Eric André has had a couple of relatively mainstream sitcom roles on Don’t Trust The B—— In Apartment 23 and 2 Broke Girls, but his true comedic sensibility is more fully displayed (along with, occasionally, his naked body) on The Eric André Show, which begins its third season tomorrow night, November 6, on Adult Swim. Existing in a strange alternate dimension where celebrities—from A- to D-level—unwittingly end up on a public-access talk show hosted by a clueless maniac prone to smashing his own sets, the show is unlike anything else on TV. Sure, it has slightly nicer siblings like Billy On The Street and predecessors like The Tom Green Show and Wonder Showzen, but none of those match the anarchy of Eric André. Both in the crappy, crappy studio—where he’s joined by hilariously deadpan sidekick Hannibal Buress—and in field segments, it’s impossible to know quite where things are headed. Will a guest whose publicist has inadequately prepared them for the experience fear for their lives and leave? Will a member of the public get physical with André? Will he end up jail? (It’s happened, but remarkably just once, and for a pretty innocuous sketch.) André spoke with The A.V. Club about the show, cultivating the hair of a black woman, and what he wants his look to be in future seasons.
The A.V. Club: Did you have anything different in mind going into your third season? Anything new you wanted to try?
Eric André: I wanted to chemically straighten my hair like Katt Williams, so I did that. That was the only thing I had set out to do, and I accomplished it.
AVC: Was that a personal lifestyle choice, or strictly for the show?
EA: Strictly for the show. I always joked around about doing it with my writers, and this year we were like, “Let’s just fucking do it.” It’s a lot of maintenance! It’s not easy being a black woman. It looks like shit every morning. You’ve gotta wrap your head up in a do-rag or a silk scarf. There’s tons of time and energy. You can’t jump in a pool, you can’t touch water. You’re like a gremlin. No, Gizmo! Was Gizmo a gremlin?
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AVC: Gizmo was a Mogwai.
EA: I’m like a Mogwai! You can wet them little gremlins up.
AVC: What was the original pitch for the show like? I can’t imagine people could really understand what you wanted to do based on conversations.
EA: I didn’t pitch it like a verbal pitch. Me, Hannibal, and my two creative partners—Andrew Barchilon and Kitao Sakurai, they direct the show—we filmed a little seven-minute sizzle reel in an abandoned bodega in the middle of Bushwick. We shopped it around to all the networks and everybody passed on it except Adult Swim, who loved it. They were the only network that liked it. Everybody else was like, “Ehh, no thanks.”
AVC: The first couple of “on the street” segments this year are a little more intense than they’ve been in years past. There’s the guy who throws your microphone, and it looks like he’s really going to hit you for a minute.
EA: Yeahhhhhh. That guy was upset.
AVC: Have you ever been hit?
EA: I haven’t been decked. I almost got punched in the face on the subway twice, for the same bit. But people didn’t want to touch me because I was covered in milk and Froot Loops, so I just reeked. It was like the hottest day of the summer, too, so the whole subway just stunk and I looked like a lunatic. People didn’t really want to touch me. I always kind of want to get punched, because then I know that the bit is effective and it’ll play well and be exciting to watch. But if I get my jaw broken I’m pretty much fucked unless it’s the last bit of the season. I’ll have to go to the hospital, and then I can’t talk, and I can get sued. That could really throw production into a tizzy. I got arrested the first year and it was bad. I got arrested during a bit, but thank god it was the last bit of the day. I spent the night in jail and got back to set in the morning. But yeah, anytime you really get hurt or get arrested, it’s bad for production.
AVC: I’m frequently worried on your behalf that someone you approach on the street or startle somewhere is going to have a heart attack.
EA: Yeah, that’s also a concern that we just push to the back of our brains.
AVC: Have you ever had an idea for an on-the-street segment that you wouldn’t do, that was over some kind of line?
EA: There’s a bunch. I have a list of 500 street segments in my computer that we have to whittle down to like 40. There’s a bunch that get cut by legal or they’re impossible to produce… I had a bit last year where I wanted to drive a car into a marching band and seriously injure six or seven people, and then my directors are like, “We can’t do that. That’s illegal.” [Laughs.] “Don’t get us wrong—creatively we’re on board.” But we can’t really do that. It would be cool, visually.
AVC: What about the in-studio guests? Are there questions that you think of that you wouldn’t ask?
EA: [Laughs.] All the fucking time. You never wanna be mean, you just wanna be absurd or incompetent. Anybody can be a dick. It’s not funny to be mean. It’s funnier to just be inept. We do come up with joke questions that we immediately throw away all the time. We were going to interview Steve Schirripa [Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri] of The Sopranos, like “Did you motorboat James Gandolfini in his casket?” [Makes motorboat noise.] We all looked at each other cracking up, but thinking, “We could never. It’s completely unethical and heartless.” We’re sociopaths, but within reason. We’re sadists, but within reason.
AVC: How long are guests typically in the chair?
EA: Like 45 minutes to an hour, then we shave it down to the best three minutes.
AVC: Do you start off slowly and get them comfortable?
EA: I used to. Sacha Baron Cohen does that. He’ll start out really simple, and then say something really fucked-up or offensive, and then cushion the fucked-up shit. I heard that he does that. I used to kind of do that, too. This year, I was just like, “Fuck it, I want people to walk out during interviews. Fuck this god damn show, I hope it fucking crashes into the ocean.” The last two years I was worried and didn’t want to piss off guests too much, because they’d go to their agent, and the agent will send out a memo to the rest of the agents and then you won’t get other guests… This year I was like, “What the fuck ever. Who cares? Who gives a shit about this stupid show?”
AVC: I assume that people know what they’re in for after two seasons. Is that not the case?
EA: Some people don’t even know the name of the show when they get to the set! People are flying blind. I guess they talk to their publicists for five seconds. Maybe they think that it’s a wacky talk show, they don’t think it’s a talk show run by two sadists. So I have people do promos for the show and they’ll be like, “You’re watching… What’s the name of the show?” I’ll be like, “The Hannibal Anderson show.”
AVC: It seems like Lou Ferrigno has been the most contentious guest.
EA: Did you watch the Lauren Conrad one?
AVC: She seemed game, but it looked like she might throw up at one point.
EA: Her publicist flipped out on us and tried to get us banned. Her agent tried to get us banned from clients. The publicist tried to get us banned from all their clients. They called us and said, “You can’t air this!” It was chaos. They were like, “He drew a swastika on his face!” The publicist literally said this: “He drew a swastika on his face, and my grandparents died in the Holocaust!” I’m black and Jewish. Hannibal’s black. My two directors are both Jewish. We’re not exactly the Aryan Nation. Pipe down. They were trying to use that to prove how fucked up I am. They fuckin’ hate us. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is there pressure from the network to not air something like that?
EA: No, Adult Swim is the most supportive… They were like, “This is awesome! Best interview ever!” They had my back. The best thing was a week later we got Jimmy Kimmel on the show. I’m e-mailing Jimmy Kimmel and he’s like, “I’d love to do the show, let me just CC my publicist on this.” And then it was the same publicity company as Lauren Conrad. They just had to eat their words and be like, “When would you like Mr. Kimmel to show up?” It’s all in jest, too, you know what I mean? I’m not doing it to be purposely mean to Lauren Conrad. I’m not like, “Fuck Lauren Conrad, I’m punk rock!” I just like being absurd and trying to make the most inept talk-show interview possible. I’m in character. I’m playing this completely incompetent, schizophrenic talk-show host. I explained to her afterward, as she was running out of the studio, “I’m just playing a psychopath talk-show host. It’s all love, it’s all in jest.” Stephen Colbert is not a right-wing nut. Ali G isn’t really a gangster. I’m taking on a persona, and some people don’t get that.
AVC: It’s interesting that you have those conversations.
EA: I never have them until afterward, and unless I have to. I want them in the moment to think I’m a lunatic because it makes for a genuine reaction, makes it more exciting to watch. If Ali G came out beforehand and said, “I’m playing a crazy guy,” it’d be lame. It’s better when Newt Gingrich actually thinks Ali G is that stupid.
AVC: Is your character an expression of your id?
EA: Totally. I think that’s accurate. Just like Howard Stern. It’s just him saying everything as if there were no repercussions. In person he’s just a cool, calm, collected dude. I’d say the show is me doing an impression of myself and Hannibal doing an impression of himself, with all our idiosyncrasies to the nth degree.
AVC: You said something in an interview a while back about this show representing the “demons in your brain,” which was a funny line.
EA: Hmm. I say a bunch of bullshit. I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I’m really dumb as shit. I went to a music school. I don’t know anything. I’m a real doofus. I’m a real dum-dum.
AVC: Is that just an interview character you’re playing?
EA: You’ll never know. I’m taking it to the fucking grave!
AVC: What else are you working on?
EA: I’m in Toronto filming a new show for FXX with Jay Baruchel. It’s produced by Broadway Video, and it was created by Simon Rich, who was an SNL writer. It’s called Man Seeking Woman, and it’s coming out in January.
AVC: Is it funny?
EA: No, it’s actually like an MSNBC prison documentary. No, it’s funny. It’s kind of like sitcom meets sketch comedy, like [The Secret Life Of] Walter Mitty. It starts out in a normal, grounded world, then it goes into this hyperbolic fantasy world. There’s a scene where Jay gets dumped by his girlfriend and he’s heartbroken, then I reveal that she’s dating somebody new. I’m like, “It’s this guy Adolf,” and he’s like, “Adolf… Hitler?” And he’s like, “Sure, you know him?” Then we go to a party and Bill Hader’s playing Hitler, in special effects makeup, he’s like 150 years old, in a wheelchair. He’s the life of the party, and Jay’s like, “What the fuck?” That’s the gist.
AVC: Is your hair straightened in that role?
EA: My hair’s not straightened! It sucked. My hair was long for the pilot, like a big afro. Then I chemically straightened it, and your hair’s like permanently damaged when you do that. So I had to chop it all off. I was even taking hair pills to make it grow back out faster. I was growing my afro for a couple of years. Now it’s short as shit, I fucking hate it. But totally worth it. I do not regret doing the Katt Williams look. This is my dream: I did Katt Williams for season three. For season four I want to lose a ton of weight. I want to look like Christian Bale in The Machinist, and get my hair like Basquiat, so I’m just this emaciated weirdo. And then season five of The Eric André Show I want to Bic my head bald and Bic my eyebrows and my facial hair and gain a ton of weight, but also get really muscular like E. Honda from Street Fighter, and then put a toupee on, off-center, and do eyebrow toupees, so I look like a burn-victim E. Honda. That’s season five. Those are the looks I’m thinking about.