With nary a traditional premise or punch line in sight, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have amassed and amazingly strong cult fanbase. Now with the second season of their Adult Swim sketch show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! set to premiere and a brand new live talk show on Super Deluxe, the cult could only grow larger.
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are two well-trained filmmakers who, early in their career, decided to quit the traditional Hollywood movie race. And it’s a good thing.
Who needed another pair of Hollywood wannabes when we could get quality programming like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Because of the sketch show’s incredible success, the second season is set to premiere on Adult Swim Nov. 18.
Clearly bored by the ho-hum sketch show format seen weekly on network television, Heidecker and Wareheim set out to create something insanely bizarre. Now, the pair’s huge following are treated to recurring characters like John C.Reilly’s Dr. Steve Brule, a nerve-wracked “expert” who stammers out inane health and living advice to the fictitious Channel Five viewers.
Then there’s the MC Hammer-meets-James Brown “Doo Dah Doo Doo” guy, the star of a dance instruction tape for children who teaches kids to dance with commands like, “Now slap your hands, now spread those wings, feather your bangs, shake your buns– now think about your Dad.”
Punchline Magazine recently chatted with Tim and Eric about the new season, what makes them laugh and how those uncomfortable moments in life are some of the funniest.
How is this season going to be different than the first?
Eric: It’s a lot bigger and better in a lot of ways. You’re going to see a lot of the same characters, but they’re kind of going to new places. You’re going to see Steve Brule come back in a big way. He’s going to lose his mind. We’re really proud of these new ones. We experimented a lot more on some of them. And on the other ones you’re going to see some regular comedy bits that are going to blow your mind.
It seems Steve Brule has already lost his mind. How’s he going to lose it further?
Eric: The married news team in this latest episode asks him to do a wine tasting and he of course forgets to spit out the wine and he gets pretty drunk and it causes quite a scene.
Tim: He’s a depressive drunk. He does not react well.
Eric: Yeah, he just goes to a really dark place. This season he does a couple of shows on his own [which air on the fictitious Channel 5]. He has some self-help shows– one is a self-defense class and the other one is called Living by your Lonesome. And it’s just tips on how to really enjoy life when you’re living on your own. You’re going to see another side of Steve Brule.
How do you guys go about writing episodes?
Eric: It started with Tim and I writing everything and then we started collecting a small team of people that edit and produce the show who are also writers. All of us kind of share that similar sensibility. We get together and brainstorm maybe a 100 ideas and maybe 20 of them will really work. Then Tim and I take those ideas that we really love and put it in a script/outline form.
Half of our sketches are fully scripted out with dialogue and the magic happens when we improvise a performance. Then the editors take it one step further– so it’s like the editors are also the writers. The network has learned to leave us alone with some of these things.
Tim: We’re very lazy about it. It’s the last thing we really want to have to do. We usually just write the minimum to get production going and then we panic the day before and actually think about it.
So there’s a decent amount of improv going into your finished sketches?
Eric: There’s a huge amount. The Steve Brule stuff is almost fully improvised. We’ll have one idea, like the wine tasting, and then the three of us get together and just go through it. I mean, we’ll have beats where we’ll be like, ‘Ok, you’re just going to explode here.’
Tim: We often shoot with three cameras. If it’s a scene that’s plot driven then it’s not so improvised but if it’s a character piece there’s more improv. We had a friend of ours in the other day and all we knew is that he had a funny voice that he wanted to do. We had a skeleton of a program that he could present. It was basically this question and answer style show where we would ask questions and he would try to answer them. But he would never know the answers so he just talked around it. They would be very specific sort of questions like how far away is the moon from earth.
He would just ramble and ramble. It wasn’t as funny as we were hoping it would be. But we just kept asking questions, and after about a half hour of asking him questions we got to a question about slaughtering horses– and that he knew quite a bit about. We kept asking him questions about horse slaughtering and the specifics and when you should slaughter a horse and how you should. He went on for another 20 minutes about horse slaughtering, which then turned into a prayer to horses. So the bit sort of developed on its own. But it meant just shooting for a half hour before we got that.
Eric: A lot of the stuff we do is just comedy experiments. We’ll bring a comedian in or some actor that has no experience. Sometimes you get gold and sometimes it’s just horrible.
We’ve kind of blocked our types of sketches into two separate ideas. There are comedy bits and there’s mood pieces. A comedy bit is usually a written-out bit that has a script with jokes in it that you could relate to as funny moments. But mood pieces are like this [horse slaughtering] guy coming in and doing a prayer. That, in itself, is the comedy– but you only find that out when you shoot it and edit it.
We’ve always been more fascinated with little moments rather than these big over produced comedy pieces that you’ve seen a million times. It just doesn’t fit into our world.
Someone was telling us that they loved our show because it’s just one ultra uncomfortable moment strung into another one. You see people losing it.
Tim: we were laughing the other day about this. If all the mini shows we present on this channel five universe– how uncomfortable would it be to watch? Everyone that has a show has a meltdown. Something terrible goes wrong.
Eric: Even something as simple as the news.
Tim: Right, like they should be able to get through the news without everything going to hell.
Eric: Our show is just a series of those uncomfortable moments you see in real live strung together.
Tim: The simplest way to do comedy is to take a situation and just do the opposite of what should happen.
How would describe the state of sketch comedy on television?
Tim: there’s some stuff we like. We love Will Forte on Saturday Night Live and Fred Armisen but the rest is spotty at best.
Eric: We really haven’t seen a sketch show that’s piqued our interest. But we feel like there’s good comedy out there. We like the new Office; we like some of the stuff SNL is doing. There are tons of shows in England that are blowing our minds but they’re really not classic sketch shows.
Tim: As weird as Eric and my show is, we tend to not like the weird stuff when other people do it. We like good a laugh but then sometimes we’re like, ‘Oh that’s too weird.’ And then we make our show. When we’re making the show, we try not to immerse ourselves into too much comedy because you don’t want things to affect your work.
Eric: When we first got discovered by Bob Odenkirk, he kept asking us who we know and what comedy scene we’re in. We were like, ‘Well, we don’t really know any comedians.’ And I think that’s why he took a liking to some of our earlier films. Tim and I really did live in this bubble that just came from our childhood.
I know you guys met when you were both at Temple University in Philadelphia. How long after you met did you start working together.
Eric: We met in 1994 when we were both in our first year of film school.
Tim: We didn’t really work together in college. We were friends and roommates but we weren’t thinking of doing comedy as a career or anything. Only until after being in the real world for a couple years and seeing the possibilities and the technology, we figured we were at a place where we could get together and shoot and edit something on a PC and put it up online or on a DVD. That all happened in 2001.
We thought that maybe we can do this and not pursue becoming serious filmmakers, which seemed a very hard thing to do. Like my job working as an assistant prop master on a three million dollar movie is going to lead me to a future film directing.
Eric: It’s a brutal scene. We came out to LA while we were in college to intern on films and music videos and I think we both left that experience thinking that this is an impossible scene to break into. You need to make it some other way. So we went back to the East Coast and both got jobs until we started making these little comedy bits.
What makes you guys laugh?
Tim: Tickling. When I’m tickled. I guess Eric makes me laugh.
Eric: We do have a major problem when we’re shooting bits. Tim makes me laugh and I can’t keep it together.
Tim: I also make myself laugh, which is really embarrassing.
Eric: Tim also laughs at his own comedy during rough cuts. He’ll start just loving his performance. We have a live show now on Super Deluxe [Tim and Eric Nite Live] and we’re a little worried that the first five minutes is going to be us just trying to keep it together. It’s going to be a big problem.