Great Job!, times two
Together, Tim and Eric make weirdness work.
Casey—a sweaty, mucusy, scared little boy—wobbles through a rendition of a song called “Horse and Buggy Ride.” A blood-soaked beast shoots breast milk into the mouth of its unibrowed baby. Then a mustachioed, noseless man lauds his lovemaking ability on a video-dating service. This might as well be a fever-induced dream.
Instead, it’s from a single episode (out of 40 so far) of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Cartoon Network’s 15-minute comedy show that airs during its late-night Adult Swim programming block. During a break between their second and third seasons (first-season DVDs are out now), the namesake deadpan duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are traveling the country, making a Chicago stop at the Empty Bottle for two shows Sunday 27. And the tour material’s no different than what makes it on air.
“We hate the word random; we just think it’s such a bad, cheap way of describing what we’re doing,” Heidecker says. Over the course of our conference call with the pair, they call their work “weird,” “bizarre” and, at one point, an “absurd loony fest.” Some jokes, they admit, can’t be put into words.
But when you have some of the most stunning, innovative comedy out there today, sometimes there just aren’t any words. Tim and Eric is set up as a spoof of public-access TV—Heidecker and Wareheim introduce the show, then launch into a mix of outrageous infomercials, emotional head-scratchers the boys call “mood pieces from Mars” and recurring segments like reports from “The Only Married News Team.” Top awkwardness-inducing comics like Bob Odenkirk (who executive produces), John C. Reilly and “Weird Al” Yankovic join, as do real public-access figures such as puppeteer David Liebe Hart, who pops in occasionally to sing over a backdrop of trippy visuals.
To avoid the pitfall of what Wareheim calls “insincere weirdness,” Tim and Eric anchors its strangeness in the onscreen relationship between Heidecker and Wareheim, a choice reminiscent of bantering predecessors Odenkirk and David Cross (Mr. Show) as well as Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain (Stella). It could be called permission comedy: Familiarize audiences with the group up top; once you’ve won them over, you can boldly show them borderline-unsettling material. “You want to like the people who are making things that aren’t always likable,” Heidecker says.
Both Heidecker and Wareheim attended Temple University in Philadelphia, where they lived in the same dorm and attended a lot of the same film classes. During one lecture, a group of guys passed around a list of made-up band names as a joke; Wareheim lost it when he saw Heidecker’s contribution: TGIF. They soon paired up to make short comedic videos. By their own account, Heidecker brought his character and music talent, while Wareheim contributed a strong visual sense. After finding a few of their animated works on timanderic.com, Odenkirk championed them at Adult Swim, which produced two seasons of their somewhat stop-motion series Tom Goes to the Mayor (2004). But when that came to an abrupt end in 2006, Tim and Eric was launched in its place.
The pair has continued to produce online-only shorts, many of which will be screened on tour. Given their packed TV-production schedule, the prolific output is surprising. “Tim and I have this shared idea of hard work, a kind of drive,” Wareheim says. “People always ask, ‘How do you get videos out there?’ It takes, fucking, your whole life—100 percent of your energy every day.”
Despite the occasional tiff that comes from working so closely for ten years (the boys have been known to argue about the proper length of fart sounds), together they’ve ushered a new wave of comedy onto the Internet and television—mediums often in need of originality. Yet that accomplishment comes at the expense of individual recognition: “People come up to me and say, ‘Tim and Eric!’_” Wareheim says. Heidecker laughs and answers the next question: How would he be perceived if he’d branched out alone? “Less successful.”
Heidecker and Wareheim team up Sunday 27 at 7pm and 11pm. The season one DVDs of Tim and Eric are out now.