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A frank, funny show about depression and art
A stand-up comedian sharing personal stories in front of a crowd is one thing. Describing suicidal thoughts in excruciating detail is quite another.
That's exactly what happens in Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, the writer-performer's autobiographical solo show. "There are stretches where I don't care if I don't get a laugh," he says, and there are indeed moments of tension (and even discomfort) in his intensely honest comedy about his ongoing relationship with depression, art, and his therapist.
Career Suicide is now at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, and for Gethard's fans it might seem markedly different from his well-honed stand-up act or his work on TV series including Broad City and his own The Chris Gethard Show. "In standup, silence doesn't have much of a place," he says. "In the show it does. Parts are intentionally quiet – parts that are intentionally more vulnerable and angrier than stand-up is."
Often, he continues, a stand-up routine consists of "grabbing the mic and shouting your jokes into it." Telling a story about crashing a car on purpose, by contrast, feels downright dangerous onstage. "As a comedian, when you get laughs you do feel safe and that you're doing your job right. So to enter this new style where I'm just putting it on the table, and sometimes that means vulnerability for the sake of vulnerability, that's not necessarily my instinct."
On one hand, not needing constant laughter throughout the show can be liberating: "I'm not a slave to the needs of a crowd that has paid a two-drink minimum," Gethard notes. On the other, of course, those acts of honesty are terrifying: "The first time I performed the show I got offstage and started crying."
But the fact that Career Suicide still overflows with humor and has audiences in stitches is a testament to Gethard's comedic skill. When his friend and collaborator Mike Birbiglia once asked about his depression, Gethard remembers telling him a particularly brutal story and getting a rather unexpected response. "He said, 'You have to talk about that onstage. That's hilarious.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I don't think so.' But he said, 'If you can make that funny, you have something really special on your hands.' I found that challenge to be very motivating."
With help from director Kimberly Senior, Gethard has made Career Suicide a distinct blend of stand-up and autobiographical theatre, harnessing and amplifying the vulnerability inherent in sharing something personal before a crowd. "I always have these things on my mind to say, and some lend themselves best to my TV show or my podcast, and those are very different, form-wise," he says.
"But for me I always just want to be as honest as possible. The work I respond to best comedically – and not comedically – is when it rings true, when people are saying something they really mean."
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for 'Chris Gethard: Career Suicide.' Go here to browse our current offers.
Photos by Clay Anderson. Top photo: A scene from 'Career Suicide.'