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DID YOU READ

Chris Gethard on the Best Comedy Advice He’s Ever Heard

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As any comedian will tell you, getting laughs on stage is no easy feat. But getting laughs in a coffee and crepe shop? Unless you’re good—no, make that great—it’s next to impossible. For IFC’s web series Comedy Drop, Chris Gethard was able to pull it off. To find out how, we spoke with Chris about joke writing, dealing with nerves and the best comedy advice he’s ever heard.

Aside from Comedy Drop, where was the strangest—or most interesting—place you’ve done stand up?

I’m a fan of music and have become pretty locked in with the local punk scene, and have been asked to host a number of music shows as a comedian. This is fun, but it’s also tough because no one really wants to listen to a comedian at a rock show. I hosted a show for WFMU once – and WFMU is definitely a literate, smart, laid back crowd – at the Bell House. They went ape shit on me. One guy stood four feet in front of the stage and every time I tried to speak shouted the words “PLAY FUCKING MUSIC.” These were like, dorky record collector types. I couldn’t believe they had that much rage in them.

Where was the first place you ever performed?

I’d been doing improv and sketch for years, and my friend Joe Mande started pushing me to try stand up. He invited me to do his show down at Riffifi, which was a great bar that had stand up shows every night. It was a really fantastic place to perform. I felt safe there, and knowing my friend Joe was hosting the show and looking out for me made me feel okay about it, though I was intensely nervous.

Those nerves reflected themselves in a specific tick – for some reason, I kept putting my hand in my back pocket. It was a compulsive fear based thing, I didn’t realize I was doing it. The jokes went okay – it was my first time, so they weren’t good by any stretch, but I didn’t feel awful about it.

My friend Joe got on stage and immediately started tearing me to pieces for putting my hand in my pocket. He riffed for like two straight minutes on what I possibly could have been doing – had I lost the punchlines to my jokes back there? Was I picking something out of my butt? His improvised commentary on my physical demeanor on stage got roughly 100 times more laughs than any joke I actually told.

I didn’t do stand up again for like eighteen months.

Performing in front of crowds—especially ones not expecting comedy—has to be tough. Do you have any rituals to shake pre-show jitters?

At this point, I am happy to say I’m at a place where I can remind myself that nothing really matters and failure is fun. I both succeed and fail on stage on a regular basis, and I honestly think being met with silence is a fun process and I know it leads to a lot of growth. So that makes jitters sort of null and void. Nothing matters.

How do you approach joke writing? Do you hunker down and write, or does inspiration need to find you first?

All of my jokes are generally storytelling style, which means I usually have to live life and keep my eyes peeled for the weirdness my days throw at me. Then I go on stage and tell the stories in loose formats, keeping my ears open to what crowds respond to and seeing if my angles and opinions on those things strike a chord. Then I refine my viewpoints on them and tighten them up and look for punchlines. I really only write by getting on stage and talking and refining, as opposed to sitting down and writing. It takes a long time but it’s my style.

Is a joke ever fully “ready,” or is it always “in progress”?

Always in progress. I have an improv background, so I’m always really happy to cut and run and look for new punchlines along the way.

What is the best piece of stand up advice you’ve ever heard?

There’s so much advice that goes so far, both from people I actually know or just by knowing my history and hearing stuff passed down through generations. Here’s one that actually had a profound effect on me: Mike Birbiglia recently told me to start with the joke. That sounds simple, but for a storyteller I’m always slogging through exposition. That’s sometimes how idiotic I am. “Oh right, start with the funny part and they’ll get hooked in sooner. Makes sense.” But you do build these jokes that have all these moving parts, and you think people need to know all this context to understand, and they don’t. Really if you can get them laughing, they’ll then buy into the context. Start with the context and you might lose them before you get to the joke. Reading this back makes me realize how much I should already have known that, but I’ve been writing more complex stories lately and getting tangled up in them. Mike is easily one of the best storyteller comedians out there and he saw it, pinpointed it, and handed me a note that is going to save me months and months of figuring out why I can’t get jokes as tight as I want them.

What’s a joke that makes you laugh, or smile, every time?

The Louis C.K. “Give Me Back My Jacket” joke always gets me. I would love to be able to tell a story this well.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…