Comedian and podcaster Chris Gethard definitely knows Jersey.
The West Orange native has always been proud of his New Jersey roots, including both the good and the challenging aspects of living here. For every funny-as-hell story about visiting Medieval Times or trying to figure out what the heck is going on with Bayonne, as covered on his 2019 album Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese, there is an equally compelling and heartbreaking tale, as in his brilliant essay New Jersey from his ongoing series of writings on his travels across the US. Gethard has a deep understanding of the human condition as well as the genuineness of wanting to connect with people in a compelling way. Listening to him is like hanging out with your best friend. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and then you’ll laugh again. I think he is one of the most relatable comics working today.
It is that relatability which makes his long running and much beloved podcast Beautiful/Anonymous so addictive. In each episode Gethard talks to one anonymous caller for an hour about anything at all and he cannot hang up. Confessions, job woes, relationship secrets, dealing with medical issues or really anything at all have been featured. This past year especially the podcast has been a gathering place to connect as many of us were on lockdown and social injustices were brought to the forefront. Recent shows have featured a Chinese American woman discussing violence against Asians in the US and a Black teacher in Minneapolis talking about that city since the murder of George Floyd. The anonymity is one of the reasons that people open up on the podcast but I have a feeling many would have no issue sharing their identities with Gethard. He could have had a remarkable career as a psychologist.
In January, Gethard launched a new podcast which is near and dear to my heart as it is about his and my favorite place: New Jersey! New Jersey Is The World takes a mostly loving look at things around the Garden State that affects all us residents and will have you both laughing and nodding in agreement throughout each episode. Or maybe you’ll end up throwing your phone into the Passaic River in anger. The people, the attractions, the highways, the celebrities, the pollution and, of course, the food are all topics on the show’s radar.
He will bring all his New Jersey energy and grit to two sold out performances at the House of Independents in Asbury Park later this month.
Gethard is keeping busy as he also has a new special coming out next month from Comedy Dynamics. Chris Gethard: Half My Life is a chronicle of his performances at 10 unique venues in the pre-pandemic 2019 as well as his time visiting some weird cities between the shows. Think of it as a kind of a real-life This Is Spinal Tap but it’s all true. Comedy shows at a pancake houses and an alligator attraction? Why not? The title references his 20 years on the comedy scene. “I’m very excited to work with Comedy Dynamics in bringing Half My Life to the world. Not only do I get to share some of my idiotic stories, I get to show the viewers some of the grimy venues that support underground comedy.” Gethard adds, “Plus I almost get killed and eaten at the end. I’m pretty sure this is the only comedy special in history that can claim that.”
I was sold as soon as I heard NJ band, and YDKJ favorite, Spowder playing in the trailer. Directed by Kate Sweeney, Half My Life will be released June 1st on your favorite streaming platforms.
We asked him some New Jersey themed questions about life, Taylor ham, and winning boardwalk games.
What did you miss most about New Jersey while you were living in New York City?
Luckily I always kept a car and spent a significant amount of time hanging back in Jersey, and my car still had Jersey plates on it for the first eight or nine years I was living in New York. So if I’m getting specific, I think it’s just the daily being in touch with green things. People like to say Jersey is a toxic wasteland but you’re usually not more than ten minutes away from something that’s green. Like a tree or a field. Those can be shockingly few and far between in New York.
How has the response been for New Jersey Is The World from out-of-staters?
Surprisingly good! I actually just moments ago got a voicemail from someone in Wellington, New Zealand who says he’s never been to New Jersey but now wants to come here. I’m doing my part for Jersey’s tourism economy and Phil Murphy should give me a cabinet position or something.
What is something about West Orange that no one really knows about?
That it’s sort of three or four towns all mashed together. There’s up the hill and down the hill. Those are pretty different demographically and economically. Us Down the Hill people have a lot of angry pride in being from Down the Hill.
People really might not know that part of this weird division is because there’s a secret town – Llewellyn Park – that’s in the middle of the town. Thomas Edison used to live there. Whoopi Goldberg does now. And you aren’t allowed to drive through it or enter it and they chase you out if you sneak in.
So the whole town’s kind of like this weird donut, where there’s a secret town we can’t enter as the donut hole. It’s a big part of what makes the place feel so nuts sometimes.
What is the weirdest thing you covered while working for Weird NJ?
This question is almost impossible to answer. From getting voicemails from people claiming to know the identities of murderers behind unsolved crimes to getting cornered and threatened by an enraged Deliverance-esque monster man near the Willowbrook Mall to being held at gunpoint, I saw a lot at that job. A lot. It was the absolute best.
Does one have to be a bit of an asshole to survive living in New Jersey?
I don’t know that you have to be an asshole, but you’ve at least got to have a dormant asshole inside you ready to erupt.
How many slices of Taylor Ham is the perfect amount on a THEC sandwich?
I don’t know if it’s a numerical number of slices so much as it’s the ratio between the other ingredients. Good bread is the key. You start there. Then I want the dominant flavor to be Taylor Ham, and the cheese. I argue that the egg is kind of the binding and the thing that’s easiest to mess up.
How has being a native of New Jersey helped you navigate the entertainment business?
In some ways, it’s been good! I don’t have much time to sit around and wait for others, so I’ve always been a self-starter. That’s very Jersey. If you’re taking too long, I’ll find the back door. I’ll just go do it myself. Get out of my way.
It can also be limiting – I don’t really have much stomach for fakeness and there’s an endless amount of that in entertainment. My Jersey background also creates a bit of inherent distrust in fancy people, so I’ve never one time been comfortable at industry events in my decades of doing this. So sometimes that holds me back. I don’t like to play the games and I’m not good at pretending otherwise. Very Jersey.
Why is there no North Orange?
For the same reason there’s no South Caldwell.
If you could only order one type of bagel for the rest of your life what would it be?
If you’re really tying my hands like that I’ll be boring and say plain bagel with cream cheese. Let’s keep it simple and classic.
If Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi were at the boardwalk and played the clown water gun balloon game who would win and what stuffed animal would they pick?
Bruce Springsteen would defeat Bon Jovi and would then select a stuffed Bon Jovi as his prize to extend a weird power flex.
5 words to describe New Jersey?
Best people ever, fuck you.
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