Tim & Eric On Gun Culture, Grocery Store Sitcoms And Weird Americana For Oyster #106
"This is for comedy, but our version of comedy is very serious."
We spoke with very serious comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim for Oyster #106: The Freedom Issue about American gun culture, Australian bogan culture and TV shows. During the course of our interview we discovered how smart they are and they discovered that we were maybe their biggest fans. Pick up your copy of Oyster #106 today!
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are modern-day freedom warriors in the entertainment sphere. They've paved their own road on which it seems they can truly choose their own adventure, whether it's an anything-goes sketch show or a distressing yet life-affirming short film about a trailer park–dwelling couple whose baby is born a wooden puppet. We watched one of their latest projects, Bagboy, the morning of our interview and experienced that dizzy, gleeful confusion typically induced by their work.
Emily Royal: So we watched Bagboy this morning…
Tim Heidecker: Yes?
ER: And it's really good!
TH: [Laughs] We made it last summer — or spring, I can't remember — but it's been sitting on the shelf forever so we're really excited to let our audience finally see the damn thing.
ER: Did you make it knowing that it was going to air on Adult Swim?
TH: I think we were editing season three of [Check It Out! with Dr. Steve] Brule and we were just so in love with all the smaller characters — Scott Clam and Pablo Myer — we were like, "These guys have got to have their own show." Because we had this idea to make it about Myer's Super Foods — I was looking up old sitcoms that were set in grocery stores.
ER: Are there many?
Eric Wareheim: There's one called Check It Out! from Canada, from the 80s, starring Don Adams, and we basically wholesale ripped off the whole intro and titles, which we just think, if you're a fan and you find that and realise that the show Check It Out! was the inspiration for Bagboy it becomes this great joke. Great joke.
ER: Yeah, it's a great joke.
Brendon Ginnane: It's a real step away from Bedtime Stories; it's more lighthearted.
EW: Yeah, making Check It Out! is the most joyous thing we can do; we're just laughing with tears streaming down our face while we make this. It's pure joy, whereas Bedtime Stories is a little more serious. I wonder when you will get Bagboy in Australia?
BG: Well, there's a television network here called SBS and they've just started airing the fourth season of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, so I guess we should get it sometime in the next eight years.
EW: [Laughs] Yeah we're touring there in December, we did it a couple of years ago and we loved it.
ER: I saw you in Melbourne. It was so good I was pretty much crying from happiness the whole time. It was a spiritual experience for me.
TH: So you're a fan.
BG: Yeah, we both are. We love it.
ER: You've been working with John C. Reilly for a while now. Is he involved in writing and pre-production or is his contribution more on-set — acting and improvising?
TH: He's involved in the writing then he lets us do the annoying work of prepping and pre-production — the admin stuff. He trusts us and that's why we keep working together… We know not to try not to overthink it too much when we're shooting.
ER: But with other stuff, like Bedtime Stories and The Terrys, the short you made a few years ago for Sundance — you wouldn't be able to be so loose with those, right?
TH: We have to script [those] out.
EW: It's less of a, "Let's get on a green screen and dance."
BG: Where I grew up in Melbourne there were so many families like the Terrys.
EW: You guys got bogan problem down there.
BG: Yeah, it's the end of the train line. The photographers who shot you for us [Rickett & Sones] — you've worked with them before, haven't you?
EW: They shot our book, Tim and Eric's Zone Theories, which is coming out in July in America.
BG: How do you find working with another creative duo?
EW: It's actually really hard because Tim and I are pretty particular in how we want to be shot. A lot of photographers come to us with these comedy ideas that we just think are too much.
TH: I always like the concept of collaboration but… Sometimes it's just easier if we have an idea we just do that idea.
BG: Yeah exactly. I think that's always the problem when you have two creative parties: it can go in either direction.
ER: So many cooks in the kitchen. With the shoot that you did for us, where did that idea come from and is the house real?
EW: You probably know there's a massive gun-violence problem in the US.
ER: Yes, we've heard.
EW: A lot of kids with guns. I've had some personal experience of kids with guns and we'd been looking at these pictures of kids in Middle America that have family portraits, Christmas portraits, school portraits, with these guns. And I wanted to do that, like, "Tim and Eric are these two strange dads teaching their kids how to use guns."
ER: It's chilling and fantastic.
BG: Was it the usual rigorous casting process to find the two girls?
TH: It was all pretty last minute I think — who was willing to do it.
EW: It was a surprise that they could act so well.
ER: What did you have to deal with in terms of the parents? Did you have to explain what would be happening?
EW: Same with our TV shows: you get there and you talk to the parents and the kids at the same time saying, "This is for comedy, but our version of comedy is very serious." So once we get into the characters and the guns we're all laughing for about five minutes and then you kind of calm down and get serious and that's when you get the shot.
ER: So was the house real?
TH: Yes, the house was real; I think the photographers found it. This guy was a hoarder, almost.
EW: It was a little bit art-directed once we got there — the blue-collar vibe.
BG: As far as the rest of your work goes, you both seem to be always doing a new project. Do you each have a sort of compulsion to create?
TH: Yeah, there's so many things we all want to do. You just try to do as much as you can while you're in a position to be able to make stuff. I get pretty antsy if I'm not doing something, I don't have any hobbies. [Laughs]
ER: That's good, it means you're really productive at work.
EW: I took one week off to hang out with my male friends on a road trip and I came home and Tim had recorded an entire record.
ER: It's inspiring.
BG: Did either of you have mentors in the industry as you were developing and getting your feet off the ground?
TH: Yeah, Bob Odenkirk, who I'm sure you guys know, was the first guy that we sent stuff to and he responded to it and saw potential there. He became our advocate and de facto talent manager, producer, co-creator kind of guy… We've known him now for over 10 years and he's the guy we talk to about our careers and that kind of stuff. And Mike Lazzo from Adult Swim as well — he's the head of the network there and if we have an idea for Bagboy or a new show or anything we just call him up and say we want to try and do this. He has good ideas about how to go about doing that, but he from the beginning was there supporting us and urging us to do what we do.
ER: Being on cable and having someone like that on the network side of things must mean you can have so much more creative freedom, as opposed to being on a broadcast network or trying to get an investor to pay for stuff.
TH: We make very unfiltered content; it's fairly niche.
ER: It's niche but that niche group is growing.
TH: I mean, it is and it isn't. It's still very small. We go out and we tour in America and there's 3000 people at a show or something, which is to us amazing, but you compare that to anything that's popular… I was saying to Eric earlier, I was looking on the Facebook page for Adult Swim and we still have tonnes of people that see our stuff and go, "Fuck that, these guys suck, why do they keep getting shows?"
ER: Does that make you feel like you're doing the right thing?
EW: At first we were upset by it but then we realised it's good to be polarising. We tried to make a movie that would appeal to more people than our fans; it didn't work.
BG: The music is always such a crucial part of making your work what it is. Is there always a clear idea of how you want it to sound?
TH: We start with the music, start with the song idea — "Let's do a music video about this" — and write the song. And then with some things we have access to an incredible library of stock music, and our editors are so good.
BG: Because the clip will come on and it's just like, "Oh my God this music is just perfect."
TH: Yeah, one of the great things about doing stuff with a big company like Turner [owner of Adult Swim] was that they had this library they would normally use for news and stuff.
ER: Do you guys watch much TV?
ER: What do you like at the moment?
EW: My favourite show at the moment is Black Mirror.
ER: Oh it's so good, I want them to make more. OK. What about movies? In On Cinema you're reviewing quite mainstream, mundane films…
TH: We're not gonna do it with, like, weird alternative comedy. That's our day job. When I watch TV or movies I want to forget about that stuff.
ER: Will you guys have anything to do with the Twin Peaks reboot? [Original Twin Peaks cast member Ray Wise appeared in both Awesome Show and Billion Dollar Movie.]
EW: No, I think they've got that under control.
TH: I don't think David Lynch is thinking, "Well, who's gonna direct this?"
ER: It would be cool, though.
TH: People think it would be fun to do that kind of stuff but it would be sort of like playing with your favourite band or something — it would be more nerve-wracking, not satisfying, because you'd just be worried about fucking it up.
ER: That's true, you don't want to ruin the dream.
TH: It's always a disaster, there's always nothing to talk about.
ER: Thanks for talking to us, we've loved talking to you.
TH: We'll see you guys in December — you should come to our show and say hi.
Photography: Rickett & Sones
Art Direction: Morgan Gillio
Emily Royal & Brendon Ginnane