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As one half of the ubiquitous, highly influential comedy duo Tim & Eric, Tim Heidecker has an ample amount of outlets to be funny.
There’s the new Adult Swim-premiered Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories series, which will coincide with a tour that stops at the Lincoln Theatre tonight. There’s also On Cinema, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, Tim’s Kitchen Tips, Decker, and his yacht rock project Heidecker & Wood, along with a whole slew of other short-lived, web-based shows that function as small offshoots of the now defunct Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job.
With all these calves suckling at his comedy teat, it would seem that Heidecker would have no funnies left for real life, which would make an interview with him honest, candid, and down-to-earth. But then again, maybe not.
“I just wanted to let you know I’m in a CVS,” he told me, chuckling into the phone at the beginning of our conversation. “Had to do a number one.”
After getting back in his car and assuring me that the Bluetooth was working properly, Heidecker did drop the goofy guise, somewhat, to chat with Arts Desk about toes, his comedic heroes, and the boundaries of satire.
Bedtime Stories feels like a send-up of The Twilight Zone or maybe even American Horror Story. Were those points of reference or inspiration when writing and filming the show?
Well, I think The Twilight Zone was a source of inspiration for the way it was formatted and the structure of telling a different story every week with a dark tone. It certainly made pitching the idea to the network easy because everybody knows The Twilight Zone. I wouldn’t call it a send-up, necessarily, but it’s a similar kind of anthology show.
I particularly loved the episode with Bob Odenkirk as the podiatrist who fetishizes eating his patient’s toes. He sort of plays this classic Tim & Eric sad sack who is almost too bizarre to be laughed at and felt bad for, but you end up doing a little bit of both anyway. Were you hoping to spur those combined, conflicted reactions?
Yeah, we wrote that episode with Bob in mind. Because of our history with Bob, we wanted him to be a part of it. I just imagined him in this part. I started thinking about how it would be so depressing to be a podiatrist and that life, working with feet and toes, is a great, dark undertone to start with. Like, “Who is that guy?” He’s divorced and he’s a single dad and his relationship with his son is strained. We wanted him to be doing something pretty awful so you have to kind of wrestle with yourself about how you’re supposed to feel about this guy.
I remember hearing someplace that Eric was obsessed with the phenomenon of the human face, the way it can contort itself to look bizarre and how it’s possible to find humor and beauty in that bizarreness. Would you say that’s a comedic ethos of yours, and was it a part of your thought process when writing and shooting Bedtime Stories?
I agree with that. So much emotion and storytelling can be done through just an expression, a face, the right actor. You get so much out of them without having to say very much.
How does the new series coincide with the tour that you’re doing?
We’re going on the road to promote the show much like a band might go on the road to promote their record. It’s very helpful to us to get out there and see the country and see the fans and let them know that the show is coming.
What can we expect with the tour? Is Steve Brule going to be the opening act? Will there be any Pusswhip Banggang sets?
No to both of those questions. He’s not the opening act and there will be no Pusswhip on this show. We’re putting [the show] together now and it’s a bunch of spoofs and goofs and songs and sketches and some stuff from Awesome Show. It’s sort of like a Tim & Eric Broadway musical. It’s the three-dimensional Tim & Eric live experience.
Who are some of your favorite characters you’ve ever played?
I think that character is myself on On Cinema because he gets to be this horrible, terrible person—-mean and dumb and all of these traits that are really fun to play. Now we’ve kind of created this backstory, and the whole world of that character is really fun to keep adding to and playing with.
Everything you’re a part of seems to occupy some realm of parody, whether it’s the Awesome Show and sketch comedies, Check It Out! and bizarre late-night television, On Cinema and At The Movies, Decker and implausible action shows, and so on. Even your band, Heidecker & Wood, is a pastiche of ’70s pop-rock. For you, where does the humor and entertainment lie?
I think you nailed it. With every idea, the first question you have to ask is, “What is it? Where does this belong? How can we express this idea that it makes sense?” It’s just classic kind of satire rules where you’re trying to comment about something that is pretty bad or interesting or funny. It becomes a vehicle for the humor. If we have a funny idea, it’s not just going to end with the idea and [not care] how its executed. It always needs to be couched in something to feel real, to give it context. So much of what we do is inspired by entertainment. With Bedtime Stories, it’s sort of the first thing we’ve done that isn’t necessarily a parody of anything or a satire. They’re pretty much straight stories that are funny and have fucked-up things happening. So that’s a new thing for us.
What about your thoughts on irony? Do you think that in order for irony to work it needs to possess source material? Can you be ironic in general?
I think, for the humor to work, the audience has to have a frame of reference. They have to be on the same page, more or less. [For instance], if hidden camera shows are your favorite thing in the world, then maybe “Spagett” is not going to be that funny to you. So, yeah, I think there has to be context and the audience has to be with you and thinking along the same general perspective of the world. I think that helps.
What’s your creative partnership with Eric like?
It’s been a long, productive, fruitful relationship. We get along very well and have a lot of mutual respect for each other’s ideas. When it comes to a specific project, we’ll come together and have a conversation about what we think a project should be. Then we’ll each individually have ideas and we’ll share those ideas and have a discussion about what gets work done. Overall, we’re not the kind of people that have a thousand ideas. When we come to each other it’s like, “I have this idea where Bob is a podiatrist and he cuts people’s toes off.” “Okay, that sounds fucking great. Let’s explore that.” And then it becomes a conversation.
That’s interesting, because some of my favorite Awesome Show skits just seem so out there, like “Tragg’s Trough” with Fred Willard or “Fortin’ With Will” with Will Forte. I just wonder how you and Eric come up with them.
Yeah, well, first of all we acknowledge that you don’t need to figure it all out right away. It’s best to start with the germ of something and then explore it and then try to find it later when you’re making it. It’s a little bit different for sketches from Awesome Show where we didn’t feel we needed to solve it on the page. We knew that if we had Will Forte and a very rough outline of somewhere for him to go that he would bring his own shit to the sketch. It’s sort of trusting the people you work with, trusting your own instinct, and not trying to figure it all out ahead of time.
Who are some of your comedy heroes?
There are so many: Christopher Guest, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Monty Python, Peter Cook, Andy Kaufman, Albert Brooks, Robin Williams, David Letterman, The Simpsons, Mr. Show. That’s what I grew up on. That’s my bread and butter. It’s better than almost everything else now. My comedy influences are boring as everyone else’s. They’re pretty conventional, but I fucking loved it.
Tim & Eric perform with Dr. Steve Brule at the Lincoln Theatre tonight at 7:00 p.m. $39.50.