Thursday, February 14, 2008

INTERVIEW: Gregg Gethard, Part II

Photo Credit: Pat Kelly

We continue our conversation with Gregg Gethard, host of the local comedy show Bedtime Stories. Earlier in the week we discussed next month’s Bedtime Stories event, which is a tribute to ‘The Wire’, the greatest artistic achievement in the history of the human race. Now, we discuss how he started his weekly show, growing up, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and comedy.

How did you start Bedtime Stories?

Gregg Gethard: Bedtime Stories started like this. My brother, Chris, he’s a professional comic, he lives up in New York and he does all UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] stuff. And when I was in high school and college, it was always in the back of my mind to do comedy, to try to be a comedian. And in fact, this is a whole episode of Bedtime Stories waiting to unfold: I was a contestant on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in the 8th grade and they ask you the question of what you want to be when you grow up and I said a comedian or a baseball manager and then I did the humpty dance. True story. It was always in my mind and I loved Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall, all the touchstones that everyone grew up with. And after college I got a real job as a reporter and that meant a lot of working at night. So I couldn’t do comedy and I really got invested in “I want to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, serious journalists.” And I didn’t know anyone that did comedy, I didn’t know how to get involved. My brother, that’s all he wanted to do, he jumped right in and he took off with it and he’s able to make a living doing it. He teaches improv, he does commercial work, he’s been on a bunch of different television shows. And he hosts a monthly night at UCB called 'Nights of Our Lives.' And for the past couple of years when I’ve been in grad school, I paid for grad school by working full-time at La Salle, this really boring office job, I was a receptionist. So I got paid to write full-time. So I started a blog and just collected stories of the different adventures I’ve gone on in my life. And my brother, about a year and a half ago, he asked me to come to his themed storytelling night, everybody tells a story about a theme that was the most embarrassing night of your life. And I had plenty of material to work with because pretty much every night of my life is the most embarrassing night of my life. And just something clicked when I did it. It was my first time doing comedy and I was so nervous and scared, but it was awesome.

So people were laughing?

GG: People were laughing, people were really into it. I got invited back to their best of year-end show and did something there. It was one of the all-time coolest things that ever happened in my life and I just got the bug: “I’m going to come down to Philly and do this stuff.” But, there really wasn’t anything like that down here, so I did an open-mic night at Bar Noir, but it was just stand-ups and it was just a total disaster and I can’t do stand-up, I’ve tried it. If you’re a good stand-up it means you’re the funniest person on earth because it’s the hardest thing to do. I’m not comfortable doing that. So I looked to start doing stuff here, and I started communicating with Don Montrey who does Die, Actor, Die through the Improv Resource Center message board and I had seen a few improv shows in town and I knew the guys from Rare Bird Show. And seemingly if you do improve in America, you know my brother. But I got in touch with Don, and he let me do a Die, Actor, Die, and I told a story there and people were drunk enough to really like the story, and I did another thing here through Greg Maughan [of the Philadelphia Improv Theatre] and then I approached him with an idea for a show, and it would be just like ‘Nights of Our Lives’ except here and I’ll come up with themes. And he said “yeah, go for it.” And the first theme was poop and that’s how it got started. I was pretty much looking for a way for me to do my type of thing. It sounds like a vanity project, I don’t know what other way to do it. I guess I’m vain enough that I think I can tell stories and people will pay me to go see it. I probably sound like a major toolbag.

I’ve only been to the last few and the first one I went to had ‘sports’ as a theme and you did three stories, but now you have so many people coming that you can’t do that much.

GG: Well what happened was that for the very first show, we were going to do a run-through just to get a format and to make it work and we did it and I decided to put stuff up on Craigslist and send stuff to the alt-weeklies and it got write-ups and we got 30 people there just because it was poop, so the first one was just this magical night. But then what happened was it quickly came back down-to-earth and the next theme was “parties” and the only people that came were me, the people in the Sixth Borough, and my wife, and my friends and Don Montrey and that’s it. And it was like that for a while and at the time it was just first-person stories and I had wanted from the beginning to have people do more things, but not really. And then it just wasn’t going to go anywhere with the same five or six people telling the same stories in front of my wife. So I tried to step it up a level, I invited Secret Pants and I didn’t even know those guys, so I just emailed them and then the same thing with Meg & Rob, and Animosity Pierre and just the people that do it every month now. So the past five or six months went from being a total dead on arrival, flat line show, not that the materials wasn’t good, but no one was coming out. And then out of nowhere, it was like the Miracle at 4th and Bainbridge, all of a sudden, you come to a show, and Kent comes to a show, and I’m not someone that has a lot of success with projects in my life. Usually what I plan and do turns out to be a big disaster. Like I have a habit of being fired from jobs, I have a habit of being dumped by girlfriends and just messing up major years of my life.

When you and your brother were growing up, were you always doing funny stuff? Who was the funny one?

GG: Me. [Laughs] No, I’m older so I’m always going to say that. Me and my brother are super close, we have a super tight Irish Catholic family. We’d probably say our favorite times growing up are that we have a really funny family and it’s just people sitting around, my mom, my aunts, sitting around telling stories about people they grew up with. And that kind of Irish Catholic form of storytelling really had a big dent on us. And then we grew up in a big Irish Catholic neighborhood and there’s a huge emphasis on sports and we were never jocks and we grew up with all jocks. So the one thing that was our defense mechanism from feeling alienated and ostracized was to be funny. It was really like being funny was the only way for us to feel like we could relate to other people and get them to like us. And that’s kind of true of a lot of comedians, so I don’t think I sound too pathetic with that.

Did you guys get a reputation for being funny?

GG: Yeah, we definitely did. I definitely had a reputation for not so much funny, but definitely weird. Which is true. But my friends thought I was funny and I did a lot of just craving attention crap to be funny. And I got a reputation for that. And then the kids in high school who were just douche bags, they just thought I was annoying and not funny, but the kids who were my friends and were cool, they definitely thought I was funny. My brother, he was freshman when I was a senior in high school and he always said it was hard because I had a rep of being really witty and we took a lot of the same classes with the same teaches, so whatever teacher I pissed off, they held a grudge against him. But he was always more polished than I was, because he was always the musical lead of the play and he was the 10th in his class and the editor of the school paper and I was a total screw-up and I failed classes and I was an idiot, but yeah, that was how it was.

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