts of things made me that way. One thing that I would say that I am very proud of is that I think a lot of the stuff that I’ve been through—which I’m open about talking about onstage and in all my creative work—a lot people who have seen me in New York City where I do have a little bit of a following, a lot of those people are the same age as I was when I was dealing with this stuff really heavily. The stretch where I really thought I might not make it was from about 18 or 19 to 22 or 23. I had depression issues all through high school; stretching back to about sixth or seventh grade I can remember thinking, “Wow, I was a really depressed kid,” but also smart about hiding that and making sure that people didn’t realize where I was at. I was very good at that.
But 22, 23, 24 was when I straightened my head out, and now a lot of the people finding me in New York who really made a point to come to my shows and invest themselves and get involved in them, are kids at NYU or Pace University and a lot of the different colleges around New York. I hope they enjoy my comedy and I hope people come to my shows to laugh, but if as a side effect there are some young people who may be feeling the same way I was, who maybe can sort of know that they’re not alone or see that there’s in an end in sight where they can see they might wind up okay, to me that’s something I wouldn’t trade. So between the way that a lot of the issues and the way that I grew up weren’t necessarily pleasant, they informed my voice, which I wouldn’t trade for anything, and they also give me an ability to connect with other people and see that in other people and help them. Not that I’m a hero or a grief counselor or anything like that, but the idea that a whole lot of people have told me, “You talk about this stuff and I feel similar.” I can’t really say I would change it, I wouldn’t want to change it, I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything. I have a lot of opinions on the stuff that I’ve been through, but very few regrets.
AVC: The two poles of bipolarity are mania and depression, so let’s start with the depression. So how did the depression manifest itself for you when it was at its worst?
CG: When it would show up it would be feelings of doom, just sort of feeling down and constantly feeling exhausted and just feeling entirely convinced that that was how the world was. If anyone did anything negative, I would just constantly convince myself that that was the base level of all people. People were negative. People had no good intentions. And that snowballed. When it was at its worst, I would have panic attacks and anxiety attacks. Probably the worst thing that happened, and I thought I was out of the woods, but it was 2007 and I was a guest writer for Saturday Night Live. It was my biggest break until that point, and I was there for a few weeks, it was just the dream job, and I went in and submitted this packet to stay on for that summer. And looking back, the packet was really watered down. I mean, I knew they liked me. The packet was just like, “Here is what you already do.” It was a bad way to approach anything. And I didn’t get hired and I blew my shot. I thought that was my biggest shot and the only shot I was going to get and I just blew it. And I had an anxiety attack that lasted uninterrupted for three days. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was constantly feeling dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t carry on a conversation. And it’s scary to live that way for that many hours. At its worst, I would act like that. But that’s the last big one I had.
AVC: What do you do when that happens?
CG: I have a handful of very close friends, so I’m lucky. And I live in New York, so my family is very close by. My brother, during that episode, he drove up from Philadelphia to be there. And I have a roommate who is pretty much like a second brother, and he would sit up with me. He’d say, “You’re clearly not in a good place,” and he’d sit up on the couch with me. I have a lot of people around me who know that occasionally I will have episodes where I can’t handle myself. Luckily they are familiar enough with that that they can help me cope. Everyone has their own version of that. But this has gotten more serious than I thought, and I just want to say that I’m not the only comedy nerd who has these issues. And you are not a hero if you shoulder the load yourself. For so long I had this chip on my shoulder and thought, “I can handle it, I don’t need help, that means you’re crazy.” And part of that, I think, was growing up blue-collar, but anyone can identify with this. There is no shame in getting help. Don’t mess around, go get it. It’s not worth it, or stronger, or more noble to not get help.
AVC: It seems you knew you needed help for a while before you actually got help.
CG: Yeah, and I would lie about it. When I was in college, my parents picked up on the fact that I had a lot of stuff going on and I told them a number of times that I was seeing a psychiatrist at Rutgers. But I was not, which was a very manipulative thing to do. But that’s also part of why I always stayed such a busy person. Because if people at Rutgers noticed that, I’d say, “I gotta get to the UCB, I gotta show up there.” And if the people there noticed I’d say, “I gotta get to this magazine that I work at.” I always had my hands in three or four things so I could jump from thing to thing without people being able to really pin me down and make me cop to what was going on with my life
AVC: What was it that changed that made you actually seek help?
CG: Well, I find it a funny story, but I think a lot of people find it disturbing. I was doing a show and I was constantly exhausted and in this groove of being constantly down and out and low. And the incident when things kind of broke was while I was doing this show at UCB, it was called “Girl Crush 2020.” It was kind of an anime parody. We all dressed up as anime characters and I dressed up as this female character whose bit was to just sort of say random nonsense things in the middle of every scene, you know, like, “My alarm clock smells like peanuts.” And I went home from work—it was a Friday—and I went to sleep and I woke up to leave for the show and I was like, “Man, that was the first good sleep I’ve gotten in awhile.” And while I was driving to the show and while I was driving my contacts tore so I only had one eye, and I got to the show just feeling so miserable and dressed up in that outfit and looked in the mirror and say myself as that female anime character and I just said, “Man, this is what you’re killing yourself to do?” You’re exhausting yourself to dress up as an anime character and yell nonsense. And I was just crying through the whole show. If anyone was at that show, I apologize. It must have been so weird. Everyone must have been like, “Why is part of this character’s bit that he is just crying onstage?” It was really bad. And that was the night that I just drove home and I was like, I’m done. I’m just done. I gotta just get going. I went on antidepressants and it worked really well. You know, I had that stupid notion that a lot of creative people have where you think, “Oh no, these are going to kill my ability to be funny. Part of why I’m funny is because I’m crazy and angry.” But it didn’t. I think I’m significantly funnier and more in control of why I’m funny now that I have dealt with this.
AVC: The other side of bipolarity is mania, which by all accounts is awesome.
CG: Oh yeah, it’s the best. You know how to talk to everyone, you do all these risky things. Mania is fun. I won’t lie, it’s fun. But it’s usually followed by a soul-crushing depression.
AVC: For some people, mania can last for years on end. But for others, it’s like you’re manic for a week and depressed for a week. How was it for you?
CG: Mine were shorter. Like, I’d be manic for a month here and a month there. But as it went on, the mania got shorter and the depression got longer. But it’s easy to get addicted to. It makes you fun, at least in my case. My friends liked being around me then. I remember one night when we stayed up all night and I was like, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to write a play called Time Phone, it’s going to be about a phone that makes calls through time, we’re going to perform it by the end of the night in the ATM booth at a bank, who’s with me?” Everyone is laughing at that and I look back and think, “Man, I was completely unhinged.” It seems funny and fun, but I was just not in control.
AVC: That combination of inventiveness and fearlessness has been the marker of your comedy. Your 18-month, somewhat quixotic but ultimately successful quest to get Diddy to show up to your show in New York City is a wonderful example of that. Is it something from that manic side that makes you think of something like this and then say, “We’re going to do this.”
CG: Yeah, I think that I had a long period in my life where I would get out of control and sort of intentionally put myself in chaotic situations. But I think that now that I’m older, there’s more of a controlled chaos aspect to it. And as far as the, “We’re going to do this,” I’m a very big believer in that. I’m 31 years old, and I think that that’s around the age of the first kids who really grew up with the Internet. We were the first kids who really remember being able to go online. I was on BBS systems when I was in sixth, seventh, eighth grade. And to me, the idea of being connected and the way that people interact with each other is such a new thing and such an unexplored thing. And the Diddy project, that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. Everyone who got on board with that really became a part of it. It was rooted in the basic premise that Diddy clearly does his own Twitter. If you look at it, it’s not an assistant plugging products. He’s just a guy with a Blackberry who gets bored sometimes and looks at Twitter and we can find him and connect with him. You know, I’m just a guy with Twitter too. And that’s definitely born out of a manic energy and effort to be mischievous and test that theory. I was so happy that people got on board with that. Everybody who was a part of it, and everyone who was there that night felt like they were a part of something very cool and unexpected.
AVC: Diddy has a lot of that feeling about him too. Like he could just jump into the ocean and learn to ride a shark.
CG: I think that’s completely true. I had many funny conversations with his assistant as it came closer to the event and became clear that it was actually going to happen, and in one I said, “It must be pretty crazy being Diddy’s assistant, huh?” And she said, “Yeah, probably one of the craziest times was when we stayed up for four days straight and it was really fun but eventually I just started crying and breaking down. And he was like, ‘What’s up,’ and I was like, ‘I need to sleep,’ and he was like, ‘Oh right, I don’t have to so sometimes I forget other people do. Go ahead.’” He’s magical.
I’ll tell you the craziest thing that happened with him. His assistant asked if we had any TVs or computers and I was like, “Yeah, we have both of those, why?” And she was like, “There is this weird thing with Diddy where sometimes he looks at a TV or a computer and it breaks.” And I was like, “Come on,” and I was kind of rolling my eyes. But I mean, what’s in it for her to convince me that Diddy is magical? This theater was really small, but this event generated press and there were all these paparazzi there and it was just locked down. So it was just me and Diddy in the green room and they said it was time to go onstage. And they had this video package to play with some clips—like I’d gone on Fallon to promote the Diddy thing, so we had clips from that and stuff. And so we got to the tech booth and the video was playing and he watched it for a second and then walked away and it broke. Like, the sound was off by like 30 seconds. And this was a tape that we had tested, it was fine. But he just broke it with his mind. With his special powers. He is magical. I can never say a bad word about that guy. Total class act. He got what we were going for and did all the bits we had written and he improvised things that were 10 times funnier than what we’d written for him, and on top of that he broke our DVD player with his brain.
AVC: You also made a video in which you brought someone who had written horrible things about you on the Internet into a studio and interviewed him.
CG: Yes, I did a TV show on Comedy Central called Big Lake. It was supposed to be my big break, you know, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell were producing it and they just sort of plucked me out of nowhere and it was a great opportunity. I don’t regret any of it, it was definitely a great opportunity, but it didn’t work out, as TV shows sometimes don’t, and this guy was particularly not a fan of my work on the show. So he went on IMDb and put up this brutal, brutal message-board post. Probably the highlight was when he encouraged my agent to hang herself. And also, I don’t have a headshot on IMDb, and he said, “Good call, you’ll want to distance yourself from yourself as much as possible.” Which is pretty witty. But it was harsh. I do look and see what people are saying and people do get through to me.
I contacted him. I had done a show where myself and the crew drove across the country and people on Twitter told us where to go. And initially I tracked that dude down because I thought it would be funny to go to where he lived and confront him there. But he wrote me back a very, very aggressive, crazy message after I found out who he was. I had contacted him through Facebook. But when he visited New York, he contacted me and was like, “Hey man, I want to make that video you mentioned.” So we went to one of the classrooms at the UCB training center and we sat down and turned on the camera and had maybe an 11- or 12-minute conversation and then he left. I posted the entire conversation online, so if you watch it, it’s the entirety of the time that I knew that guy. And what’s amazing about it is that I kind of expected him to say that, “Oh, it’s the Internet, people go overboard and say crazy stuff,” but no, he stuck to his guns. He hated me. And I give him credit for that. It was a very intense experience. People have given me a lot of credit for doing that video, but for me it was just an interesting experiment, to see one of my negative Internet commenters face to face. Very weird and strange emotionally, but definitely worth doing.
AVC: The other day I typed my name into the Internet and found this wellspring of horrible things people were saying about me. And I’m a really minor public figure.
CG: As am I, as am I. But people look for anyone they can lash out against. I gotta say, I just don’t get it. But coming out of my depression, thinking people were negative and thinking that life was a bad experience in general, I very much have come around and am an optimist. I think you can make good things happen if you look for them. Life is a very positive thing. The best advice I’ve gotten in terms of that was someone who said, “People will surprise you if you let them.” The Internet seems like a safe house for the opposite mentality, for cynics and for jerks and for people who want to lash out. And it’s a valid thing. It’s a valid forum and I’m not going say that they aren’t valid feelings. But it’s sad. Considering the potential that something like the Internet, that connects so many people, has for good. I think it’s sad that it’s used so often for nothing but unfounded, overzealous negativity….
The best thing ever said about me was on CollegeHumor, someone said, “You look like you were born after Willem Dafoe raped your mom.” That’s the best. And it’s so mean. It insults my mom, it insults my physical appearance, it insults Willem Dafoe. It’s brutal. I have a very large forehead, always have, and someone once said, “You should advertise your need for parental love on that billboard of a forehead.” So well thought-out. That’s not something you just put up in a motion. You sit down and think about how to phrase that. There are so many steps within that where you could stop and say, “This is not a nice thing to say.” But they still post it. Pretty crazy. Pretty awesome.
AVC: Doesn’t it make you feel sad, though?
CG: It does and it doesn’t. I don’t know exactly when this changed, but I just got to a point where I was like, “All I can do in life is what I can do.” I can’t change how big my forehead is. I can’t change what I look like. I can’t change my voice. I just have to own those things. And I just have to assume that people who lash out at me about those things, their anger indicates bigger problems in their lives. There are bigger problems driving them to do that. I chose not to get affected by it. I try to use it as much as possible to get more material, more comedy.
AVC: You’ve mentioned that part of why you started a public-access show was that public-access stations have a bunch of equipment that you can use.
CG: After we did Diddy at UCB, we weren’t going to top that. We did a few months of shows after that, but how are we going to get a bigger pop than we got off that show? So it had to change. And at public-access, all you have to do is fill out paperwork.
AVC: And take some classes, right?
CG: Yeah, with society’s castoffs.
AVC: Did you have any favorite public-access television people in your life history?
CG: Well, I grew up in Jersey and there was a guy named Uncle Floyd. He was brilliant. He wasn’t public-access, but he had a homemade TV show that he syndicated himself. He was sort of this weird, old vaudevillian guy. A lot of bits with puppets. When he misspoke, they wouldn’t edit it out, his cameramen would just lay into him and make fun of him. It was a weird, weird show. But his musical guests—I mean, he was the first guy to ever put the Ramones on TV. You’d see the Ramones, or he’d have, like, David Bowie on, and you’d be like, “Oh wait, this is actually the coolest thing in the world.” So that was a very big inspiration. And there was also a kids’ show where I grew up called Steampipe Alley. Mario Cantone actually hosted it, and it was insane. It was like, “We’ll show some Bugs Bunny cartoons and then Mario Cantone will do a 15-minute impression of Bette Midler in front of a nine-year-old audience. And then all the kids will jump into a pool of chocolate pudding. And that’s the show.”
So I grew up with a few examples of public television, but also you know, I did Big Lake on Comedy Central, and like I said, I have no regrets, but I’m someone who is pretty fiercely independent, and I think a lot of the stuff that I do is weird. It’s bizarre and sort of outside the box. And the experience of Big Lake sort of put this bug in me. You know, I’d be happy if I would up being a staff writer on a comedy show or getting more acting work on sitcoms, but I’d be very, very happy if I could somehow turn all this oddball stuff I do into a career. And there’s not a place that would do that besides public-access. I bet I’m the only person in history who went from being the star of a sitcom to the host of a public-access show in less than a year. As far as being creative, it’s a show that looks and sounds like I want it to. No one is interfering with me. There is a side of me that says, “This is a huge risk.” And to some extent it seems like public-access is a bit outdated and it has somewhat embarrassing connotations attached to it. But we have so much fun with it and we’re doing what we want to do. And hopefully, in a punk-rock sort of way, that is something that continues to creatively grow and take off and be fulfilling.
AVC: The show feels like you’re doing everything in your power to create a two-way experience out of a one-way experience, to create something almost like social media for television. You’re surrounded by people at all times. You’re the host, but you’re typically sitting in a panel of people. You’re taking calls, you’re introducing people, you’re basically just with like 17 other people, plus the Internet, at all times.
CG: Yeah, phone calls, Twitter, all of it. I’m not a genius or a revolutionary for saying this, but at some point, the Internet is going to be the main delivery method for what television is now. So we’re going to have to get more interactive. The same way that podcasts have sort of replaced radio—well, not replaced, but shown what the Internet version of that media is and can be. In the same way that podcasts compete with radio, there will be a version of that online that competes with television. And I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but we’ll get there. And when we do, we need a way to make television more interactive so it can compete. The thing that I like about public-access is that I am often in the middle of chaos. The host of the show is the lowest-status individual many, many times. I often don’t have control. I’m often being made fun of. I’ve been physically beaten on the show. And that’s all by my own design. I like making it very clear that the guy who’s supposed to be in charge isn’t. The person who is in charge is the guy on the phone calling from four states away. That’s who really defines the show.
AVC: You write in the book about learning jujitsu.
CG: Yeah, I’m a blue belt. That’s the second worst, so I’m not even the worst belt.
AVC: It’s one of the more martial of the martial arts.
CG: Yeah, it’s very physical. A lot of hits and a lot of joint locks.
AVC: What’s it like as a kind of geeky guy to know that you have not only the emotional ability to rage but also the physical ability to actually hurt someone?
CG: I mean, I’m not very good at jujitsu, but I think I could defend myself with what I’ve learned. Largely, my experience has been getting beaten up by other people, with these small glimmers of hope that I might be learning something. I’m in the process of trying to use Twitter to get Welterweight Champion George St.-Pierre to come give me a shot on my show. I want him to come on the show and give me a chance to fight him and become the Welterweight Champion of the world. I think that would be a funny bit.
AVC: Sounds like you could get hurt.
CG: Oh yeah, oh yeah. [Laughs.] But here’s the thing about fighting: I’m small. I was born weak and with pronounced joint problems. But with fighting, if George St.-Pierre has the worst day of his life and I get one super-lucky punch, I could be the Welterweight Champion of the world. And the potential for how awesome that would be, if it miraculously happened, it’s worth the almost certain horrific outcome. The glimmer of hope that I could beat him is worth it, knowing that I will probably be brutally knocked unconscious within 30 seconds. I know it will happen that way. But what if is doesn’t? It would be amazing...
I just like testing myself. I just have that thing in me. Whatever it is that people tell me I can’t do, I’ve gotta try it. And that’s mostly what’s in my book. And it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. If I didn’t just consistently and voluntarily do stupid things, the book wouldn’t exist. But if people tell me something is impossible, I just want to prove that. I want to know that that’s for certain. I don’t want to not do something because someone says I can’t.