Tim and Eric are the anti-establishment punks of the comedy world. They don’t care about wacky premises, the rule of three, or even the time-honored pattern of setup -> joke -> punchline. No, these two have their own comedic agenda. If you’ve never seen their act before, there’s an infamous Absolut Vodka ad they made with Zach Galifinakis that could effectively serve as their manifesto. The story goes that they were given full creative control over the ad, the only caveat being that they had to mention the product. This is what they made.
Interested in some Absolut Vodka now? More importantly (because it clearly was to them), did the piece make you laugh? If it did, you can safely yourself a fan, and you should probably head over to here when you have a chance. If it didn’t, don’t turn away just yet, because I contend that there is still something quite fascinating about the two of them, even if you’re not a fan of their style of humor.
Tim and Eric’s comedy focuses heavily on awkwardness and cringe-worthy scenes. While they have been known to pull high profile celebrity guests like Galifinakis above, they seem even more excited to cast unknowns and decidedly poor (or non) actors in their pieces, including their movie. The premise of an entire episode of their show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!revolved around the two of them supposedly allowing Tommy Wiseo (from the most popular flop of the past decade, The Room) to direct them. You could call what they do juvenile – there’s silly faces, poop, and penis references aplenty – but they’re not specifically aiming for low brow comedy. It’s just the most direct line for them to get the audience out of their comfort zone.
The duo are also renowned for an Andy Kaufman-esque commitment to their style of humor. They treat every moment in front of a crowd or camera as opportunity to create the same organized chaos featured on their show. More than anything, the two consistently behave however they want to behave, regardless of their audience or number of willing participants. In the past year Tim and Eric found themselves on a massive press tour for their movie, Tim and Eric’s Billion DollarMovie, and you could tell they quickly got tired of (or were just plain never interested in) answering the usual questions people ask actors about their movies. Here’s a clip featuring their appearance earlier this year on Good Day Austin:
And another for Young Hollywood Network. Really all you need to see here is in the reporter’s resigned introduction:
You’d be hard pressed to find an interview with two of them behaving normally and answering all of their questions in a straightforward manner (they do exist, with the cameras off at least, and it’s a actually a bit disconcerting). It makes perfect sense why, because there is actually one rule of comedy Tim and Eric don’t break: show, don’t tell. There’s simply no way to explain their comedic sensibilities without seeing it in action (you’ll notice I myself am posting a LOT of clips in this article about them), so rather than talk about what kind shenanigans their audiences are in for, they’re going to give them a taste of it, right then and there. Everything they’re doing during these interviews is in line with the type of humor they’re known for: awkward silences, random tangents, mugging for the camera. The only thing missing perhaps are stretched out faces and some shouting.
It’s even more interesting watching them interact with their fans, who are often in on the joke:
You can see Tim and Eric answer the well thought out questions legitimately, but then go to town on any dumb questions (“Are you guys high when you write all your jokes?”), which build in stupidity over time. You can practically hear audience members preparing themselves to be ridiculed, after daring to throw rocks at the hornet’s nest.
This brings us to this final clip, another Tim and Eric interview by a blogger named Chase Whale, who seemingly gets in way over his head:
At first glance these two appear to be embarrassing and practically berating the poor interviewer, whose questions waver between well-intentioned and endearing. Instead of answers, Whale receives a wall of resistance that builds and builds until finally the two offer him one last shot at salvaging the situation he’s allegedly brought upon himself. After a beat, he begins to ask a question about a thumb wrestling contest, and the two of them abruptly stand up and end the interview, with Tim exclaiming: “I can’t believe it’s gotten to this, after so much work.”
I was fascinated by this clip, and how much it made me squirm, so I decided to reach out to the interviewer who posted it to find out his thoughts and to find out what Tim and Eric were actually like off camera. It turns out the final moments of the interview are removed from the clip, and Whale actually decided to play up his own perceived incompetence to fire the two of them up. He said:
Based off their [initial] response, I was going to keep going with the ‘dumb journalist’ schtick…I had no idea they would play along, but since I knew and understood their work, I had a gut feeling they would go with it. I was incredibly nervous because I was trying to echo their humor and these would be the guys that would say, ‘OK, I get what you're doing and it's not funny. Just ask your questions.’ But, they went along with and it worked in my favor.
The interview wasn't pre-planned and neither party knew what was going to happen. When the camera shut off all three of us started laughing and they both shook my hand and said ‘that was great.’ When I was editing the interview, I realized the camera actually didn't shut off and them thanking me was filmed. I debated putting that [on] at the very end of the interview, but eventually decided not because it's more interesting for people to speculate. And judging by the YouTube comments on the video, people think Tim and Eric are either hilarious or dicks and I'm either an idiot or brilliant.
As a fan of the two comedians, Chase Whale’s desire to play along with them overtook any journalistic protocol he may have had. He (and implicitly, Tim and Eric) also opted to let the video be seen without the veil being lifted, showing that everything said was all in good fun. Instead, what we get is a few cringe-worthy minutes that seemingly does very little to promote the movie. Or does it?
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Moviewasn’t a big hit at the box office (earning roughly $200K total in theaters, though digital download information wasn’t available), but you can never say the two weren’t promoting what they had to offer hard every time they got in front of the camera. Their wiliness to blow an interview for a chance at bewilderment speaks volumes about how they approach their craft. And even if it didn’t earn them any new fans, it certainly seems to have made their current fanbase happy. Chase Whale again, on the subject of how Tim and Eric behave around the press and their fans:
Who wants to watch Tim and Eric talk about production value or how they "got involved with the project?" Nobody. Fans want to see Tim and Eric be Tim and Eric, especially to press.
I’m not sure how they treat fans, but I'm assuming it's as dry and weird as they treat everyone not in their inner-circle. The fans get it. Imagine being at a Sex Pistols show in 1977. You're a huge fan of Sid Vicious and he spits on you during his set. If you understand how Sid and the Pistols work, you'd take this as complement.
So a fair warning to all of you: if you ever meet Tim and Eric while the cameras are rolling, know that like it or not, you’ve just signed on to be a part of Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show. But don’t worry about fucking it up. Rest assured they’re gonna have a good time with you either way.
Thanks to Chase Whalefor his help with this piece. You can read more of his thoughts on his blog.
Matt Shafeek is a writer and performer living in Astoria, Queens. He performs at the Magnet Theater in NYC, and has blogs about life, productivity, and Batman. His love for comedy is matched only by his love for games. He'd love it if you'd follow him @mattshafeek.
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