Wednesday, June 08, 2016
CHRIS GETHARD, BRETT DAVIS, AND THE ART OF COMMITTING TO THE JOKE
We've been preaching the gospel of The Chris Gethard Show for a while on Shuffle Function. What started as a primitive gathering of comedian friends on New York Public Access has evolved into a weekly program on Fusion. Its improv based format is this weird mix of crazed boundary free humor and genuinely heartfelt and supportive connections with the audience. One gets the impression that the desire to reach just one person, and let them know it's going to be okay, is just as important as having a great time while flipping the bird to anything resembling conventional television. It's just as important to belong as it is to be an outsider.
The show itself was something of an outsider on the very channel it broadcast from. MNN seems to be a pretty standard mix of educational programming mixed with eccentric fringy elements, and you would think that a show as crazy as The Chris Gethard Show would fit right in. One of the problems between TCGS and MNN is that the show had gotten a national following, and with that fame came jealousy. People on the station began to resent the freewheeling kind of show it was, and they threw around accusations of preferential treatment and unprofessional behavior.
To his credit, Chris Gethard always wanted to maintain an open dialogue with MNN and the elements in the station that had issues with him. It was a frequent topic on TCGS, and he wanted to to engage the people with issues so he could defend himself and try to clear the air. It's a healthier way to deal with personal adversaries than many people might handle it, and on the night of October 23rd, 2014 he took it one step further by inviting one of his opponents to discuss it on the show.
If you're unfamiliar with The Chris Gethard Show, you really should watch the entire episode to understand exactly why things happened the way they did. If you already watch the show, then just skip ahead to the 40:40 point to see the confrontation. A gentleman that goes by the name of Smith had been watching the show from the back of the studio, and staring Chris down. Gethard then invited him to the set for an open dialogue to find out why Smith had a problem with the show, and together they talked about the issues that people at MNN had with TCGS. The conversation was tense, and by the end of it things spun out of control. Smith felt provoked and ended up throwing water on an audience member, and then the show turned into chaos.
The events of that episode were an example of just how spontaneous things can get on The Chris Gethard show. Flash forward to a month later when folks tune into TCGS and suddenly find a new show called Truth or Myth with Smith. As the show unfolds it appears that the anti-Gethard folks at MNN have won the battle and Smith has taken over Chris' timeslot. What takes place over the next hour is classic public access that slowly begins to deteriorate, and by the end of it we see Gethard fans charging the studio to demand the return of their favorite show. Nothing, however, could prepare viewers for just how insane and terrifying the conclusion of the show would be.
As unexpected as the end of Truth or Myth was, it was even more unexpected when it revealed that the two shows were part of an elaborate stunt. Smith is actually a comedian named Brett Davis, and he worked together with Gethard to create a situation that built on the existing reputation that TCGS had within MNN. "What you saw on last night's show is what happens when one of the most committed comedians I've ever seen plays it as real as possible," said Gethard in a blog post he wrote about the situation, and it was played very convincingly. Indeed, it appeared that many of the Gethard Show cast were unaware of what was going on.
Davis fully committed to the character and the situation, and it resulted in something that felt very real. So real, in fact, that many fans of the show felt like they had been deceived and lied to by a show that they had invested in on a personal level. Gethard explained in his blog post that he never meant to deceive folks, and that part of the intensity of the appearance was because most of the characters they have on their show are very dumb, like Peg Leg Asaurus, a that limps around on with a horn on his head. That's the ENTIRE character. TCGS listeners weren't ready or expecting such a committed and realistic performance on the show.
In 2015 The Chris Gethard Show graduated from Public Access and moved to cable network Fusion. As a Gethard fan, I followed him to his new TV home, and the transition was pretty seamless. Season One on Fusion was made up of half hour episodes, but Season Two (which just finished) saw the show doing hour long episodes. The shows is MAYBE a little bigger, and BARELY more professional, but it retains all the heartfelt absurdity of the Public Access show.
It had never occurred to me to look into what might happen to the TCGS time slot once they moved on, because it was never about the Public Access channel for me. I only knew Gethard through YouTube, so the changing MNN schedule was irrelevant. When I was doing research for this blog post I looked into it a little bit, and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered what had replaced TCGS.
The new show is called The Special without Brett Davis, and it stars Brett Davis, aka Smith.
The Special without Brett Davis is a new and wonderful beast, and in many ways it's completely different than The Chris Gethard Show. At the very least it's as insane as TCGS, but to me it looks like it's WAY more insane. It's also appears to be entirely character driven, and the overall feel is more ambitious and developed. For example, the seventh episode (which aired on April Fools Day) is called "The Chris Gethard Show", and it's a very faithful recreation of the original TCGS, right down to having Gethard regular "Mimi on the Hoops" in the background and The Best Show's Tom Scharpling sitting around staring at his phone (something he has done on a few episodes of TCGS).
The biggest difference, as you will see, is that the real Chris Gethard Show never suddenly turned murderous. At one point Chris (played with uncanny accuracy by Brett Davis) takes a call from someone called The Great Darkness who claims "the saddest you will ever be is in twenty minutes". Sure enough, twenty minutes later The Great Darkness, which turns out to be a terrorist cult, shows up and begins murdering people in the studio. The whole things is played completely straight, and I would have to imagine that people watching the show would think it was actually happening. It's a pretty terrifying turn for an otherwise goofy program. Half the time the humor comes from the fact that there's absolutely NOTHING funny happening.
It also makes total sense that The Great Darkness returned a few episodes later.
This is dark and amazing stuff, and it's played with total sincerity. I've only just begun watching The Special without Brett Davis, and I'm really impressed. The devotion to the characters and scenarios seems to have an Andy Kaufman-esque quality to it, and it's completely mesmerizing. Check out this episode where Davis plays Count Dracula. It's pretty surreal.
I've only just started discovering The Special without Brett Davis, but this is a show that I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time with. It's the perfect blend of weird and funny and questionably funny.