Chris Gethard: Career Suicide | Review by Steve Bennett
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Chris Gethard: Career Suicide

Review by Steve Bennett

One thing quickly apparent about Chris Gethard is his calm poise on stage, the understated, collected confidence of a man who has spent almost half his 36 years performing comedy.

Yet in ‘real life’, he has not always been so together. For he has grappled with bleak and terrifying mental health issues since childhood, from suicidal depression to vivid psychosis.

The world is increasingly moving away from the notion that such issues are ‘no subject for comedy’ as taboos crumble and stand-ups become less afraid to mine their darker moments for their art, for catharsis and for the solace of others in the same situation. Yet few manage to combine laughs, emotional heft and compelling stories in quite such a classy way as this quietly captivating American.

Honesty is the cornerstone of any such show, and Gethard talks openly about his suicidal tendencies – including one near-successful attempt – about his paralysing panic attacks and about his small, faltering steps on the road to recovery. He’s even honest about skipping certain incidents he has not yet come to terms with.

How is any of this funny? A lot of the time it’s in the detail, the minutiae of the story that can make it both real and ridiculous. Then there are the times when he tried self-medicating with booze, an epic tale of drunken antics, fading up and down as he blacks out, re-emerging in another ridiculously precarious situation. And if comedy is the alleviation of tension, there is plenty of that too, as he snaps back from the brink.

But the biggest gift from the comedy gods is Babs, his unconventional therapist. Gethard envisages their relationship as an Odd Couple sitcom – ‘he’s sad; she’s funny’ – but her seemingly reckless lack of professionalism, despite her good intentions, is hilarious. And praise be that their ‘patient-doctor confidentially’ is a porous enough concept that he can share her idiosyncratic ways.

Career Suicide is more than a collection of candidly funny stories from the dark moments of his life, leavened by such larger-than-life personalities and moments of astute self-realisation. Serious threads that run through the hour tie together in important messages that avoid the pitfall of mawkishness simply by being true, while adding to the rich and satisfying narrative structure.

Gethard acknowledges that he can only speak of his own experience. That everyone with mental health issues will have their own symptoms and their own coping strategies. That his decisions and fears – about, for example, taking meds are his alone. Yet it is easy to see how this will resonate with and help others in broadly similar situations, or their friends and relatives.

But this is not a group therapy session, it’s a comedy storytelling one. And regardless of the worthiness of the subject, it’s a triumph on that measure alone.

Review date: 5 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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