Eric André Treats His Talk Show like a Temp Job
Eric André is erratic jazz. He’s polarizing. If you get it, you love it; if you don’t, you leave the room confused. His talk show The Eric Andre Show is a chaotic blend of whatever strange, violent, and disruptive sketches Adult Swim will let him and his team produce. André describes the show as an attempt to answer the question, “What if I was a talk show host who treated it like his day job, like a temp job?” He also should have specified that his idea of a temp worker is someone who regularly breaks all the furniture in the room, frequently finds themselves completely nude, and has a real knack for making everybody deeply uncomfortable. In short, it’s great.
André’s role on Man Seeking Woman is much more restrained, but no less entertaining. The show is a more reined-in variety of absurdism, one in which he seems at home. In it, he plays the main protagonist’s closest friend, Mike. The writing fits André well, and as he reported below, also provides him just enough freedom to stretch out and feel comfortable despite being restricted to a script.
I recently got the opportunity to chat with André over the phone about his shows, the life-threatening ideas he has in store for the next two seasons of The Eric Andre Show, and his passion for music that reflects itself in his comedy.
As far as Man Seeking Woman is concerned, I’ve heard you have a great “Mike episode” coming up.
Yeah. It’s all about me and Rosa, baby. Our twisted love affair. I express both ends of the dating spectrum where in the beginning I’m very noncommittal at first. No strings attached, and then I get very possessive towards the end. You get both ends of the spectrum in this episode. I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard it really came out good.
You seem to enjoy kind of going off the rails, if The Eric Andre Show is any indicator; is it harder for you to be on a scripted show? Do you get to improv lines a lot?
We get to improvise our lines a good amount. We have a lot of freedom to play around and stuff. It’s still a very structured show, though.
Is that harder for you at all?
As far as anything I’ve ever acted on, this is the easiest most free-form show. I actually like the writing and the writers. I think they’re very funny. I feel very simpatico with the creators. They let me riff whenever I want. So if I get canned up with a scripted line I can riff my way out of it. I have freedom.
Which is something I imagine you would need a lot of.
Yeah. I’m not very good if I have to stick to the script. I’m not the world’s greatest actor.
Do you find it harder to be as wild as you progress in comedy, since you’re doing it so frequently now and have been for so long?
No. If anything it’s easier. You get more comfortable and confident in time.
On The Eric Andre Show one of the regular occurrences is that you make your guests uncomfortable. Lauren Conrad was definitely the most notable. Does it hurt in a way when someone doesn’t play along with the game of the talk show?
We don’t want them to play along. We want them to be out of their comfort zone. I think it hurts if they play along and they try to ham it up. We’ve figured out ways to get around that. There was one guy here that was hamming it up, so I just took off my pants and tried to take a shit on my desk in front of him.
Truly something nobody can play along with.
When you’re looking at my 32-year-old anus popping out like a fucking outie belly button, it kind of forces you to be uncomfortable.
What is it that appeals to you about that?
It’s not just about making somebody uncomfortable, or harassing somebody or giving somebody a hard time. I set out to be the most incompetent talk show host of all time. It’s about absurdity and blowing the guest’s mind. It’s not about being mean, because anybody can be mean. I don’t think that’s clever or fun. It’s more about blowing the guest’s mind, having them feel sort of an out-of-body experience. I’ve gotten better, but I’ve had bad problems with anxiety and–
Of all people, it surprises me that you’ve had problems with anxiety.
Oh yeah, big time. I’m a pretty nervous guy.
Is all the absurdism stuff your way of dealing with that?
No, I don’t know. That’s all too academic. That’s just what I like. I’ve had panic attacks on acid and mushrooms and it’s been a really bad time. I kind of want the show to feel like that. It’s like a progression of that feeling. I’m very nervous on TV and just sweating all the time. I stay in the room interviewing without air conditioning, so I’m really sweaty and the guest’s really sweaty. It’s a celebration of all my neuroses and putting both me and the guests through all the worst of my neuroses.
One sketch I was curious about was the one where you were dragging a bag that was dripping blood and appeared to contain a body down a street yelling “Finders keepers!” How did that work out, legally?
It didn’t. The cops were called immediately. The footage you saw was about the extent of the footage. They dispatched two cop cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance for that. The cops reamed us out, reamed out my director. He was like, “You guys are fucking idiots. I just dispatched two cop cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance because I heard there was a dead body being dragged around. Why don’t you guys have a permit? Why didn’t you clear this with the city? Why are there cameras?” We had one overt camera, but it was kind of backed off in the distance and he saw it. He was furious. We didn’t get away with that, and honestly I don’t know if I could do that sketch again. It’s pretty dangerous.
Wait, what kind of permit are you supposed to get in order to pretend to drag a dead body in a bag through New York City?
You have to get a permit to shoot in New York, but we don’t have the money. We can’t afford it.
Did they fine you?
Nah, kinda just like a slap on the wrist. I mean, we got lucky. I was about to get arrested. I just sat in the corner and let my producer and my director deal with the cops.
Any word on the date for the release of season four?
We haven’t found out the date yet.
Is there any new look that you’ll be going for in this season along the lines of your Katt Williams haircut from last season?
Yeah, I didn’t brush my hair the entire season. I lost 10 pounds. I grew out my fingernails like Howard Hughes. I didn’t wear deodorant the entire season or wash my suit the entire season. I didn’t go out in the sun the entire season so I was really pale. I didn’t brush my teeth a lot of the times I was interviewing people. I was running up and down the street before interviews and getting really sweaty and smelly. I’d eat garlic and smoke cigars and shit.
Is that something you landed on by committee, or just you being you?
That would come up in the writers’ room. I was in the writers’ room and we were like, “We want this season to be a really dystopian.” I want to look like Howard Hughes. I want to look super unhealthy. For Season 5 I’m going to gain a ton of weight, get rid of all the hair on my body, like alopecia, get really tan, and look like Honda from Street Fighter. Like a tan Buddha with alopecia. My director was like, “You’re going to get diabetes” from all the drastic weight changes.” I tried to lose 40 pounds. I wanted to be like Christian Bale in The Machinist. It was fucking impossible. I didn’t even lose 10. I lost like 7. I was like, fuck this, I’m getting a doughnut.
This show is going to be the death of you.
It’ll be the death of me, for sure. I can’t write comedy and starve myself simultaneously. It’s one or the other. I went to a nutritionist, and he was like, “You’re pretty lean, man. I don’t know how you’re gonna get 30 or even 20 pounds off. You know, you’re gonna do like 10 or 15.” And I was like, “No, I want to look like Christian Bale in The Machinist.” Everybody told me not to do it. The network told me not to do it. My director said don’t do it. They were like, “You’re gonna be frickin’ starving yourself.” I consulted with a personal trainer, he said, “Why do you think Christian Bale lost his mind and, like, beat up his mom? It does something to your brain.”
Well here’s to hoping you don’t completely lose whatever sanity you still have. Switching topics, I wanted to ask you about your background in music. Was that something you intended to make your career originally, and how did that become comedy instead?
When I got to music school, Napster came out, everybody had a CD burner on their laptop, and the music industry shit the bed. I was like, ah, shit. Toward the end of school, I had a band. I was doing shows around Boston, and there were all these fliers for open mic comedy nights. I was like, “Oh, I should just try that.” I really wanted to try it. And I loved it. I fell in love with it instantly. I knew the history professor who was teaching about Charles Ives; he was a 20th century composer. He invented life insurance. He was a billionaire in the 1920s and ’30s. He’d take the train from his mansion in Danbury, Connecticut to New York City every morning to work, where he created life insurance. He would compose all of his symphonies, all his works on the train. Ives talked about how you can never make money doing music or your musical composition will always be compromised, because even on a subconscious level you’ll be worrying “Will this make me money?” That just resonated with me in that moment. I was in my end-of-college quarter-life crisis. I was like, “You know what? I want to keep music sacred and fun. I just want to do comedy and comedy will be my day job. Music will be my passion.”
And that’s kind of what The Eric Andre Show came out of. I was like, “What if I was a talk show host who treated it like his day job, like a temp job? And he just hated it. And he was completely ill-prepared and unequipped, incompetent and bad.” And I was temping all around New York City just doing these miserable jobs. And that’s kind of what it is.
So do you still have musical aspirations?
I’m playing around. I downloaded Ableton and I’ve been making insufferable, un-listenable electronic music on my computer, but just for fun. I do want to start a fake record label and put out a bunch of bullshit music that only I like.
Is there kind of an intersection between the music that you like and the comedy that you perform?
Yeah. I think so, big time. I really like Death Grips and Venetian Snares and really wild and erratic music. I love a lot of the stuff on Stones Throw, J Dilla, Madlib and stuff like that. That’s all the stuff I write too. I write really erratic jazz.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.