How Chris Gethard took his boundary-pushing talk show from public access to cable TV without losing its fun and spontaneous soul

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“The Chris Gethard Show.”
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A. Bisdale/truTV

  • “The Chris Gethard Show” is a live weekly show hosted by comedian Chris Gethard.
  • Gethard’s show allows its audience members and fans to be a part of the show.
  • Gethard purposefully chose not to stick to the traditional talk show format for his show.

Prior to taping “The Chris Gethard Show,” host Chris Gethard can be found chatting with audience members in such a casual manner that you find yourself wondering if everyone in the audience is an old pal of his.

But Gethard just wants his guests to feel welcome, and like they’re part of a “community.”

Gethard remains amiable with his guests even when the cameras start to roll, and often chats with them throughout the show. Large portions of the show are allocated for call-ins from fans, where they ask questions, tell stories, and sometimes just share a few seconds on air with Gethard.

It’s not unusual, or rare even for hosts to engage with their guests. But “The Chris Gethard Show’s” high level of audience inclusion, including spontaneous dancing, and the way Gethard interacts with his guests, challenges the very notion of what you can and cannot do on a talk show.

“The Chris Gethard Show” originally aired live on the New York City public access channel MNN in 2011. Gethard shot the talk show on a set that largely resembled a basement, where he would conduct interviews with friends from the local comedy circuit, give comedians a platform to do various character bits, and invite viewers to call into the show to answer a question, or tell a story.

It wasn’t until 2015, when “The Chris Gethard Show” got picked up by Fusion, that Gethard’s show got a serious cable TV makeover. This included a stylized new set, and access to celebrity guests like Diddy and Will Ferrell. Gethard would interview his guests, and invite them to partake in unusual activities. In one episode, Gethard asked Ferrell to deliver a speech to a couple who got married on the show, and in another he held an underwater themed prom, which Lena Dunham came to in a full mermaid costume.

But Fusion chose to pre-tape the talk show rather than shooting it live – something that Gethard felt left something to be desired. After a year on Fusion, “The Chris Gethard Show” moved to truTV in May 2017, and went back to live taping, gaining back its edge and the show’s unpredictability factor.

Since then Gethard has continued to create strange new segments at his new home on truTV, and now delights in the idea of continuing to push the boundaries of what he can do on his talk show. This season Gethard spent an entire episode working out while interviewing “The Mindy Project” star Adam Pally, and invited circus performers to teach Seth Meyers how to balance a spinning plate.

Gethard isn’t trying to be a “rebel” or “change the talk show” by any means, he just doesn’t want to feel bound to any particular way of making a talk show, he said.

Gethard spoke to Business Insider about what inspired him to deviate from the traditional talk show format, and why he still wants things to “look messed up” on his show.

Here’s what Gethard had to say about “The Chris Gethard Show”:


“The Chris Gethard Show” is built on a sense of community.

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A. Bisdale/truTV

Amanda Henning Santiago: I’ve never seen the host and cast of a show chat with guests before a show before. It really feels like the audience is such a big part of the show, and almost like another character on it. Did you know that you wanted to engage that much with your audience from the start?

Chris Gethard: I think I very quickly realized if this show is going to survive it was going to be because there would be a sense of community surrounding it. This show is admittedly pretty strange, and intentionally very different from things that people are used to, and you know a lot of times we walk away from the format. There’s nothing that really resembles a talk show format on our talk show.

The [talk show] format is done for a reason. It’s to make things palatable, and so you immediately understand it, and you can turn a show on midway and say, “Oh, I get what they’re doing, I’ve seen that structure before.” And, we don’t have that. What we have instead is this show that kind of goes where it wants, and does what it wants.


Gethard ignores the traditional talk show format, with the exception of two late night staples.

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A. Bisdale/truTV

Henning Santiago: What elements of your show did you want to deviate from the traditional structure? Were there any elements of a traditional talk show structure that you wanted to keep?

Gethard: I don’t really have much interest in being a rebel, like we’ve got to change the talk show, because at the end of the day who really cares about that. But I do feel like you just know what’s coming. It’s going to be the intro song, it’s going to be the monologue jokes about politics, it’s going to be a desk piece where they sit down and talk about a thing, and interview a celebrity, then there’s going to be another desk piece, another celebrity, and then maybe it’s a band, or maybe it’s a comedian. It’s at a level where that’s locked in. Which to me is a little bit of a bummer.

And the monologues are never my favorite thing. So I thought, let’s abandon that, that’s not my favorite thing, and I bet there’s a lot of talk show viewers who kind of feel the same way about these monologue jokes. And then that started getting me thinking, what if we just blow the whole thing up? I was always like, why does the audience sit up in those seats, that seems arbitrary to me, let’s put them right here. Like, especially where we come from. Our show is so underground and so hidden that anytime someone wanders through the doors it’s like, “Yes, welcome. Do you want to be on camera? Be on camera.”

A lot of that started too, because our show just visually was so flat on public access we were like wear a costume, do something crazy, you’re a part of the scenery now, be a part of the scenery. Be a part of it.

And I think there’s certain things from talk shows I really love. Like, I think one thing you see show up a lot in our show are remote pieces. Letterman and Conan, both of them did such fantastic remote pieces, and I’m always trying to mimic that. Just getting out of the studio, and bringing a camera out into the real world to see if we can make something happen. And then I think character stuff too. I think Conan in particular, when I came up in New York he would use people from UCB [Upright Citizen’s Brigade] all the time in his character bits, and they always blew me away.


Gethard fights against the slick live show format, and strives to make his show “still look messed up.”

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A. Bisdale/truTV

Henning Santiago: Did you know that you wanted this show to be live? Was the public access show live?

Gethard: The public access show was live, and that’s one of the biggest reasons that we went to public access. We had been doing it [“The Chris Gethard Show”] at the UCB, and a friend of mine who took classes there. Who I actually taught for a long time. He told me, “You know I work at the New York public access station, and I think your show would be a great public access show.”

And at first I was like, “Man, is public access still around?”

He was telling me, “Dude we have a four camera studio, you can do the whole thing live, we can stream it online, and you can take phone calls.”

And the more he told me about it the more I was like, I think this might be the best kept secret in New York. The fact that we could do it live, and the fact that we could take phone calls, and put it out on the internet all really appealed to me. I just had this hunch that if you do something live, people really feel like they have to be there to see it. Live is the thing that defeats the idea that you can watch the best 45 seconds on Reddit the next morning. There’s so much more power, it’s live so you don’t want to be there after the fact, you want to be there when it goes down.

And then the fact that it can be interactive, that we take phone calls, and that it was uncensored, that we could just throw it up there and see what happens, that was all the stuff that really appealed to me.

On our former network, on Fusion it wasn’t live, and I think the show really lost something. I’m really proud of what we did but it felt like there was a certain life to it that had been diminished. I think truTV saw that, and they actually suggested doing it live again, which I was astounded by because it’s not a safe thing to do on any show, let alone with us. We barely know what we’re doing, so I really commend them for allowing this to happen.

Henning Santiago: Yeah, it’s hard for me to think of any shows that are really live anymore. Save for like SNL, and some news?

Gethard: Yeah, it’s news, its sports, and I think Andy Cohen, right? I think that’s one of our big battles this year, and one of the things we’ve really been pushing for is that we’ve been doing this more and more, and we’re better at it, and it made me realize, we have to work harder at it and make sure things still look messed up. That we have to get ambitious enough with our ideas that they fall apart and the edges fray on TV.

That’s another thing I don’t understand about live TV like “SNL.” I have so many friends who worked there, I was a guest writer there, I really have so much respect – I don’t want this to sound like I’m talking bad about it. But I feel like one of the things that astounds me is that that show doesn’t feel live. I feel like one of the accomplishments of it is that it’s so slick that things barely ever go wrong, and to me I’m like no I want to run in the opposite direction.


Gethard doesn’t do political monologues, but he does “help you forget for a little while.”

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A. Bisdale/truTV

Henning Santiago: I know you said you’re not necessarily a fan of political monologues, but do you ever feel like you have a responsibility to cover certain things or discuss certain things?

Gethard: Yeah definitely, 100%. We are in troubled times, where people need pressure release, and I think a lot of our fan base is very political. I think in my own life, I’m pretty political. I think I have some very strong ideals, and I struggle a lot with it. I struggle a lot with feeling like, I have a platform, should I be saying more? Should I be doing more, should I be in full on attack mode when entire demographics of our community are under attack?

Part of me thinks I have a soap box, and maybe I should just be standing on it shouting on it about all of the evils happening right now, and I mean especially last night [the night that Louis C.K.’s alleged sexual misconduct was reported] it’s not easy to bite my tongue and go, “Well some of our heroes are now sexual aggressors.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m dropping the ball so hard, then I also think about, “Well what do I really have to offer to the world? What do I have the capability to do?”

And I think in my mind what I can offer, and what I’d like to offer, and it’s like, for 23 hours of your day today, and six other days this week everything seems completely f—-d up and stressful, and for one hour a whole bunch of us can get together and just do some stuff that’s dumb. And just walk away feeling like there’s a community out there of positive people trying to make stuff that will just help you forget for a little while.

You can catch the midseason finale of “The Chris Gethard Show,” Thursday November 30, at 11pm on truTV.