By Emily Balcerak
Published: November 2nd, 2016
On October 12, I took the trip to Bleecker Street’s Lynn Redgrave Theater to witness alt-comedian Chris Gethard’s debut off-Broadway showing of a not-so-appropriately titled, “Career Suicide, a part-memoir-part-comedy special encircling Gethard’s lifelong struggle with depression.
While more than a tear was shed by the collective audience given the subject matter, Gethard’s career, however, remained more than fully intact, and the show has been extended through November 23 due to its overwhelming success.
The venue itself is intimate––small enough to make you feel as if you’re talked to directly on a level playing field. In the 20-or-so minute pre-show, his personal playlist containing contemporary punk musicians with lyrics lacquered in brutal honesty fill-your ears, mirroring the show’s content. With just a backdrop and vintage carpet beneath his feet, Gethard walks out wearing a less-than-corporate-casual ensemble of jeans, a t-shirt and Elvis Costello frames to begin his 75-minute, no-intermission production.
Beginning with self-deprecating quips about his appearance and a discussion about his New Jersey native roots, Gethard then delves into darker waters and sets the tone for the rest of the performance by addressing the first time he ever attempted suicide—by attempting to take advantage of a car accident to make his own fatality appear as just that, an accident.
“I figured if I let the other car hit me, my parents wouldn’t have to be the parents of the kid in town who killed himself,” he said to the audience as the energy in the room dampened.
An unsuspecting viewer may take this dour turn as a mistake or point of no return in a comedic sense. That is, until he initiates the formula he uses for the remaining 70 minutes: finding the comedy in the tragedy. On this occasion, it turns out that the one of the witnesses to the wreck who protected him from the aggression of the other driver was, well, a racist.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m still alive because this guy who protected me is a racist?! Because I’m just another white guy in North Jersey? That’s why I’m still alive? Because I’m not black? Oh my god, this is the worst day of my life,’” professed Gethard while laughing in hindsight.
From most productions on and off Broadway, there can be a concise lesson in the end, whether it be one of loss, heartbreak, triumph, or all of the above. For Gethard, his remains one of more unconventional terms: a dual lesson of being able to talk about mental illness openly, while still finding humor in how the brain works while being depressed. He did so by even introducing a recurring character of the show, Barb, his not-so-professional psychiatrist who, by even the standards of Gethard, should not be in a position to tell anyone about their emotions, let alone be in charge of prescribing medication.
Mental illness, particularly depression, has been a hotbed topic in the media, yet it one that’s rarely accurately depicted. We’re shown women longing out of windows and men unable to leave their beds. Of course this is what it can look like, but “Career Suicide” is one of the many that have been able to capture the full scope of the emotions by the means of a personal narrative while making it universal, and in turn, undeniably successful.
Gethard, who has guest-starred in shows such as NBC’s critically-acclaimed, “Parks and Recreation” and Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” is hardly a newcomer to the world of comedy, let alone one in the dominion of depression.
With more than a decade under his belt at NYC’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade, an institution where comedians learn and polish their stage skills, and his very own show on Fusion, it’s safe to say his migration to an off-Broadway production is just in the realm of natural progression.