Apart from starring in a confusing majority of your daydreams, Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show has been up to a whole lot recently. He’s out to make you laugh with what seems like infinity new projects, including a live tour with Tim Heidecker and Dr. Steve Brule, a new comedy-horror show on Adult Swim, and a shit ton of gorgeously weird music videos. We mean, we knew the man was funny, but we never knew he could multitask better than Lindsay Lohan at a coke orgy.
We wanted to know how he does it all and still remains one of Hollywood’s most down-to-earth comedians, so we chatted him up about his current and upcoming projects, the deep and mysterious secrets of his directing style, and why growing up in Philadelphia’s DIY punk scene helped him not be a Hollywood dick.
So, you’re on the Tim and Eric & Dr. Steve Brule Tour right now. How’s it been going? It’s awesome. We just did Canada. We’ve toured many times, and this one is really like the best one. It’s a lot different from making TV where you kind of make it for months, and then it airs on TV. You probably watch it with two friends maybe or your girlfriend, versus with this show, we’re performing in front of 2,000 people. Just to hear them laugh after every joke is just a totally different vibe than the TV making process, so we love it.
Much of the humor of Tim and Eric comes through in your editing, whether from the hard cuts, flash frames, or weird dissolves. How do you maintain that same sense of humor when you’re live? Well, we don’t. There are some video elements to it, like we’ll feature a video that sets up the show, and that has the classic Tim and Eric editing style … but for the most part, it’s not the same. It’s a whole different type of comedy, but that’s also cool. It’s more real. A lot of people are surprised that we can handle ourselves live without all the glitches and stuff.
How is your new Adult Swim show Bedtime Stories different from Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show? People are going to be very surprised. It’s not the same style of show people are used to seeing. Each episode is a short film. There are no edit tricks. There are no split screens. There’s no modulated voices. They’re just really creepy, funny stories. With Tim and Eric, we ran with 50 episodes for HBO. But with Bedtime Stories, there’s a really noticeable progression of vintage sketches from Tim and Eric to short-form narratives on Bedtime Stories. We love taking time with characters and doing it for a quarter hour instead of a few minutes. It’s still really funny, but it’s also been a lot darker, with a more cinematic feel.
Speaking of the dark side, there’s a more noticeable darkness to your recent work in projects like Bedtime Stories or in the video you did for Tobacco. Can you tell us where that comes from? Everything I do, from going to the dentist and feeling my cheek pulled, and then having to put gauze in my mouth while there’s blood running out … I mean, like just our bodies alone are nightmares. You don’t have to look far for everyday darkness. There’s a lot of beauty in the world and a lot of happiness, but Tim and I have always gravitated to “Look at that guy. Look at this guy holding a spinning sign and that’s all he has to do today.” That’s nightmarish on its own, but it’s also kind of endearingly funny.
How do you find humor in darkness? In those little nightmare moments, that’s where we get inspiration from. What’s that sign spinner’s life like? We’ll investigate that, and that’s sort of what we always thought was interesting. We like to laugh at things like death and just really horrible themes. Not that we think that’s necessarily funny to die, but we think it’s important to laugh at these everyday things that we have to deal with like parents getting divorced or father-son issues, anything like that. You grow up living in the suburbs, which is kind of horrific in its own way, and you end up wanting to use those themes in your work. That carries over to Bedtime Stories.
On a scale from mildly perturbed from pissed pants, how do you want people to feel when they watch Bedtime Stories? We want people to have a range of emotions, and that’s the big difference between it and Awesome Show. My favorite films are anything that Lars Von Trier or David Lynch makes, and oftentimes with those films, you’re laughing at the same parts you’re screaming and scared at. You’re nervous, and you’re creeped out, but it’s somehow comical. Did you see that movie Under the Skin?
More like nervously allowed to enter my retinas. Right. The way I felt after I saw that movie, I was so creeped out and sad and engaged and interested. That’s how we want people to feel after watching this. Comedy for us is not about getting the big laughs anymore. It’s about leaving this kind of emotional imprint on you that you’ll think about for days. That being said, the new show definitely still comedy.
It must be a really interesting process to direct that kind of comedy. From a director’s standpoint, how do you get people to feel comfortable going so far outside their comfort zones? A really good example of this is that “Hamper’s Prenatal Life Coaching” video you made for JASH. Well, there’s a couple ways. One, casting is such an important process. We take it so seriously. You have to find actors that are not, sometimes not comfortable on camera. A lot of the guys that we work with are not pros. We always love that about people that are uncomfortable to be in front of the camera.
Secondly, in LA, actors just want to work, so we can find pregnant women that we can ask questions like “Can I kiss you repeatedly on the belly? Can we rub you?” They’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Unbelievable what people will do for work here. Very seriously, we come in and say, “Listen, this is going to be really funny feeling, but what we want you to do is play this fully serious. You’re really a life coach, and you’re going to be moaning.” We set that so they’re comfortable and then we can edit. We’re dying laughing, you know. That’s sort of kind of like bread and butter, just doing some awesome shows, finding the right people, and then creating a safe environment for them.
Another thing is telling them it’s not a joke. Just being like, this isn’t a comedy, and then that makes it even more awkward. We’ve always wanted our performers to not even know that they’re in a comedy, and that’s kind of how we direct it.
How would your answer differ for somebody who’s like a star, like Zach Galifianakis or John C. Reilly, who kind of use your shows as an outlet like to show a weirder side of themselves? They’re clearly are more aware than your average pregnant LA babe. Well, that’s interesting because they know what we do, and they’re such good actors. Only a few of them can really emulate that style of awkwardness … Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, Will Forte. These guys really transform themselves into these awkward, scary characters. It’s amazing, and that’s why we keep working with the same kind of people because they really know how to nail it. Only a few people can do it. In this new series though, we have actors like Jason Schwartzman and Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead, and they play a more traditional role, which is kind of funny on its own.
A lot of the same people that can really grasp that signature character awkwardness work with you on JASH, your YouTube comedy network. What’s the latest and greatest from that part of your life? JASH is sort of on hiatus right now. We made a whole year of content. We had a lot of fun making Dr. Wareheim, and the Tim Heidecker Cooking Show, but right now, we’re figuring out what the next step is, and whether we have our own JASH channel again on YouTube or not. There’s lots of options and hopefully, we can continue making cool stuff.
Have you ever played “Fuck, Marry, Kill: Jash Edition?” Yes, but I don’t want to play it now. I get asked that in so many interviews, you wouldn’t believe it.
Shit … I thought I was being original. Fuck that question then. Buzzfeed had the worst questions like that that Tim and I had to answer. We don’t shy away from those kind of games … we just usually generate these jokes and these inane responses and just give the worst answers.
The rest of this interview was supposed to be exclusively games. I had Monopoly and Twister and all this shit. Well, that would be … I’d get into that.
Okay, well, since we can’t play Twister over the phone, let’s talk about your music experience. You played in the band Ink & Dagger and a few other DIY Philadelphia punk bands. How did your experience playing music influence your sense of humor and your perspective as you move into the celebrity world? Well, it was huge because when we were in the punk world, back when I was like 15 playing in bands, we worked totally in the DIY scene where we made our own records, we screen printed our own t-shirts, and made our own fliers, and that aesthetic is what we brought to Hollywood. When Tim and I started to make shows, it was like, “We don’t have any money, but we’re going to figure this out on our own and use a network of people that we have.” Just like in a hardcore punk scene, we promoted our show ourselves and got things done on the cheap and didn’t fuck people over. It really kind of helped us come into this shitty world of Hollywood and not be dicks and kind of retain those good qualities that we learned growing up.
Tim and I even have a band called Pusswhip Banggang, which just did a tour. We’re doing sold-out shows, so it’s like my beyond my wildest punk dream come true. I feel like Tim and Eric is very punk rock in terms of how we do our scene and how, what we’re doing in comedy.
Growing up in a DIY scene, you must’ve taken a lot of initiative for creative direction on music videos. It seems like that translates into you being known for taking the reins and having the band step back when it comes to directing their videos. How involved are the bands in the videos you make? Well, for example with Beach House, which is one of my favorite bands in the world, Victoria is a friend of mine. She was like, “Is there any way we can do something with Ray Wise and horses and a football game?” I was like, “Okay, I love all three of those concepts. Let me write something for that.” But beyond that, I usually tell them,“Listen, I have to do my thing and much of it isn’t your thing. Most of the time, you’re not going to be in it.” I don’t even take notes when I meet with them (laughs).
No way! How do bands react to that? Variably. I was in this one situation with Kanye, where Tim and I had written this really fucked up treatment that was really crazy, really good, and Kanye was like, “Dude, that is way too far.”
If Kanye thinks it’s too far, it must have been insane. That happens a lot. I’m totally fine with it. I don’t want to get to a situation where I have to compromise my ideas. And that’s why I haven’t done a video for Kanye. But a lot of bands are mega-fans of Tim and Eric or my other music videos, so they’re kind of looking for that style anyway.
Are you working on any music videos now? I did deal with a couple this year. I’m releasing one in November for an artist, Mr. Oizo. He’s amazing. He’s a French electro guy in LA. He’s also a director, and he made a bunch of films like Rubber and Wrong. One was with Marilyn Manson and I starring, and it was called Wrong Cops. I would highly recommended it. I made a video for him starring John C. Reilly in a fat suit. It’s my idea of America in 10 years. It’s really gnarly. It’s funny but also really fucked up.
If you could direct a video for any band or any song, what would it be? Wow, that’s a good question. I really wanted to direct the new Psy video, but he canceled on it. I had a meeting with him, and I canceled on him, and then he got so offended that he never rescheduled. I really wanted to that just so I could see if I could do something as good as the last one. Also Darkside. I’d love to do something with them that’s never been done before.
You seem like you have pretty good taste in music, so I have to ask, what are you listening to right now? Darkside … and a lot of The War on Drugs. The first album, not so much the second one. When I travel, it’s like this weird obsession. It seems to calm me. Also this band Wet Rainbow, and this ambient guy, Tim Hecker.
What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had with one of your fans? I had an interesting experience in San Diego. We went out after the show, and there was this guy standing there, holding a pizza … like really good pizza. He’s like, “Do you guys want some of this?” I think he was saying it as a joke, but we said yes, and he gave us half the pizza. He was just totally nice, he was like, “Dude … I didn’t think you’d take half.
Now I know to never offer you pizza now. Don’t come near me with pizza.
Do you have any weird creation rituals or compulsions when you’re thinking of ideas for skits or music videos? No. It’s very fluid. I’ll get the song, and I’ll just listen to it over and over again, and then I really just clear my mind, and when an idea pops, I write it down, and then from that point on, I just keep adding to it. I look for images that go with that idea. The images I collect, I put them in a book of images, and then it kind of builds from there. I never sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to write now.” I just kind of listen to it in the background, and when inspiration pops up, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I have a huge book of inspiration photos that I could probably make like 15 music videos from if the music is right for them.
Okay, I saved the juiciest question for last. When can I expect to see David Liebe Hart’s name on the marquee with you and John C. Reilly? Haha … He was at our L.A. show. We let him in the lobby to sell his artwork. He had fallen on tough times, but he made a lot of money that night. He’s just kind of was making it selling portraits and stuff. We toured with him five years ago. We brought him to 30 cities. It was insane on our tour bus. He’s been up there. He sang all the songs with all the people. It was amazing, but we don’t like to repeat ourselves, so for now, he’s selling art in the lobby if anyone wants to buy some.
Check out Tim and Eric’s brand new show, Bedtime Stories, on Adult Swim. It’s on Thursdays at 12:15 a.m. which should be right when you’re getting off work, you beautiful stripper, you.
And while you’re at it, check here to see if the Tim and Eric & Dr. Steve Brule tour is coming anywhere near you soon. If you like laughter, that is.