'The Chris Gethard Show': Teetering between chaos and control
March 16, 2018
There is absolutely nothing on late-night television like “The Chris Gethard Show” on truTV. Technically, it’s a talk show, but believe us when we say it’s more of an off-the-rails, partially improvised, limit-pushing experiment – and it’s all aired live!
We sat down with Christine Walters, Executive Producer— Original Programming & Development, truTV, to talk about what it takes to wrangle all the moving parts of such a unique show, and how her background in improv helps her deal with the constant surprises that pop up with each episode. We’re tired just thinking about it.
Turner: Hi Christine, thanks so much for speaking with us. So, what is your role with “The Chris Gethard Show,” and how long have you been a part of it?
Christine Walters: I'm an executive producer for the network, and I’m part of the development team that brought the show to truTV. I've been a part of it since the “wooing stage,” wooing Chris to bring his show to us, and the development of the show into its current incarnation as a live, one-hour truTV show.
T: You have quite the interesting background – we hear you’re an improv comedian and worked at Sesame Street (so jealous)! Has that unique background helped you when it comes to making decisions about how to produce this show?
CW: My background in improv comedy intersects with Chris Gethard's, and I've known Chris and his sidekick, Shannon O'Neill, for over 15 years, through the very early days at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. I think having that similar comedy training is really helpful in terms of speaking the same language with them.
Also, improv is all about trust, and I think there is a certain level of trust on both sides, and a real belief that authentic true comedy moments always top contrivance or fabrication. I think that's one of the things that is really important to the show, and important to us at truTV, to maintain that integrity and authenticity that Chris brings to his comedy. He's into taking big chances, whether or not he succeeds or fails at them. He and his staff are firm believers in “go big, or go home,” and truTV has definitely embraced that ethos.
T: The new season of “The Chris Gethard Show” premieres March 20. It’s definitely not like any other show out there; so for the uninitiated, what the heck’s going on here?
CW: I would say in its most basic terms “The Chris Gethard Show” is a live, fan interactive comedy talk show. The host is always walking a tightrope between control and chaos, so it's a lot different than other late-night fare. There's no desk. He doesn't wear a suit. There isn't a monologue. Chris built the show grassroots and being an underdog type of guy, he created a show that reflects that and really suits his comedic voice.
T: What’s it like planning a show where things can change into something totally different or go off the rails at any moment?
CW: It’s a spontaneous experiment, and it’s really exciting to see how a particular caller, character bit or guest’s choices can affect the way an episode unfolds. There isn't a ton of scripting you can do, but there's a loose road map for each episode. Sometimes we have destinations we'd like to get to, but most of the episodes are really about the journey and the stories we encounter along the way.
T: Chris Gethard has had quite the journey to get to this point, and he has a funny, self-deprecating sense of humor to show for it. What’s it like to work with him?
CW: It's always great to work with comedians who know themselves, who have honed their own unique voice the way that Chris has. The Gethard you see on-air is the same Gethard that we all know and love off-air. He’s whip smart, but I think the thing that sets him apart from other late-night hosts is the heart that he brings to the show. He makes himself vulnerable in a way that really connects with his fans and his audience on a deep level.
T: Were there any instances when things got a little too wild for air?
CW: There were some things pitched that we definitely could not do. Being a live show, it adds to that high-wire act element, so we're kind of on the edge of our seats for the whole hour. We have a ten-second delay, and we've used it a handful – maybe two handfuls – of times. Shannon O'Neill, who is Chris' sidekick, definitely keeps it interesting for our Standards and Practices department.
T: So, what do y’all have in store for us in the new season?
CW: We have a great lineup of guests locked in for the first half of the season, and I can tell you that Abbi Jacobson from “Broad City” will be our first guest for the premiere on the 20th. And I think we have content that could not exist or be done on any other show, which ups the level of engagement with fans of the show. So, I'll just say you'll have to tune in to see it.
Learn more about “The Chris Gethard Show” by visiting the show’s website.