“Last call for Hepatitis C!” Shannon O’Neill announced from the sold-out crowd as audience members lined up to dip spoons into the gray plastic tub overflowing with 20 gallons of ice cream, a couple dozen toppings and the nude, shivering host of The Chris Gethard Show.
The self-described “Most Bizarre and Often Saddest Talk Show in New York City” hit Austin’s South by Southwest festival for a raucous appearance at the 300-seat Esther’s Follies early Wednesday evening, attracting both diehard fans and curious passersby. Backed by four-piece band The Front Bottoms, UCB fixture and public-access phenom Gethard broke into song exhorting attendees to “Remember the A La Mode” and welcomed show staples The Human Fish, Future Gold Medalist Connor Ratliff and Bethany Hall, who scooped ice cream onto her boss by the red shovelful.
“Let’s get some peanut butter under his knee!” suggested fans via O’Neill’s roving microphone. “Put some Nutter Butters on his neck!” “Carmel poured directly on your head, please!” “A&W Root Beer sauce on his left pectoral!” “I don’t like his glasses; can we draw new ones on with chocolate sauce?”
Following the applications of bananas by regular character Bananaman, Gethard received the request for “Lone Star beer cascading over your nipples!” “This is the first alcohol I’ve had in 12 years!” the host cautioned. “Not too much! Not too much!”
Other guest appearances included Audience Member with a Sleeping Baby, Meow-gic Matt: The Magician for Cats, Andrew “Hot Dog” Parrish, The Hintmaster, Triceratops Who’s Not Very Good at a Boston Accent, Vacation Jason (who pelted Gethard in the face with Teddy Grahams), Messenger Bag (who strove to either give or receive a kiss from everyone present) and Electromime (who was shocked multiple times mid-performance by a remote-operated dog collar). Many made it a point to pitch their new apps, streaming-music services and flash games to SXSW badgeholders.
“The different toppings represent the different revenue streams you’ve created for yourself with the show, correct?” asked Talking TCGS podcast cohost Griffin Newman, bending down to stick a microphone in Gethard’s numbed face. “Uh yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking,” he replied through chattering teeth. Gethard then opened wide to accept the suggested “Pink Lemonade Flavored Emergen-C poured directly into your mouth.”
After 45 minutes of sugary abuse, Gethard invited Quinton, “the only black person in our audience,” to place a cherry on top. “This is my first time in Austin!” Quinton shouted. “I love Austin, Texas!” As fans subsequently bum-rushed the stage to sample their collective creation (“There’s more people lined up here than for Kanye and Jay-Z,” quipped O’Neill), The Front Bottoms led a giddy standing sing-a-long of their ditty “The Beers.” Shouting the chorus “And I will remember that summer / As the summer I was taking steroids / Because you like a man with muscles / And I like you,” the audience danced in the aisles, grateful that a ragtag gang of out-of-towners could push even their jaded boundaries of what it means to truly Keep It Weird.