Awesome Is As Awesome Does

11 July 2012 | 5:29 am | Steve Bell

"Whenever we get anything on The AV Club... within the first five minutes there’s always twenty comments like, 'Tim & Eric should get AIDS and die, fuck those assholes!'... I can’t imagine anybody caring enough to talk about what you don’t like when it comes to entertainment – it’s absurd to me that you’d publicly write about that somewhere."

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The history of comedy is lettered with famous duos – think Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Cheech and Chong, Cook and Moore, Martin and Lewis, French and Saunders, Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb, closer to home even couplings like Roy and HG or Hamish and Andy seem forever joined at the hip – but never has there been a comedic twosome as brilliantly twisted and surreal as Tim & Eric, the kings of low-budget sketch mayhem.

The pairing of Eric Wareheim – the taller, bespectacled one – and Tim Heidecker – the other one – came to prominence with their insane cable TV vehicle Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which kicked off on Comedy Central's Adult Swim black in 2007 and ran for five brief seasons. The seasons were brief in that they all contained ten 11-minute episodes, the strange, scattergun nature of the show making this more than enough to digest in any one sitting. It's a world of fast edits, insane characters, famous guests tooling around, old and unattractive people playing out bizarre skits and scenarios – basically just a maelstrom of shameless showboating and stupid shenanigans. Yet somehow it's all strangely cerebral despite the proliferation of toilet humour and general inanity, and that mystique is part of the franchise's indubitable charm.

Following the show's demise the pair branched out into the world of cinema – although to be fair their film foray Tim And Eric Billion Dollar Movie (2012) isn't exactly as highbrow as that conceit sounds – but now they've returned to their roots and hit the stage, culminating in their first ever journey to Australia. It's certainly an exciting prospect for fans, although anyone who's seen their TV show will be wondering just how the hell they're planning on pulling this off.

“Well Eric and I actually started a long time ago doing live stuff,” explains the affable Heidecker. “We used to do little multi-media PowerPoint presentation kind of shows before we had the TV show, so in a little way it's like going back to that. And we both used to play in bands, so we have a strong connection to playing live. We do take certain characters from the show, but it's much more of a pep rally-slash-rock show than a replication of the TV show. There's a lot of singing and dancing and us in leotards sweating – it feels like you went down to see your friends' talent show in the basement, although probably not as good as that. It's also a way for us to say 'hi' to our fans and see them afterwards – it becomes like a little bit of a high school reunion for lunatics that like our show.”

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Given the inherent weirdness of their humour it's fair to guess that they attract an array of interesting characters to their gigs, but for Heidecker it's all pretty par for the course.

“I've got to say, our audience is generally super-friendly and funny and cool, in kind of an artsy, nerdy way rather than a motorcycle-riding, leather jacket kinda way,” he laughs. “They're like us and we're like them and we're all kind of in on the same joke. I think a lot of people end up watching our show alone or with a couple of friends – or by themselves on a computer – so this is a manner of experiencing it with a bunch of other people who have the same sense of humour. We find people become friends at these shows and maybe even get lucky at these shows – it's about getting the same kind of people together.”


Tim & Eric Awesome Australia Tour, Great Job! teaser video.

The pair met at college, initially fooling around in bands before being drawn to the world of comedy – who were their initial comedic influences when they made the jump?

“We were both really into Mr. Show – with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross – and Andy Kaufman of course,” Heidecker recalls. “Earlier it was ['80s and '90s Canadian sketch show] The Kids In The Hall and Monty Python – when we were coming up comedy was pretty boring and staid, and very much about stand up comedy and sitcoms. We were approaching it from a totally different angle, being more like an independent short film art project perspective. We didn't take it too seriously, because we didn't think it was something that was commercially viable – it wouldn't be something that we'd be doing for a living – so we were just doing basically to make ourselves laugh and to make our friends laugh. Luckily it turned out that [US cable TV network] Adult Swim started up and they were like an oasis in the desert of entertainment, making these crazy shows that it turned out a lot of people enjoyed as well. We found a nice little home there.”

Importantly for a show so groundbreaking and innovative – and, let's face it, weird – they were granted complete creative control by the network, a situation which allowed them to bring their twisted visions to the screen without interference.

“Yeah, I like to say that they're there when we need them to be there, in terms of they're the first people who get to see stuff so we get feedback,” Tim marvels of the slack given to them by Adult Swim. “They're honest, but we all have the same intentions – to make the best show possible and the funniest show possible. Their attitude is always like, 'Well here's what we think, but it's your show and you've got to live and die by it', so ultimately it's very rare that we get into situations where they say, 'You can't do that'. As our friend Bob Odenkirk says, 'This is not the way that the real world works. You guys are not getting a good experience in how the world actually is'. We're just like, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

The early influence of Monty Python is indeed telling – the two camps coming from completely different places entirely but containing many parallels in the way that they subvert the sketch form and use surreal and downright strange methods to end particular segments.

“Yeah, definitely, I was sort of born into Monty Python – or hard-wired with it – because my parents used to watch it when my Mum was pregnant with me, on public television in the '70s,” Heidecker chuckles. “And later on watching it, I don't think we studied it too closely, but it's certainly something that we talked about when we were putting our show together: 'We don't need to do things one way or another, we can do what we like'. We were also working within an eleven-minute structure, so it's not like Saturday Night Live where we have an hour-and-a-half to kill – we have eleven minutes to squeeze in as much stuff as possible. So that kind of inspired us or forced us to look at different ways of doing sketches that were pretty quick.

“We've never thought about boundaries in any specific way, we always thought about what made us laugh – me and Eric and the editors and a couple of other people around us. We kind of made the show in a little vacuum, without any appreciation or consideration for how it was going to be received – we just made it and made up our own rules in the process. We have our own limits on taste and things like that, so we have our own little rules and governors.”

Tim & Eric and their many characters on The Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

And while Tim & Eric clearly have a large fanbase of open-minded weirdos, the polarising nature of their humour must mean that they ruffle a few feathers from time to time.

“Just on the internet and in those dreaded comments sections,” Heidecker laughs. “Whenever we get anything on The AV Club – which is essentially The Onion's online entertainment section, they always cover us whenever we're doing something – within the first five minutes there's always twenty comments like, 'Tim & Eric should get AIDS and die, fuck those assholes!'. They pop up straight away and it sparks this debate, and people start yelling, 'Just because you don't get their humour doesn't mean they're not funny!' For years it's been this stupid conversation! I can't imagine anybody caring enough to talk about what you don't like when it comes to entertainment – it's absurd to me that you'd publicly write about that somewhere.

”So it's just one of those things where you know it's out there – like our movie got terrible reviews from some critics, it's like we're speaking a different language to them and they don't get it at all, they just don't think it's funny – but that's probably fine, there's plenty of examples in pop culture of things that are now considered great that were discussed and disregarded. I think it's probably a badge of honour – I like to say that if everyone's okay with what you're doing, you're probably doing something wrong.”

The caustic chemistry between Heidecker and Wareheim is integral to their appeal, so is it a case of them having the same sense of humour or complementing each other by bringing in different things to the table? “I think it's a little bit of both. At the core there's a lot of things that we both find very funny and have a sort of secret language about, but then we're two very different people and that creates some diversity too,” Heidecker muses. “We're lucky that for many years now we've shared a sensibility that makes working easy, because there's not a whole lot of debate and argument, it's usually, 'I agree, let's do that', which makes it easy.

“Right now we have no plans [to break up the partnership] – we've studied famous duos enough to know how to avoid the classic break-up. We're still very close and there's plenty of ideas that we have together that feel like they'll still be fun to do together. I think in general comedy's a young man's game, and I think that it would be silly for us to be doing this when we're forty or fifty, but then maybe when we're sixty or seventy it will be funny again – there will be some dark period when we're separated and then we'll do a band reunion.”