Comedian Chris Gethard Turns Bipolar Depression into an HBO Special

Last Updated: 11 Nov 2020

The comic mastermind behind Career Suicide and The Chris Gethard Show on anxiety, feeling like an oddball, and trying to do some good.

Chris Gethard’s unique take on comedy has served him surprisingly well. The Chris Gethard Show, described as an “unclassifiable talk/variety show hybrid,” was picked up by truTV. His podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, an hour-long conversation with a random caller, won a Webby Award. And his stage show Career Suicide, detailing his experiences with bipolar depression, became an HBO special.

How are you dealing with the stress of moving The Chris Gethard Show from a New York City public-access station to a national comedy channel?

Not well! I spend a lot of time sitting in my office in the dark thinking about how 70 people’s jobs now depend on me. It’s not ideal.

The show skews pretty oddball. Do you feel like an oddball in real life, too?

I absolutely feel like an oddball at most times. I don’t feel very comfortable in my own skin. Mostly I tend to stay out of the way and don’t love people noticing me.

Are you naturally chatty, or is talking with callers on Beautiful Stories a stretch for you?

It’s a stretch! I really liked taking phone calls on our public access show, when things could meander more than they can on cable, where you have to get to a commercial. The podcast felt like a good extension of those skills I’d developed while also allowing for some empathy and thoughtfulness.

How are the callers for Beautiful Stories chosen? Are they truly random?

There’s very light screening, but it’s minimal. Basically, the producer picks up the phone and asks what they want to talk about. Most of what he’s gauging is if their connection sounds clear. Then he’ll tell me “We got one person who wants to talk about this, another about this…” and then it’s mostly just a judgment call of, “What haven’t we heard lately?”

As an entertainer, you have to be “on” even if you’re depressed or anxious. How do you manage that?

I don’t. In real life I’m dreadfully unfunny. Many people say that about my comedy as well, though.

You became a beacon of sorts after opening up on Tumblr about your suicidal moments. Do you feel a responsibility to others with mental health challenges?

I do and I don’t. At the end of the day, I’d like to think Career Suicide fulfilled any responsibility that I had. That is what I have to say on the subject and I hope I did some good. I’d love to move forward into a life of non-suicide related jokes.

Were there any benefits to revisiting painful experiences every night while performing Career Suicide?

People would often approach after shows to say the piece spoke to them or made them understand people in their life more. That was very uplifting and made me feel like part of something bigger than myself.

What bipolar symptoms trouble you the most?

Anxiety is my real enemy these days. The depressive and manic episodes aren’t as pronounced, but I’m still able to work myself into a mess by convincing myself things are a much bigger deal than they are. I had a panic attack four days ago that was needless.

How did psychotherapy help you?

It changed everything. Helped me break habits. Made me rethink routines. Most importantly, it made me embrace who I am and what I’d like out of life.

Besides medication and therapy, what are your top coping techniques?

I would never refer to my wife as a “coping technique,” but she provides a real foundation to my life. She doesn’t judge me when I crash.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Worry less. Make more mistakes. And don’t get tangled up with that one girl.

Printed as “Back Chat: Chris Gethard,” Winter 2018

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