Talking with Eric Andre, Kitao Sakurai, and Andrew Barchilon about ‘The Eric Andre Show’, 311, Kombucha, and More!
Every episode of The Eric Andre Show, which airs on Adult Swim on Sunday nights at 12:30, begins with Eric Andre frantically destroying his set and it doesn’t really ever let up. The show is simply completely nuts: Bruce Vilanch plays Arnold Schwarzenegger, a roast duck fills in for Joe Biden, Eric goes to a strip club dressed as Thomas Jefferson, Eric puts himself in physical danger almost once a minute, also Sinbad was there once. It’s just who Eric is. Beyond being funny, Eric’s mind has a tendency to wildly wonder between subjects. In his show this translates to what might be the most hyper 15 minutes on Adult Swim, a network with an already short attention span. In conversation, it makes him impossible to predict. He’ll go from earnestly answering a question to talking like an alien thug, mid-sentence.
Recently, I got to speak with Kitao Sakurai and Andrew Barchilon, the co-directors of the show who defined it’s bizarro public access aesthetic, and Eric about making the show, 311, black light posters, and whatever else Eric wanted to talk about.
Hey, at first, to make it easier to transcribe, can you guys say your name before or after you talk, so I don’t attribute quotes to the wrong person.
Eric Andre: So, you want us to be like, “Kitao, you know I was…” [Everyone Laughs] That is so weird. That’s like how people will talk in the future.
So how’s it going? How’s the reception been for the show?
Eric: It’s been good man. Mad tweets. People have been tweeting. Eric. Eric.
What have they been saying?
Kitao Sakurai: Kitao. It’s been great. [Eric Laughs]
Eric: Eric, Bleep bloop I am from the future. Eric. [Laughs]
So how does it feel getting it on Adult Swim? I mean it’s been a long process of development.
Eric: Eric. I’ll let Kitao handle this one. Kitao, Eric.
Kitao: Kitao, Eric, Kitao.
Eric: Andrew. Hey I’m Andrew, I touch little boys. Andrew. [Everyone Laughs] Eric. Sorry Dude. Eric. Let me apologize for Andrew he’s a little inappropriate. Eric.
Kitao: It was about three years ago. We were all living in New York, like super broke; we were all working on our friend Carlos’s music video. Like these weird noise videos. And I remember Eric came up to us and was like, “Hey man, I got this idea for this talk show kind of thing. It’s really kind of crazy. I don’t know if anybody will like it but I’ve been thinking about it.” And he pitched us the idea and it was incredible, like totally kind of going along with the ideas that we were having at the time and how we wanted to make things and so we found this abandoned bodega in Bushwick… Actually it was Andrew’s hook up, so maybe Andrew should take it from here.
Andrew Barchilon: I just called out to all the degenerates I knew, trying to find an empty space because we had no money. And they claimed this bodega used to be a DIY party space and we had to clean it out of all of these…
Andrew you’re cutting out.
Eric: That’s how people talk in the future, “Bleep aaap!” [Laughs] [Talks in an alien voice]
Andrew: We found this space that had been shut down for being a DIY party space and it had accrued what you would expect from being a DIY punk space for years. We were like sweeping cans and broken glass and garbage out of this space and every few hours somebody would claim to own the place and try to extort money. But that was actually sort of the perfect vibe and we just shot this thing, basically the three of us. There was this purity due to having no restraints whatsoever. Just like this little box in Bushwick and Eric blew us away. And then we all went home and maybe Eric you can pick it up there…
Eric: We went home and we never talked again until this moment, right now. [Everyone laughs] What happened next? I had a pile of footage on a hard drive and uh…
[Eric talks to someone off mic] Come on in, come on in! Don’t be shy! Come on in, come on in! We got everything you want. Grapes? Anything you want. You want some cranberry juice. We got apple pie. We got cantaloupe. Oh, okay. But if you want some, treat yourself. [Eric gets back on the mic]
What were we talking about? Oh yeah, so we had a pile of crap on the hard drives and I basically bugged all my friends to teach me Final Cut and we tried to cut that shit up. That took me a year and a half with Andrew and Kitao. We were going back and forth and finally we got three little five-minute vignettes that we were ready to show. We showed them to my manager and then my manager started to show it to these networks and everybody was like, “Oh that’s great! Not for us. Byeeee!” Except for Adult Swim, which was like, “This is fuckin awesome man.” And that’s it. That’s the pipeline. That’s how it went down the fuckin’ pipeline.
So then how has the show evolved from that original pilot?
Eric: [talking off mic] Oh are you looking for this?
Eric: Oh sorry. Eric. This is Eric apologizing.
Kitao: Kitao. This is Kitao apologizing for Eric.
Eric: Sorry what was the question?
How has the show evolved from the original pilot where you guys were just throwing stuff together?
Eric: Well, we had sketches in there first and the network didn’t want sketches so we took the sketches out of there. So, that’s the major thing. And another thing was my character was way more hammy and caricaturey and I kind of reeled that in and made it more natural, made it more myself, so that the show can be crazy and I can sort of ground it a little bit. Was that a good answer?
Andrew: I think those were the differences but what’s so incredible is how similar it is to what Eric actually pitched to us originally, which was like the craziest idea ever. At the very beginning Eric’s pitch was like, “This is going to take place in the future and they squashed a 30-minute program down into like 5 minutes”, which is kind of what happens on Adult Swim anyway, it’s just down to eleven minutes because they have this tiny programming slot. And he came at us with this public access-mayhem concept and we used the first video that we shot in Bushwick as inspiration for the pilot and for the whole season, it’s been pretty much the same all of the way.
How much of the look did you have beforehand?
Eric: It’s really Andrew and Kitao that are the visual, I have the writing and Kitao and Andrew really developed the visual aesthetic. Kitao and Andrew had these cameras that processed light on tubes that they used for the music videos and they were like, “You should use these.” I’ll let you guys answer, you can answer this better than me.
Andrew: Yeah, pretty early on the look and feel and tone of the show got kind of dialed in by necessity. Like we got these incredibly cheap curtains and hung them in this incredibly cheap way and there were broken lights.
Eric: Yeah, thrift stores.
Kitao: Yeah, thrift store everything. But somehow the look became very pornographic and very strong and it was like, the show to us had to do with the identity of what this sort of crazy idea looked and felt like. As Eric was saying we were using these cameras from the 70s that we had been collecting over the years that we had been doing music videos.
Do you have anything to add Andrew?
Eric: Andrew here, yeah we really like Meatloaf as an artist creatively. [Everyone Laughs]
Andrew: Have you heard his new album?
Eric: Hahaha! I just ruined Andrew’s reputation!
Andrew: The beauty of the aesthetic is that it’s an aesthetic of necessity, which I think Kitao kind of summed up. We tried to stay true to what we had when we didn’t have anything or any money, because that’s what the character of the show was. It was a low budget, no budget public access show.
Eric: It’s not like we had much more money with Adult Swim. Adult Swim gave us $60 for the whole season. [Laughs]
Is it a big difference? I mean you still probably had a bigger budget.
Eric: Oh yeah, of course there’s a budget. When we did the demo we had nothing, like nothing, nothing, nothing. We had like no crew. It’d be like on a day I’d be at the Halloween costume shop getting six props and then I’d be like, Fuck, I have to run over to Claire’s or some place like that for lipstick because I need lipstick for this sketch! And then running to the studio, we were all wearing different hats; there was no crew so we were doing everything.
So in the series itself, how much bigger is the production? Are you still using the same cameras? Do you still go to thrift stores to find curtains? How do you keep that DIY approach to it while having some budget and having some crew?
Andrew: We have a lot more of the same cameras, for one. [Laughs] I guess we have professionals but I had to convince them to do it our way, which is basically going to thrift stores and looking for crappy fabrics. I remember when we did the pilot, Katie Byron, whose an amazing production designer, kind of confided in us that she thought this was the ugliest thing that she’d ever done. We had to convince people, “No, no, no, this is a decision. We like it like this.” But definitely everybody involved is super professional and capable of doing something different. We just tried to have them work in our way.
I have to ask: How many desks did you end up breaking throughout the season?
Eric: We figured out a number, didn’t we? 15 or something?
Andrew: It was 14 or 15, yeah.
They’re barely desks, were they like cardboard?
Eric: I thought they were drywall but I think I’m wrong. What are they?
Andrew: No, they’re drywall.
Eric: They’re drywall? Drywall is just great; I think it’s great. Just in general. Not just for the show. At Home Depot I’m checking it out. You know…I’m very spiritual and we really just did this show as a tribute to L. Ron. Hubbard. Our leader. [Everyone laughs] Really just the smartest man that ever lived.
That reads in the show, I think most people read the show as a defense of Scientology.
Eric: Yeah, yeah we came up with the show really to promote Dianetics. That’s really the undercurrent throughout the show; Dianetics, Dianetics, I just really want people to read.
Andrew: Dianetics, war denial.
Eric: [Laughs] War Denial. We deny most wars on the show happened.
Andrew: There’s no wars; none of them happened.
Eric: There’s no wars.
Andrew: Prove that there’s been a war.
Eric: Prove that there’s been a war and I’ll fabricate it.
So were you doing this at the same time that you were doing Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23? Was it this weird change of pace going from these broken curtains to this big network TV show?
Eric: It’s kind of funny. They’re two very different experiences. It’s interesting; the only difference to me is that I’m only acting in Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23. I just show up, shoot my scenes, and then I’m like, “Ok, see ya next week!” The Eric Andre Show is a little more of a workload, so I feel like there’s that difference. And ABC, they have money. [Laughs] It’s not that drastic, it’s not too crazy drastic. I lucked out; I have the best bosses in the world over there. The three executive producers are the three most laid back people in the world and my co-stars are awesome and really fun to hang out with, so it’s a pretty positive experience. It could have been a negative experience where you get some fucking super bitter EP whose just a fucking harsh asshole to deal with, or the show creators fighting with the lead actor all the time or some chaotic experience like that but it’s a really nurturing environment over there. I look forward to going to work at both worlds.
So you had the idea just come to you, but why a talk show? Why a talk how instead of just sketches or just man-on-the-street stuff?
Eric: Well we originally had sketches in there but the network didn’t want sketches. They weren’t even that thrilled about the man-on-the-street stuff. Well they were, they wanted man-on-the-street stuff but not as much as the talk show stuff. They haven’t had a talk show since Space Ghost, so they were really looking forward to a talk show. I just always loved mock talk shows. I loved Space Ghost, Jiminy Glick, Tom Green, Ali G Show. I was always a big fan of those shows but the idea happened organically. I don’t even remember the first time I had the idea. It wasn’t so academic, I wasn’t like, “I am going to make a talk show now!” I just fantasized about that kind of character and that kind of format.
It seems like you have more of a reverie for fake talk shows than you do for actual talk shows, would you say that’s correct?
Eric: Yeah, big time.
Were there any talk shows that you did find inspiration for or did you just find the format and wanted to make fun of it?
Eric: Were there any legitimate talk shows? Yeah, I loved Conan when I was in high school. Word em up, word em up, word em up! I love watching that Andy Kaufman interview on David Letterman. You know what I’m sayin? Straight up and down kid. Don’t play me like I got a flowerpot head, son. You know what I’m sayin?
I think I might but I’m not positive.
Eric: Jesse! You my man, 100 grams, straight up.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
Eric: Yeah, appreciate that shit my man.
Jesse: So the…
Eric: Jesse! Enough about me my man, let’s talk about you! How the ladies in yo life?
Jesse: How are the ladies in my life?
Eric: Yeah, all of them, all of them. List them off. Tanya, Tameka, Kim, Sharon, Karen.
Yep, those are all of them. [Eric Laughs]
Eric: Jesse, straight up, are you drunk right now? Let’s talk turkey, what’s your drink of choice?
Gin and Tonic
Eric: Nice dude. That shit’s delicious. I feel that.
What did you drink last night?
Eric: Kombucha on the rocks.
So, you’re just really naturally hung over from all the bacteria you drank?
Eric: All the pro-biotics, exactly.
You’ve got that pro-biotic hangover.
Eric: And I went to Grey’s Papaya and I got a hot dog and there was a band-aid at the end of the hot dog bun.
Kitao: No way!
Eric: Yeah, right at the end. I just ate it. I just went with it. And I started smoking herbal cigarettes to go with it, just to piss my parents off.
Do you call them when you’re smoking?
Eric: I call them by their first name; I don’t even call them Mom and Dad. I call them Natalie and Pierre. And I have like mad black light posters in my room; I have like mad 311 black light posters in my room. [Laughs] And like centerfolds of weed from High Times Magazine. [Laughs] Straight up. What’s the matter Jesse, cat got your tongue?
No, you were just talking about your childhood and growing up with weed posters and I wanted to let you fully explore that thought.
Eric: [Eric Laughs] Amber is the color of your energy, ooowoah.
Yeah, that is a 311 song. [Eric Laughs]
Eric: What happened to Andrew, did you fall asleep?
Andrew: I’m just sitting in my imaginations of you as a high school kid into 311.
How did Hannibal get involved and what do you think he brings to the show?
Andrew: Hannibal is someone who Eric already knew and was someone that Eric was already hoping to get on the show early on.
Eric: From the beginning.
Andrew: Yeah, from the beginning. What he does is amazing. Hannibal’s got this completely different sense of humor and energy; he’s sort of like our anchor. He helps us remember when Eric is being completely crazy, what the sort of audience’s perspective of it is.
Eric: He grounds the show.
Andrew: He grounds the show, he’s the proxy for the audience and for the real world, otherwise it would just be a drift in insanity.
Eric: He’s the reason the show can go out to lala land because he grounds the whole show and he, thank god, agreed to do the show. He’s just blown up exponentially since we shot in that bodega. He’s fantastic. When I was writing it, I just knew that I had to have a co-host that was just as out there, but opposite in energy so I could go out to lala land more. We started doing stand up together at the same time in New York, or maybe I was in New York for a year or two and he came and I was just like, “Oh man, this dude’s the shit.” He’s a lifesaver too because there’d just be days on set where I’d just be exhausted, long days on set where I’d just be completely out of energy and he would always save the day.
Whose idea was it to have only one chair so that he’d have to stand behind people when you’re doing the interview?
Eric: [Eric Laughs] I don’t know, how did that come about? I think we just had that chair, that’s why.
It may be my favorite part of the show, him just standing there and all the guests comment like, “Why are you fucking standing there?” [Eric Laughs]
Kitao: I actually remember, it kind of happened how it happened on the show. We started shooting and like Eric and Hannibal were talking and we were just shooting the shit with Eric and Hannibal and it was great and then Eric was like, “Oh yeah we’re gonna get someone to come in”, and I forget who it was… And this was all in the bodega. And as they were coming in we were all like, “Where does Hannibal go?” And it was just totally organic, like “Of course Hannibal should just stand there.”
Eric: We had Sarah Michelle Geller’s dad in the studio.
Kitao: Yeah, sometimes just something in the logic of the show just makes perfect sense that wouldn’t make sense in any other context but once you identify it you’re like, “Oh course it should be like that!
One thing that Hannibal does probably more than anything is make fun of you. What made you decide to have your character be the idiot, the loser, the bad guy?
Eric: I don’t know if I’m the bad guy, but the lead of a comedy has to be somewhat of a tragic figure or he/she won’t be likable.
Does the guest have any idea what they’re walking into?
Andrew: Nominal idea. They know it’s a mock talk show but I think that we very consciously don’t try to screw the guest over and shock and disgust them but at the same time we want to keep them in the dark, so that we have a natural and organic interview. It’s sort of a case-by-case basis.
Kitao: But there’s something magical that happens when performers are outside of their comfort zone. And even in the interview context, I think there’s a lot of it. We shoot very long interviews and through editing cut them down into these shorter pieces. Basically, we tried to create an environment in which it’s kind of crazy and anything can happen. And when things do happen we’re capturing it, so that’s sort of the working methodology that we use.
Andrew: I mean working with Eric sometimes we get surprised. A lot of the stuff he comes up with mid-interview and the camera people, the directors, us, the guests, all of us have to figure out how to respond to what he’s thought of.
A few of the man on the street videos deal pretty heavily with race (i.e. the Civil War Reenactment or Thomas Jefferson goes to a strip club). Was this important for you?
Eric: I don’t think of it that academically, like I don’t set out to hit broad abstract goals, I just think of some silly funny thing and write it. If it happens to deal with race, then it happens to deal with race.