The Chris Gethard Show, a raucous public-access comedy show based in New York City, has long been one of my favorite things on television. It’s a proudly weird, sometimes sad, and generally indescribable program, but it’s the best possible way to spend a Wednesday night. Along with house band The LLC, TCGS also has the best musical guests of any late night show: a mixture of loud punk, quiet singer-songwriters, surf rock, experimental music, and more. Tonight the show returns to MNN studios with musical guest Wheatus to celebrate teenage dirtbags everywhere. I talked to Heidi Vanderlee, one of the show’s music bookers, about her role with TCGS, some of the most memorable musical moments, and her wishlist.
Flavorwire: How do you go about choosing and booking musical acts?
Heidi Vanderlee: Kiri [Oliver], Zane [Van Dusen], and I definitely have a lot of say over who we book. We have a lot of ideas, but obviously there are bands that I don’t know about or Kiri and Zane don’t know about that Chris [Gethard] knows about, who he wants to have on the show, and that’s awesome. And then other people on the show will have awesome ideas that we like. Even though there are three of us, there are things we’re not going to think of. So it’s cool. It’s a group effort. The three of us definitely have our own ideas and do book the majority of the bands but we like getting suggestions from everyone.
Are there any bands that didn’t work out?
There’s a couple of bands where it just hasn’t worked due to logistics. It’s almost worse because you know they want to do it and you want to do it but the schedules don’t work out. The Dismemberment Plan. We were in very serious talks about it but since they all live in different cities it just didn’t work out.
The Mountain Goats almost did a thing with us in North Carolina. I think we need to try for that again. That didn’t work out but I think in the future we’re going to try to make it happen, even if it was just John Darnielle on the show by himself, that would be fantastic.
My dream is to have Hole, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Or maybe just Courtney Love.
Do you have any other dream bands?
Any member of The Replacements that’s still alive. Tommy Stinson or Paul Westerberg. If they came together I would die.
Public Enemy was another one that we really wanted to have because they seem like they would be into something like that. They seem like they like to have fun and do weird stuff and they play festivals all the time so I feel like they’re probably used to weird situations by now.
You guys tend to skew more toward punk music than any other late night show.
I think that’s definitely a reflection of the audience. We basically just try to pick bands and artists that viewers will like and that Chris will like and that the people who work on the show will like. So when we do book like a hip-hop act we think, “Is this something that people would like?”
They have to be someone that just has a good sense of humor about themselves because weird shit happens all the time. We often don’t know what the premise of the episode is going to be when we’re booking the band. For example, we have Wheatus on this week but we had no way of telling them that we were going to be waxing somebody. And if there’s any chance that the band would be like, “No, we are not OK with that,” chances are they weren’t a good fit in the first place.
Have there been any instances when bands have been on the show and were just not into it?
No, actually. Some weird stuff might have happened before I was working on the show. I think some weird stuff did happen. I’m not saying that because I’m working on the show now that’s why that’s never happen but I do know that in the early days, when Chris was doing everything, including booking the bands there were a couple of times when he was like “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
I think there have been some bands that have been more down with the weirdness than others but nobody’s straight up been a dick. Some bands will hang outside the dressing room area and wander around. Someone will hide in the dressing room. And that’s fine. That has more to do with pre-show jitters. And plus, TCGS, if you’re not used to that environment, it is really chaotic. It’s really loud. There’s a lot going on. Imagine when they’re trying to get everything set up and your band is trying to soundcheck and it’s just like “…” You need to be prepared that things might not work.
It’s like, “Yes, this is weird, but now you are part of this world. It’s OK. Everyone here is happy to see you. Even if it’s going to get weird, we promise it’s all good-natured.”
Who have been some of your favorite bands on the show?
There have been so many. I’ve said this before but I think Fucked Up were probably my favorite.
That was like the third episode I’d ever been to and I remember I was still very nervous because it had been sort of drilled into our head that you have to make sure the band doesn’t fuck with the equipment. So we were like, “Okay, let’s make sure the band doesn’t fuck with the equipment” and then Night Birds staged a riot. And we’re just like, “Oh My God.”
It felt like the closest I’d get to see Fear on Saturday Night Live.
Yes! Yes, it was so messy.
Free Energy was one of my favorites. What happened to us was the big public access studio on 59th street underwent renovations and it was suddenly announced to us that we had to either do the show in their much smaller studio in Harlem or not do it. There wasn’t much warning so we suddenly had to decide what to do. We went to this tiny studio in Harlem, which is also MNN, but 1/3 of the size. It’s very narrow, it’s like an old firehouse.
Free Energy happened to come on when we were in that studio and they just did not give a shit. Every time I’ve seen that band play, they act like they’re playing to a stadium and it totally rang true. A couple days later, Free Energy played at Bowery Ballroom and Bananaman and a bunch of people all went to the show and crowd surfed during one of their last songs. That was an example of the band really embracing what was happening.
That was a situation where I was like “Okay, you don’t know much about this. You might be weirded out.” The Hold Steady have been one of my favorite bands for a really long time. The Hold Steady would be one of my dream bands [on the show].
So So Glos
It was the week before they were on Letterman. We thought that was really funny. They just had so much fun. That was one of the time travel episodes in Ancient Rome or something. They really had nothing to do with the show whatsoever. I think we said something like, “They have traveled from the future to tell us about the world!” They were into it. They were just like, “Whatever man, this is cool.”
Laura Stevenson and the Cans
She and Chris became super good friends after that. I think he told me that they became pen pals at one point. They became best friends. They’re weird and they are 100% down with everything. I think my favorite bands are just the ones that like the show.
They don’t even necessarily have to be the craziest band we’ve ever had on. For example, Mike Doughty. He’s not a punk rock [act], he’s not super loud or anything. But he was so down with the show and the show was so down with him. He played “Circles” and the Human Fish did circles around him. That’s perfect!
I love Princess Superstar because she brought back-up dancers which was incredible. They practiced for us and they had a costume change.
Having Franz Nicolay on was great because that was our first week in the firehouse. We just didn’t know what we were doing. We had to basically restage the show — I say “we” but I didn’t know do anything — but the cast and crew had to totally restage the show and it was totally weird and nobody knew what was happening and things were getting fucked up but Franz was just a great sport about it. He’s also a good banterer. When he’s performing, he talks a lot and he makes jokes. They brought him on the panel as part of whatever the game was that night. He had a great time. I think people really loved him.
Kitty Pryde was one of my favorites, too, because she really had no idea what was going on. That was a great example of her being like “I have no idea what this is but I’m just going to go with it.” She seemed scared at first but then just jumped into it. And Andrew W.K. was there so that helped.
Zs was a dark house. They played really fucking weird experimental music and everyone was just like “….” but I liked that one. I just really liked them because it made everyone just go into another space for a little while. I think that most of the time the goal is to have a dance party when the musical guest happens but once in a while we’ll have something that’s not dance party fodder and in that case we have to have something that’s really fucking good. Zs are one of those.
They’re basically a surf rock band, like they bring dancers and bikinis and go-go girls with them. They actually ended up playing one of the TCGS Presents shows with Vacation Jason and he was the happiest. This was an example of the band fitting with the show’s premise really well. It’s not always possible, but this was the one where Vacation Jason forgot he was Vacation Jason and thought he was a realtor or something. They were a surf rock band so they tried to remind him. It was perfect.
Evil Sword are a Halloween themed band. Ghost and Goblin were another Halloween theme bands. We like Halloween theme bands. But what Evil Sword did that was so great is they made people run around with a severed head in the audience. They had all these insane props. They made [the studio] a Halloween land. They brought all this creepy, cobweb stuff and transformed the corner where they were. Just going over the top, fantastic.
A Bunch of Dead People
Basically Chris hosted the show as an alter-ego called Conspiracy Theory Gary and just basically pretended it wasn’t TCGS. So he hosted this show as this really creepy guy. The band that played was A Bunch of Dead People. That’s what they’re called. And they are so weird. They all wear very proper suits and basically just look like .. it’s Twin Peaks kind of shit. They’re very weird and very creepy and very earnest. They sing about death and you know, it was perfect. IT was a very off-putting band in a very off-putting episode. Nothing felt right. The entire episode just felt very uncomfortable and that was great. That was perfect. That was exactly what they wanted. It’s a fucking weird episode. Some people did not like it all. I loved it.
There are so many bands that are just like, duh. Like Mikey Erg and The Unloveables. Mikey Erg played the 100th show because he was the first guest ever. He’s so nice.
Bad Credit No Credit
Bad Credit No Credit was one of the first bookings for the show. One of the very early ones, and it was one of the first times we felt that we really hit this spot where everyone was just freaking out and really happy. Chris actually invited Carrie-Anne back on the show a couple of times. That’s always heartening for us, when Chris likes the band so much that he brings one of them on the show again for reasons that has nothing to do with them being in a band. That’s when we know that we did a good job.
Shellshag are a band that fits right at home with the enthusiastic weirdness of The Chris Gethard Show — they played the pilot taping for Comedy Central — so I asked Jen Shag to give her impressions of TCGS:
Jen Shag: The first TCGS show Heidi invited us to play we were thrilled. It was 2012 on Chris’s birthday.
By the time the date arrived we were tired, sick, worn out, and positive we made the wrong decision agreeing to play in Midtown somewhere we had never been before. How were we going to be jovial and entertaining when we felt so shitty? We gathered some birthday gifts and tried to stay posi.
Heidi arrived in a car around 11pm, loaded our gear, drove us to the show, escorted us in and we have not stopped smiling since.
We fell in love. With everyone. It was a freak show. Our dream realized. Our people, found.
We laughed and remembered everything we love about creating whatever you want out of nothing.
Chris and his crew have been a massive inspiration since we have met. We have become friends that work well together and get stuff done together and that’s our favorite thing to do. Make entertaining stuff out of nothing with talented, creative, inspiring people.