It’s amazing that a show about depression can be so uplifting and so damn funny, but Gethard pulls it off.
Chris Gethard: Career Suicide opened in New York City this week at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (45 Bleecker Street at Lafayette). Produced by comedy career-maker Judd Apatow, who now adds theater to the long list of comedy formats he presides over, and written/ starring Gethard himself, the show opened on Thursday night in the East Village. Most of you familiar with Gethard’s career know of his huge success in the improv world through Upright Citizen’s Brigade. After achieving major status at UCB, Gethard took a risk, and started over diving into the world of stand up with great success. His entertaining Chris Gethard Show which landed at Fusion after becoming a cult phenomenon on New York Public Access TV is a raucous endeavor that embraces the outlandish and incorporates the audience into the show itself. And Gethard’s latest endeavor, a one man show, once again shows Gethard’s ability to take a career u-turn and succeed.
In direct contrast to his television series, in Career Suicide, Gethard stands alone for the full 75 minute performance. No set. No chair to sit in. There are no bells and whistles, no music played. Some low key lighting changes add atmosphere, and a tapestry serves as the sole background. Not even a mic stand or a handheld mic comes between him and the audience. Gethard further erodes the boundary between performer and spectator seating his front row in living room furniture, as if to show there is no separation and he’s just talking with friends. And center stage, there’s Chris Gethard filling the empty space, explaining that he suffers from intense bouts of anxiety and depression, and has since he was a young boy growing up in a tough New Jersey small town. Being a sensitive kid was not an asset. Gethard takes you from his eggshell fragile early teen years, through his complicated college years and beyond, with recurring threads involving his unorthodox therapist, “Barb” and his one-sided love affair with Morrissey and The Smiths. He has had suicidal thoughts, at least one suicide attempt, and his stories reveal substance abuse, pain, recovery, and relapse, fear and strength, but above all, humanity.
Gethard’s life obstacles are not placed in his path by others. With a few exceptions, the struggles he chooses to talk about in Career Suicide are internal, but you will never once succumb to the impulse that he should just ‘get over it’ or ‘toughen up’. Gethard communicates his lifelong mental health issues with such clarity, and so much of the aforementioned humanity, that you get it, and you don’t question whether any of this is Chris’ fault. It’s not.
Career Suicide is the live equivalent of a book you can’t put down. His stories are not just strung together end to end, they’re seamlessly choreographed, and you find yourself gripped early on by Gethard’s frank and open telling of his lifelong struggle with some pretty dark demons. Most of the audience literally leans forward, listening. They nod along when Chris strikes a personal chord or shares a relatable moment; they gasp when they hear some of Gethard’s more shocking revelations; and they laugh, because in Gethard’s capable hands, there is humor in everything,
This is vulnerability at its barest, and his story is riveting, it’s compelling, and it’s also really really funny.
The best comedy comes from life’s failures, not life’s successes, and Gethard knows how to mine the failures in his life for all they are worth. It’s not sledgehammer comedy, with punchline after punchline making your ribs hurt. But the laughs are frequent, and in many ways more satisfying than the laughs that come with joke, joke, joke formats.
There are heart wrenching moments in Chris’ stories that may bring you to tears, but be assured, the laughs are equally powerful. The heartbreaking moment leading up to Chris ‘coming out’ to his mother as somebody who is contemplating suicide will stay with you for days, but you also won’t hear a funnier story anywhere than his story that Gethard tells his therapist to prove he’s not an alcoholic. It involves a Batman mask and an excessive amount of cheap alcohol. Gethard’s ability to see the comedy in some of his bleakest moments is ever present, and is what makes Career Suicide work.
Gethard isn’t the first person to get on stage and bare his soul talking about inner conflict. But maybe the greatest strength of Career Suicide, and what separates his show from others, is that despite being a one-man show, this show isn’t only about Chris. Gethard doesn’t pretend that his feelings and experiences are unique or any worse than scores of others living with mental illness. On the contrary, Gethard wants the audience to realize that his story is not unique- common even- and others need help. Yes, his stories are all personal life experiences, but Gethard uses his stories adeptly to address wider topics surrounding depression, anxiety and suicide, like for example, the stigma that comes with taking prescription medications, and the difficulty of finding help from friends and professionals who don’t want to risk being “responsible.”
Looking around you, you can’t help but notice how often the audience nods, showing familiarity with drugs with names like Risperdal letting us know that degrees of mental illness may be much more prevalent than we realize. And ultimately, that’s what Career Suicide is all about. Gethard shines a light into the darkness that so many share, and does so with giant laughs. And if we can laugh at our scariest demons, then maybe we can deal with them.
Chris Gethard Career Suicide is playing at the Lynn Redgrave Theater through November 27.