“What am I, Wikipedia?” retorts Tim Heidecker, sounding a bit snide. This in response to a question about the origin of Chrimbus, a holiday he and cohort Eric Wareheim are apparently celebrating on their current live tour. Their work for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is steeped in absurdism. Their promo interviews are no different, apparently.
According to Wareheim, Chrimbus will be celebrated on Dec. 5 (coincidentally, the same day their new hour-long Adult Swim special airs), and it involves dried shrimp and a Chrimbus bush that is “nice and wet and trimmed.” (Chrimbus doesn’t actually have a Wikipedia page, either.)
The duo are on a bus headed to a performance in Chico, Calif., and are more interested in playing good cop/bad cop (or insane cop/slightly less insane cop) than actually discussing their show and tour. Within minutes, this conversation slips into the maniacal world of Tim and Eric, a place where the line between “funny ha ha” and “funny weird” grows thinner by the moment.
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, who met as film students at Temple in the ’90s, make a living limboing back and forth under that increasingly blurry line. The actors/writers/comedians/directors best known for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the live-action Adult Swim series that wrapped in May, produce work that revels in awkwardness. You aren’t always sure when to laugh at their bizarre performance art-esque bits (or if it’s even funny at all).
Tim and Eric’s procession of odd characters exemplified this. A typical 11-minute smorgasbord of skits might feature the likes of Spagett, a balding spaghetti eater who spends his time unsuccessfully “spooking” strangers, Candid Camera-style; Jan and Wayne Skylar, a smug pair of news anchors who don’t mind making their sex lives public; and the Beaver Boys, two guys who suck down shrimp and white wine when they’re not practicing obscure dances like the Beaver Bounce and the Dirty Hamper. If none of these people sound particularly amusing, no matter, there are dozens more.
Despite their aggressively unusual brand of humor, Heidecker and Wareheim have had a pretty successful career. They cracked into the industry via Mr. Show ’s Bob Odenkirk, which led to the short-lived Adult Swim program Tom Goes to the Mayor. Awesome Show tallied up an impressive list of guest stars over its five seasons, including Zach Galifianakis, John Mayer, Jeff Goldblum and Marilyn Manson. Awesome Show’s most endearing creation—the goofy, advice-dispensing Dr. Steve Brule (John C. Reilly)—even got a spinoff, Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule.
In what should come as no surprise, interviewing Heidecker and Wareheim is an odd experience. Trying to get useful info out of either of them is almost futile.
Wareheim tackles a question about inspiration by mentioning his infatuation for Vegas shows, specifically Cirque du Soleil (“Small Asian men and their different kinds of dancing really come into play in our humor”). I get a “Who’s that?” in reference to Andy Kaufman. I ask if their humor would be as effective if they weren’t a duo and am treated to this: “Can you imagine, Eric, talking to a man who is at a party and you’re with your wife and the man says, ‘So are you and your wife getting a divorce?’ It’s impolite.”
But a few legit-sounding responses slip through, beginning with Wareheim expounding on the self-imposed “rules” of their comedy. “Only certain people can play lunatics—people like John C. Reilly. You can’t just have any comedian come in and try to be funny. It’s a very specific kind of funny that we do and love,” he says.
Explaining what separates “Chrimbus Spectacular” from their past tours, Heidecker says, “We’re a little older. We’re a little wiser. It’s another ride on the carnival ride.” Adds Wareheim, “It was a roller coaster. Now, you’ve got a triple-loop roller coaster. It’s going to go upside-down, and you’re going to say, ‘Thank God that I bought a ticket and came to this spectacle.’”
Then it’s back to bad cop. Is there any material that one has created that the other doesn’t immediately get? A pause lingers, and Wareheim starts raving about the Trocadero. “I saw one of my first shows there—Fugazi, when I was 14 years old. It changed my life, so it’s very special coming back to the Trocadero.” I rephrase the question. “Pusswhip Banggang,” he begins, referencing their band that appears on this Chrimbus tour. “We do a nine-song set [featuring] songs from the show, so you can sing along. It’s going to be real fun for everybody!” Wareheim says with cheer.
A question about how their unconventional work has prospered for so long ends with Wareheim asking about what image will accompany this article. Heidecker gives succinct “no” responses to questions about Tom Goes to the Mayor and the Steve Brule spin-off. Eventually, Wareheim hangs up unexpectedly, and after confirming that his partner has left, Heidecker exits without a goodbye, too.
Still, the 17-minute call encapsulates the Tim and Eric experience: Sometimes, you’ll have no idea what the hell is happening, but if you can withstand the confusion, the weirdness can entertain.
Tim and Eric Awesome Tour,
Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular 2010.
Wed., Nov. 24. 7:30pm.
1003 Arch St.
Q&A With Comedian Dave Hill