Tim and Eric
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- Noah Baumbach on how Frances Ha helped him see New York City with new eyes
When Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim started out making awkward, off-topic film-school projects (like saluting the lobster's contribution to cinema), they really didn't consider what they were doing "comedy." That's long-since changed, though: They've made a cottage industry out of their surreal, polarizing sketches. The fourth season of their bizarre live-action, sketch-based Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! premières on Feb. 8, and the second season comes out on DVD on Feb. 10. They're working on an Awesome Show spin-off that premières this year, and a movie that's still in its embryonic state. Most immediately, however, Tim and Eric are hitting the road behind the penultimate season of Awesome Show. Before Tim and Eric launched their monthlong tour, The A.V. Club talked to them about their fat, sweaty fans; posing for pictures during performances; pizza fandom; and working with divas.
The A.V. Club: Why have you opted to bring some of the show's performers with you on this tour?
Tim Heidecker: Last tour, we did four dates on the West Coast with some of the regular oddfellows from the show as sort of a test to see if we could manage it. And it went really well, so now we're going to do the whole country with them.
AVC: Manage it?
TH: Well, just how the audience would react with them, and how we would react to traveling with them, and how hard it would be to travel with more than just us. It worked out pretty well, so we're bringing them to the rest of the country.
Eric Wareheim: It could be the worst disaster ever, the worst decision we've ever made. David Liebe Hart and James Quall, they're part of our family here. We see them on a weekly basis. They're eccentric people. They're very different—they're not professional performers.
TH: They require a lot of attention.
EW: We're practically living with them for a month, and that could get pretty trying at times. [Laughs.] But I think it's going to be amazing. And to bring these guys to Madison, Wisconsin or Kansas City—I think people there are really going to freak out to see those guys perform.
TH: And the audience that's there are likely fans of the show—they treat these people like celebrities. They get huge reactions when they come out onstage.
EW: Palmer Scott, the "sit on you" guy, we took on tour. He said to me after one of the shows, "I've been doing theater for 15 years to large crowds, and I've never felt the way that I have when I come out and sit on these people's faces." You know? They have a real sense of stardom up there. They are! They're superstars. It's like, it's a place where people can do really fucked-up stuff and get away with it. [Laughs.] Each of these guys—I mean, James and David—this is their stuff. James is a real stand-up guy and comedian, and David is a real singer and puppeteer. It is like their dream come true.
AVC: TV shows don't usually tour, and you're both relatively new to touring. What are you still adjusting to with being on the road?
EW: Last year, we booked smaller clubs and the turnout was kind of huge, so we had to book second shows. The show's really physical—it's a lot of dancing and singing and sports and ridiculous jumping. For me, that was really hard, to do two one-and-a-half-hour shows back-to-back. It's kind of like—it's not only physical, we put everything into it. It's just different than being in L.A. and shooting the TV show.
TH: It's also hard to keep yourself uninjured or un-sick. Someone invariably is going to pull something or strain something.
EW: We're not professional performers, so we go out there and we scream and we jump into the audience—we just know what feels good to us. Tim and I have always been in bands growing up, and it's so satisfying to do this. In some ways, it's so much more fun than making TV. You're out there with people that are really enjoying it, and you just feed off of their energy and have a good time.
AVC: So you guys made it through last year's shows relatively healthy, then?
TH: I hurt my neck. I think it was more due to a shitty motel we were staying in than anything else.
EW: The first tour was really bad.
TH: Well, the first tour, I threw my voice out on the second night, I think.
EW: What about that bike?
TH: Oh yeah, that was the first tour—I totally cut my knee, or my shin, real bad jumping up on the stage.
AVC: These are all the horror stories. What are some of the good memories?
EW: I would say, for me last year—when we played New York City, it was our first big show, and we played the Highline Ballroom. Just going out there and seeing people that actually showed up for this tour, it was an amazing feeling.
TH: It's an amazing thing how our show can be very personal and sort of specific to a certain sense of humor—to amass 300 or 500 people that all have a similar taste together in one room and see who those people are and see how different they are from each other, but that they all rally around this show and our sense of humor.
EW: It's a real club. It's like a convention—each of our shows. People come from all over everywhere, and they're all like-minded, in a way.
AVC: Has the audience for your humor been pretty much what you expected?
TH: There's definitely the prototypical slightly overweight, bearded, sweaty man with a show T-shirt on. [Laughs.] That is what I like to say is our base, like the standard fans. But then there's like dads and moms and young kids—
EW: And girls show up. Most people think it's just a man show, but I'd say it's almost 60/40. Sixty percent men and 40 percent ladies.
AVC: Do you use the live show as a testing ground for material that might make it onto the show?
EW: Usually the stuff's kind of locked—it's more of a teaser. We have a test group of people in L.A. But the video plays totally different live than it does when you're viewing it in a stable environment. Big, loud things work. Putting John Reilly on the screen works. We've kind of picked the videos, because we know certain things will work in a live setting. Sometimes after we do this, we're like, "Oh shit! That falls really flat." But we usually trust our guts in the early editing process.
AVC: When you're on the road, do you try to get exposure to local public-access programming that you can't see at home, for research?
EW: Sometimes, yeah. There's this channel in New York that—every time we stay at this hotel, this channel just has a freeze-frame of this man and a puppet. It's at the W Hotel, and every time we're there, I'll just watch that for 10 minutes, wondering why it hasn't changed. But usually we don't have a lot of downtime to do much of any kind of experiencing the local culture.
TH: But when you travel, specifically for our show, you get inspired by rest stops, Cracker Barrel. Middle-America people are perfect.
EW: We do get a lot of writing done, though, 'cause we're just stuck together. And there's an incredible amount of downtime when you do this kind of thing, because you're working one hour a day, and everything in between then, you have nothing to do.
AVC: What's an example of a rest stop that inspired you?
EW: Oh, last time we toured Austin, we played a festival, and then we drove to Dallas and stopped at Waco at this little barbecue shack that was amazingly delicious. The guys behind us in line—I don't know if you saw this, Tim—but they were all from the same office. Each of them must have weighed about 450 pounds and they waddled in and they had this banter with the guy [working there], like, "Pulled pork!" You know, experiences like that, you don't really find in the big city. These guys were just really comfortable with themselves and pigging out on slop. It was great.
AVC: Often during your live shows, people take flash pictures of you performing, and you usually stop the show to mug for the cameras. Is that done sarcastically?
TH: Yeah, that's something we picked up after doing the show a few times. We were noticing that people were taking pictures with their flashes. So we decided to exploit that a little bit and make a joke. Like one, people are always taking these pictures, and they look terrible, 'cause we're not posing for them. So we were like, "Let's just pose for them and get it over with." But it's also just a ridiculous thing to do. Every bit we do live, there's something. Like, what were we saying yesterday, Eric? We're fucking with the audience the whole time. There's constantly another level going on.
EW: We break down the show—we quit and we cancel like a hundred times [during the show]. Like the first bit from the last tour was, we cancelled the show. And I was thinking about this the other day, that a percentage of the people do not get that. You know, a lot of the stuff that we do. Even the Papa John's [faux infomercial] bit, which was obviously a joke—but people still come up to me and are like, "Were you guys paid by Papa John's for this?" And that's the level that we like to be on—you don't really know what we're doing. You're kind of always trying to figure it out.
AVC: Why did you single out Papa John's?
EW: Because they're one of the monsters of pizza. And it's also maybe the personal element—you know? Having that guy, John.
TH: And it all starts with stupid shit around the office, right? I think we were like—it's just things you goof around with. One of the producers here, we would always change his homepage on his computer to the Papa John's page. And after a few months of that, Papa John's is just part of our vocabulary. Something that's lame is Papa John's. So when it's time to do your live bit, you have your little bucket of targets that you want to use.
AVC: Has there been any blowback from that?
TH: [Laughs.] I don't think we're on their radar.
EW: No. And if they did hear about it, they would be happy. Because I know that people go home and get Papa John's because it's been drilled into their heads. People even write me, "I went and got Papa John's, and it was great!" I think even our fake Shrek campaign really worked in their favor.
TH: Well it certainly doesn't hurt. I mean, there's nothing libelous about it. You'd really have to get some irony professor from Harvard to explain to the jury what's bad about what we're doing. [Laughs.]
EW: We're saying true things—fresh ingredients, you've got dipping sauce, jalapeño peppers.
AVC: They have a new commercial celebrating their 25th year—they're making pizza with commemorative "chocolate pastry delights." Have you seen this ad?
EW: Oh my God…
TH: How would you remember something through chocolate?
EW: They've been doing some Facebook stuff, too—like, "Become a Papa John's fan!" I mean, hundreds of kids send me [messages saying], "You've got to become a fan of Papa John's page!"
TH: Digital pizza that doesn't actually exist as real pizza. Although I gotta tell you, I had some DiGiorno this weekend. You ever gotten into that pie? It's pretty good. "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno." I enjoy frozen pie every once in a while. See, Eric and I—we're not too high-cultured fellows. We like some shitty stuff, so we feel like we can goof on stuff, 'cause it's our stuff. It's our culture stuff. David, do you know Lou Malnati's? I sent those pizzas as presents all Christmas—a huge hit. We have Pequod's Pizza delivered to our show, cause that's my favorite.
AVC: In an older interview, you mentioned that you were going through a phase of calling beards "DMs," short for "Dennis Millers."
EW: DMs? [Laughs.] Beards DMs? Fucking funny!
TH: I'm starting to recall that, yes.
AVC: What phrases are you guys kicking around the office these days?
EW: What have we been laughing about today? It's so hard. Usually the lingo goes week by week.
TH: I've just been Twittering so much. That's my deal. I Twitter so much.
EW: Ew, is that like blogging?
TH: It's like one sentence. It's like, "I'm at the mall!" and then everyone knows you're at the mall. It's like a status update.
EW: For Facebook?
TH: But it's different, it's different.
AVC: It's for every little trivial, boring thing you're doing. It's its own thing.
EW: That's so dumb.
AVC: Technology and corporate video are both big staples of your comedy. What sparked your interest in them initially?
EW: It's a combination just of being fascinated by it—by seeing infomercials and by watching training videos. When we were in college, we collected some of these videos of anything and they all had the same bad people shooting it and editing it, and also when I was in high school, I was the president of the a/v club, and we had the worst video equipment. Even then, I knew what I was doing was just shit. And then in college, when we were making films, we had to edit on these reel-to-reel VHS things with the worst Toaster effects. I think both of those experiences just ingrained in us—the idea of funny page-wipes. And that's what you're kind of dealing with—videos on an early level of video-tech.
TH: And then those things invariably, the style is also what they're talking about. The way one of these videos looks is usually connected to the content. They're usually people talking about boring stuff, like broadband.
EW: We're also into anti-technology, 'cause you're so bombarded with new iPhone ads and that kind of stuff. So we make things like cPhone—one button, and that's all you get.
TH: And I think a lot of times, our humor is pretty simple and basic. It's like, "What would be the opposite of what you'd want out of this thing? What would be horrible? What would be the nightmare version of the iPhone?" The cPhone.
EW: Even back to Tom Goes To The Mayor, I think Tim and I are pretty conscious about creating a universe where certain things are not welcome. You know? You'd never see an iPhone in any of our skits. We always use shitty phones, VCRs, dumb cars, old PC computers.
AVC: Or eFaxes. Nobody remembers what eFaxes are.
TH: Yeah, that kind of language is what makes us laugh. Like, "Well, just eFax that to me, and I'll take a look at it."
EW: We've always loved that kind of businessman banter. One thing I've been trying to think of how to do a joke about is this little businessman scanner, where you scan business cards. There's something about a scanner, like can you scan someone's face or something? I don't know.
TH: I used to work in an office in New York for this terrible company, and we used to have staff meetings, and I would just count how many times the boss would use [the phrase] "in terms of." And he would say it like 30 or 40 times. And sometimes he would just say it. He'd be like, "Uhh, in terms of, how are we doing with that?" [Laughs.] I realized nobody knows what they're talking about. Everyone's bullshitting. Maybe not everybody, but certainly a lot of people.
AVC: What's coming up in the next season of the show?
TH: Oh wow, season four is really good.
EW: We have some big special guests—Alan Thicke.
TH: The real Alan Thicke. Sylvester Stallone's brother, Frank Stallone.
EH: That's number two. It really goes down after Alan Thicke. [Laughs.] Then we have Peter Stormare, who is one of the bad guys in Fargo.
TH: The show, definitely, I feel, gets a lot darker in season four. It's different. There's some really good stories where we find out Tim and Eric go on some adventures. [Laughs.] We have a sitcom. We do a sitcom, which was really fun, think I want to do some more. And I think we use a lot of the characters from the show in different ways in season four. It's like now that we set the foundation, people are going to recognize a lot of these people and realize they're becoming a lot more ingrained in the everyday life of the show.
EW: John C. Reilly has an educational show about the body for children [as Dr. Steve Brule]. It's a big highlight.
AVC: What's going on with the Steve Brule miniseries that's coming out this year? Is it a spin-off?
EW: Well, it's both. Right now, there is some kind of show that we're working on.
TH: It's hard to pin down exactly what it is, exactly what the schedule is. It'll drop sometime in '09. Sorry that we can't be more specific.
AVC: Adult Swim seems to know nothing about it, other than it's coming out this year sometime.
TH: Yeah, well, we made the pilot, and it actually came out really good. You know, the original idea of it is like that weekend news magazine that the local news channel will have, featuring like the weather guy or the sports guy, and it's like his half-hour to go around town and interview the local beer-maker or whatever.
AVC: Is it another 11-minute show?
TH: Yeah, it's an 11-minute show. It's called, Check It Out!, With Steve Brule. We try to go out and interview and find some eclectic people out there and put them in front of Brule and let it go.
AVC: Supposedly, John C. Reilly is very adamant about never repeating gestures in his performances. Does that also apply to Steve Brule?
TH: Well, we kind of fly through stuff with him so I don't even think there'd be an opportunity to. Most of what you see with Brule on the show is captured in the moment. I don't think we'd ever go back and try to do something again.
EW: He loves the spirit of improvisation and experimenting and making the magic happen. A lot of the stuff on our show is more about capturing the moment rather than nailing some comedic thing.
TH: Yeah, a lot of times the fumbling of words that come out of his mouth—you know, you can't write that, you just have to let his brain do that.
EW: And it's best to give him information right before we say action, so that he has no time to process it. He just has to hit these beats, and how he gets there is up to him.
AVC: When The A.V. Club last spoke to you about a year ago, you said you wanted to be doing something new in about a year. Is this the new thing?
TH: No! This is not the new thing—this is part of the old thing. [Laughs.]
EH: Can we talk about the new thing?
TH: Well, we're writing a movie.
EW: Yeah, we've got a big movie coming.
TH: I don't know if you're familiar with Superman, but it's part of the Superman franchise.
EW: A prequel.
TH: We're still working on it. We'll keep you updated.
AVC: Is season four the last of the 40 episodes you made? Is this the final season?
EW: No, we're doing another season—the fifth season, the ultimate one.
TH: We'd like to make 50 episodes of the show.
EW: For us, that's an extremely high number. Like, we can't even believe it.
AVC: That's halfway to syndication.
TH: [Laughs.] And then we're 11 minutes, so we're another halfway there. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are you raring to try something new?
EW: We're pretty excited. I mean, we've been working on Tom Goes To The Mayor and Awesome Show pretty much back-to-back for four years now. So we'd like to do something long-form. A movie would be really fun. We have some other projects that are Tim-and-Eric kinds of things.
TH: I would say that every one of those so far has been something I'm proud of, and think has some greatness in it at some point. I would just be always fearful of having a bad couple of shows of this show—which inevitably will always happen in a series. Trying to keep it pure.
AVC: How has your relationship with Bob Odenkirk evolved? How involved is he these days?
TH: Not at all.
EW: Except being kind of our spiritual guru.
TH: Every once in a while, he'll do voiceover stuff, and we've cast him in some things. But as far as the creative side of the show, nothing. You'll watch him in stuff and he'll maybe have a couple of ideas every once in a while. He's a huge supporter of the show.
EW: He's almost taken the role of what he did in the very beginning, which is helping Tim and I through this process. He helped us get a show. And just recently, we met with him and he gives us advice about movies. He's this really, really good voice of reason in our world, because he's been through it all and he talks to us about the best way to do it. He's valuable in that way.
TH: And also, just to be in the room with him and show him a rough cut and have him laugh—'cause he's not much of a laugher, you know? Funny people don't really laugh very much. And to tickle him, no one else is going to laugh like him except for me and Eric and a couple of the guys here, because our humor is so similar. It's a fun feeling.
AVC: According to some message boards, people are pretty divided about the Brule spin-off, and it seems like your last season was your most polarizing yet. Some are arguing that it's your best season, while others are arguing the opposite.
TH: Which is odd to me, because when we started out with this Tom Goes To The Mayor, I could kind of understand that. And then after we were at this for a while, I was surprised to see that there were people that loved our show, but hated certain things about it. Like you said, some people hate the last season. I can't see it, because I see it all coming from the same sensibility, and pretty good all the way through.
EW: We sort of stopped looking at these message boards years ago. You know how it is. [Laughs.] I don't know—season three is pretty good, I think.
TH: Yeah, we're writing and producing all these shows in a pretty small period of time, so they're not really different seasons to us. They do have beginnings and ends as far as—this is definitely the first episode of the season and everything. But it's not like we've got a new Eric Wareheim in season three or anything, y'know? I mean, it's all pretty much the same season.
AVC: Speaking of your audience's reaction to you and vice versa, was the "Jim And Derrick" episode last season a response to the Internet's insistence that you only appeal to stoners?
TH: No, not so much. It was more us watching shows on Fuse and MTV and seeing this culture of really garbage content. Like no actual content, just style and filler, it seemed like.
AVC: What seemed to offend people most was how well you were able to do that style. It was very slick.
TH: Why would it offend people?
EW: We were so proud of that episode for that exact reason. We feel like it was a big success.
TH: Some people have become used to the rhythm of the show, and they want that. And they show up every week to watch what they want to see, not necessarily to be challenged. So whenever we do a show like that, which we try to do about once every season, some kind of conceptual show, we always make sure the network understands that this isn't a new direction for the show. It's just a place for us to spread our wings a little. That was a really fun, fun show for us to do.
EW: For that idea to work, we had to do a full episode of it from start to finish. We fought the network on it. They were like, "It's too much; people are going to go crazy." After it aired, they all came back to us and said—well, not all of them—one guy said, "Yeah, you guys are right. The way that this has any power is that you were immersed from start to finish in this douche-fest." And I would say 99 percent of the people that I talk to about season three bring up "Jim And Derrick" right away as being one of the best things.
TH: If we're going to have the reputation of being this different show, we have to do that stuff. And I'm glad we're able to do it. But it's an 11-minute show; the stakes are so low because the idea is, "Let's make a ton of these, and every once in a while, we'll depart." It's like, "What's going to make the show fun to watch?"
AVC: What was David Liebe Hart's reaction to the more "hip" version of himself in that episode?
TH: Oh man, he was there in the studio for that, and we let him direct that man. He was upset. He was very concerned for his career—that we wouldn't use him anymore.
EW: We tried to explain to him that this was a parody of him, and how people perceive him and how someone like him would be on Fuel TV or something. He didn't quite get that, but he still had a good time directing it.
AVC: What directions did he give?
TH: Well, the directions were funny, because they were the directions that he himself never uses in the performances. Like, "You've got to keep your mouth closed when you're using the puppet. When the puppet's singing, you keep your mouth closed!" Like, David—you never do that! [Laughs.]
EW: Yeah, he's never done that. [Chuckles.] That was good.
TH: [Laughs.] And then he kept saying, "Well, maybe I should just do it. Maybe I should just do it." [Laughs.]
AVC: Like he was just setting him up to fail, then David could step in and save the day?
EW: Yeah. What's crazier is that the fake David in that whole situation—that's the guy we should be talking about. What is he thinking when he's being directed by this other guy?
TH: Well, there's so much of that that goes on here—people that get cast and they're like, "What is this show? I don't know what this show is." And I'm like, "Oh, it's a comedy show." And then they get thrust into our world for an hour, and they leave.
AVC: What are their auditions like?
TH: They audition and then get the part and then come in, and you know, we use all the takes that no one would ever use and often the moments before we say action, or before we say cut. No one's ever called and complained or anything like that. Everyone's just so grateful to get the work and to be on TV and all that.
AVC: Which of the non-professional performers have you learned the most from?
TH: There's no learning going on over here. [Laughs.]
EW: It's more about discovering these men's worlds. Like getting to know Richard Dunn very well, and David Liebe Hart. It's fascinating—their worlds. And also, being in Hollywood, like Tim said—everyone is so grateful to be on TV. They were shocked at how much they loved it. For them, being on Awesome Show is the best—they have their own fan clubs, people call them, they get mobbed at our shows. Their worlds are really interesting.
TH: There was actually a unique thing that happened—a commercial that we shot for season four. There was a woman, and I started telling the cameraman to start zooming in on her, because you could tell that she didn't know she was on camera, and she was making these really funny faces, 'cause she didn't know where she was supposed to be looking. And halfway through, our producer was like, "Yeah, she knows the show really well." And it was this weird combination of somebody that was kind of in on it, but also was able to deliver and not be hammy about it. She was a weird, transitional person for us.
EW: Most times when people come in here, they're like, "Okay, they cast me to be funny in a comedy show." And their first read is usually way off. And Tim and I have to come up to them and say, "Read this like you're a serious dentist," or whatever. "Do whatever your part is. The comedy is not in your performance, it's how we shoot it and edit and pull some sort of reaction out of you." And sometimes, them being uncomfortable about it makes it even funnier.
AVC: Have there been any notable or unusual interactions between the non-professional performers and the more famous performers on the show?
EW: That's a good question.
TH: I'm sure there has been.
EW: That one with Peter Stormare and that woman. We had a really dark commercial called "Cinco Boy," for when your son dies. It's an artificial boy, sort of like AI. It's just a doll—and over time, you get delivered taller dolls.
AVC: Because it grows?
EW: Yeah, as it grows. And we usually write the script down, and we overwrite it so we have some stuff to work with. So we get on the set, and this woman, the mom, has some lines. And we're cutting them for time and telling them what to do, and she just didn't hear that direction, and Peter Stormare goes to the next part, and she's like, "Are you going to let me do my line?" She didn't know who she was talking to, really. [Laughs.] Or maybe she did, and she didn't care. [Laughs.]
TH: She had a little bit of an attitude, and when you work with people and you're giving them an opportunity, you're like—almost all the time you get a certain amount of, "Oh yeah! Whatever you say!" You know, really good-spirited people who are just happy to be there, and happy to work. And she just had this diva attitude, this undeserved diva attitude. [Laughs.] Really? No, that's not the way we do things here.