Speaking about one’s depression or mental illness has always felt a little taboo or inappropriate. There is an uneasy shift in the mood of the conversation, which can turn towards pity, apprehension or flat-out judgment. Luckily, as the cultural climate has shifted, people are able to discuss their experiences more openly, and that is exactly what Chris Gethard does in “Career Suicide.”
For 90 minutes, Gethard ties together a few narrative strands: his relationships with his therapists (most notably the eccentric yet lovable Barb), his career in comedy from his start at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade to present and personal struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. The stories are anything but disparate — his career is directly influenced by his mental illness, specifically seen when he broke down during a show after a sharp jab from a fellow comedian. The connection between his profession and his depression keep the story grounded in warmth. Gethard never treads the line and moves to a cold, grim or cynical place. It’s an impressive feat, considering that the whole show is about his decade-long struggle for sanity and battle against suicidal thoughts.
His strengths are most pronounced in the sadder, more violent scenes, like when he recounts the time he allowed himself to be hit by a truck merging back into his lane. His car is shot violently across the road, leaps up onto a lawn, and as Gethard is getting his bearings, all he can notice are the neighborhood women inspecting his car who sound exactly like Carmela Soprano. When the truck driver comes to the scene, not to help Gethard but to fight him, the driver is led away by a neighbor who confesses to Gethard, “I wasn’t going to let a n***** beat up a white kid.” The remark takes Gethard completely out of the wake of his suicide attempt. Even in the scenes where Gethard is at his lowest, he is able to acknowledge the absurd, the apropos and even the inappropriate.
“Career Suicide” is a departure from some of Gethard’s other projects, like “The Chris Gethard Show,” which is more variety-based. However, in a conference-call interview, Gethard revealed that both shows attempt to garner honest reactions and make real connections with the audience. “Career Suicide” succeeds here at being relatable without pandering or being heavy-handed. Even on nights when early performances bombed, Gethard said that a handful of members from the audience would come up and mention that they felt a connection to the material and appreciated the honesty.
Gethard also said that “all the best jokes are universal,” meaning that comedy should appeal to many audiences and ages and speak to some core truth about the human experience. He felt a real responsibility to get “[‘Career Suicide’] right, to not exploit [his] pain for comedy.” On these grounds, “Career Suicide” feels like a gentle story of a lifetime of pain, reformatted to highlight the occasional ludicrous moments and to fully express himself. The act of letting go is cathartic for both Gethard and the audience. The show concludes with an appreciation of Gethard’s progress and character — especially his love for The Smiths. Gethard owns a strong Morrissey impression that he brings out a few times, the lyrics all relating to his journey. When asked what songs remind him of this moment in his career, with the success of his special, he mentioned the lyrics “I would go out tonight / but I haven’t got a stitch to wear” from the The Smiths’ “This Charming Man.” He went on to explain that he feels he never has appropriate clothes for press and events. Invest in a wardrobe, Chris, because “Career Suicide” appeals to the tender, sad side in all of us.