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Chris Gethard Knows What It’s Like to Write a Book About Failing While Your TV Show Is Ending

Losing "The Chris Gethard Show" was tough, but the comedian had just the book to help him through it: his own.

Chris Gethard Lose Well

Harper Collins

While writing “Lose Well,” Chris Gethard sensed that by the time it was published, the circumstances of his career might be a little different. That led him to crafting a sort-of self-help book that, well, helped himself.

“It was about about a month before I had the meeting that officially ended ‘The Chris Gethard Show,'” said Gethard, referring to his unclassifiable cable-spanning talk show. “It was such a weird bittersweet feeling to know that we were locking the book and I was like, ‘I think the show might be done.'”

At the end of May, “The Chris Gethard Show” ended after nearly 50 episodes on cable, following a robust four-year life on public access. Throughout “Lose Well” there are vague references to the show’s potential imminent demise.

“I think this book is as much an ending to the TV show as the final episode itself,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know it at the time, a lot of the book and talking about accepting failure was accepting the impending and unfolding failure of the thing that I write about as the most clear-cut guide to my creative ideals. It’s promoting the idea of failure as a positive in a way that I think any psychologist would have a fun time unwrapping.”

Gethard was first approached to write the book as a companion piece to last year’s critically acclaimed HBO special “Career Suicide,” in which he detailed his own experiences with depression, alcoholism, and suicide. However, Gethard fills “Lose Well” with a lot of winning in a career that includes 47 TV episodes, a top podcast (“Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People”), and an HBO special.

He earned many of those credits while proudly claiming to be an underdog, a label that he recognizes may no longer be true. “If I keep trying to fake it, I’m just betraying everything that it was,” he said. “The last 10, 15 episodes, I think I was really trying to find some ways to adjust what this thing is to reflect who I am now. It was feeling a little bit like that was not so possible and what was possible was replicating what the show had always been. And that was fine, but I’d rather not do that forever.”

“The Chris Gethard Show” inspired a vocal and passionate fanbase from its earliest days on public access. But when the series hopped to basic cable, first to Fusion and then truTV, Gethard started to see a subtle shift in the audience. “There were people in New York who would come to every taping and then you started to see them once every three or four episodes,” he said. “I saw a guy write something recently where he said, ‘It went from being a show that totally I felt like defined a piece of who I was to show that I really, really liked watching.’ And that’s great. To have people really, really like watching a thing you do is great. But I could really feel that the cultish fanbase devoted to that was starting to feel a little bit less like ‘This is a show that is standing for something that I’m not getting anywhere else’ to ‘This is a weird TV show that I find pretty funny.’ Both are flattering. But the one was slipping, you know?”

Now that Gethard no longer needs to divide his energies between writing a book and creating a weekly talk show, he’s returned his focus to standup for now. However, his next project may not feature Chris Gethard.

“I don’t really want to put my own name or face on the next thing,” he said. “I don’t know if I need to carry it, but what can I do with the things I’ve learned along the way to maybe help some other people out? … I’ve had enough times where I’ve had to sit in a meeting full of 80 people whose jobs depend on my ability to succeed. I don’t need that for another chunk of time.”

One element of the show he’d like to maintain is giving creators the freedom to do what they do best. Among those he nurtured on “The Chris Gethard Show” are Jo Firestone (now a writer on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”), Julio Torres (soon to be a regular cast member on the HBO show “Los Espookys”), and Anna Drezen (writer on “Saturday Night Live”).

“I just feel like I have a good eye for who the original hungry, young minds of the comedy scene in New York are,” he said. “I see a lot of comedians who were put in this position where to move on to a more professional level, they kind of have to stop doing the most interesting stuff for the most unique original stuff. And that’s just the nature of the beast, right? You do your cool, weird artist stuff when you’re coming up, and then at a certain point somebody’s like, ‘Hey, I want to give you money, but it’s all got to become more normal.’ What I’d really love to do is to create some sort of production company or pipeline where I could maybe help some of those people out when they’re still in that very, very creative phase and see if we can’t carve out a world where that can exist too.”

Gethard said when he began writing “Lose Well,” he wrote it to a person from his past. That framing device finally fell away, but one message still remained. “If there’s other people out there who have dealt with real life and want to get back on the horse of being a little bit of an idealistic dreamer, I’d really love that,” he said. “Even if it just helps the one person I went to high school with, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, this was worth doing.’ Even if it eats shit and all the other reviews are terrible. If it just helps that one person, I’ll be pretty thrilled.”

Lose Well” is now available at all booksellers and online retailers.

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