If you’re at all familiar with their work on the Adult Swim shows Tom Goes To Mayor and Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! you know that they specialize in a brand of humor that operates on making its audience uncomfortable or completely confused. Awesome Show in particular contains sketches that are outright disturbing, with an edge of something very much like fear permeating the humor. Ultimately though Awesome Show is a standard sketch show that enjoys the freedom to do pretty much whatever the fuck it wants. The humor is often based on uncomfortable pauses, awkward performances, terrible production value, and incompetent editing, but it’s not inaccessible. There is a rhythm to it, and it’s an astonishingly hilarious show if you connect with it, as many people (including myself) do. The show has a devoted following, and has attracted an impressive number of great comedians and actors, including routine segments from John C. Reilly for his character Dr. Steven Brule (a sketch that has since earned its own spin-off show). A quick list grabbed off of wikipedia will give you an idea how wide the appreciation for the show is, and how they’ve made fans out of people you wouldn’t necessarily expect…
Fred Armisen, Maria Bamford, Michael Ian Black, LeVar Burton, Michael Cera, Peter Cetera, David Cross, Elisha Cuthbert, Ted Danson, Patrick Duffy, Will Ferrell, Flight of the Conchords, Will Forte, Zach Galifianakis, Jeff Goldblum, Josh Groban, Michael Gross, Bill Hader, Neil Hamburger, David Liebe Hart, Jonah Hill, Tom Kenny, The Lonely Island, Romany Malco, Marilyn Manson, Richard Marx, John Mayer, Jack McBrayer, A.D. Miles, Dave Navarro, Bob Odenkirk, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, John C. Reilly, Paul Rudd, Steve R. Schirripa, Michael Q. Schmidt, Palmer Scott, Ben Stiller, Peter Stormare, Danny Trejo, Fred Willard, Rainn Wilson, Tommy Wiseau,”Weird Al” Yankovic and KAZ.
Some cool sketches include…
I recently spoke with Tim & Eric as they promote their recently released DVD of Season 4 of Awesome Show, as well as a tour that starts up later this year. I’ve left it pretty much as is, including the part where I get nervous and fuck up a name. Going into this interview I expected to be fucked with, and I knew it would be silly to try and treat it completely seriously, much less fuck with them back. What I didn’t expect was for them to not really fuck with me so much as completely dedicate themselves to straight-faced explanations about events that are completely made-up, yet not particularly weird or more interesting than reality. Their ability to play off of each other’s set up, improvise small specific details, and reference back to earlier comments makes for a very convincing conversation about virtually nothing. Except for a small section towards the beginning, I don’t think a word of this interview is real and their dedication (or perhaps boredom) was so thorough that when I asked about any plan for longer-form shows, they went on to describe Eric’s Vacation play rather than pimp their 1-hour Chrimbus Special that airs in December. Lesson: Don’t interview people after they’ve eaten a big chicken tender lunch.
Tim: Is this Renn?
This is Renn
Tim: Tim Heidecker speaking
Hi Tim! How are you?
…and is Eric there?
Eric: Eric Werheim in the lower frequence. Hiiii.
Excellent, very easy to tell you guys apart. So yeah, I’m Renn from CHUD and I appreciate your time guys.
Tim: Anything for CHUD.
Eric: Renn from CHUUUUD.
So yeah, I’m kind of on the newer end of the guys on the site, so I haven’t been doing this long enough to be jaded about interviewing cool people, but I have been doing it long enough to have interviewed some cool people, and this still definitely the most excited I’ve been for an interview I’ve done.
Tim: Well, who have you interviewed?
Well, actually, one of the more interesting people I’ve interviewed recently was Dr. Steven Brule himself, John C. Reilly for his movie Cyrus.
Tim: Oh, cool.
So since this is for the Season 4 DVD, I wanted to ask if there was anything going into that season specifically that you wanted to accomplish or adjust or change?
Eric: Well, yeah. Tim wanted to do all political jokes, in the very early scripts, and I said, “why would you want to change the whole show in the fourth season? People are just getting into it.”
Tim: Well, it was an election year, 2008.
Eric: It was a huge problem. Tim wrote all 10 shows without me having any input. [laughter from me] We got together and I was like, “lets write some stuff for Pierre,” and Tim’s like, “No, this show is done. I did all 10.”
What kind of political-bend did they have?
Tim: Uh, sort of neutral. Not really any point of view, just stating the facts.
Eric: The scripts almost looked like CNN.com, just all the bullet points you might see on the politics tab.
Tim: I guess I was sort of left after season three, I was left holding the bag. Eric left on a European vacation, sort of a traditional European vacation with his family, his parents and his sister. We had three months to put a season together, and I just did what I thought was best, and I just did it, wrote the season based on what I watched, the news.
Well, then how did you come up with what went on air? Since it doesn’t seem you ended up using-
Eric: We tossed it all.
Tim: We scrapped every single stitch of my scripts. Started fresh.
I feel like we missed out on some truly groundbreaking political television, in that case.
Tim: Right, I’m in talks with Signet, the book publisher about possibly publishing that season in book form or some kind of published form.
I hope that works out. Seems like something America needs to hear.
Eric: Excuse me. Um, it will not be called Tim and Eric, Awesome Show.
Tim: No, it’s called “Tim’s Scribblin’s…”
Eric: As dictated by my lawyer we got down to Awesome Show, then Tim’s Political Comedy Show, then down to Tim’s Scribblin’s, and that’s something I could sign off on.
Tim: The good news is though, that Knight Ridder, the newspaper chain, you know the syndicate has hired me to take some of my sketches from the original Tim’s Scribblins and put them into political cartoon form, like a comic strip. That will be starting to appear in a couple of markets next year.
Gotcha. Well I’m wondering, as you go into a fourth season, any chance at a political season aside, but as you settle into your, for lack of a better word, standard routine, how do you keep yourself from getting too good at emulating the sort of low-budget, VHS-level production values?
Eric: I wouldn’t call a sketch like “Universe” standard, in any sense.
Of course not.
Eric: Personally, I have not seen that anywhere. Two men pontificating on the universe and their neighbors. To me, I wouldn’t characterize that as standard television.
Tim: I think it’s about staying focused and putting our energies toward pushing ourselves in a direction that’s constantly moving forward.
It just seems obvious to me that, despite the “production quality” you guys work extremely hard on this stuff, and I just wonder if there’s ever a fear that you might overthink it.
Tim: Well, we usually don’t have the time or the money to overthink it. We usually have to make decisions pretty quickly and our resources are limited, so we try and do the best we can do and what comes out is what comes out, we don’t have time to really worry about it too much.
I’m sure you get this a lot, but how much do you feel is built in post-production? Obviously a lot of the aesthetic is centered around post-effects.
Tim: Probably 40%
There’s a definite Lynchian vibe to some of the humor. Dark isn’t really the right word, but just… to me, the funniest sketches tend to the more frightening bits. The Cinco Boy is a good example. Has that always been present in your humor, or did it grow over time?
Tim: I think it’s been in there for awhile.
Eric: Just a general aesthetic that we enjoy. We like shooting the darker, instead of being like MADtv with it. We just go to the darker place.
Tim: Yeah, we want to create a reaction from our audience, not just a cheap laugh, but also a feeling of uncomfortableness. And often, when we’re watching a cut, we’re going “oh my god, this is like a nightmare. This feels like a nightmare.” For some reason, that’s what also happens to be funny to us, I don’t know why.
I know you’ve done a significant amount of tours, you’re doing one currently right?
Eric: We leave for tour on November 1st through December 6th all throughout the US.
How do you shift your humor and translate it for a live performance?
Tim: Well, we play to an audience that usually wants to be there and who are fans of our show, and so we just do our best to put on a big, fun, loud, dynamic song and dance show. Obviously the awkward weird dark small stuff doesn’t work so well on a big stage with a thousand people in the room, so we just try and overpower the audience with energy and bombast.
How many tours have you guys done in the past?
Tim: This is our fourth.
What’s the status, or have you ever been approached to do anything longer form, be it a film or longer-form television?
Tim: Well, right now we’re working on this off-broadway show that Tim’s written, called My European Vacation. Which is very boring. Well, first of all let me explain… It’s a one-man show where he talks about his trip to Europe with his family.
Does RAZ make a cameo?
Eric: It’s more educational. What I do is I have a lot of anecdotes about funny things that have happened to me, like my Dad… That’s where the kicker is, that’s where people laugh.
Tim: A lot of the jokes or sort of inside jokes where you would sort of need to know his family to appreciate. Through the focus groups we’ve been doing with it, that’s sort of shown itself to be one of the big flaws, is that a lot of the jokes are personal, private jokes that don’t play well to a public audience.
You’ll have to load up the program with context and research materials so everyone will understand.
Tim: That boat has sailed. I think that ship has sailed.
Eric: But you know it does work for people who are close to my family like my neighbors, and some others, like my aunt and uncle. That’s what most of the jokes are geared towards.
Tim: I mean, yeah, that’s all well and good but we’re trying to play this out over months in New York. Obviously we need a much bigger audience than just that small group of people, but we can talk about that later.
I was curious what the relationship with Bob Odenkirk- how that started out. He obviously has had some sort of mentor role with the show. It’s certainly its own thing, but Awesome Show could be considered in the lineage, so to speak, of something like Mr. Show.
Eric: Well, he auditioned for our first show, Tom Goes To Mayor, the cartoon, and we did not recognize him as being someone from Mr. Show. Our assistant said “Well that’s Bob Odenkirk from Mr. Show,” and we said, “What?” and then I looked it up online and was like, “Oh, good to meet you. I know David Cross’ humor.” That’s how that started.
So that set things off on a good foot?
Eric: Set it off is more how it worked, we were kind of all under the same management umbrella, RZO when RZO was starting and they said it would probably be a good match, for Bob Odenkirk to produce stuff with you, and I said, “well, that’s going to be a lot of work for me, because I have to find out who this guy is.” …I watch one season of Mr. Show, and I didn’t care for it. I like Dino Stanatopolous, so whenever I saw him in the show I was laughing. His kind of stuff is what really got me, and I thought, “well if Bob approves of that, guy must know something about comedy.” Jeneane Garofalo stuff you know? I was into it.
How about you Eric, fuck me, sorry… Tim?
Tim: I came into the game late on that one. I didn’t see… I didn’t really know so much about that relationship. In other words, I was brought in late on that one.
Seems like kind of a reverse Scribblin’s situation then.
Tim: Yeah, I was dealing with other matters on another play.
Well he certainly seems to have stuck around, he shows up quite a lot.
Tim: You remember the Jerky Boys?
Tim: I was doing a play with them in New York, so Eric was kinda handling the day to day on that one.
So he snuck in, is what you’re saying.
Tim: No, no he didn’t sneak in I was just not…
…just under your radar?
Tim: Yeah, yeah, under my radar.
Eric: I set him up without Tim’s approval is what he’s trying to say.
Tim: No, you didn’t set him up without my approval, you had my blessing. I just wasn’t involved in any of the day to day hiring and casting and stuff because I was so busy with the play.
I see. Well, with Awesome Show, you’ve set a precedent for spin-offs obviously, with Check It Out! with Dr. Steven Brule. Do you feel like there are more coming? Is there an Awesome Show media empire in the works?
Tim: We’d love to develop every character that’s appeared on Awesome Show and give them their own show and have a whole network based on characters from the Awesome Show. I think that network would do really well.
I think it would. You’ve got characters that when fully fleshed out on a show would appeal to all demographics.
Tim: I just got a twitter from a fan today that said “I wish that Quall of Duty was a real show”
Or C.O.R.B.s, that would be a good action show.
Tim: It wouldn’t be hard to program. 5 nights a week of programs based on our show.
I could see it. I honestly feel like the television landscape kind of needs it. There are people hungry for it. I personally worked with a ton of people in college who were making shorts and films with bizarre, unique senses of humor.
Eric: How old are you, sir?
I’m 22, graduated recently. They were all fans of yours and I feel like your show and what it was doing, sort of enabled them to pursue their own unconventional tastes.
Tim: You know what’s one of my least favorite things, and I don’t know about you Eric, but it’s things influenced by our show.
Tim: I’d rather watch Two And A Half Men, than something we’ve influenced. It just, it always falls short.
Eric: My friend is staking a comedy writing class at UCB, she said that there’s a section called “Tim and Eric-Style Writing” that they’re studying.
Really? Have you gotten to see a copy yet?
Eric: She’s a whore. She’s a friend, but she’s definitely loose. But she’s trying to write comedy and she’s like, “this is so weird, but we were studying you guys today, in class.” I said, “Cool, have another glass of chap… agne. You know, let’s get started on the night. Enough about the comedy talk, I do it all fucking day with Tim Heidecker, you know, we do this a lot.”
Have you guys every thought about writing your own textbook or guide?
Tim: Oh it’s done. It’s at the printing press now. We’re also publishing, collectively, our collective group of plays, so smaller theater groups can perform them. You know, the Jerky Boys play, and Eric’s vacation play, and several others. Hopefully we’ll get a shit ton of cash from that.
Eric: You know, I wouldn’t necessarily mind watching imitations of our stuff on YouTubes, if we put out a slate that said like, “From the Minds of Tim and Eric…”
Tim: I wouldn’t want to be associated with some of that shit though.
That’s a dangerous road.
Eric: We put a JPEG up on our website, 1080 high-res slate so you can put it on HD movies and you open with it, with an announcer that says, “From the minds of Tim and Eric, comes…” and then your bit goes after that. And it’s just a small charge of twelve thousand dollars.
You might make twelve thousand dollars off of that.
Tim: Why don’t we change that to say “Inspired by the works of Tim and Eric…” but I don’t want it to seem like we created this stuff. It’s not like we wrote or directed this piece of shit that nobody wants.
I don’t know, all of those pieces of shit won’t get seen, but then maybe somebody will make something amazing and you can profit off of it.
Tim: Everybody wants to take the quick road to success but the truth is, it takes work, and first thing is you have to start on the stage, in the theater, you have to start writing plays. Then write comics and books. Then you can work on TV.
Eric: You’ve got to have at least two or three comedy graphic novels under your belt, or you have no shot in the TV market. I mean, look at Brian Posehn. He does graphic novels all the time. You think he started just with stand-up? No, he was in the comic biz.
Tim: Look at Eric’s book, the graphic novel that came out two years ago called Sperm about the kid who collects old sperm and sells it to the girls at school.
How well did that do?
Tim: Big success.
Eric: Big in Australia.
Well, you know, I cover day-to-day movie news, and I feel like I wrote something about that being optioned not long ago, for a fairly large scale movie, is that the case?
Tim: A-HBO is thinking about doing it. That’s Australian HBO. Possibly developing it starring Joel McHale.
We’ll have to watch out then. They put a significant amount of money into that sort of thing.
Tim: Yeah, it will be Joel’s first directorial adventure, so we’ll see how that goes. We all know him to be pretty funny as a pop culture actor on TV, but can he direct? We’ll see.
Well I don’t want to take up to much of your time, it’s valuable and you have genius to produce.
Tim: Thank you.
I mean it when I say I was excited to talk to you guys, so I appreciate it.
TIm: Are you not excited anymore? You used the past tense.
I’m maybe ten percent less excited, but it’s mostly all still there.
Tim: That’s positive. Great, that’s a high percentage.
You guys, you know, you’re really hugely hyped so when I hear your voices and you talk I hear the words you use, some of the mythology just kinda has to strip away, but ultimately I still enjoyed it and I still think you guys are great.
Tim: Well you can’t expect a great interview after a big lunch.
Well yeah, that’s the thing. Honestly, I heard “chicken tenders” mentioned at the beginning and I knew. Frankly, I turned my recorder off right away. I don’t have any of this.
It certainly wont run.
I was clicking around Facebook for most of it.
Eric: On our show you’ll see some energy. Bye bye. *click*
Tim: Adios friend.