Chris Gethard: Career Suicide

Chris Gethard is a multi-talented comedian and actor (Don’t Think Twice, “Broad City”) who’s worked extensively in NYC’s improv scene at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater as well as having his own successful public access show, aptly titled “The Chris Gethard Show”. This weekend Gethard premiered a much more personal type of special on HBO with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide. In this touching, and darkly hilarious special, Chris uses comedy to detail his lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety including his brushes with suicide. The show held a special screening and talk-back at New York’s Tribeca Film Fest, featuring Chris, fellow comedian Pete Holmes (HBO’s “Crashing”), and moderator Ira Glass (NPR’s “This American Life”). I spoke with them on the red carpet about the development of the show and using comedy to cope with more difficult issues.

Besides hosting NPR’s “This American Life” podcast (which Gethard has appeared on), Ira Glass produced Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: Working with Chris on Don’t Think Twice, did you see the development of his show at all?

Ira Glass

Ira Glass: I mean, it’s funny, Don’t Think Twice…Chris is such an amazing actor. He’s so for-real in Don’t Think Twice, and that character does have a lot of overlap with who he is in real life. And who he is in this special. My main thing with the special is I’ve seen him develop it. I saw like a super early version in the basement in Union Hall, and then saw when it was up on stage. So I’m really curious how it translates to video.

LD: With the heavier themes, I feel like we have a need for that in comedy because things seem sort of dire in general…

Glass: It’s true…But I feel like the whole trend in comedy has been comedians getting super real about stuff that’s going on, you know. And I feel like when you look at the people…who are doing the most work right now, it’s like Louis CK and Tig Notaro and Mike Birbiglia, Aziz [Ansari]…You know that’s people talking about stuff that’s pretty real. Which I like because I like a real story. I think when somebody can tell a story that’s super funny but also is really a real thing, and emotional, it’s just like what could be more entertaining? That’s everything a person could want.

LD: That’s basically the best episodes of “This American Life”…

Glass: On a good day, yeah. On a good day. The formula on “This American Life” is we want it to be really funny, with a lot of plot at the beginning, then it will get kind of sad and sort of wistful at the end, then like throw a little music under it, you’re done!

In Don’t Think Twice, Gethard played Bill, a comedian coping with a hospitalized father on top of dealing with general anxieties of where he fits into his shifting improv group.

LD: In Don’t Think Twice, your character did a lot of the heavy emotional lifting, was your show already developing kind of around that time?

Chris Gethard: It’s funny because [Don’t Think Twice director] Mike Birbiglia was the one who kind of threw down the gauntlet and said ‘You should do a show about this side of yourself.’ I would talk about it to a degree in my work, but he was the one who was like ‘You got something here, go for it.’ So the experience of Don’t Think Twice and this show kind of went hand in hand. I was opening for Mike on the road, he developed the film on the road [and] during that process is when he really said ‘You should really go for it, I promise you, give it a shot.’ Really the first time I attempted the show was in an effort to sort of prove Birbiglia wrong and say like I don’t know if people are going to laugh at this. But I have learned never to doubt Mike. And those things really did dovetail nicely and springboard off of each other.

Chris Gethard

LD: How did Mike respond to it?

Gethard: Oh he’s been so supportive and I think he was–he also, as far as these off Broadway shows that are kind of comedy but that go serious, I think he really has helped pioneer that in the past few years. So I think he was very proud and flattered. I always give him a lot of credit as far as walking in his footsteps. So I think he was very psyched that I went for it. i think he also had a little bit of glee that his instincts were correct and mine were not. So thank god for that.

Pete Holmes had his own hilarious HBO comedy special (Faces and Sounds) as well as starring in their series, “Crashing”

LD: How do you know Chris?

Pete Holmes: It’s funny, I thought more people would ask, but here we are at the end of the line and you’re only the second person to ask, so it’s still fresh! It’s still a fresh answer. I was a fan of Chris, I would see him at UCB –actually not far from here, right around the corner. And then I took improv classes at UCB and Chris was actually my level 3 teacher because I had heard that he was so wonderful. And he was. I actually think Chris likes to downplay what a wonderful improv teacher he is because obviously he loves to perform more. But it’s almost a shame that we can’t clone him, because he’s such a great improv teacher.

LD: Your stand-up is a lot more silly and irreverent in contrast to the work Chris is doing in this special and I love that there’s space for both

Holmes: That’s nice, there is space for both! And I really love this show. It’s not the sort of stand-up I do but I also on my podcast [“You Made it Weird”] love to get very deep and weird and uncomfortable so I love seeing it in the live version with the laughs.

Pete Holmes

LD: On “You Made it Weird”, have you had any especially surprising guests?

Holmes: That happens all the time actually. For example The Lucas Brothers, the twin guys from 21 Jump Street movie…I [didn’t] know them that well either and they’re kind of low energy [in the film] and then they came on and were like the most high-energy, introspective, eloquent amazing guests. And you know, I didn’t really know them that well. So one of the things that I love about the podcast is that happens over and over. Your expectations just get completely blown out of the water.

The better answer would be Aaron Rogers, the quarterback for the Greenbay Packers…I didn’t know him either, but here comes a quarterback. And J.J. Redick who’s a basketball player just did it. And whenever these athletes come on and just kill it just as hard as the comedians, it makes me happy.

LD: With Chris being your teacher and then you had an HBO special and series first, is that kind of funny to you?

Pete Holmes: [laughs] I beat my teacher! It’s so funny, Chris and I had another thing where I did a talk show for Conan–he talked to me about this on his episode of my podcast. [Chris] was like when they gave you the talk show after Conan–which lasted about a year–he was like they were talking to me about [doing it] Like we’ve been competing in ways we didn’t even know! So I’m happy that now we’ve both landed at HBO, it’s not one or the other, but we can both be here. [laughs]

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide is now available on HBO, HBO Now & HBOGo

Our Critics Pick the Best (and Worst) Films of 2016

As the year 2016 finally comes to an end it’s time for the film guys (and gals) here at Media Mikes to share our thoughts on the best and worse films that the year had to offer. Since I’ve got the by-line, I’ll go first:

Mike Smith’s Best Films of 2016

1. “Birth of a Nation”
I can’t understand how fickle Hollywood is. It was just a little under a year ago, when the Academy Award nominations were announced, that everyone was up in arms due to the lack of minority representation among the major nominees. When “Birth of a Nation” first opened, it drew raves – including from me – and seemed to be on a collision course with Oscar. Then it was reported that the films co-writer, director and star, Nate Parker, had been accused of rape 20 years ago while in college. I will admit right here that when I did my “Fall Movie Preview” I mentioned the alleged event, even questioning if it will have any effect on the film’s popularity. Obviously the answer is a resounding yes. Sometime ago I read a magazine article about possible Best Picture nominees and the very first line stated that the alleged incident pretty much knocked the film out of the race. Too bad. “Birth of a Nation” is one of the most original and powerful films of this or any year.

2. “Hacksaw Ridge”
Apparently Hollywood found a film that is bulletproof from negative publicity. Directed by everyone’s favorite crazy uncle – you know who he is, the one that really shouldn’t drink and then make phone calls – Mel Gibson, this is the true story of how a soldier can refuse to pick up a weapon but still become a hero.

3. “Weiner”
My father used to tell this joke: A man and his wife have a baby but it’s only a head. Ashamed, the father puts it in a coffee can and puts it on the back porch. 21 years later he picks up the can and takes it with him to the local bar. He orders two beers, drinks one and pours the other into the head’s mouth. Suddenly the head spins around, drops to the floor and begins to grow – arms, legs, body. After a few minutes where once sat a head now stands a beautiful specimen of a man. “Holy shit,” the father exclaims and orders two more beers. He and his son clink glasses and drink. Suddenly the boy falls over, dead. The bartender looks over the bar at the body on the ground and says, “Poor kid. He should have quit while he was ahead!” That is the same advice Anthony Weiner should have taken. Once a growing force in politics, Weiner had to resign his seat in congress after it was discovered that he had texted nude photos of himself to women not his wife. Years later he decides to run for Mayor of New York City. He’s doing well in the polls when – you guessed it – he took that second glass of beer! Caught once again sharing shots of his penis, he withdraws from the race. I just realized that I used the words “growing” and “withdraws” in a story about a guy named Weiner. See what I did there?

4. “Manchester by the Sea”
Normally when I see Casey Affleck on screen I immediately see him in the back of Chuckie’s car in “Goodwill Hunting,” waiting for his lunch and singing out, “I wish I had a double-burger!” He’s always been good in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in since but he NAILS IT with his performance here. With a constant level of sadness just peeking out no matter the situation, he may not be the only Affleck with an Oscar come this February.

5. “Moana”
Dwayne Johnson sings! That is one of the great surprises in this sure-to-be next animated Disney classic. Great songs, fun performances and a strong female character add up to an amazing night at the movies.

Mike Smith’s Worst Film of 2016

No contest here. Say hello to “The 5th Wave.” Allow me to share some of my review:

“A film only in the sense that it’s being shown in theatres, “The 5th Wave” tells the story about what can happen when you reveal the BIG ending 20 minutes into the film and apparently forget what the words “continuity” and “believable” mean.”

Need I say more? But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some more suggestions from the rest of the gang:

Mike Gencarelli’s Best and Worst of 2016

Best:
“A Monster Calls”
“Deadpool”
“Doctor Strange”
“Finding Dory”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
“The Neon Demon”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“The Secret Life of Pets”
“Trolls”

Worst:
“The BFG”
“The Legend of Tarzan”
“Nocturnal Animals”
“Snowden”
“Zoolander 2”

Lauren Damon’s Best Films of 2016

1. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”
Taika Waititi on my list again! This movie managed to be funny, sweet, original and not to mention shot gorgeously. The main boy (Julian Dennison) was so well cast opposite Sam Neill. Also fell in love with Rachel House who then also turned out to be my favorite crazy grandma in Disney’s Moana (not on my list here, but did enjoy.)

2. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Ho. Lee. Shit. This movie has Death-Star sized balls in the darkness territory and I felt so proud of Disney for actually letting it be that way. I enjoyed it way more than The Force Awakens because it felt so fresh for the franchise. The third act battle was astounding and their usage of Darth Vader put the biggest grin on my face.

3. “Don’t Think Twice”
Mike Birbiglia’s film about a tight-knit improv troupe that’s split when one of its members ascends to an SNL-type show was full of top comedians (Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Tammy Sagher, Keegan Michael Key, Kate Micucci and Gillian Jacobs make up the group) doing hysterical improv, but more impressively bringing so much heart and smart observation to this very specific scene and age group. It was equal parts hilarious and heart-breaking.

4. “Deadpool”
I’m so glad this movie exists. Knowing that Ryan Reynolds fought for years to get a Deadpool movie made that gets the character right and to have it turn out this funny and bad-ass just made my nerd heart happy.

5. “Captain America: Civil War”
The Russo brothers here continue to make me excited for their upcoming work on Avengers: Infinity War because Civil War proved that these guys know how to handle a massive cast. This film arguably had the most baggage (i.e. number of movies in the MCU you should be up to speed with going in) but it never felt that way and they managed to seamlessly introduce both Black Panther and a new Spider-man (who I loved! Great job by Tom Holland). The heroic showdown in the German airport is one of my favorite sequences of the year.

Lauren Damon’s Worst Film of 2016

“Jason Bourne”
Most disappointing. I was so incredibly bored, I couldn’t believe it. Muddled action sequences, may-as-well be stock footage of nefarious control rooms, and a backstory that added exactly one sentence of history to the Bourne mythos. Tommy Lee Jones could have been asleep in his role while title character reportedly had only 25 lines of dialogue, just a lazy effort in a franchise I’ve previously loved.

Jeremy Werner’s Best Films of 2016

1. “Swiss Army Man”
Very few movies have the honor or distinction of being wholly unique, but “Swiss Army Man” grabs that honor within minutes of beginning. Surely, it’ll also be the only movie ever that’ll ever explore existentialism through a farting boner corpse.

2. “Zootopia”
After a rough 2016, where some of the ugliest sides of people were brought to the forefront, it’s refreshing to see a sharply written animated movie film highlight tolerance and acceptance. This movie will resonate for years and decades.

3. “Arrival”
A poignant sci-fi flick that simply teaches communication is the main ingredient to understanding one another. But on a deeper level, “Arrival” reveals that we’re not alone in the universe, on a galactic and emotional level.

4. “Manchester by the Sea”
Despite all the emotional gut punches that this movie delivers, it’s final moments offer hope, forgiveness, and that well-deserved light at the end of the tunnel for those who’ve had tragedy and depression consume them.

5. “Hell or High Water”
The neo-western feels trapped in an economic hangover, saying more about it’s themes than any of it’s characters. It’s a bank heist movie with realistic grit and a sour message.

6. “O.J.: Made in America”
Despite being nearly eight hours, this documentary never gets boring in it’s unflinching look at racism in America. The trial of the 20th century has never felt more prevalent as police involved shootings and racial tensions are on the rise in America.

Jeremy Werner’s Worst Films of 2016

1. “Nine Lives”
I’d rather eat an uncleaned box of kitty litter than watch this movie again. Actually, no. I wouldn’t. That’s dangerously unhealthy and potentially life-ending. But I think you get the point. This movie is awful, beyond human words can comprehend.

2. “The Divergent Series: Allegiant”
Back in 2014, I made a journalistic plea to moviegoers to not see “Divergent” so I could be spared anymore suffering. Those cries went unheard and two years later I endured another two-hour cinematic abortion.

3. “Passengers”
Many have noted “Passengers” is Stockholm syndrome in space, but I’d like to point out that “Passengers” is also a sign that victim blaming and rampant sexism is still a concern in the future.

4. “Warcraft”
Somehow “Warcraft” has a 7/10 on IMDB. Somehow this made back twice it’s budget. Somehow the “Ghostbusters” remake was a box office bomb and has a lower IMDB rating. This world sucks. Let’s go to Mars.

5. “Mother’s Day”
“Mother’s Day” is the film equivalent of a hard slap to the face for hard working moms in the world. Moms deserve a movie that loves and supports them, and doesn’t belittle them, like “Mother’s Day” did.

Loey Lockerby’s Best Films of 2016

1. “Hell or High Water”
A near-perfect blend of family drama, heist movie, absurdist comedy & neo-Western.

2. “Moonlight”
Thoughtful, sensitive & beautiful. It tells a long story without dragging it out or pacing it badly. No small feat.

3. “Manchester by the Sea”
I loved every flawed, struggling character. How many tragedies can actually make you feel better by the end?

4. “Arrival”
Tackles serious emotional issues while offering an intelligent sci-fi story & relatable characters. Exactly what this genre does best.

5. “The Witch”
It’s not horror-movie scary, but it’s terrifying in the realistic way it portrays madness & early American religious fanaticism.

Loey says they were spared having to watch anything horrible this past year. You can read Loey’s full reviews here.

TFF: Keegan-Michael Key on “Keanu” and the Upcoming “Don’t Think Twice”

Keegan Michael Key rose to fame on Comedy Central with Jordan Peele on their hit sketch show “Key & Peele”. The television duo rode off into the sunset of that series this past September but they’ve already reteamed on the big screen in the action comedy Keanu which opens today. The film finds the pair fighting drug gangs to recover Peele’s character’s stolen kitten. Keegan was in attendance at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to premiere Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice which he stars in alongside Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs and Chris Gethard. On the red carpet, the hilarious Key was glad to joke about working with the many felines of Keanu as well as his role in the touching improv-centric Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: So how was it working with that cat?

Keegan-Michael Key: The cat was super difficult. The cat—lemme explain to you—this cat, you wouldn’t believe how fast this thing became a prima donna like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna eat cat food anymore. I’m only going to eat caviar. The salmon has to be from Alaska.’ I mean, it’s like what are we doing?? It took like—I can’t believe we got the movie finished to be quite honest with you. [laughing] In real life, it was seven cats. So the thing is it was each cat was given the job of doing a particular thing. So some cats run from point A to point B. Some cats really relax and chill out in your arms and some cats put their paws up and go ‘meeeeow!’ All this kind of stuff. So they were actually not as hard as you would think. Especially for kittens. Like they’re trained. They always say it’s hard enough to ‘herd cats’ well, imagine herding kittens! But we had amazing trainers. Really amazing trainers. And a lot of kibble. [Laughs] Like a lot of cat food and catnip to keep ‘em in line. 

LD: Was it a relief for you coming off “Key & Peele” to get to work with Jordon so soon again?

KMK: Oh yeah! And also it’s easier even though a movie’s longer, it’s easier to play one character. You know, it’s easier because there’d be times you’d be in wardrobe and looking in a mirror but learning lines for a different sketch as you’re like ‘I’m dressed like an Egyptian pharaoh but these are the lines for the gangster!’ You know, and so just to play one character and have there be an arc was really helpful.

In Don’t Think Twice, Key plays a member of an improv troupe who snags a job on an SNL-like comedy show, seriously affecting the dynamic of the whole group.

LD: Did the theme of Mike’s film–that idea of “going above” your peers [in having your own comedy show]–resonate with you? Had you experienced it from either side?

KMK: Yeah, it resonates with me. I think that because you have to remember at the end of the day, do everything in your power to just to make it be about the work. Because the success will trip you up. If you start thinking things like you’re better than somebody it’s of no use to anyone. It’s not helpful, it’s not kind. And so I think that what I’ve been trying to discover or negotiate is just working. Work as hard as you can. If somebody else is at the same level or different level works—does work that inspires you, let that continue to inspire you, even if you’re ‘higher than’…you know? That doesn’t mean anything. That’s not real. Those are just labels. Good art is good art no matter what level it’s being made at.

The cast of Don’t Think Twice

Keanu opens in theaters April 29th (read our review here). The fantastic Don’t Think Twice is scheduled for release this July.