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‘I'm Not Some Acid Head’: We Get A Glimpse Of The Real Tim & Eric

31 December 2019 | 1:42 pm | Hannah Story

Cult comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim talk to Hannah Story about how their often absurd work is less "anti-comedy" than "anti-traditional comedy".

Photo by Caroline Bader.

Photo by Caroline Bader.

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“Tim [Heidecker] just sent me a song, a rough demo of a song that we're doing on tour. It made me laugh so hard that I was literally crying and snotting at the same time – like a deep laugh that I haven't experienced in a long time,” Eric Wareheim says.

It’s a good omen for Tim & Eric’s Mandatory Attendance tour, which makes its way across Australia in mid-January. The coincidence also reflects the work ethos of the duo, who met at Temple University in Philadelphia in the mid-‘90s: to make each other laugh. 

“I think that's why people connect with us, because it is such a personal thing that just Tim and I think are funny, and if you think it's funny, that's awesome.” 

The penalty for not attending the so-called Mandatory Attendance tour will be a fine larger than the fee for failing to vote, so say both Wareheim and Heidecker. 

“If you don't come, you get a $500 fine from the Australian Government,” Wareheim warns. “We have a deal with them through our promoters.”

“When I land in Australia, I go straight to the closest Pie Face. And then also whenever I'm in Perth, I go pet the quokkas.”

The title is just one way the shows make fun of the idea of touring and of comedy. “This particular tour, it’s almost making fun of itself,” Wareheim explains. 

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“I think one thing we always think about when we're putting together these shows is how can we kind of fuck with the idea of what a show is for the audience; how we'll subvert the idea of a comedy show; how to involve the audience in a way; how do we use them as our little puppets in a way,” Heidecker chuckles. 

He’s also interested in playing with the idea of their work appealing to a large audience. “[It’s] something we truthfully have never really been able to do, but there's something funny about us trying to do that, and what that would look like.”

It’s rare for Heidecker to find widely loved things funny. He pinpoints their passivity, that they don’t challenge an audience. “I think most people just want something that passes the time, whether it's comedy or drama or anything.

“I think broadly popular things are probably not particularly offensive to anyone or subversive of power structures.” 

Heidecker and Wareheim started out as live musicians, and made live performance art at college. “Whenever we tour, it feels like going back to the core essence of our beings, of our comedy brains,” Wareheim says.  

They’re forced to rely only on music, props, and video for their comedy, rather than on post-production, or even just a second take. But they also receive a real-time reaction to their work – a feeling that Heidecker says he is “addicted” to. Wareheim adds, “It’s like this immediate, powerful adrenaline rush.”

Working with Wareheim on Tim & Eric projects has given Heidecker a do-it-yourself work ethic, and a confidence in his own ideas.  

“Eric and I sort of started on our own. We made our own stuff. We pushed through… That's always given me the footing to justify an idea. If I wanna do something, express some concept, I just try to do it myself and hope people show up to watch.”

Wareheim believes the “new experimental stuff” they’re bringing to the stage is “in tune” with Australia. “Every time we tour there, we have the greatest experience, because people in Australia just let us really experiment and go the extra mile and they seem to really appreciate it and think the same as us.” 

“We've had good luck in Australia the past few times we've been there,” Heidecker agrees. “We've had great audiences that were excited to let us be weird, and are encouraging and supportive.”

For Wareheim, some of the appeal of returning to Australia comes from the opportunity to try our local cuisine, and to pet the quokkas in Western Australia. 

“When I land in Australia, I go straight to the closest Pie Face. And then also, whenever I'm in Perth, I go pet the quokkas.”

He can’t decide on just one pie though, choosing a spinach pie and another three that he shares with friends.  

“I'm a real big food guy and I'm also a really quirky wine guy. So travelling through Australia or America or Canada or anywhere, I try to get a little bite in and try some of the local cooking. 

“To know a place, the food is such a history lesson. To me it's as powerful as going to an art museum and seeing who was painting in that particular region, it's like the soul of the grandmas.” 

Heidecker and Wareheim’s work, from live tours to TV shows like Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories and an unnamed 2020 project with Adult Swim, has seen them described as “cult” acts, or even “anti-comedy”. 

“I suppose there's a probably fairly accurate 'cult' quality to a lot of our stuff,” Heidecker muses. “I mean, it's not the kind of cult that sacrifices babies…”

But he contends, there’s a specific kind of person who shares their comedic sensibility. “I guess if Star Trek is a cult, then the Tim & Eric world can be a cult too.” 

But Wareheim says they don’t love to be described as “anti-comedy”, and instead proposes an alternative: “anti-traditional comedy”. “Because the purpose of our work is to make people laugh. It's not to make people not-laugh, you know what I mean? There's definitely cringe-worthy moments, awkward pauses, but the final goal is laughter.

“Our comedy every year, it changes, mutates, it becomes demented and more fucked up. I think every project we do is another level on that. We're at a really good place right now – it's a pretty wild energy.” 

Heidecker concurs. “Our primary goal is just to make the audience laugh really. But our audience expect more than a traditional audience, so we've gotta work a little differently – not harder, just differently.” 

He says that the people who share their sense of humour are often artistically inclined – their first fans were musicians, just like the duo. 

“I generally like a lot of our fans,” Heidecker says. “I've gotten to know them and have become friends with some of them, and, for the most part, they're the kind of people that I think would probably make stuff. A lot of them are perhaps more creative than your average person.” 

Sometimes people try to “out-weird” the duo when they meet them on tour. “I'm not a full freak in real life,” Wareheim says. “Our work is an act. I think some people get disappointed when I'm not doing LSD all night with them.”

One fan apparently changed her surname to ‘Heidecker’, because she truly believed her and Tim Heidecker would get married. He pretended he’d forgotten something back inside the venue. “I don't know, I don't want to be rude, but I'm married. And I don't know what to tell you.” 

"I think people generally know I'm not some acid head who's also a total arsehole."

Some people even mistake the real Heidecker and Wareheim as the fictionalised versions of themselves they play in Tim & Eric, or, for Heidecker, in the warped On Cinema universe.

Since 2016, Heidecker has hosted a live fan show called Office Hours where he says he gets to be a little bit more like his real self.  

“I've done a lot of interviews out of character for the past several years. I think people generally know I'm not some acid head who's also a total arsehole [laughs] – as I am on On Cinema. I'm not some kind of weird freak.”

He notes that both he and Wareheim are “pretty grounded”. “[We] aren't really connected in any way to the people we pretend to be. I think most people get that.”

Wareheim stresses: “We drive around and get dinner and pet cats just like everyone else.”