There might not be a support group for people whose car antennas were snapped off by the monkeys at the Great Adventure safari or for those of us who witnessed (or experienced) unspeakable debauchery at a church parking lot carnival in middle school. But Chris Gethard just may have the next best thing.
The comedian and West Orange native launched New Jersey is the World, a series of podcasts celebrating the Garden State, last month.
“New Jersey is the greatest place on planet Earth,” says the Patreon page for the project. “This is an indisputable fact.”
Some will agree (as they should). Some will disagree (and they’d be wrong). But one truth remains gospel: people, both From Here and not, are fascinated with our state.
“For a place that’s as maligned as we are, every few years something launches from New Jersey that kind of takes over in the pop culture sense,” Gethard said. “So there’s this balance of kind of being laughed at, right? Like, the mythology is it’s this dirty place, people from there are rude, it’s all polluted, it’s a fake New York, it’s a fake Philly, it’s a place where people are kind of angry and insecure about that fact that they’re not New York or Philly.
“All these things we hear, and there’s varying degrees to which these things are true, but then I also sit there and I go, you’ll watch Sopranos and flip out and say it’s the best show on television while I’m sitting there as an Essex County guy going, ‘Oh my god, they just referenced the corner of Passaic Avenue and New Dutch Lane, I know that’s right near the Fairfield Airport.’ It’s that thing where you want to roll your eyes and make fun of us, but then the things we make, you tend to love.”
And that’s part of why Gethard wants to create something that presents his home state the way he knows it best.
New Jersey is the World is a collection of podcasts, photos and videos focusing on all aspects of Jerseyana—food, drink, weird theme parks, phone calls from residents, questions from outsiders. Gethard and his many co-hosts, mostly high school friends, cover it all.
“I really do just want to honor my home state, and I want to make something good,” he said. “I’m also really proud that I’m making it with a group of guys who are just legitimately guys that I grew up with who are cut from the same cloth. They’re not comedians. Everybody does their own thing, and they’re good at what they do, and I’m kind of leading the charge as someone who has been podcasting for a few years. But I just really think I’ve always thought that regular, down-to-earth, salt of the earth people are way more interesting to me than stories about celebrities and that life.”
That attitude kind of reflects New Jersey as a whole, he said.
“I think there’s a real aversion to pretentiousness all over the state, so I really just want to make something that sounds like regular people talking in an honest way and letting it be a celebration of this insanity that I grew up with.”
Gethard, 40, is a West Orange native, and that’s the inspiration behind WOTOWN, the main cog of New Jersey is the World. The free podcast, available to stream through services like Spotify and Apple Music, is where you’ll hear the hosts talk about things like amusement parks and driving around in search of an abandoned and/or haunted property to explore—experiences that aren’t necessarily unique to growing up in New Jersey, but things feel like something that belongs just to us all the same.
“I think there’s something to the idea that it’s such a small state that as you sort of grow up, you get your license and become someone who has a little more freedom to move, you start meeting people where you’re like, ‘We’ve never met before, I’ve never heard of you, but within 35 seconds of the first story you tell me, I can already tell we’ve got so much in common,’” he said.
Other related podcasts include Voices from the Jughandle, where residents and non-New Jerseyans alike can call in with thoughts and opinions; NJ Food Reviews featuring Don Fanelli, with whom Gethard previously worked on Fizzy Boys, a soda podcast; and a monthly Q&A. Access to everything is available at different Patreon tiers—between $1 and $10 per month.
Reception has been pretty positive so far, Gethard said.
“The sense I get is that the Jersey people hear it and really identify with it and are rallying around it in that way that I’m always so impressed with,” he said. “When New Jersey people decide they enjoy something, they go all out to let you know they’re supporting it.”
For Gethard, that support looks like folks subscribing or calling in to share stories about rival towns. For others, it can manifest itself as screaming along to songs that mention part of the state or watching The Sopranos over and over again.
And Gethard gets it, because he feels it, too.
“I think if you ask anyone about my career, I just never shut up about Jersey, and I’ve always kind of obsessed over it,” he said. “I’ve always loved talking about it. I am of the same ilk. I’m cut from the same cloth. When I hear songs that mention it, I throw my fist in the air. When I see it represented on TV in a positive light, I love it, and in a negative light, I sort of analyze it and decide what’s true and what’s not and how mad I should be. I understand that feeling that Jersey people have to celebrate when their state is celebrated, because I celebrate it, too.”
It’s not just Jersey people, though—listeners from outside the state often call in with questions, earnest or silly or an amalgam of both.
“There’s a lot of people subscribing who I get the sense are not from New Jersey, some who have never even been there, who are saying that it’s cool to get a glimpse into this place that there’s so much sort of pop culture about, this sort of mythology about it being a certain way,” Gethard said. “It’s cool to hear it from the inside. I also just think it is just funny stories. There’s a lot of stuff that makes me laugh, and I’m a pretty harsh critic of my own work. I think the Jersey people are really loving it, and I think even the outsiders are finding a lot of value. I’m a little less concerned with the outsiders. We also all know if somebody tries to make something about Jersey and misses the mark or comes off pretentious, that you can be in a world of pain.”
So far, Gethard’s experience has been relatively pain-free. He’s made it a point throughout his career to feature his home state—from his standup and writing for Weird N.J. to the Chris Gethard Show on Fusion and later truTV and his 2019 comedy album Taylor Ham, Egg, and Cheese. New Jersey is the World felt like the logical next step.
During COVID-19 quarantine, he started tinkering with ideas for different mini podcasts, but all of them led back to New Jersey one way or another. It’s what felt right for his career, too.
“It is not some play to corner a market,” he said. “I am one of us. I promise. I’m in my 40s, I don’t need to chase mainstream success anymore. I just want to be like Uncle Floyd, Southside Johnny, that local hero, happy to do it, happy to represent who we are.”
Gethard has always kind of felt that way about his work.
“I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has been very lucky to have some success in entertainment because I’ve always felt like an outsider to it,” he said. “I’ve never felt comfortable going into a room and trying to rub elbows with people. I never moved to Los Angeles because I find myself feeling like so out of my element there. I think I’ve always viewed myself as someone who’s sort of on the outside looking in, even though I’m participating in it. My TV show, I always felt a much greater kinship with the kids who would show up and sit on the floor to hang out and be in the audience than I did with the celebrity guest.”
That particular brand of accessibility and relatability makes for good output, especially in the podcast format. Gethard and his co-hosts are able to create a dialogue about experiences they know others will relate to—both part of New Jersey is the World and not. It’s a conversation, not a lecture.
On his podcast Beautiful/Anonymous, for example, Gethard opens the phones and talks to one anonymous person for an hour or so.
“The impetus behind making that podcast was that I was like, ‘Man, there’s so many podcasts where celebrities talk to other celebrities about celebrity stuff,’” he said. “I kind of just want to make one where I talk to regular people about regular stuff. I’ve always just felt like a very unfancy person, but I’ve always taken a ton of pride in that. I think it’s also part of why I’ve continued to hang onto my roots of where I’m from because at least in West Orange, if a fancy person showed up, we’d go, like, alright, who cares? What’s your order, you’re holding up the line.”
That’s why Gethard continues to celebrate his home state.
“I think when people really kind of scratch the surface, the reason they wind up being a little intrigued is because it’s this small state, it’s the most densely populated state, but when you really look at it, it’s just sort of a microcosm of everybody else,” he said. “It’s every other state mashed together, right? Every other state’s story shows up…So as far as the storytellers that come out of here, they’ve got a lot of raw material.”
New Jersey is the World is available on streaming platforms and at patreon.com/newjerseyistheworld.