The next time you hop on the bus to cruise down Ocean Avenue, you might experience more than just a cheap and convenient way to get from point A to point B. Thanks to the comedic talent of Santa Monica resident Chris Gehrt, you might also get some laughs.
Gehrt, 32, is part of Transit TV Comedy, an effort by the Los Angeles Transit Authority to make the time spent on public transportation both enjoyable and entertaining.
“They wanted to showcase local L.A. and Santa Monica people by putting stand-up comedy on there,” Gehrt said.
Though he had acted before, Gehrt began doing stand-up just four years ago. After observing several open mic nights, he finally got up the courage to take the stage at the Ha Ha Cafe in North Hollywood.
“I was addicted as soon as I started doing it,” Gehrt said. “To have a great show is the most rewarding thing you can ever do.”
Gehrt began recording segments for Transit TV Comedy at the end of September, filming the bits on an empty bus in Sun Valley. He drew from his own routine, rewriting it to make it appropriate and relevant to public transit passengers.
“You have to reach out to who your audience is going to be,” Gehrt said. “I’ve taken the bus many times myself, so I’ve been able to get the vibe.”
Still, as Gehrt doesn’t film in front of an audience, he’s never sure how viewers will react.
“I’m just hoping they’re laughing, not rolling their eyes,” Gehrt said.
As the need for material grew, Gehrt invited four of his friends to join him in filming the transit segments. The longest segments, which can last up to six minutes, are shown on Mondays, Transit TV’s Stand Up Comedy Day. Though the content differs slightly from comic to comic, the majority of their jokes are locally focused.
“We try to do some good with it,” Gehrt said, citing the eco-friendly slant that their routines have been taking lately. “Recycling, community events — that stuff hits home with people.”
Gehrt and his friends aren’t paid, but the end of each bit offers information about their upcoming shows.
“It’s good exposure,” Gehrt said.
Much of Gehrt’s transit material comes from his time living in Santa Monica. Originally from Wisconsin, Gehrt has lived all over, working in everything from the sports industry to television and everywhere from Miami to Chicago. Though he has only lived here two years, Gehrt has proclaimed himself “a Santa Monican for life.”
“I’m going to be here forever,” Gehrt, who lives near 21st Street and California said. “There’s everything all in one city.”
Santa Monica also happens to be where Gehrt works. Gehrt is a part of Wendy O’Brien Casting, which helps to find talent for shows such as “Flash Forward” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
“[As] a comedian in the entertainment industry, seeing the business side always helps,” Gehrt said. “I get to meet a lot of the bigger named comics, too.”
Gehrt admires comedians such as Nick Swardson, Louis C.K. and the “frat-like” comedy of Will Ferrell. Gehrt has posted videos on Ferrell’s Web site www.funnyordie.com, some of which come from the acting workshops he occasionally teaches on the weekends.
“It’s a very unique community, the comedian community,” Gehrt said. “A lot of people have had ups and downs in their lives, and they use comedy to express themselves. It’s a pretty intimidating thing to start doing at first, but once you start doing it, you’ll be hooked.”
Gehrt has performed all over L.A. and across the country, winning the Flip da Script stand-up comedy competition earlier this year and performing at such venues as O’brien’s in Santa Monica, Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store. Eventually, Gehrt hopes to be featured on one of Comedy Central’s stand-up programs or even to have his own sketch comedy show.
“I need to get the exact material that I want for a special in order and present it to the network,” Gehrt said.
Gehrt will continue to look toward his every day experiences to discover this material. Highlights from Gehrt’s typical Santa Monica Saturday include breakfast at IHOP, a $5 movie on the Third Street Promenade and a visit to his favorite spot in Santa Monica, the library.
“I spend more time at the library than the homeless,” Gehrt said with a touch of humor.
When whiling away the afternoon watching pro wrestling, the San Francisco 49ers or the Chicago White Sox, Gehrt might even play football himself, enjoying the “fresh Santa Monica air.” No matter where his day takes him, however, the comedian most looks forward to ending his night with karaoke at the Gaslite on Wilshire.
“If the day was perfect, I would sing a duet with Axl Rose,” Gehrt said.
In fact, Gehrt’s love of stand-up is almost challenged by his inexplicable obsession with Guns N Roses. Though he always comes on stage to “Paradise City,” the band is the one thing that Gehrt feels cannot be included in his routines.
“I want to, but they’re almost untouchable,” Gehrt, who is currently writing to Axl Rose to ask for an autograph, said. “If he reads this, tell him to answer this letter. I’m not a psycho.”
Potential cracks about Gun N Roses aside, Gehrt said he’ll continue with Transit TV Comedy until he has nothing left to laugh about.
“It’ll go on until I run out of jokes, which could be tomorrow,” Gehrt said. “Personal stories can’t be made up by anyone else … It’s a trend that all the great comics do. I hope I’m on the right path for that.”
Gehrt performs every Saturday at the Spotlight Comedy Club in the Valley at 8 p.m.