Since election season is upon us, it seems appropriate to note that The Chris Gethard Show bears a lot of similarities to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It’s scrappy, it’s anti-establishment, it’s non-traditional. It caters to the people, and you’re fully rooting for it to succeed (despite having the slightest hint doubt deep down in your heart that it might not last forever).
The show has defied all odds to get where it is. After finding a niche but rabid audience on public access television, the non-scripted, anything-goes variety program got a shot at the big time when Comedy Central ordered it for a pilot in 2013. Ultimately, the network passed on it—a blessing in disguise for Gethard and crew given that TCGS is now in its second season on Fusion and seems to be getting weirder and outdoing itself with each episode.
Last week, the Gethard campaign got a big celeb endorsement during the show’s taping of the second episode of its new season. Much like Danny DeVito or that bird who swooped in out of nowhere to give Bernie the seal of approval, Gethard was graced by the presence of none other than Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. Diddy walked triumphantly through the Diddy Door, a permanent entrance to the show’s set designated for him—and only him—before joining the studio audience on the floor and improvising with the best of them.
We talked to Gethard about his long history with the rapper, how spontaneous the appearance actually was, and why Diddy is the greatest improv actor he’s worked with. Watch an exclusive clip of the appearance below. The full episode airs tonight on Fusion.
Noisey: Congrats on the Diddy appearance. That was something you were trying to make happen for a long time, yeah?
Chris Gethard: Yeah, he did the show when it was at the UCB Theater years ago, like, January 2011. We clicked so hard. It was really kind of a crazy thing. We were like, wow, this really works, in some very inexplicable way. His vibe and my vibe cross over really nicely.
I just seemed extremely comfortable with him as a guy, he seems very warm, well-intentioned. He lives a totally different lifestyle than I do, but I could feel that his whole vibe was about “let’s make this crowd feel good, let’s give these people an experience.” And I really think that is something I really seek, too. If you look at a lot of the best Gethard episodes, they’re all about trying to make people feel good and feel a part of something. There’s just crossover there, so we’re extraordinarily different people but the way we approach crowds is oddly similar, at least in the comedic context. I’ll also say, with no hyperbole, I’ve been on stage with a lot of extremely funny people. Being around for 15 years in New York, I’ve done standup shows with some incredible people and I’ve done improv with everybody and he’s legitimately one of the best improvisers I’ve ever been around. He’s a very, very charismatic, smart guy who makes bold choices and owns them. Those are all qualities of a fantastic improviser. He has great instincts on how to play to a crowd, and I don’t say that lightly. He really does.
How did you extend the invitation to him?
It’s been floating out there since we got the Fusion deal. Last year, when we got the show on a cable network, we really started to call in favors and go for heavyhitters. Will Ferrell was nice enough to come do the show, and Seth Meyers. A lot of the favors I’m able to call in are people in the comedy community. And oddly, another favor I was able to call in was Diddy. But all last year, they were like, “He’d love to do it again, but he can’t find the time.” Luckily, this one came together, and when you watch the episode, you’ll see it came together in a very strange way.
I heard that by the time you were ready to start the show you still didn’t know if he was going to come on.
Well, here’s the thing. You’ll have to watch the episode, because we did the taping and we had a lot of people saying, “Was that real?” People were wondering how real it was and how much was a stunt. Really, the best I can say is, you’ll watch it and think there are elements that clearly aren’t real, but I promise you there are also aspects of it that are far more real than I can explain. You’ll watch it and say, “This is like an Andy Kaufman thing, right?” And I’m willing to cop to the fact that yes, there are elements of that that are not real. But it was all borne out of complete necessity and it’s more real than you’re assuming. I know that’s a confusing answer. When you’re dealing with someone like Diddy, you work on Diddy’s timeline and you work on Diddy’s schedule. He really is a force of nature and has a lot of gravity around him. So you have to orbit around him. It’s weird, I don’t want to reveal how much was and wasn’t real.
It loses the magic a bit.
Yeah, and there’s a part of me that thinks, “Am I just grabbing attention that way?” But there’s also part of me that doesn’t want it to be easy. So if you’re cynical and want to think it was a total setup, I want to let you decide that. And if you’re a real optimist, and believe that it’s 100 percent as it comes off, I want you to believe that. It really led somewhere in the middle and I will let people decipher it. There are elements that, honestly, even I’m not sure how they went down, the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Can you explain the Diddy Door?
Yeah. That was born last year. If you watch any episode last year, you’ll see that we have the Diddy Door. That’s because we reached out to his people and said, “Let’s have Diddy back on the show.” And they said, “Well, as you know from past dealings, he is extremely hard to pin down.” So we said, “He’s a legacy and part of the show. What can we do to honor that and make him feel that he’s welcome back at any time? If we built a door that only Diddy could use, do you think he would enjoy that?” And they said, “Yeah, we think he’d enjoy that very much.” So it’s totally legit that for the past two years, either he or, I assume one of his assistants, has kept a key that we sent to him.
And he’s the only one who had the key?
Yes. He has the key. That is very true. He’s been in possession of that key for a long time. There was one episode last year where—no one knows this, this is an exclusive for you, my old friend, since we’ve been to punk shows together and both like Mikey Erg—I will tell you there was one episode last year where we were getting messages from his assistant that were like, “Can you delay the taping? We’re six blocks away doing press but we’re not gonna be done.” We kept playing with it and pushing it but the timing just didn’t work out. There was a near-miss where only myself and maybe two other people realized, “Wow, that episode came very, very close to featuring Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs.”
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I would gladly watch a buddy comedy starring you and Diddy.
I would love to be a part of that. I would assume he would have very little desire to stake his career on such a project. But I’d be totally down, and if he’s reading this, he can totally say the word. He’s always been there for me and I’m ready to be there for him.
Now that you’ve had Diddy on the second episode, how do you top that for the rest of the season?
Well, that’s a great question and I’ve already brought it up. I watch a lot of basketball and there’s this concept of a trap game, which is like, a team will go on a hot streak and beat Oklahoma City and then beat the Spurs and then they’ll get cocky and the next game, they’ll lose to the Orlando Magic. We can’t fall into that. The first episode, I thought, that felt great. It was what I loved about public access merged with the fact that we have a budget. There were stretches of the show on public access that felt like magic, and it really feels like we’re in this streak now. So I gave a little speech to the office, saying, “We cannot get cocky now. We have eight more of these things.” If we do eight more that feel like this, I think people, at the very least, are going to give us a nice pat on the back and say, “Hey, you did a pretty good job.”
Dan Ozzi also wants to know where the chairs are at. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi