Published in The Music (NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Aug-Dec 2015
A DIFFERENT PAGE
It’s only been in recent years that US comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim learned to embrace the limitations set by the absurdist label they unwillingly fall under. Daniel Cribb discovers the method behind the madness.
“What’s uuuuuuuppp??” shoot two high-pitched voices down the line. It’s unmistakably Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, who have just announced their second Australian tour, and unless this scribe treads lightly, things will spiral out of control very quickly. “Ba’hee to you too,” the pair respond when the mantra from their new ‘self-help’ book is mentioned.
It’s a 317-page effort parodying religions like Scientology, and has just as many celebrities throwing their name behind it. “Zone Theory helped me to become a happier, healthier, more confident man. I recommend it to everyone I meet. Buy it now,” John C Reilly, Marilyn Manson, Ben Stiller are quoted as saying on the back of Heidecker and Warehiem’s first book, Zone Theory: 7 Easy Steps To Achieve A Perfect Life.
Those are just a few of the many Hollywood names plastered on the back of the hard-covered path to enlightenment, and while Tim & Eric aren’t as popular as some of the big-time names on the back of the book, they’ve found a cult following since unleashing five seasons of Awesome Show, Great Job! on Adult Swim, and have greats like Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell itching to get in on the action.
“I think there’s a sense of freedom and creativity with what we do that is not hard — it comes naturally for these people,” Heidecker says. “If you compare that to a big movie set or a big TV show, a lot of the times those can be very stifling and boring environments to be in, because things are methodical and they take a while and when we work, it’s very fast and fun.”
It’s an interesting brand of humour the comedy duo unleash, and while fans will attest to the fact that the manic animation and often disturbingly hilarious subject matter is well written and executed, the Tim & Eric brand is frequently labelled ‘absurdist’: a term they’re not too enthused about. “We don’t love it, because people associate absurdity with randomness and we actually do work hard on all these ideas, and the ideas come from grounded things that exist. We’re storytellers in our own unique way,” comments Wareheim.
Their work often has the uninitiated scratching their heads, wondering where ideas sprouted, but even longtime fans might be surprised that the creativity has never been sparked via illicit materials. “It doesn’t really bug us anymore,” Wareheim says on the constant ‘they must be on drugs’ comments. “If you do look at our work and don’t know us, it does seem kind of whacky, and I think the work is very good on drugs, but we’ve never taken drugs when we write or perform – maybe a beer or cider before a performance, but that’s as hard as we go.”
Translating their visual humour to the Zone Theory pages was a “frustrating” effort, and one that saw the pair enlist help from longtime collaborator/writer/editor Doug Lussenhop, who helped shape the style of Awesome Show, and Australian-born actor Gregg Turkington (Neil Hamburger), who Heidecker has worked with extensively, when it came to writing.
Lussenhop opened for Heidecker and Wareheim on their last trip to Australia in 2012 as DJ Dougg Pound and will accompany them on the ‘Stralia-Zealand Experience tour. “Basically what we do a lot of time with our shows is we get a room together with people we really like and we just bounce ideas off each other and they throw ideas back, and that was kind of how they contributed — an afternoon trying to make each other laugh within the constructs of the concepts of the book,” Heidecker tells. “We like to keep it in the family and work with people we love and know well.”
Their connections to the inner sanctum of Hollywood see Heidecker and Wareheim branch out on their own projects when they find the time. Heidecker recently appeared in Fantastic Four (of which he commented “Who gives a shit?”), and Wareheim has signed on to appear on Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show Master Of None, and directed music videos for Major Lazer, MGMT and more in the past.
While they both have the potential to expand their horizons, they have accepted the fact their work under the Tim & Eric banner has its limits, which was a revelation cemented by 2012’s Billion Dollar Movie. “We made the movie to be appreciated by more than just our fans, and the general public said, ‘Hell no,’ so that was as far as we could go,” Wareheim says. “But we’re fine with people not getting it — it makes it much more special for fans that it’s not a widely received movie or show; it’s like a cult.”
John C Reilly got a mention earlier and his connection to Heidecker and Wareheim goes far deeper than some words on the back of a book; the pair has worked closely with him on Awesome Show and spin-off Check It Out!, in which the actor plays a questionable doctor by the name of Steve Brule. “We’re writing Season Four of that show,” Wareheim reveals. “We’re shooting it in the fall, and they usually come out in Feb, Mar area time,” Heidecker adds. “We love it; it’s a really fun show for us to write and make. The more you make it, the more the universe of the show grows; it’s very satisfying.”
They might be branching into different avenues individually, but it’s when they collaborate with one another, even after all these years, that things feel right. “It’s a blast. I recently did a large job and it was a lot of hard work and not that many laughs,” Wareheim says. “We got back together and made the Bedtime Stories special and we laughed together. It’s good to have that laughter. We’ve been working together for 20 years — can you imagine — and we were cracking each other up — it was fantastic.”