A Guide to Tim Heidecker’s Post-‘Awesome Show’ Years
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! has cast a long shadow over the comedy world in the 2010s, especially when it can still seem like every alternative comedy group of the last decade or so has co-opted (or plain ripped off) their surreal, digitally decaying, local-access show visual style. Of course, because that show could be so intentionally overwhelming and nightmarish at times, it’s always been an acquired taste, fiercely polarizing viewers. Naturally, then, whenever a news item pops up about either Tim Heidecker or Eric Wareheim (though usually Tim since Eric mostly spends his time behind the camera), the comments are usually full of “What do people see in Tim & Eric anyway??” messages from people who assume Tim and Eric are still doing the same shtick they didn’t like to begin with.
Which, fine. There’s a bunch of Awesome Show I don’t love, but it’s also been six years since that show ended, and it bothers me how many of the show’s detractors haven’t seemed to check out any of Tim’s more recent work, which finds both different and more subtle approaches to his dark, deadpan humor, much of which would be far more palatable to these critics.
So, with apologies to Eric Wareheim, and in honor of the release of Tim’s new album of “somewhat earnest” songs, In Glendale, here’s a selection of Tim’s recent work that falls outside the stereotypical Tim & Eric sensibility.
Tim’s Kitchen Tips
If your common complaint about Awesome Show was that it was insanely maximalist, this is the show for you. Tim’s Kitchen Tips, a four-episode web series created for Jash, is a dead-on parody of daytime cooking shows, complete with cloying acoustic guitar soundtrack and a delicately appointed set. It’s muted, even weirdly relaxing, but very funny, leaning less on actual jokes and more on weird turns of phrase and body language, among other, subtler gags. Each episode is structured in the same way: Tim introduces what he’s cooking (always an incredibly easy-to-make dip); proceeds to use a massive amount of Pitzman’s mustard, a fictional brand that sponsors the show; nonchalantly makes a huge mess; invites a “special guest” to taste his concoction (always Eric Wareheim); and Eric yells at Tim to quit wasting his time with this useless show. Somehow, from such a simple, unchanging template, he still manages to find a lot of hilarious beats in between the steps in his recipe.
On Cinema & Decker
At seven seasons and 70 episodes (and counting), Tim’s Adult Swim web series On Cinema is not only his biggest project since Awesome Show, it’s also his most complex and sprawling to date, though it doesn’t appear this way from the outset. Starting out as a relatively straight-ahead parody of Siskel & Ebert’s At The Movies, featuring Tim and Gregg Turkington (in possibly his biggest non-Neil Hamburger comedy role) as the resident critics, the show now has very little to do with movies and everything to do with the contentious relationship between the hosts. Tim, playing a narcissistic, right-wing asshole version of himself, slowly hijacks the series to make it about himself and his various vanity projects, offering updates on his love life and his hard rock band Dekkar, while sympathetic, mild-mannered Gregg tries and fails to keep the show focused on film.
On top of this, during the series, Tim’s character also created a web show within a web show that runs concurrently with On Cinema, a special agent action spoof called Decker, itself three seasons in. Decker is wilder and more absurdist than its parent series, starring Tim as a sarcastic, uber-patriotic ass-kicker affecting some strange Robert De Niro impression while butting heads with a wussy president (played by Joe Estevez, of all people) over how to properly defeat ISIS and the Taliban. It’s all hilariously amateurish and barely comprehensible, with Tim often stammering over his own tough-guy lines to push ahead a nonsensical plot.
If this sounds like a lot, it is. Of all the projects listed here, On Cinema is probably the least accessible — it’s somewhat repetitive, fairly serialized in its later seasons, and Tim and Gregg’s arguments (and occasionally plot points) even spill over onto Twitter, requiring a little more work on the part of the viewer. (A running gag involving Tim and Gregg’s respective cameos in Fantastic Four and Ant-Man even had those movies’ directors in on the joke.) At the same time though, it’s not absolutely necessary to follow all that in detail (or even watch every episode), and it’s easy to get sucked into its crazy world after just watching a handful of quick episodes.
Tim and Gelman Have Lunch
A hilarious two-off, with one short produced in 2010 and a four-parter released in 2013, the premise of Tim and Gelman Have Lunch is just what it says it is: Tim and Brett Gelman grab lunch in a diner to catch up on what they’ve been doing lately. In this reality, though, they are two aspiring standups lacking for work but not self-esteem, trading tips and advice for their sets, oblivious to how terrible they are. Tim shows off his celebrity impressions and vague character bits like “my cross-eyed guy,” and Brett demonstrates the “eye work” that goes into making The Office funny, all the while disturbing everyone else in the restaurant and harassing the staff. It’s the pair at their obnoxious best.
Comedy Bang! Bang! Appearances
Tim’s appeared a handful of times on Comedy Bang! Bang! over the years — often alone, sometimes with Eric — and his no-nonsense, confrontational persona brings a different energy to the podcast’s typically bright, screwball feel, with Tim frequently answering a “yes and” suggestion with “no” and still getting a big laugh anyway. From his tale of working on Woody Allen’s baffling, racist, black-and-white Kung Fu Panda-based silent opera (around the 18 minute mark) to explaining Popcorn.com’s “free popcorn for life” giveaway promotion (around the 12:40 mark), the tension squeezed from Tim’s straight-faced delivery, as if he can’t understand why anyone around him would be laughing, results in some of my absolute favorite moments of the show. Plus, put into the context of Comedy Bang! Bang! where everyone is barely holding it together the whole time, where it’s easy to suss out what is and isn’t a joke, this is Tim at his most approachable, a good entrypoint for the uninitiated.
Music has long been integral to Tim’s career, from the early Tim & Eric sketches to the recently released In Glendale, but his musical comedy has rarely gotten the attention it deserves, likely since little of it is released under his own name. For instance, a few times, Tim “leaked” tracks that supposedly were to be performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. And though Bob Dylan didn’t end up actually performing “Running Out The Clock” at the big game, it’s still the best vaguely football-themed song he never wrote, with Tim’s whining Dylan impression both laughably cartoonish and weirdly accurate. He’s cut a few albums too — some under his own name, some not — my favorite being The Yellow River Boys’ Urinal St. Station, a bar blues album entirely about drinking piss and getting pissed on, featuring timeless classics like “Hot Piss” and “Slurp It Up.”
Of course, the secret to good musical comedy is that it has to work as music as well as it does at comedy. And this is where he shines. Many assume, even among fans, that all of Tim’s music is inherently a joke because his preferred musical style — folky album rock and ‘70s singer/songwriterism, mostly — isn’t particularly cool. But that isn’t quite the case. His two Heidecker & Wood albums, composed with Davin Wood, work as playful satire, skewering the tropes of his favorite music from a loving place, not a place of contempt. They wouldn’t work unless Tim and his collaborators knew this music inside and out, which they do. And that’s what makes the difference. You can both love something and know that it’s still a bit funny, just a little bit.
In Glendale, his solid new album, furthers this notion. There are a few jokes, sure, plus some satirical barbs (the gentrification tale “Central Air”), but this is mostly a man trying his hand simply at writing and performing a set of songs he enjoys, without feeling an obligation to “be a comedian.” (Non-comedy rock can be funny too, you know!) Both fans and detractors will likely debate what’s exactly supposed to be sincere here, as if Tim couldn’t possibly reveal his own emotions on record, but that’s missing the point. In Glendale, then, ends up being a good symbol of Tim Heidecker’s comedy career right now: low-key, more direct, but widely misunderstood since his critics, and even some fans, can’t shake their first impression of him. If you’ve never given him another look, it’s a good time to do so.
(As a bonus, I’ll leave you with this video, where Tim grants an exclusive, impromptu interview about his “Piss Campaign.” Cheers!)
Chris Kopcow is a comedy guy and pop culture writer. Here is his Twitter.