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May 2008


The past , present and future of Adult Swim’s divisive madmen

In 2006, Variety called Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s crudely animated cult hit Tom Goes To The Mayor “put simply, one of the weirdest series on television.” A year later, the duo launched the anarchic sketch show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and caused many a head to explode. Add Tim and Eric Nite Live (the unhinged internet series they host for Super Deluxe) to the pile and you’ve got an entertainment empire like none other. And while their comic sensibilities inspire uncontrollable laughter in some and uncontrollable vomiting in others, few can deny that they are among modern comedy’s most influential and inimitable voices.

PiQ: What are you guys doing right now?

Tim: We’re getting ready for a tour and in the middle of shooting and editing season 3, plus we’re doing Tim & Eric Nite Live every week, so just too much stuff.

PiQ: How long are you going to do Tim & Eric Nite Live?

Tim: Until they stop giving us money! We’re addicted to it pretty much. We’re doing blocks of 12 episodes at a time.

PiQ: Did being in an incredibly self-serious environment like film school drive you guys to become comedians?

Eric: That was definitely my experience. We both wanted to be mega-serious, Stanley Kubrick art film directors, and once you get into that environment and see all the bad professors who are washed-up directors it makes you laugh at the whole system in general. We made a bunch of short films that were totally anti-film school, and that was kind of a springboard to what we do now. You think you’re so special and then you see these hundreds of other kids doing the same thing as you. It’s really daunting. We came out to L.A. to intern on film shoots and music videos and both came out saying, “Holy s***, this ladder is so long, how do you move up this thing?” We came back to the East Coast a little defeated trying to find another way in.

PiQ: When you were doing the first bunch of videos that turned into Tom Goes To The Mayor, did you have anything planned or did you just want to play around with whatever you could get your hands on?

Eric: With Tom Goes To The Mayor we were fresh from Philadelphia. We had just moved to L.A. and Bob Odenkirk guided us through how to make a TV show, but in terms of creatively and the editing process that was all us and our head editor Jon Krisel.

PiQ: With Awesome Show you’re able to do a lot more than with TGTTM. When you’re putting together bits is it anything goes with your editors?

Tim: We always try to push them a bit. Whenever we notice that they’re able to do something, we’ll exploit it. Like with Hackey Sack Pros we just jumped around on green screens and left it to Jon to make it work.

PiQ: Both of your shows have a lot of 80’s graphics, like Video Toaster sort of stuff. Do you have an attraction to that era?

Tim: Absolutely, it’s our childhood and it’s sort of engrained in our brain. It’s also an aesthetic choice, because it looks great in the show, and it looks sort of wrong and sad.

Eric: Somebody asked us what kind of old cameras and gear we use for these lo-fi commercials, and we actually use HD cameras and high-end equipment. Our editors have found ways to use real VCRs to f*** up the image quality and add those tracking problems to make it look dated.

PiQ: Like Steve Brule’s Ultimate Fighting.Tim: That was a case of our editor Doug Lussenhop literally making a VHS copy and banging on the VCR to create all that noise.

Eric: Watching it clean was funny, but watching it like you found this tape in your house gives it a whole other feel.

PiQ: Adult Swim was the first channel to have 15-minute shows. When Awesome Show ends, do you think you’ll want to try something more long form? I’m thinking about what a Tim & Eric movie would be like.

Tim: So are we! If you figure it out let us know! The 15-minute format has been great for us but sometimes it prevents letting things play out some more. Awesome Show in particular has to move so quickly that you can’t really do drawn-out, uncomfortable weird stuff. Some people would argue that a lot of our stuff is very uncomfortable and very weird but we’d like to do some more long form stuff that doesn’t have to play out so quickly.

PiQ: Is shocking people a part of your format or is it all about the joke and the shock is just a byproduct of that?

Tim: Making people laugh is the first objective. But some things that make us laugh shock other people, so stuff that’s good old-fashioned funny to us may be good old fashioned gross to someone else.

Eric: We love when we get responses of, “I can’t even watch this,” like Carol and Mr. Henderson. Some of my friends who are megafans can’t even watch that because it’s so brutal and that’s what we love, that line of “how far will you go?” Some people will cry laughing and others will cringe, but that’s what we like.

PiQ: That one was fun, but The Poop Tube was tough to handle.

Eric: Well that was us going to the extreme for the sake of going to the extreme. We knew that would be the grossest scatological joke in history.

Tim: We knew that if we wanted to do a poop joke, we’d have to do the best and most extreme poop joke ever. We can’t just sit in the middle.

PiQ: People have compared Awesome Show favorably or unfavorably to shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Do you think that’s fair?

Tim: Yeah, this show definitely evolves from a long line of other shows like that, but at the same time it’s completely different from those shows. But it’s a rich compliment if anything to be compared to Python.

Eric: We think it’s been a long time coming that there’s a show like this that breaks the format. All the sketch comedy shows that are out, some are great, but they’re very conventional in a way, and the stuff we’re doing hasn’t been around since Python or Andy Kaufman.

PiQ: Dr. Steve Brule is probably the breakout star of Awesome Show. What’s your relationship with John C. Reilly and why do you keep coming back to each other?

Tim: John did a voice on TGTTM, and he’s a friend of comedy and a really super nice guy. But he loved the script and was like, “Who wrote it?” and we were like “Well, we wrote it, we write all this stuff.” This was at the end of TGTTM and the beginning of Awesome Show and we had this huge board of all the stuff we were thinking of for it. He came in our office and saw the board and was like, “maybe I can do a character on your show.” And we were secretly screaming inside, but we kept it really casual. The first season of Brule was all shot in one day, we had five ideas for him and he had a couple of ideas and it was all pure gold.

Eric: The idea of having an uncomfortable improv response is what we want. We didn’t want Steve Brule to think about it, we just want to shout, “Talk to us about diarrhea, go!” and get him just stuttering in real time trying to figure out what to say.

Tim: Also, he had this great sandwich here that he became obsessed with and part of him coming here was just thinking about getting that sandwich. He’d just call me and say, “I gotta get that salami sandwich.”

PiQ: You tend to recruit people from public access and local talent agencies. What makes someone really stand out to you?

Tim: Probably headshots. If a headshot makes you laugh right away, it’s great. One reason the show stands out is that if you look at everything else on television, everybody looks the same. We always push those people to the side and look at the guy with a giant mustache and huge forehead and eyes too close together and cast them not as weird people but as regular people.

PiQ: Has your conscience ever bothered you about things that you get people to do?

Tim: No, everybody in the show is an actor and this is what they want to do with their lives. They’re helping us express our ideas, even if they’re getting s*** dripped on their heads. Nobody’s been physically hurt, so…

Eric: For example, in I Sit On You, people were like, “You made this large man do all these weird moves, how embarrassing.” But he came in the other day and said, “Thank you for making me a star.” It got like 500,000 hits on YouTube and he was getting all this exposure.

PiQ: What kinds of movies and TV shows do you like in regular life?

Eric: I just watched Once on Tim’s recommendation and really liked it.

Tim: Oh, you did? Pretty great, right?

Eric: I loved the ending when they didn’t get together, and that’s when the title just came in: Once. Like it’s just a moment, once.

Tim: Didn’t it make you wanna be young again? Just stay up late and do stuff for free? Remember those days? I love that scene in the studio when they’re trying to record. Oh man.

Eric: We both love obscure British comedy, but we also like a lot of American stuff, like Lost and The Office, The Sopranos

Tim: When I’m really entrenched in comedy I don’t like to watch any comedy, because it just feels like you’re at work and you’re thinking about how stuff works, so I watch a lot of news and documentaries.

PiQ: A lot of your stuff is very musical, like Petite Feet. Have you ever thought about releasing an album or is the visual component too important to lose?

Tim: We’re actually doing a soundtrack for the show right now, all the music for the show and some extra stuff, some songs that have more to them than what’s in the show.

PiQ: What’s the process behind making the music in the show? It’s been in the show to a certain extent, just one person plinking on a keyboard and the other singing random stuff. Is it like that?

Tim: Yeah, a lot of times it’s very spontaneous, like Petite Feet we just started singing on a shoot. I’ll usually just get a start on it and then get together with our composer Davin. I make a lot of that very, very lo-fi stuff like for Casey & His Brother.

PiQ: There’s always that one instrument in those songs…

Tim: It’s a synth setting called “LA Forever.”

PiQ: Why do you think comedy tastes have tended towards absurdism in recent years?

Tim: I would disagree with that. We dabble in absurdism and a lot of other shows on Adult Swim do, but I don’t really see it anywhere else. I see a lot of political humor, like The Daily Show and Colbert, but I think there was more absurdity 20 years ago.

Eric: When people do absurd humor they seem to have to label it: “OK, here’s a weird moment.” Our show isn’t really absurd to us. Some of our bits are out there, but almost everything we do stems from something that Tim and I think is truly funny. It’s just our world.

Tim: I think some people confuse the meaning of absurd as meaningless or without purpose, but there’s lots of meaning in everything we do. It may not be sitting out there in the front to be understood, but it’s not just absurdism for the sake of being absurd.

Eric: If you watch the body of our work you see little things pop up like issues with your dad or whatever.

PiQ: Consumerism and advertising seem to be big themes.

Tim: Yeah, we’re just regurgitating what we watch on television. At least half of Awesome Show is a mirror held up to television and how horrible and nightmarish it is if you really watch it. You watch something like an Olive Garden commercial and realize that this is a nation of adults watching children’s programming 24 hours a day.


  © copyright scott howard