Comedian Chris Gethard Talks Addiction, Depression In Off-Broadway Play

By Dorri Olds 10/28/16

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide is billed as “a new comedy about suicide, depression, alcoholism and all the other funniest parts of life.”

Comedian Chris Gethard Talks Addiction, Depression In Off-Broadway Play
Photo via The Chris Gethard Show/YouTube

Stand-up comedian Chris Gethard has his own series, The Chris Gethard Show, on Fusion. He’s appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Conan and runs an Earwolf podcast, Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People. This October, he smoothly transitioned into theatrical success with a show unlike any you’ve seen before.

Presented by Judd Apatow, Career Suicide is more than punchlines. In 70 minutes, Gethard lays bare the mental illness, addictions, and suicidal ideation that have tormented him since he was a child.

In a recent broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air, Gethard told host Terry Gross that he’s thankful that he found the right medication. "The whole romanticized ‘sad clown’ thing, we gotta get rid of that. That has to go!" said Gethard. "That’s just getting sick people to voluntarily stay sicker and sadder than they have to be."

The comic speaks from experience. It took him a long time to find the right psychiatric prescription. Gethard wrote an article for Vice in 2013, “Why I Love My Meds,” about the pluses and minuses of various drugs that were prescribed to him for treating mental illness. 

“Adderall is not for me,” he wrote. “It’s pretty clear that I didn’t have OCD/ADD imbalances and was basically just turning into a meth head.”

On NPR, he said, “My career did not start until I was medicated. I can track the years I was off medication things dipped, and the years I went back on medication is when things started to get good for me again career-wise. It is 100%, in my case, undeniable that being medicated helped my creativity.”

Gethard explained that by taking his prescribed meds, his ideas don’t come from mania anymore. “I very classically would go into manic phases,” said Gethard, “which were as dangerous, if not more so, than the depressed phases, and I think I’d come up with the best ideas I ever had and then the next day I’d look at them and be like, ‘This is nonsense,’ because it was born out of a manic episode. What a waste of time.”

On Tumblr, Gethard responds to an anonymous despondent letter he received. The question is about suicide. He generously stopped everything he was doing to be there for this stranger. Then, as he does in his show, he openly talks about nearly killing himself at the age of 21. “I crashed a car and immediately realized that I at least partially allowed it to happen in the hopes that I would die.”

Gethard also confided that he brought a razor to school during his freshman year of high school when he was being bullied regularly. He had turned to teachers for help but was ignored. Gethard offers sensitivity followed by humor, hoping to help this anonymous stranger feel less alone. 

“I was 14,” wrote Gethard, “and didn’t really get how anything worked in life and the razor I bought was a Bic single use disposable face razor. I’m glad I didn’t take the plunge, because it would have taken about half an hour to hack through my wrist with that thing.”

You can see Gethard’s show at the Lynn Redgrave Theater in Manhattan.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.