Awesome Show, Great Job!

Screen

14.09.2012

Awesome Show, Great Job!

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! isn’t for everyone. Even the people it’s for have been known to switch it off: you have to be the right person and in the right mood, but when you are – oh boy.

In my experience, you’ll watch the show (or the film) for one or more of the following reasons:

1) Tim and Eric themselves
2) The bewildered, often fiercely ugly/old extras they hire to read off an autocue
3) The celebrity cameos which have included Jeff Goldblum, Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell and Flight of the Concords
4) An editing department forged in hell and led by Satan

According to friends overseas, their live show is equally as compelling: energetic performances on surreal sets, brand new video segments, and lots of dancing, care of official DJ Dougg Pound.

With their New Zealand visit less than one month away, I found myself talking to their publicist, who informed me I could talk to Eric Wareheim (the one with glasses) using the power of the telephone. Publicists usually divvy up talent when it comes to “phoners” – they get more coverage this way – and I was happy with Eric: we both wore glasses, and I’d read that he was the main ideas guy in the duo.

A time was set, but unfortunately this clashed with an important lunch in Hamilton (it's not an oxymoron). When interview time rolled around, I excused myself and popped outside. Now, in my day job as a sort-of entertainment/pop culture guy for TV3, I’m used to having everything done for me: When I interview people like, say, Leonardo DeCaprio, I'll fly to LA with a cameraman. Sometimes two. A sound operator will meet me there and do the audio. Someone else will edit.

When I am on my own in New Zealand, and not working for a network, it’s a little different.

My mobile interview setup involves putting an iPhone on speakerphone and recording it on an iPad. The quietest spot was outside on the grass, next to the Waikato river. I balanced one device on each knee and stared at some ducks as the call connected. The conference call to LA had backfired, and the cellphone number I’d been given for Eric was delayed and crackling, and when it finally connected, he sounded distant and muffled, barely recognisable as him.

*


David
Eric, it’s great to finally get you. Now: you’re coming to New Zealand. Is it odd coming somewhere so far away and finding fans ready to buy tickets?


Eric
We didn’t really have any idea if people knew our stuff down there and it’s exciting to find out there are a lot of people that like it. I guess it shows the power of the internet, and it helps that we all speak the same language, more or less.


David
Do you think you’d have ever have had found success with just television, discounting the internet side of things? Or do you owe it all to the Internet?


Eric
I definitely think a lot of it has to do with the web, and clips being on YouTube and bit-torrenting, and all those kinds of alternative methods for viewing things. You know, television is somewhat irrelevant I think. It helps to get things paid for, but that’s about it.


David
This is a strange interview for me, because I’ve been watching your show for years, and it’s so odd talking to you out of character. I’m wondering where that comedy comes from: are you setting out to be incredibly abstract form the start, or does it start from somewhere else entirely?


Eric
Well, I think from the start we came from a place of wanting to make each other laugh – ah – not having any other ambitions above that, and not trying to be anyone else but ourselves and tap into our own sensibility and sense of humour. And over the years that’s evolved and developed into something that both of us think we are good at doing, and have fun doing. So it just is what it is.


*


I should note at this point that my iPad had crashed several times already in the two minutes we’d been talking. Each time I restarted the recording, I had no idea if what had gone before had been saved or if our current conversation was being recorded properly.


*


David
Where did you two meet?


Eric
College, at Temple University. We were into similar things and classes, and a similar sense of humour helped.


David
I’m curious how you pitched the show. You know, the first pitch that got your stuff funded and filmed.


Eric
Well, we had already made a lot of stuff we’d funded ourselves, so we had a body of work to show, so we could point people to that. And Adult Swim was looking for off-the-wall stuff.


David
What does your family make of your comedy?


Eric
They’re very supportive and they like a lot of it, and don’t like some of the grosser stuff, but they get it’s all for fun.


David
What I admire about you guys is that you’ve tapped into the world of extras in LA, an amazing base of people. I’ve never seen the extras scene used in this way before.


Eric
Well, when we started doing our show one of the first choices we made was that we weren’t going to have sort of traditional sketch actors and the comedy-troupe-style people, that if we needed to hire someone to play a part we’d just hire an actor to play that part. We were entertained by the sorts of people you don’t normally see on TV all the time and we were also inspired by filmmakers like the Coen brothers and Woody Allen who don’t just pick the headshot – the person on the top of the headshot pile – you sort of search for interesting people and characters and sort of create a sense of realism to things.


David
Who do you take the most pride in discovering?


Eric
Well, um, I think a few people. Richard Dunn, who passed away a couple of years ago, came along for an audition and became such a big part of the show that he just fitted in perfectly into our world. And in the movie, we have this woman called Mary Bly who plays my mother, she has such a natural comedic voice that makes you laugh on demand pretty much! It was just so natural, so cute, so real that it was great to be able to get her to do stuff.


David
I remember Flight of the Concords popped up briefly in an episode, just in a tennis match.


Eric
We were friends with the Lonely Island guys, and they were renting a house that had a tennis court in the back, and they said if you ever want to use this… so we wrote a sketch around knowing there was a tennis court available, with the idea the Lonely Island guys being in it we thought well let’s get all the comedy troupes together, to sort of be in this sketch. It just came from that idea.


David
And Jeff Goldblum’s character, Chef Goldblum – whose idea was that, you or Tim’s?


Eric


I think that was mine, I was just in editing watching a tape, and we were editing and trying to up some jokes and refine things and add jokes, and just create layers, and when he was speaking it just sounded like he was saying “chef” a little bit, and I just thought it would be funny for it to be that, and it made us laugh, so we changed it.


David
And this is a question you’ll be sick of, no doubt. But Shrim : Who was responsible for that one?


 Eric


Neither! It could have been either one of us. It was just – we knew we wanted to make the biggest brown joke possible, so we came up with that.


David
So much of what you guys do comes down to the edit: Who cuts your stuff?


Eric
Well Eric edited the first batch of videos back in the day, and when we made Tom Goes to the Mayor we hired an editor – Jon Krisel, who now directs Portlandia, and Doug Lussenhop, who we still work with and he edits a lot of the show.


David
Your live show here in New Zealand, there’s a bit of confusion about what this thing is. I mean, you’re playing at the Powerstation, which is generally for rock shows. And now Tim and Eric.


Eric
Well, confusion is good. We come out and we sing and dance and do stuff. A little show. And kind of create a rock and roll atmosphere. We want people standing up and jumping around. And then we show some videos… it’s just a big, big, old goof.


David
Recently, one of my friends got David Leibe Hart to record another friend a song. I mean, he paid David to do this, and sure enough, he got the song emailed through. Which was a reminder the people on your show – and what they do – are real.


Eric
Yeah, I mean David and some people like that were doing cable access shows here, and we were fans of their work, and just wanted them to be a part of the show. And they were thrilled with it and have gotten these little careers out of it. And it’s up them how they deal with that, but we’ve always wanted the show to be full of crazy, eccentric, absurd people. We didn’t want people pretending, we want them to be genuine.


David
What’s the balance of people in your show who are genuinely in on it? Do they react by saying they didn’t know it would turn out like this, or do people embrace what you’ve done?


Eric
Almost all the time it’s a full embracement. People generally have the capacity to laugh at themselves to some degree, and if you keep it fairly benign and you know – it’s all about – most of the time we’re looking as ridiculous as everyone else, so it’s not like we’re pointing the finger at everyone else, laughing at people. There may be a little sacrifice of dignity on some people’s part, but they’re also really excited to be on TV. Or they just don’t care. They just think it’s funny.


David
I guess some of them have been trying to break through for 20 years so they’re just happy to be there.


Eric
Exactly.


David
As an aside, you interviewed Tool’s Maynard James Keenan as part of his wine doco. It was one of the better interviews with him I’ve seen. How did that happen, Eric?


Eric
Maynard was a fan of our stuff, and we asked us to do it, and we said “sure”.


David
What’s next for you guys? You had another film at Sundance right?


Eric
Yeah we had a film at Sundance that we acted in that we’re very excited about that, it will come out here –


*


Things obviously fucked out well and proper by here, as there’s a great big gap in my audio recording. We talked about The Comedy, a film featuring both Tim and Eric, along with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Then we talked about what’s next, post-Adult Swim: How can a comedy duo make cash outside of mainstream TV?


*


Eric
... sort of online stuff, we sort of feel like… we are trying to figure out how we can do something online that is as big and good and successful as the TV stuff, as I said earlier it’s getting to the point where it doesn’t matter. So we’re trying to circumvent the networks and just make our own stuff.


David
What do you think the future of broadcasting is? I mean, TV for many is out, people are figuring out how to make money of people watching online…


Eric
It’s going to continue to move being online and coming through servers like Netflix and people creating stuff and getting it directly to fans. The more interesting stuff will go there, and the broader stuff, more normal stuff, will end up on the TV.


David
Eric, will this show come to an end? Or will it be a do-until-you-die type scenario?


Eric
No, we realise that comedy is a young man’s sport, and probably won’t last very long. Someone else will come along that’s cooler and weirder, and we’ll be out looking for work.


(pause)


By the way, my name’s Tim.

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