A Comedian And An Angry Kid Find An Unexpected Connection On Twitter

Aug 13, 2015
Originally published on August 14, 2015 2:08 pm

When you're out there on the Internet, sometimes it's worth remembering there's a person on the other side of the screen; it could lead to an unexpected connection.

This story begins with a guy named Chris Gethard, a comedian who hosts The Chris Gethard Show on the cable channel Fusion.

He's funny. And he's weird: Recently, he did a show for an audience of dogs. Dogs in the studio audience, and, he was hoping, dogs watching at home — to whom he revealed human secrets, like the difference between sleeping and being put to sleep.

"Our show is very dumb," Gethard says. "I'm willing to admit that we do dumb things like put on shows for dogs. But at the same time, there's a part of me that's always trying to poke the traditional talk-show format, to just kinda say that this will be as different from that as can be."

Gethard grew up in working-class New Jersey. "Irish Catholic neighborhood, a lot of kids whose parents were drinkers, a lot of, like, bullying — at the end of the day, that's what it was," he says. "The one-word story about why I have a chip on my shoulder is 'bullying.' "

As a kid, Gethard found some relief from the bullying by making prank calls — and, as he puts it, "tormenting people" in AOL chat rooms. But a teacher at school saw more in him and encouraged him to take her drama class. That was his path to comedy.

These days, Gethard often does standup about his struggles with depression and anxiety. "And one day, I put up this tweet," he says. "I was like, 'I'm doing this show tonight, if you're in New York, you should come. It's all about depression. You know — comedy."

Almost instantly, a kid named Randy replied with an obscenity. "And I saw it, and I immediately was, like, half mad and half instantaneously amused. I clicked on his profile, he was clearly a teenager, he was from Virginia ... and I just got in a fight with this teenage boy, and it lasted for three days."

Gethard had dealt with trolls before, but he says he realized there was something special about Randy. "This kid's bored, but he's actually pretty funny," he says. "At the end of the day, I remember what it was like to be a teenage kid who knew I wanted to be an actor or an artist or get on stages, and just felt like that wasn't OK, people would roll their eyes at that or kind of judge you. It's just, I remember what it felt like to be a creative kid who felt trapped. And I think some of these trolls are sociopaths, but some trolls are probably, underneath it all, creative kids who have never been told that that might actually be an asset. These might be creative kids who haven't been encouraged, and I would love to be someone who encourages them."

So Gethard invited Randy onto his show. Randy was a little tight-lipped in the spotlight, but, Gethard says, he was happy with the appearance. "If I was 18 and a person I didn't really know that well got me in the situation I got him in, I would not have done as well as Randy did, that's for sure."

"I'm the first person to wonder, like, am I actually doing something nice for this kid? Or is this just exploitative in an emotional sense?" Gethard says. "The answer is, you know, I don't know."

Randy Pate lives with his parents in Virginia. He didn't finish high school, but he's working hard on his GED.

"The tweet that I had seen — the one where he said that he was starting a new comedy show about suicide and depression — that rubbed me the wrong way because I have family and friends that struggle with depression, and I didn't think that that was funny at all," he says. So he fired off a Twitter expletive.

Randy says he didn't feel exploited when Gethard brought him on the show — and that the experience has given him some fresh perspective. "Now that I know who Chris is, and that he wasn't meaning that suicide and depression are funny things, but he was trying to look at it in a comedic way, to lighten it up so he wasn't so down, because he'd suffered depression for a while, I think he told me. So, yeah, definitely I'm not just gonna jump on somebody when they say something I don't like. I'm gonna ask them why they think what they think."

Gethard says their three-day-long Twitter exchange got pretty heated. "I'm like, 'Randy, I'm 35 years old, don't talk to me like that,' " he recalls, "and he's like, 'You're five years away from being a 40-year-old virgin.' And I'm like, 'Actually I'm happily married, so you look really dumb right now, homie,' and he's like, 'I feel bad for your wife, she's married to a guy who looks like a gremlin.' And I just got in a fight with a teenager whose Twitter name is 'Future Rich Guy.' "

No one expected anything profound to happen from all this, but it did. Two people pushed past their impulse to just yell at each other, and they actually connected.

"By the end of it, I was like, 'Randy, I tell you, man, I really needed this. I've been really stressed out and you came at me, and when I went back at you it was a real tension relief, and I hope you got the same out of it,' " Gethard says. "He was like, 'I tell you dude, I really did, you're actually a pretty nice dude. Sorry I came at you, but I'm glad we've gotten to know each other,' and I was like, 'Randy, I really hope you direct your powers to something more positive next time,' and he was like, 'I don't have any powers, LOL,' and I was like, 'Randy, you gotta believe in yourself, man — you got something to offer. So bring it.' "

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When you're out there on the Internet, sometimes it's worth remembering there's a person on the other side of that screen because it could lead to an unexpected connection. This story begins with a guy named Chris Gethard. He's a comedian. He hosts "The Chris Gethard Show" on the cable channel Fusion. Chris is funny - and weird. But he doesn't shock audiences. You'll only hear a couple of bleeps this morning. Recently, he did this show for an audience of dogs - dogs in the studio audience and, he was hoping, dogs watching at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CHRIS GETHARD SHOW")

CHRIS GETHARD: I want to go ahead and tell dogs human secrets. I want us to reveal it. If you're a dog, you're out there watching, guess what? When they say W-A-L-K, that means walk, for example.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yep. That's good. Yep. It actually spells walk.

GETHARD: It spells walk. You guys don't know about spelling. It's a whole thing we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No.

GETHARD: Here's a huge one - sleeping and being put to sleep are two very, very different things.

Our show is very dumb. Like, I'm willing to admit that. We do dumb things, like put on shows for dogs. But at the same time, I think, like, there is a part of me that's always kind of trying to, like, poke the traditional talk show format to just kind of say, like, this will be as different from that as can be.

GREENE: Chris Gethard grew up in working-class New Jersey.

GETHARD: Irish Catholic neighborhood, lot of kids whose parents were drinkers, a lot of, like, bullying. At the end of the day, that's what it was. The one-word story about why I have a chip on my shoulder is bullying.

GREENE: As a kid, Chris found some relief from that by making prank calls and, as he puts it, by tormenting people in AOL chat rooms. But a teacher at school saw more in Chris and encouraged him to take her drama class. That was his path to comedy. These days, Chris often does stand-up about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

GETHARD: And one day, I put up this tweet. I was like, I'm doing this show tonight. If you're in New York, you should come. It's all about depression, you know, comedy. You know, it's very standard. I'm plugging a show. And this kid - very quickly - Randy, he just writes back, [expletive] you out of nowhere. And I saw it, and I immediately was, like, half mad and half instantaneously amused. I clicked on his profile. He was clearly a teenager. He was from Virginia. I'm like - so I just wrote back - I was like, no, man, [expletive] you. And then he wrote back. And I just got in a fight...

GREENE: My God.

GETHARD: ...With this teenage boy, and it lasted for three days.

GREENE: Why engage him? I feel like he - you know, many people would have sort of thought of him as a troll and just been like, OK, whatever. I'm not even going to engage here.

GETHARD: Well, I've dealt with trolls a lot. But in the Randy situation, I started to realize, like, this kid's bored, but he's actually pretty funny. Like, at the end of the day, I remember what it was like to be a teenage kid who knew I wanted to be an actor or an artist or get on stages and just felt like that wasn't OK. Like, that was kind of - people would roll their eyes at that or kind of judge you. It's just - I remember what it felt like to be, like, a creative kid who felt trapped. And I think some of these trolls are actually sociopaths, but some trolls, I think, are probably, underneath it all, creative kids who have never been told that that might actually be an asset. These might just be creative kids who haven't been encouraged. And I would love to be someone who encourages them.

GREENE: Well, and you did. You brought Randy on the show.

GETHARD: Yeah. He took a train up from Virginia with his mom. And his mom was like, you want Randy on TV? She was very confused. But we were like, yeah, Randy's a cool cat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CHRIS GETHARD SHOW")

GETHARD: And this is real. You can vouch for me. We met maybe 20 minutes ago in real life.

RANDY PATE: Yeah.

GETHARD: But I think it was January or February we got into a Twitter beef.

PATE: Mm-hmm.

GETHARD: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: He didn't say too much on the show.

GETHARD: He didn't, but overall, I was super psyched with his contributions. If I was 18 and a person I didn't really know that well got me in the situation I got him in, I would've - I would not have done as well as Randy did. That's for sure.

GREENE: Could you see someone saying, you know, there could be a real risk in sort of - I don't know - taking advantage of someone vulnerable in some way?

GETHARD: Yeah, 100 percent. Like, I'm the first person to wonder, like, am I actually doing something nice for this kid or is this just exploitative in, like, an emotional sense? The answer is, you know, I don't know.

GREENE: After talking to Chris, we really wanted to meet this kid Randy. Randy Pate is 18 years old. He lives with his family in Virginia, didn't finish high school but he's working hard on his GED.

Randy, it's David. Can you hear me?

PATE: Yeah, I can hear you.

GREENE: We made the call, and I asked Randy this.

What were you thinking when you first sent that tweet to Chris?

PATE: The tweet that I had seen, the one where he said he was starting a new comedy show about suicide and depression, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way because I have family and friends that struggle with depression. And I didn't think that that was funny at all, so I'm just going to say, you know, F you.

GREENE: I asked Randy if he felt exploited in some way when Chris brought him on the show, and he said, no. But I also wondered...

...Has the experience changed you in some way?

PATE: Well, I wouldn't say it's changed me. But now that I know who Chris is and, like, he wasn't meaning that suicide and depression are funny things, but he was trying to look at it in a comedic way to, like, lighten it up so he wasn't so down because he had suffered depression for a while, I think he told me. So, yeah, definitely - I'm not just going to jump on somebody when they're (laughter) - when they say something that I don't like. I'm going to ask them why they think what they think.

GREENE: So let's remember this started out with a teenager getting into it with a mildly famous person. Chris remembers that their three-day long Twitter exchange got pretty heated.

GETHARD: And I'm like, Randy, I'm 35 years old, man. Don't talk to me that way. And he's like, you're five years away from being a 40-year-old virgin. And I'm like, actually I'm happily married, man, so you look really dumb right now, homie. And he's like, I feel bad for your wife. She's married to a guy who looks like a gremlin. And I just got in a fight with a teenager whose Twitter name is Future Rich Guy.

GREENE: No one expected anything profound to happen from all this, but it did. You had two people pushing past their impulse to just yell at each other. They actually connected.

GETHARD: And by the end of it, I was like, Randy, I tell you, man, I really needed this. I've been stressed out, and you came at me and when I went back at you, it was a real tension relief. And I hope you got the same out of it. He was like, I tell you, dude, I really did. You're actually a pretty nice dude. Sorry I came at you, but I'm glad we've gotten to know each other. And I was like, Randy, I really hope you direct your powers toward something more positive next time. And he was like, I don't have any powers, LOL. I was like, Randy, you got to believe in yourself, man. You got something to offer. So bring it.

GREENE: That's comedian Chris Gethard. He's got a show on the cable channel Fusion, and the season finale airs tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.