30 Hours Until Air
It’s the evening of Monday, March 19th, 2018, and The Chris Gethard Show production team has a creative, though admittedly silly, problem on its hands.
What kind of prop will Shannon O’Neill use when she explains to callers which car they’re giving them? “We’re Giving Away Cars” writers Nicole Drespel, Greg Dorris, and Jackie Jennings suggest she use a large white binder chock-full of mostly blank pages, to give the illusion the show has more cars than it actually does. After the first full read-through, however, it seems a simple clipboard — and the loss of the numbers gag altogether — is preferable. Either way, the drama that unfolds throughout the course of this and successive meetings a mere 30 hours before air only proves something Gethard Show fans knew long before they were made to guess what was inside that Dumpster. All of this is absurd, and that’s wonderful.
We were given exclusive access to the behind-the-scenes craziness the day before, and the day of, Gethard Show‘s return with the first of 10 more live and largely improvised episodes on truTV. (Or, as Gethard frequently jokes, “We have 10 more tries to fail.”) Now that the former public access series airs on Tuesdays at 11 pm ET instead of Thursdays at the same time, it seems everyone has adopted a renewed sense of fanatical urgency. Then again, most of the team just recently returned from a lengthy, well-deserved vacation. They’ve had to re-learn the ins and outs of making a live talk show once a week after a long break, so perhaps that’s why the binder-or-clipboard question has seemingly become a matter of life and death.
“This is just a tool to get to the jokes,” Gethard reminds everyone during a follow-up meeting. O’Neill, executive producer and showrunner J.D. Amato, and the writers are all present. Amato suggests using a clipboard for the sake of simplicity, but adds that it’s ultimately up to O’Neill. “But if we get to eight or nine cars, we’ll have to admit that we crapped out. That might be funny,” says Gethard. “True,” Amato responds, “but we don’t want to get sued into oblivion.” Everyone laughs, which thankfully releases the palpable tension from the room. With just over a day to go, the binder debacle has ballooned into a significant concern — one that Gethard thinks shouldn’t have happened in the first place. “We should have handled this much earlier,” he says.
When asked about the tension in a follow-up email, specifically whether it helps or hinders their work, the writers offer an array of answers. “This was my first episode, so I don’t have other TCGS episodes under my belt for comparison,” replies Jennings. “But it felt a lot like opening night of a play — lots of people running around tying up loose ends, knowing that no matter what, a show is happening at 11. It’s definitely intense, but we all have each others’ backs.” Dorris is far more sardonic: “I’ve spent the last 35 episodes trying to ignore the pressure we put on ourselves here. Things tend to go best if I focus on making Gethard and the other writers laugh while pretending that everything is fine (even if it’s all burning down around us).”
As for Drespel, she was unable to respond officially due to the fact that she was preparing for the next episode. So she asked Gethard’s assistant and frequent show character, Justin Linville to respond on her behalf. “I, personally, tend not to notice the pressure because we have such a dedicated team ready to roll with the last-minute creative punches and catch us when we are overwhelmed,” the statement reads. “Thank you especially to Justin.”
5 Hours Until Air
That what was once a public access program has become a weekly live show has made things harder for Gethard Show, but these challenges are quite welcome. When Uproxx spoke to the host about his famous “One Man’s Trash” episode in 2017, he insisted he wasn’t simply “crafting an image” for himself. Instead, he thought “disasters [were] the funniest thing in the world.” During Tuesday’s final show rehearsal five hours before taping, every little issue that came up felt like it could be a potential disaster. Yet Gethard, O’Neill, Amato, and the crew treated each one like an opportunity for something funny.
“Funny first. Always funny first, that’s what I’m aiming for,” Gethard says when asked whether he prefers things to be disasters or funny. “But I really like the idea of layering something else on top of my funny. Funny and also sad. Funny and also confusing. Funny and also a train wreck. I like the idea that the show is challenging and hard to unwrap sometimes. Maybe that holds us back, and it would be easier if the answer was just ‘funny.’ But I want it to push different buttons and surprise in different ways in each time. Funny first, plus whatever life throws at us that night.”
So when the production team suits up for the final rehearsal, everyone is on hand for the charade. Gethard and O’Neill confidently take their places in the center of the studio space, announcer Murf Meyer sits in his designated corner, the Human Fish (Dave Bluvband) stands next to a chalkboard for use later in the show, and The LLC warms up in their performance space off to the side. It’s a process familiar from the program’s previous two seasons on Fusion and its first 16 episodes on truTV, so despite the untested novelty of O’Neill’s clipboard and a handful of other variables, everyone seems confident with the grand plan.
“We’ve had three weeks to prepare after coming back and I know what you’re all thinking, ‘What the fuck, we have to do a show?'” Gethard jokes with the cast and crew. “But we’re coming out of the gate hard on this, and it’s going to get nuts real fast. We’re also using a bit of money that we don’t necessarily have, so no pressure!” The host is mostly joking, of course, but when line producer Jim Sharon playfully quips that he used a few of his own credit cards to help purchase the cars they will be giving away soon, Gethard breaks character for a moment. “Wait, really?”
That’s not actually true, of course, but Gethard’s chest-thumping speech is not without a slight twinge of uncertainty. Two of Gethard Show‘s mainstays, “Internet Liaison” Bethany Hall and Bluvband’s “Human Fish,” are no longer going to occupy the same spaces since the public access days. While present for the rehearsal (and later for the live taping), both have slightly changed their roles, as the team will now pre-record their fan-focused content to serve as segment bookends going forward. “We want to focus more on the improvised elements of the show as they happen in the studio,” explains Amato. Gethard admits the “backlash” to the changes, if any, will be immediate, but that’s okay. The community is integral to the heart and soul of the series, but so is improvisation. “Let’s just go out and fall right on our fucking faces,” the host exclaims before the rehearsal countdown begins.
0 Hours Until Air
For someone who’s about to spearhead a live broadcast, Amato is calm and collected. “I love pressure and hate stress,” he says. “Pressure can turn the gears, while stress just wears them down. Television, especially our show, can have such silly stakes that it’s fun to play in the pressure and see where it leads us. But, we have to handle pressure with intention or else it becomes stress. Luckily, the Gethard Show staff is built of people who know and thrive on the healthy side of that line.” Then again, he playfully adds, “The gods of television never intended it to last, so we honor them by disturbing the temple.”
To fans, the showrunner is best known as the important-looking gentlemen who wears a multi-colored sweater. As Amato recounts, the original was a gift from his late grandfather, so he rarely wears it so as to help preserve it. However, a few friends acquired him a similar looking hand-knitted cardigan with a matching pocket square. He wears both “only on show days,” he explains, “because it’s much easier to pick me out in the crowd, which is great if someone on staff needs to find me to help fix something before it explodes.”
Other familiar traditions, like producer Keith Haskel’s penchant for wearing a bright yellow banana suit (hence his “Bananaman” title), abound as well. The Gethard Show veteran has gone through many banana suits over the years because of wear and tear, but he never forgets his established trademark whenever it’s time to create a television show. Nor does Gethard, whose characteristic anxiety seemingly refuses to dissipate during the final minutes before his cue. He paces the studio, even walking among the seated audience members, while warm-up comic and show contributor Connor Ratliff dispenses raisins (and empty raisin boxes) to the crowd.
They are, after all, about to produce a live comedy show that relies heavily on improvisation between seasoned comedy actors and novice callers. What’s more, they’re going to be giving away a hilarious collection of functioning (and not-so-functioning) cars to everyone who calls into the show — per the approval of Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson, of course. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and judging by what eventually happened in the Gethard Show studio and out in the control room, a few things do. But the audience is still laughing, the fans at home are still calling, and the rest of the program’s third season is still waiting to push the intentional absurdity even further.
In fact, writer Jackie Jennings is still trying to find a home for the unused binder prop. “I am selling that binder on eBay if you’re interested,” she says. “I would happily give you a discount to avoid the PayPal fees.”
The Chris Gethard Show airs Tuesdays at 11 pm ET live on truTV.