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Depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and graphic descriptions of the horrific side effects of psychotropic medications are not normally the stuff of which comedy shows are made. But that hasn’t deterred actor-comedian Chris Gethard from dealing with these and other similarly dark topics in his new one-man show presented by Judd Apatow. Fortunately for both him and us, he does it so entertainingly that the show’s title, Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, is unlikely to prove prophetic.
You may be familiar with the bespectacled, wiry performer from his roles in Comedy Central’s Broad City and the Mike Birbiglia film Don’t Think Twice. Or maybe you’ve seen his long-running talk show that graduated from public access to the cable network Fusion. But if you don’t already know him, you certainly will by the end of this 70-minute confessional piece in which Gethard lays bare the mental illness and addiction issues that have plagued him most of his life.
That he manages to be simultaneously funny and moving while doing so is the key to the success of the show, sensitively directed by Kimberly Senior (Disgraced). You’ll most likely feel empathy — not only for the emotionally vulnerable performer, but also for his therapist of nine years, Barb, who becomes the subject of an affectionate running gag. One of the highlights is Gethard’s story about a suicide attempt at age 21 in which he deliberately caused a crash with a truck while driving in his home state of New Jersey. He enlivens the disquieting tale with mordant humor by describing the “chorus of Carmelo Sopranos” who observed the aftermath, and analyzing the stigma attached to suicide, which he labels as a “branding problem.”
“My childhood may as well just have been directed by David Lynch,” Gethard says, pointing to such incidents as when his older brother was beaten up by a dwarf. He punctuates his subsequent account of his personal and professional travails by frequently quoting the lyrics of his favorite band, The Smiths (naturally). And he recounts his misadventures while under the influence of alcohol — he found himself standing on a car wearing a Batman mask, which surprised him since he’s strictly a Marvel comics fan — and ecstasy, of which he took a massive overdose after performing at Bonnaroo.
Gethard maintains that, much like suicide, anti-depressants get a bad rap.
“I am significantly funnier on medication,” he declares, before candidly discussing the side effects of the elaborate “chemical cocktails” he’s taken over the years. These include making his ejaculate watery and causing “particularly beefy hemorrhoids,” as his doctor described them. He also graciously acknowledges that he may be providing more detail than many in the audience wish to hear.
Gethard’s mild-mannered, deadpan delivery, not to mention his subject matter and general worldview, recalls Woody Allen. But while much of Allen’s persona is an act, you get the feeling that, with this performer, what you see is what you get. His show ends on a hopeful, if perpetually wary note. Whatever success he achieves, his inner struggles will probably continue. And you’ll find yourself wishing him well.
Venue: Lynn Redgrave Theater, New York
Performer-writer: Chris Gethard
Director: Kimberly Senior
Producers: Mike Lavoie, Carlee Briglia
Co-producers: David De Almo, Rebecca Crigler
Set designer: Brandan Boston
Lighting designers: Jen Schriever, Trevor Dewey
Sound designer: Ryan Rumery
Presented by Judd Apatow, Mike Berkowitz, Brian Stern
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