Comedian Chris Gethard is on a career upswing: He’s been featured on the national radio shows “This American Life” and WHYY’s “Fresh Air.”
A few weeks ago, HBO broadcast his one-man show, “Career Suicide,” about his experience with suicidal depression. It’s a comedy, but with deep personal confessions.
He’s not doing that anymore. Now he’s focused more on jokes, straight up.
“My stuff will always be personal and thoughtful, but I’m happy to say my stand-up has moved on, and is no longer dwelling in the realm of suicidal thoughts,” said Gethard by phone from a hotel room in San Francisco. “It’s good to put that to bed.”
Gethard is the middle of a national tour. His stage show is about 20 minutes of stand-up that warms up the recording of his own podcast, “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.”
Just before he is ready to record, he tweets out the phone number. Then he waits for a random stranger to call, with whom he will converse for one hour, come what may.
“We don’t screen them beyond just making sure the connection is pretty good,” he said. “As long as the person isn’t standing in a wind tunnel, we’ll take the first call we get.”
There are awkward pauses and strained small talk. Gradually, a conversation emerges. It’s a bit like listening in on a blind date, where two people are trying to find common ground and a connection.
“It’s like a date, but where I’m certain I’m going to ghost this person at the end of the date,” said Gethard. “The one thing I know is that I’ll never talk to this person again.”
During his comedy tour, hundreds of people have paid for the privilege of watching this one-hour relationship unfold. So far, between 5,000 and 7,000 calls immediately flood the line when Gethard tweets the phone number from the stage. He takes conversational tips from the audience in real time, via tweets.
The audience comes for a comedy show, so Gethard guarantees at least a few yuks in his opening stand-up act of prepared material. The phone call itself may or may not be funny.
“I have to respect the fact the call is going to be what it’s going to be,” he said. “The caller might talk about something really serious to them or really personal and sensitive, and I can’t make jokes out of that.
“But I’m a firm believer that there’s no situation in the world that doesn’t have something funny about it. My job is to find that.”
As part of this nationwide tour, 14 podcasts will be recorded. Gethard will chose a handful of the best ones for posting, unedited, in the coming months.