My Awkward Path From Jersey Kid to NYC Comedian

| January 12, 2012 4:00 AM video
Author: Chris Gethard
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publication Date: Feb. 2012

If you exited the house where I grew up, made a right, and walked uphill 100 yards, you could see the Manhattan skyline. Everything the city offered was within sight. Because the city was so close, it made my dreams feel even further away.

Being a Jersey kid interested in comedy was frustrating. Knowing the promise of New York being the comedy city, I spent a lot of time staring at that skyline. But Manhattan wasn’t for people like me. Among blue-collar people from the land next to the city, resentment towards Manhattan was fierce. Being a “city person” meant being corporate, pretentious and fake. The city was for rich kids who had it easy. We were the hard working ones.

When I finally took the plunge, I found out how false that was. Manhattan is a playground for the rich, but it’s also an unforgiving place where you aren’t unique for having unfulfilled dreams — whether you have money or not. I learned that the promise of big city dreams is tempered by the reality of the city’s darker distractions.

This is exactly what it looks like: a very sad photo of me before my junior prom. I think this is strong evidence of why I was the type of kid who no one expected to actually chase his dream. Photo courtesy of Chris Gethard.

The supposed purpose of my first New York trips was to chase my dream, but for the first few months, it was really an excuse for underage drunken chicanery.

I remember the incident that made me realize the city had misdirected me. I’d taken an improv class, and then got drunk with my classmates. I headed back to Penn Station for the long commute back to my Rutgers dorm room in New Brunswick. I arrived just as my train pulled away.

Worst of all, I’d spent all my money on booze. I had exactly one dollar.

Even at 20, I knew that there are only two things you can do in the shadow of Penn Station for a buck: you can eat a hot dog, or you can watch 90 seconds of pornography in a small booth in the back of an adult book store. I wasn’t hungry.

I stumbled out of Penn and lurched east on 33rd Street into a nearby porno store. The attendant barely looked up as I shuffled to the booths.

I landed on a channel so bizarre it made me uncomfortable. On the grimy screen, two nude middle-aged women made their way up a hillside. They were in a bad mood.

This was because the ram they were dragging was not cooperating.

They were having a whole heckuva lot of trouble convincing this fully-grown mountain beast to move. The ram hissed, spat and bucked the rope out of their hands.

“How does this end?” I thought to myself.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know. They tied the ram to a tree. And that’s when my dollar ran out.

WATCH VIDEO:

In this episode of “The Chris Gethard Show,” which airs on public access television,  Gethard’s fans assemble the night before Thanksgiving for “sandwich night.”

This is a photo of me standing on my parents' front lawn in New Jersey with about 60 people who I led on a tour of all the places the stories in my book took place. Photo courtesy of Chris Gethard.

“I will wonder forever,” I thought to myself, “what the hell that was.”

The stereotypes bred into me via my Jersey upbringing had been stamped out. Manhattan wasn’t for soft rich kids. It was seriously messed up. Within months, I’d gone from being driven by a dream to watching ram porn in a booth. New York, New York!

“I’d better get to work,” I thought.

For 11 years, I chased comedy. In 2010, I was asked to star in “Big Lake,” a sitcom on Comedy Central. It was unexpected and overwhelming. But it was also exactly the sort of thing that, when I used to sit on a hill in my hometown staring at the skyline, I thought could happen in the city.

When our first week wrapped I walked west to the water. Jersey City’s skyline jutted out. It wasn’t as impressive as the view from the other side, but it meant much more.

Chris Gethard is an actor, comedian and the author of the new book “A Bad Idea I’m About to Do.” He’s also the host of “The Chris Gethard Show” on public access television.

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