It was oddly appropriate that my interview with Tim Heidecker began with several calls to the emergency services, courtesy of an incorrect phone number. Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are the cult comedy duo Tim and Eric who revel in absurdism. So the humour in calling an ambulance instead of California was not lost on Heidecker, who when I do reach him, is bouncing on a trampoline with his daughter. “Not even a joke” he laughs breathlessly.
The pair first met in 1994 at Temple University in the United States, where they were both studying film and realised that they shared a taste for the bizarre. Together they have created a bevy of cult TV series, including five seasons of the sketch comedy Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job for Adult Swim. Their madcap antics have attracted an impressive roll call of the who’s who of US Comedy. Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Jonah Hill, Maria Bradford, Will Forte, Michael Cera and even our very own Flight of the Conchords have been part of the Tim and Eric world. They have also directed their own film, while Wareheim has directed music videos for the likes of MGMT and Major Lazer. This year, they have released their debut book ‘Tim and Eric’s Zone Theory’, and will be wrapping up 2015 with a tour of Australia and New Zealand, aptly titled “Tim and Eric- the ‘Stralia-Zealand Experience.’
For a writer, it is incredibly difficult to describe Tim and Eric’s style of comedy. Most reduce it to ‘Stoner Comedy’ which I believe misses the point of their humour. It is an observation that Heidecker appreciates. “There is a certain level of person who thinks that we must be stoned when we make this- nothing is further than the truth. Or you have to be high to like it. I don’t agree with that cross section of people- I mean it’s on late at night and some people like watching it stoned- that’s totally fine. But that’s not what we are aiming for in making it.”
Alternatively, writers can rely on overly intellectual superlatives to try and make sense of Tim and Eric’s work. Yes it is joyfully free associative and at the Dadaist end of the Surrealist humour spectrum. Yes they could be described as a late-night public access television nightmare perpetually stuck in the 90s- resplendent with poor editing, amateur animation, and excruciatingly awkward characters selling bastardised commodities that shouldn’t exist. Because in their world, everything hinges on horrifically comedic extremes. But regardless of how you describe it, for Heidecker, the aim of their comedy is quite simple: “we try to make everyone laugh and have a good time- “you’re not going to learn anything unfortunately.”“What about that life is absurd?” I ask. “Yes you could learn that- that the world shouldn’t be taken so seriously.”
Both Heidecker and Wareheim play a multitude of characters within Tim and Eric. When I ask Heidecker who is his favourite character to play, he laughs. “I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I hate the favourite question. I have so many favourites. In a sense my favourite character to play- and this is going to sound really pretentious- is myself. Because the Tim character is basically myself and there are so many different versions. It’s fun to play different sides of myself. It’s a great outlet for more unfavourable sides of my personality. Everyone has [negative qualities] that sometimes come out when they are driving down the highway or lose their temper. I get to do that for a living.”
When discussing his impending tour, Heidecker muses “It’s hard to talk about [the show] because if you talk about it too much it gives away the jokes. I’ve gotten off the trampoline by the way, I thought that it might be easy talking on the trampoline but it’s not…So basically the show is me on a trampoline for an hour. You observe me, take notes” Heidecker deadpans. He pauses for my laughter to subside. “No no, it’s a mixture of sketches and live stuff. I’d say we’ve got about 70% of the show figured out. We toured it in the States, but we want to tailor it to you guys. We have characters from the show, some new characters. It’s our version of a Broadway play, with stupid costumes. It’s a night of idiocy and foolishness. We are trying to give people the feeling of if our TV shows came to life and beamed out of the TV and onto a stage it would be something like this. It’s meant to drive you insane. You’re supposed to be uncertain about what’s real, what’s planned and how sincere we are throughout it all.”
Fans of Tim and Eric will be able to figure it out for themselves in Auckland’s Skycity Theatre on December 18th.
This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on September 18th 2015.