Our guy Chris fronting the 2010 Comedy Central sitcom, Big Lake. Young dudes have a fantasy that someday they might get famous, and if they do they’ll have all sorts of money and get tons of pussy. As someone who once flirted with fame, I want to let all of you young men know that it’s completely true.
In 2010, I was the star of a sitcom. It came and went pretty fast. But in the months from when I was cast in the sitcom through when it was done airing, my life did change remarkably.
I had more money than I’d ever had before. It was pretty awesome to not have to stress about eating at restaurants and taking cabs. Also, a weird thing about finally having money is that once you have it, people want to give you shit for free now that you can actually afford it. Food, clothes, shoes, people just want you liking their shit since maybe you’ll like it on a talk show and other people will get to know about it. It gets weird. Once while in the dressing room of my show, I heard a knock on my door and a man entered and silently handed me a box with a brand new HD flip cam inside. He turned and walked away. I have no idea who he was or who sent me the camera.
Everything with women changed as well. I quickly found out that when you are on television, you somehow become more physically attractive. For some reason, when I wasn’t on TV, things like having a giant head and a joint deformity that gives me shitty little claw hands were often deal breakers with women of a certain caliber. But once I was on TV, those problems faded into the background and very attractive women were not only willing to date me, they were the ones asking me out. The only work I had to put in was “have a Facebook account.” When my TV show was in production, dozens of women asked me out on Facebook. Some were shy about it; some were blatant. Some I knew, some were total strangers. But they went for it. And many of these women were admittedly way out of my fucking league.
It was fun to hang out with really pretty ladies, and it was fun to indulge in the rock star fantasy. Even though I had less time then I’d ever had, I spent more time on dates with hot girls than I ever imagined I’d get to when I was a shy, depressed kid growing up from the age of birth until the moment I got a TV show. One memorable lady from this stretch of life was super beautiful and so sexually aggressive that one time we had sex and I immediately had to go to a store to buy cleaning products that would get my own blood out of a carpet. As a child, if you told me that someday a beautiful girl in her early 20s with the elusive dark hair/blue eyes combo, a great body and a sadistic side would have blood sex with me, I never would have believed you.
I got to do things I’d never done before and haven’t done since: I attended a party on a roof that Eva Mendes was at. I got flown first class all over the country to do shit like go to Comic Con. I was in magazines and on radio shows and living the whole life.
So I found out that the stuff I assumed about the rock-star lifestyle—the money and women and free stuff and access to shit you don’t usually have—they’re all real. That fantasy does exist. It can be a reality. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it.
But I don’t have a drive to see it again. I got my taste of it, and then it dried up. I didn’t run off to Los Angeles to try to get on another show and get more of it. I didn’t feel panic that I was being sent back to my regular life of being poor and not having hot girls ask me out via impersonal cybernetic communication. It didn’t feel like the end of Flowers for Algernon, like I was slipping back into a less desirable life and felt cold terror at the prospect. I didn’t clamor to recreate that stretch. Why?
The trappings of that fantasy are attainable. It was easy to get the money and girls and access and stuff. But the presupposition we all have about that fantasy when we’re young is that those things will come to us, and living that way will make us happy.
And it didn’t do that at all.
No aspect of my brief and mild fame actually made me happier. I had no idea what to do with all the money I made. Upon getting my first paycheck, I bought a new pair of pants, two shirts, and for the first time in my life splurged on prescription sunglasses. That’s not exactly making it rain. I wish I was the type of person who popped bottles at clubs and took private jets and shit. The bottom line is I’m not. Having money didn’t make me less of a socially incapable loser; it just made me a socially incapable loser who wasn’t in debt.
And the women… it was fun, don’t get me wrong. Having sex is a healthy and fun thing. Feeling desired is a great feeling. Dating people whom, months prior, you would have viewed as out of your league is exciting. But it got old fast.
Luckily for me, this isn’t even something I’ve had to tell myself to rationalize the failure of my sitcom and the huge career hit that was. I realized that along the way. A few weeks into my flirtations with fame, I was very well aware that fame wasn’t going to transform my life. The lingering feelings that this didn’t feel right began immediately; and God handed me a specific incident that smacked me back to reality and allowed me to see my newfound fame for what it really was—gilded, hollow, and about my circumstances—but never really about me.
Here’s the type of thing that life will hand you just so you are totally clear that you are who you are and no amount of money or sex or photo shoots will change you at your core:
One afternoon, I was scheduled to go on a press blitz. A limo was being sent to my house in Queens. I was told to wear a whole bunch of fancy clothes. It was some glitzy-ass shit, and I was going to be pampered all day. A team of publicists would be shuttling me from location to location. I was going to have my picture taken. I was going to give cute quotes to magazines. I was going to sit with an earpiece in and do a series of quick interviews for various television programs that pretend they are news shows when they deal solely with entertainment. It was going to be a fancy fucking day. I was going to be pampered. It was to be the type of day only famous people get to have.
I got a text from my limo driver saying he was outside my apartment. I checked myself in the mirror. Form-fitting suit jacket I would have made fun of someone else for wearing three months ago? Check. Haircut that looked like any other haircut I’d ever had but cost 90 more dollars? Check. I was ready to roll around in that limo to live as the rock star I had always known in my heart I could be.
I headed to my front door, took a deep breath and turned the knob so I could exit the apartment I shared with my roommate in Queens (and believe me, my rock-star plans included finding my own place in a cooler neighborhood immediately). Only, the knob didn’t turn. In fact, it broke off in my hand.
I tried to reattach it, no dice. I tried to turn the screw that was hanging out of my door; also a no-go. I pushed the door, tried to get a grip and pull it, but there was no getting around the reality that I was trapped within my own house.
I received another text from my limo driver, now asking where I was. I knew that we were on a tight schedule, and this guy was probably being asked why I wasn’t in his car already. I wrote back that I was trying to get downstairs. He wrote back, “Trying?”
So while wearing my fancy clothes, and about to get into my fancy car, while living a life of wealth and women, I was faced with the grim prospect that I had to escape my own shitty apartment in Woodside. I’m not sure if I believe in God or not, but it certainly feels like a moment in my life where a higher power went out of its way to say “DON’T FORGET WHO YOU ARE. YOU ARE A GUY WHO LIVES IN QUEENS. LET THAT DOORKNOB IN YOUR HAND REMIND YOU OF THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LIFE YOU LEAD.”
After one last desperate attempt to get the knob back on the door, I ran to my room and opened the window. I crawled onto my fire escape, hoping the dirt and rust on it wasn’t going to stain my fancy-boy clothes. I pulled the cord to drop the ladder down and climbed.
There was a four-foot drop at the bottom of my climb. Luckily, I knew that I wasn’t going to hurt myself, because directly beneath my fire escape was the area that my entire building threw their garbage into. A pile of garbage about three bags thick was waiting to gently catch me once I let go.
I had no other option, so I dropped legs first into the garbage of nine apartments. I waded out of it into the alley alongside my building. I stopped and brushed off the flecks of food matter that had stuck to my shoes and the lower half of my pants.
I climbed into the back seat of the limo and the driver immediately looked into his rear view mirror and made a face—while I could flick away the garbage itself, I could only wait for the smell to dissipate on its own.
I spent a day doing interviews talking about being on a television show with a series of interviewers who were playing their part in the weird fantasy life that is the entertainment industry. The whole day, as I spoke about the work and the life and the surprise of being at the center of a TV show, I never stopped hearing my own thoughts rattling around the back of my own brain: A few hours ago you were thigh deep in garbage. Don’t forget who you are.
These days I host a public-access television show and do standup and write essays and really enjoy my life. My previous success exposed how misguided my priorities and expectations had been. It exposed a part of myself I wound up really not liking. These days, I have no idea if success awaits me in the future. I work hard and believe in the work I do, but I don’t bank on it. But I don’t fear that success will bring out the same unlikable sides of me, because I know that it won’t change me. Not because I don’t want it to, or because I’m punk rock and want to avoid it. I just know from previous experience that success won’t change me because it can’t change me. It can change the size of the house I live in. It can change the type of car I drive. It can increase the amount of Facebook solicitations I receive and the amount of free technology handed to me by mysterious strangers. But it can’t change the fact that I dwell in the garbage pile. From my earliest days in New Jersey to now, I’m most comfortable with a broken doorknob in my hand while standing knee-deep in a big pile of other peoples’ trash. That’s who I am and who I’ve always been. Like it or not, it’s who I’ll always be, so I might as well like it. @ChrisGethard
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