Cool TV freaks Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, creators of batshit cult sketch show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! are playing Auckland’s Sky City Theatre this Friday. Joseph Harper called them for a chat.
Those who are already fans need no introduction to the work of Tim & Eric, and the uninitiated should be aware it’s pretty hardcase. But if you’re into child clown bits, painful deconstructionist comedy stylings, and that kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy their live show and/or their latest TV series, Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories.
I called them in America a while back to talk about their comedy ‘process’ and ‘managerial style’.
How’s planning coming along for the Australia/New Zealand Tour?
Eric Wareheim: It’s going good. We recently did an American tour. That was very successful. And we’re gonna use some of the elements of that to go down under under.
What sort of elements? Can you tease the live show for the punters?
Tim Heidecker: Man. It’s really hard for us to do that because we like the show to be a big surprise and we don’t want to give any of the jokes away. If you do that it’s not very impactful. But it’s gonna be a combination of new stuff. New characters, new ideas, and maybe some characters you’ll recognise if you’re a fan of the shows we’ve done. It’s sort of. It’s. Um. It stays true to the sensibilities that we’ve been honing for so many years now. The work we’re most proud of.
Any special guest coming down with you?
T: DJ Doug Pound is definitely on board. Coming down with all new sounds and all new jokes and all new attitudes.
I was wondering about your creative process. How do you guys come up with characters and bits and stuff.
T: I guess it just starts when someone has an idea and then we figure out how to make it work on stage or on screen or whatever. We’re always trying to make each other laugh. That’s the first priority and that’s kind of where it starts. Then we start to develop it. Each step we take with the character makes it more strong. Right up till we feel it’s done. It’s just a process. There’s never one moment where it comes together. It slowly evolves.
What about in terms of the visual comedy. Like your faces. How do you come up with different faces? Do you just stand in front of the mirror or something and pull on your lip or whatever?
T: That’s hard to say. There’s not really a method to it. It’s just spontaneous. Again, we’re just trying to make each other laugh. Trying to make our crew laugh. Trying to give our editors a lot to work with. And they’re very good and picking through and finding the stuff that’s the most outrageous or the most appropriate for a piece. It’s not really very methodical.
Is it ever a struggle to get across those ideas? Because a lot of it is so abstract, how do you pitch it to the people you’re working with?
T: It helps that we pretty much only work with people who are on the same wavelength as us. So It’s never too hard. We’ve found people who we really connect with and they’re all on board for all the wacky stuff. And actually it’s really good when they bring their own sensibility to something.That helps. It’s never been too challenging actually.
So do you work with basically the same team of people across all your various shows?
T: Yeah we try to. Obviously sometimes people aren’t available, but there’s a nice pool of people out there now that we know. So if someone’s not available we just get somebody else.
How do you find the people you work with?
T: Well. For a while there we mostly just graduated interns. They’re start of interning at Abso-Lutely and would rise up through the ranks. Most of the people we work with now came through that. But then a lot of people are people we worked with on smaller things that we just liked working with. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge.
Your company (Abso-Lutely) produces a lot of really funny shows (Nathan For You, Comedy Bang Bang, The Eric Andre Show, Review). Do you guys oversee all that stuff?
E: Not really. Not specifically. We offer up our production services. Which means we have this huge pool of producers and assistant directors, editors. People that those other shows can use if they want. But we don’t mess with the creative at all. That’s the whole point of our company. It’s about helping those out, and not screwing with them in any way. Sometimes we’ll overlook cuts. Or you know, offer advice if people want it. But it’s just on a show to show basis.
T: I think that’s pretty important. It’s important for the artist to be able to express themselves the way they want to. Most television is a compromise of about fifty different people who are trying to get their way for a variety of reasons that often don’t have anything to do with the quality of the show. And the people we work with, who do shows for our company I mean. Nathan Fielder, or Eric Andre. They’re all individuals who have a pretty strong vision of what they want to make. Just like Eric and I do. And we were taught when making our shows, that you kind of sink or swim on your own ideas. You gotta give people that freedom to either succeed or fail based on their own ideas.
So you guys have always had that creative freedom with your shows?
T: Pretty much, yeah. We had some help from Bob Odenkirk right at the beginning. He helped us figure out some very basic structural stuff in terms of how to make a show, and that kind of stuff. But we don’t get a lot of notes. We don’t get a lot of push back on our work.
This year you put out the second “season” of Bedtime Stories which was pretty different. What made you want to move away from the more sketchy stuff you’d previously been doing and into the Bedtime format which is more filmic.
E: We made a couple episodes of Awesome Show! that had a singular theme or a singular story and if was just a different way of telling the tale that we kind of liked. After doing sketch comedy so long where each bit is just thirty seconds to a minute to tell a story. It was just fun for us. I guess I like to challenge ourselves and come up with something that is different. I feel like we have this whole different feeling with Bedtime.
T: We sort of finished Awesome Show! and said, what can we do that’s kind of the opposite of that show? Make something that people are gonna be surprised by and maybe reach a different audience or a bigger audience. But at the same time not compromise and not be stuck with a narrative sitcom with one set of characters. Let’s create a space where each episode can be a different thing. But not 30 different things. Just one different thing.
Did you have any inspirations in going into that form?
T: We talked a lot about The Twilight Zone. And Black Mirror from the U.K. There’s not a lot of TV that does the anthology really well. Those were the main ones. We felt like we could do a version of that with a few more laughs.
Is your process pretty similar when making a live show compared to TV?
E: No. Oh hell no. It’s theatre! It’s rock and roll! It’s up there being live. There’s no edit. You gotta be loud. Especially for a New Zealand crowd.
Do you enjoy it as much as creating the video content?
E: I would say sometimes it’s even better. Because when you make a TV show. You work so hard and so often it just airs and that’s it. Usually you’re not around a whole bunch of people watching it together. But when you do live comedy there’s something kind of magical about everyone being on the same page and in the same room. But it’s a totally different muscle.
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