dkthingsetc said: the birbigs/gethard post was fucking awesome, sounds like it was amazing.
Thank you so much! It really was. Incredibly glad I went. Thanks for reading!
Cool as Fuck (or, A Decent Idea That Became Better and Better That I Went and Did, if we’re going to be cute)
I couldn’t take pictures inside to prove it, but on Tuesday, I got to meet Mike Birbiglia and Chris Gethard face-to-face. I’ve loved Mike Birbiglia’s stand-up for quite a while, and seeing him live really confirmed just how much of a master he is at storytelling and comedy. He explores every element of a story that contains humor, places the audience right in the situation, rolls with what the audience gives him and builds off of it, and calls back to earlier jokes and events effortlessly. I described him as the schlubbiest modern comedian who just happens to have one of the sharpest minds of any modern stand-up.
But the real thrill of the night was the brief opportunity to meet Chris Gethard.
Those who know me or follow me in various platforms know I didn’t have a great first semester of college. I haven’t been diagnosed with any disorders or mental illness, but I definitely did not handle those few months that well. Along with the natural tense transition from high school to college, I experienced the growing pains I intentionally brought upon myself with transitioning from a tiny K-12 homogenous school in the Upper Peninsula to a large, diverse college outside of Grand Rapids, along with locating myself in a freshman dorm, an atmosphere not known for having an array of personality or activity. I didn’t find my circle of friends for a couple of months, and my days mostly consisted of going to class, getting food, and sitting in my dorm room doing homework, watching movies, or playing Xbox with my door shut. I gave up on keeping my door open when I came to realize that people were only curious about what you were watching when what you were watching was football.
One day, I came across The A.V. Club’s “A” review of The Chris Gethard Show (http://www.avclub.com/review/ithe-chris-gethard-showi-103927). I’d heard the name before when it had been an occasional presence on some of their writers’ top-ten lists, and being a comedy geek, I’d heard Chris’ name and had seen him in bit parts in things like Bored to Death and The Other Guys. But the review was what finally convinced me to watch the show. I’ve written at great length about how much the show has come to mean to me (http://mitchfanderson.tumblr.com/post/84891972844/sex-toys-pain-and-heart-why-the-chris-gethard-show, and my sincere apologies for how the conclusion reads now given Comedy Central’s decision), but it came to be a driving force for the first half of my freshman year. My days began to consist of going to class, getting food, and sitting in my dorm watching at least 2 episodes of TCGS a day (with the door closed, as people get legitimately angry at you for laughing in a freshman dorm). Eventually, I began to develop a circle of friends, feel a tad more social, and continue to pour through TCGS.
I’m now about a month into my sophomore year of college. Still at the same school, but living in an on-campus apartment. I’ve maintained the important members of that circle of friends, and feel like I am making others. I am still incredibly socially awkward at times, but I think the way to get over that is just spending more time being social, which I’m working on. I’ve been feeling that college variety of banality and “blah” lately, as well as the usual thoughts of a single guy who knows he needs to work on himself before he tries to date someone, but it’s been months since I’ve felt legitimately sad about my life (I felt really low when Robin Williams died, but that was more in a way of external mourning that everyone was feeling at that time).
Last weekend, I noticed online that Mike Birbiglia was doing a show in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo is about an hour south of where I’m attending school, and is a rather popular hangout spot for locals. Though I’d really enjoyed what I’d seen of Mike’s stand-up (and had considered his film Sleepwalk With Me in my top 10 favorite movies of 2012), the fact that I didn’t consider him a must-see performer, combined with the fact that the show was on a Tuesday night, the night before my most loaded day of the week class-wise, caused it to go to the “It’d be a good time, but I should use the time for myself and not spend too much money right now” category of my brain.
Then on Monday evening, Mike posted on Twitter that Chris Gethard would be his opener. Not only that, but it would be his first performance since his wedding, a wedding I’ve followed on social media and have received more happiness from than just about anything that’s actually happened in my life for the last several months. This would be the first time he’d incorporate it into his routine.
I actually said to myself out loud, “Well, fuck.”
Looking back, that fact that it was a debate at all is curious to me. A $55 ticket and a two-hour round driving trip to simultaneously visit a city I’ve never been to and see one comedian whose work I really enjoy and one comedian who I’ve watched for literally over 100 hours of my life and whose writing and output are some of the most funny and inspirational things I’ve seen in comedy and who is honestly one of the most likable “underdogs” there is? Why was this so hard for you, Monday night Mitch?
Needless to say, I went. The drive from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo is rather uneventful, save for a harrowing freeway circle that certainly surprised me. When I got to Kalamazoo, I went through the anxiety of finding a parking space on the street before I found an incredible spot that was tucked away only a few blocks from the theater (the area around the theater is heavy downtown. I wasn’t ready to circle that trying to find a space). I got to walk past the Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater chain with a location in Kalamazoo that has a noble strict anti-texting and talking policy and operates a restaurant within the theater that serves you food before the movie begins. It’s not a quick drive, but I’d really like to go there with a group of friends one of these days. Not much else in downtown Kalamazoo intrigued me. Someday I’ll wander a bit more.
I got to the theater a bit early, bought a poster to be signed after the show and a soda, took my seat in the theater, and dicked around on my phone until the show started. I was surprised to see how many people were there. The age breakdown was interesting, as the majority of attendees were either college-age or middle-age (there was also a 14-year-old at the front, because every comedy show is required to have the one young kid in the audience).
At 7:30, the show started, and Mike introduced Chris from backstage. And Chris walked out onstage, and looked exactly how he always presents himself. This is a tricky thing to talk about without sounding simplistic, but genuine physical appearances can be surprising when you see someone on stage. When I was 14 or 15, I went with my Mom to see Jerry Seinfeld do a show in Green Bay. Though he was great, it was a strange disconnect to see how he looks in real-life versus how you perceive him to look from television and whatnot. A camera can have a strong effect. Chris Gethard looks exactly the same as he does on TCGS. Dressed in a refined-casual outfit (a plaid overshirt instead of a J-Crew sweatshirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes), the disbelief I had at looking at Chris Gethard standing within 100 feet of me was enough to ensure that I’d be laughing at anything he said.
And he went into his routine, and it was hilarious. I know Chris has been trying to refine his stand-up lately, and I feel bad for confessing that I hadn’t seen much of his routine beforehand. I’d listened to a bit of his album, but I haven’t seen his Comedy Central half-hour, and as I said, this was my first time seeing him live. But I’m almost glad I didn’t, as it was hilarious and exhilarating. Chris examined his personal life with the same candidness and honesty he explores it with on TCGS, and found humor in just about everything. His first incorporation of his wedding into his routine was a knockout, talking about everything from the color of decorations to the strictness of the owners of the Jewish summer camp where the wedding was held. The standout bit was his discussion of a trip he took with his fiancé, now wife, Hallie, to Orlando, and his discussion of the tourist attraction Gatorland. Chris has a brilliant way of looking at life’s bizarre places and people without seeming judgmental or unhappy, but rather finding joy and excitement in them. His discussion of Gatorland’s prices compared to DisneyWorld’s, and what your ticket got you, was amazing, and the cap to the story, where he discussed the postcard Hallie bought back from Gatorland, was hilarious and sweet. His closer, where he talked about the two times in his life where he heard someone say the most perfect thing, was a fantastic bit of storytelling-based comedy, and the final punchline was, indeed, perfect.
His set ended, and Mike Birbiglia took the stage. It’s sort of unfair to say that Mike’s set was the funner of the two, as it is really was the design, given that Chris was the 20-minute opener and Mike was the hour-plus focus of the evening. And seeing Mike Birbiglia live really gives you an appreciation for just how good at this he is. Every situation he describes places the audience right in it, every possible absurdity in every situation is mined for laughs, and his transitions between his laid-back persona and his surprising outbursts of energy are handled perfectly and never forced or false. Both sets made me laugh harder than I have in quite a while, and one of Mike’s stories where he describes an awkward moment while performing at a Muppets Live show is the first time I’ve laughed so hard that I cried that I can remember in the last year or so. Mike is an absolute master of stand-up comedy.
The show ended on a perfect moment, and after the standing ovation, I made a line for the bathroom, since thinking about having to pee would’ve been a hindrance for what was coming up, and then went to the ATM so I could get a second poster for my sister. I then went to the back of the massive, massive line for signatures. I was messaging with my sister on my phone throughout the process, and after a few minutes, a guy let us know that there would be no pictures, just signatures. I was disappointed, since getting a picture with Chris would’ve been amazing, but looking back, that line was just too long to allow everyone to get a picture.
As I stood in line, I went over what I’d say once I approached Chris. I made concrete what I’d choose to tell him, as I have a tendency to trip over myself when I either under-prepare or over-prepare. As I moved up in the line, I could make them out at the end of the table in the lobby, Mike sitting and Chris standing. That weird feeling of excitement came back, that HE’S RIGHT HERE AND A REAL PERSON AND I’M ACTUALLY GOING TO BE ABLE TO SAY THESE THINGS TO HIM feeling. Before getting to them, I chatted a bit with Mike’s brother Joe, who I embarrassingly mistook for Mike when I first entered the theater. Joe’s been working full-time touring with Mike for the last seven years, and I found that to be very kind and inspiring.
Finally, it came to be my turn. I somewhat awkwardly set down the two posters I’d bought for Mike to sign, let him know one was mine and one was my sister’s, and told him that I was a big fan. Then I turned to Chris. If it was weird to see him standing 100 feet away from me, it was nearly overwhelming to be looking him eye-to-eye and shaking his hand. The script prepared beforehand out of necessity began to play out. I told him what a huge fan I was, how important TCGS has been to me, and told him that I thought he’d respect that I took an evening of homework and study off to come to the show, to which he nodded approvingly. Mike turned and asked it that was an “admirable” thing, and I said that Chris has made it very clear how he feels about college, to which he nodded again. I had Chris Gethard on my side. As he signed the two posters, he asked where I heard about TCGS, and I told him about the A.V. Club piece. I was hesitant to say this was what made me start to devour the show, since the piece spent a lot of time discussing Random Messenger Bag, and though “The Villains Journey” is still my favorite episode of the show, I have no idea how the topic of Messenger Bag sits with him now. But he seems approving. No matter the subject matter, it seems that same review bought a lot of attention to TCGS.
I asked him if he’d read the essay I linked to above, and he said he likely had. I gave him a brief, awkward summary of what the essay’s about, and he asked my name. I told him it was Mitch Anderson, and in the absolute greatest moment of the night, he told me that he remembered me, specifically that he remembered seeing me on Twitter. I hate to sound cliché, but when an idol of yours tells you they remember you specifically, you get a little flustered. I made an effort to continue what I’d prepared, that I’d missed Mal Blum doing a show at the college near where I live, a college where absolutely nothing cool happens, which he understood being bummed about.
Not wanting to take up any more of the line’s time, and having no perception of time itself in the moment (this all must’ve lasted about two minutes, though I’m not sure), I reiterated to Chris how much his work and his show means to me, and how great his set was, and gave him another awkward handshake. As I walked out, I gave him a sort-of awkward congratulations on the wedding. I’d meant to do that anyway, and it was definitely the better instinct to go with, but my initial instinct was to let him know that I would give a “yes” vote regarding TCGS.
The show is currently on hiatus, which may or may not end up turning into a permanent one, and part of me wanted to let Chris know how much I would like the show to keep going. But I am also able to tell how much stress the show can cause Chris, how continuing it and losing money in the process might just continue to remind him of the fallout of the Comedy Central deal. And a part of me thinks that he may have already made his decision regarding the show, and that by casting a vote at this point in time, I’d either be another voice of approval in a fan base that certainly does not lack that, or I’d be a naive kid casting the wrong vote in a predetermined election. I didn’t want to place any sort of burden on Chris, and I want to go on my computer come mid-September and be part of the community that sees if it’s back or not. If it isn’t, I’ll be disappointed, but it’ll provide closure and the certainty that the many careers of and side projects by TCGS cast members can continue to grow. If it is back, I’ll be eager to see what it will become in the future, and I’ll do my damnedest to call in.
As I walked back to my car, two posters in hand, I gave my sister an eager, excited phone call, summarizing what I’ve written here and letting her know I’d gotten a poster. My car hadn’t been towed or ticketed, which was a relief (I was pretty sure about parking on that street, but not 100% sure). I began the drive back to Allendale, then stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through to get some food. As I sat in line, I saw on my phone that I had a notification from Twitter. I opened it to find this:
(I didn’t screenshot it on my phone in the moment, but that’s the tweet.)
My reply doesn’t convey how excited this made me. For those minutes, I could only see myself as the nervous kid with the weird hair who must’ve sounded like he was reading lines for a play or something. (By the way, if Chris ends up reading this, I hope I’m not coming across as creepy). But that was just so reassuring, so invigorating for me. I’d been face-to-face with one of my absolute biggest idols, and had apparently walked away from it not only not awkward and uncomfortable, but “cool as fuck”. That tweet put a grin on my face the entire drive home (the chicken sandwich didn’t hurt either. I was hungrier than I realized), and I don’t feel ashamed by saying that I’ve printed it out.
As I write this, it’s been two days since that show. After I post this, I’m going to go get lunch. I only have one class today, and I don’t know if I’m going to see any friends or do anything out of the ordinary today. But Tuesday night in Kalamazoo was my first time leaving campus to attend a big event, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. The chance to see two amazing comedians doesn’t come around that often, and I just know I’d still be beating myself up over not seeing them (I still kind of beat myself up for not seeing Mal Blum when she was in my area this Summer). As it stands, I spent $55 on the ticket, $40 on the posters (my sister’s paying me back for the one), $3 on the soda, $7 on the McDonalds, and probably about $10-$15 in gas. But, I now have two great posters signed by both of them, the memory of an amazing comedy show, the experience of exploring a small part of a new city, and the knowledge that in one of the most flustered and surprising moments of my life, an idol of mine not was not only incredibly generous and pleasant, but that he remembered who as was, and publicly described me as being “cool as fuck”.