Interview: Comedy Partners Talk ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’

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CHICAGO – Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim already have conquered the realm of the TV cult show. They broke through with the Cartoon Network Adult Swim Classic, “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” and their unique brand of surreal humor is now on the big screen with “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.”

The comic duo met while both attending Temple University in Philadelphia, and went on to create the bizarre “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” which Cartoon Network picked up in 2004 after comedian Bob Odenkirk (”Mr Show”) helped produce it. They went on to create the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” in 2007, which featured interaction with some of the supporting players in their new film, including Zach Galifinakis, Will Forte, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell.

Tim Heidecker (left) and Eric Wareheim in ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’
Tim Heidecker (left) and Eric Wareheim in ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’
Photo credit: Magnet Releasing got a chance to talk to Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim about their new billion dollar movie epic, and their unique spin on the world. When you observed other billion dollar movies in the marketplace, what pitfalls did you want to avoid when you got your chance with that magic dollar figure?

Tim Heidecker: I guess we’re changing the trajectory of the interview right now. [laughs] We were looking at films like ‘Avatar,’ which had as part of their promotional campaign how expensive it was to make. As if that is suppose to equal success

Eric Wareheim: If you know our TV shows, it’s just low budget sketches. The idea that the two guys like us would get a billion dollars is just ridiculous. And in Hollywood, we’re just surrounded by these overly marketed movies. We just wanted to poke fun at the idea. When you are casting outside the sphere of your comic universe, how do you break the news to outsiders that they will be in a Tim and Eric joint, and what big stars have you had to reject because they don’t get it?

Heidecker: I’m not going to name names, but there are people who have wanted to do something with us…

Wareheim: Mostly we tell them that they can be part of it, if we can openly make fun of them. [laughs] Which we done with certain people, and they’re totally okay with it.

Heidecker: There are a lot of comedy people we love, and that we’re fans of, but their sensibility and style wouldn’t work in our world. With John C. Reilly, Zach Galifinakis, Will Forte and Will Ferrell, the big guys in our movie, they work in our world. They are crazy like we are. It’s a small, weird little world. Most of the film is set in a failing mall. What is it about the mall culture that expresses both the promise and the sorrow of the American Dream, and what commentary are you providing regarding the mall in ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’?

Wareheim: We grew going to malls, the mall was the place to hang out. It’s just a sh*t world of buying stuff. When we’ve moved to L.A., the whole city is like a strip mall. It’s all about where you go and what you see, and the advertising is silly. That’s what we wanted to make fun of.

Heidecker: It reminds me of the great David Bryne movie, ‘True Stories,’ a lot of it takes place in a mall. He talks about the mall being a modern day center for finding talent. We were trying to think of our movie mall as a town that we’re going to, that is totally f*cked up. It has the different shops and instead of a mayor you have the president of the mall. It just has its own subculture. You’ve often called your work anti-establishment, as in ‘Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job!’ being anti-television or your style of comedy being anti-humor?

Heidecker: We never said that, by the way, that’s somebody else making an assessment about us.

Wareheim: I coined a new phrase for us during this tour – ‘post-comedy.’ [laughs] Okay, then what type of developmental situations in your growing up influenced the atmosphere of turning those comedic wheels upside down?

Heidecker: Some of it has to do with everything has been done already. Every style has been handled well or poorly. We’re just trying to attempt it from a different angle.

Wareheim: It also about our world being 80% nightmare. The things you have to do on a daily basis is simply a nightmare. We were talking about diarrhea the other day. Why does that have to happen? It’s a nightmare. [laughs] To go back to the mall, it’s just signing and branding all around you.

Heidecker: We’re pummeled by the market culture. The constant necessity to keep ‘growing’ the economy at an exponential rate is suicide. It’s absolutely mental, and there is no signs of it slowing down.

Wareheim: We love the small details of it. We like, for example, when a news reporter stumbles on a line. What is not supposed to be funny is funny to us. We want to capture that energy and put it into the sketches and film.

Heidecker: The establishment in Hollywood will spend so much money and energy to make things look a certain way, and it’s so funny because it’s impossible to maintain it. When you see the cracks, or look behind the curtain, we want to ask, ‘who are you trying to fool?’

Robert Loggia in ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’
Robert Loggia in ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’
Photo credit: Magnet Releasing You often spoof the bad video glaze of local commercials, often using the early digital composition of computer generated transitions from the 1980s. What local programming when you were growing up inspired this anarchy, and what real commercials looked the most like the ones that you fake now?

Heidecker: When I was a kid we had a local station called – no joke – Channel 69. They had local news, with some production values, which I think is funnier than no production values. It’s like a station has the tools, but they’re not very good at it. There were all kinds of commercials, but what I remember is that they would record the sound at a low level, then jack it up way up when they were on the air, so you really hear the background hiss.

Wareheim: The backbone of our work is guys who are trying to promote their own sh*t, but are not suppose to be on camera. They don’t have money to hire someone, so it’s just them. Do you think ‘Tom Goes to the Mayor’ is closer to real government than the pablum that is spewed in civic classes?

Heidecker: No. [laughs] It’s certainly our perception of the absurdity of local government.

Wareheim: Every concept we’ve done on Tom is no too far off from reality. We had an episode called ‘Toodle Day,’ where they married all the animals. But that really happened in some town, we saw a clip of it.

Heidecker: When we were writing the show, and were low on ideas, I would just check out my hometown Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper website and look for stories. They are out there. Going back to Temple University, what was the magic moment that you two first recognized each other?

Wareheim: We met in a film theory class, and we just tried to make each other laugh. The first thing we did was try to form a band, and exchanged band names together. We were laughing so loud that the professor called us out in a huge lecture hall. If all of your comedy influences were an upside down pyramid, who or what would be at the tip?

Heidecker: So much, but for me it was my actual family, and their sense of humor. I loved Abbott and Costello when I was young. I just always love comedy. If you watch the Three Stooges from an absurdist point-of-view, there is just crazy sh*t going on.

Wareheim: It was my group of friends in high school, making videos. Once I got into college, I loved Christopher Guest, Spinal Tap, that changed everything. And then after that, ‘Mr. Show.’ Do you have a similar process to Christopher Guest, where most of the dialogue is born in improvisation?

Wareheim: For the TV show, our scripts were just outlines. Like maybe Tim has a muskie tusk and I’m smelling his necklace. For the film, it was much more scripted, only because we wanted everybody else to know what was happening. Why do you think people are so vociferous regarding the hatred of your material? What is wrong with just changing the channel?

Heidecker: I don’t know. It’s seems since the internet is so entrenched, there is that reaction to everything. Does the ‘Game of Thrones’ have haters? [laughs]

Wareheim: Our theory is when people don’t understand something, and other people they know like it, it will turn them towards hatred. It’s a very common thing, and what motivates them to be vocal.

Tim and Eric in Chicago, February 10, 2012’
Tim and Eric in Chicago, February 10, 2012
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Heidecker: It’s a good sign that this attitude exists, because all long-lasting successes has been met with all kind of controversy. We aren’t trying to make entertainment for the masses, we’re just trying to make stuff that we find funny. Luckily other people find it funny, too. When you are having a disagreement about something, which of the great comedy teams of the past do you best emulate?

Heidecker: It’s not Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Those guys hated each other, right? We know the history of show business, and we’ve had a gradual road to success, not an overnight thing. We’ve been doing it for a long time, we have our way to work together and our boundaries. We’re both grounded.

Wareheim: The only way we’ve been able to work together 15 years is that we both respect each other. I also feel personally that we’re so lucky we got to make a movie that nothing is worth fighting over. Finally, I took this question from a ‘Great Questions of Philosophy’ site on the internet. How does life work? Is there a supreme force that intervenes in our lives or is everything pre-determined from the beginning of time? Or is life just random, full of coincidence and accident? Or is there another control mechanism that we don’t perceive?

Heidecker: Wow. I personally feel that life is random, there is no thought in it. It is just a series of sh*t that happens. It’s a waste.

Wareheim: Something that I felt recently, and it’s not funny, that we are in control of our own destinies. That an action can really change things. Maybe I’m getting old.

Heidecker: That is simple cause-and-effect. That doesn’t suggest that there is some kind of order to it.

“Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” continues its limited release in Chicago on March 2nd. See local listings for show times and theaters. Featuring Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim. Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte and Robert Loggia. Written and directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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