Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are in the midst of a tour commemorating ten years since the debut of their highly odd TV program, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! An hour before taking the stage in Minneapolis, they shared a conference call with Exclaim! about their work together.
"Well here's the secret; there's nothing but time on these tours," Heidecker says, sounding relaxed. "We've been having a good time. The show's really fun to perform and the crowds have been consistently great. We're getting used to the road lifestyle. It's theatres so it's a little bit different than when we used to do this in dingy rock clubs with no bathrooms backstage. So, it's nice."
"The show is a necessary part of the day," Wareheim adds. "It's like you need it, like a drug. You need to feel the fans. It's wonderful."
Tim and Eric hail from Philadelphia; in college, they began messing around with video production and editing, satirizing local cable access shows and utilizing jittery home video aesthetics to craft an idiosyncratic, off-kilter universe.
The resulting Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which originally ran on Adult Swim between 2007 and 2010, was so surreal, it weirdly seemed a little too real. The characters had a stilted, bad actor quality and behaved as if they knew they were under observation and had every right to stare right back at us. The situations too were highly absurd but so weirdly grounded in their mockery of normalized bad behaviour that almost any self-aware human could relate to what was happening.
The show critiqued our acceptance of fakery and mocked anyone complicit in the perpetuation of horseshit. It was a TV show that couldn't believe how stupid TV shows could be.
"When Tim and I moved to Los Angeles from the East coast, that was a big, big culture shock," Wareheim recalls. "We were injected into a city that is built on the entertainment biz and that was everything we would always make fun of — fame, celebrity, marketing, the commercialization of products, Shrek cups — all that stuff. We saw that and infused that energy into the show."
Legitimate pioneers in video editing and comedy, Heidecker and Wareheim are also renowned tastemakers. Along with producer Dave Kneebone, they started Abso Lutely Productions, working with major networks and nurturing counter-cultural talents like Nathan Fielder and Eric Andre; a new breed of video editors including Vic Berger IV and Sascha Stanton Craven; and furthering the impulses of early mentors like Bob Odenkirk, David Cross and Scott Aukerman. There's a genuinely unselfish aspect to their work.
"We were watching some new video content we made," Wareheim says, "and we were laughing at it just like we did ten years ago. And I feel like it's a very individual thing that Tim and I are doing and other people just try to get into it, which I think is totally cool. And I want people to get into it and like, beat us. I'd love to see a comedy show that takes things further; that'd be great."
There are weird downsides to being Tim and Eric though. Because they ostensibly invented a style of bent reality sketch comedy, they are often confronted by imitators.
"We see these clips because our fans are so loyal to us that they'll instantly capture it," Wareheim explains. "Like, if Saturday Night Live does something, they'll tweet the individual people at Saturday Night Live and say, 'Hey, Tim and Eric did this years ago.' And so that's how I become aware; I don't watch a lot of comedy. But it's flattering."
"Comedy is very porous and there're people that are influenced by each other and it kind of goes back and forth," Heidecker reasons. "Sometimes it crosses the line where it seems like it's just laziness and people are just seeing a video of ours and using it to, you know, base an entire commercial on.
"Or, an interesting phenomenon is the GIF of Eric's head exploding in the universe sketch," he adds. "It's just become a part of language; people use it in their text conversations and it's basically a word now.
"But again, if a popcorn company is using it in their ad on Facebook, then it's like, 'Well, you're just taking content from people and using it in your advertising without getting permission or paying for it,'" Heidecker says. "It's a little strange. So much of our stuff is just kind of spread out onto the internet in general and sometimes it doesn't always link back to us. But whatever."
"'Whatever,'" Wareheim says, chuckling at his friend.
"That's the way it goes," Heidecker says. "I can't complain. We're doing well; it's not like we're suffering."
Because they're known for mocking emotionally manipulative marketing and shiny, happy storylines, it's a little hard to imagine Heidecker and Wareheim becoming overly sentimental about their own work. And yet, when Heidecker pointed out this ten-year milestone for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — this creation that first gained them international acclaim — the duo decided to celebrate with their fans by turning their post-production-reliant TV show into a song, dance, video clip and sketch comedy roadshow.
"It's been emotional in a very positive sense," Warheim says. "Just going up there and having people remember all the songs."
"There are moments where we're doing, not the most well-known songs but they're some of our personal favourites," Heidecker says. "And we break into some of these songs and the whole room joins in. That's kind of emotional for me. It seems so small when we're making these things, but they've been out there for long enough that people know it more than we do sometimes."
Heidecker and Wareheim are connected for life but have also worked apart on various films, sitcoms (Wareheim plays Aziz Ansari's best friend on Master of None), and serialized internet shows (Heidecker has an amazing partner in Gregg Turkington for their ambitiously twisted On Cinema at the Cinema soap opera web series). When it comes to the future of Tim and Eric projects proper, Wareheim says they've learned to employ a wait-and-see approach.
"The way that Hollywood works is, whatever pops up, pops up. It's really a weird thing, not like other careers where you're like 'I'm going to write a book every three years' or something. Things happen so weirdly that Tim and I have just rode this wave of 'Tim and Eric' stuff where we're like, 'Oh, we have an opportunity to make a movie? We're going to make a movie.' 'Oh, we can make a book? We're going to make a book.' I think we will continue to want to make new things.
"We're having a great time with [their Adult Swim comedy horror series] Bedtime Stories," he says. "I think this new season is going to be a much bigger deal; it will be more focused and funnier and darker. We have a production company. We make other people's TV shows. We all want to continue working, y'know? As two kids from Philly with nothing, we just want to keep doing it. We don't want to relax; we just want to constantly put out new content."
"I want to relax," Heidecker says. "No, I'm just kidding," before he and Wareheim share a laugh.
See the Tim and Eric 10 Year Anniversary Tour in Vancouver on August 4 and at JFL42 in Toronto on September 29.