Comedy duo Tim and Eric have garnered quite a cult following with their previous shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and especially "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" Now the two are poised to dominate the world of film with their absurdly funny Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, which features appearances from Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis, and Will Forte.
In the film, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim play versions of themselves as failed Hollywood directors who take over a mall in hopes of repaying bloodthirsty movie executives.
Though one might expect them to be particularly animated during an interview, they were fairly laid back when I talked to them. Despite their soft-spoken nature, they did seem to take turns periodically amusing themselves during this interview, as you'll read below.
Along with a college newspaper writer, I sat down with Tim and Eric to discuss their comedy, their observations on human behavior, the unmade "Tom Goes to the Mayor" movie, and more.
Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is now playing in select theaters, and is available on VOD.
Tim Heidecker: Who do you write for?
The Scorecard Review.
Heidecker: Is that related to Free Credit Report?
Heidecker: It should be. [sings an impromptu jingle]
Have you written a jingle for them?
Heidecker: No, f**k those guys.
What were some of the movies that you guys made fun of in your own movie?
Heidecker: Flashdance, there are a bunch of subtle references to that.
Eric Wareheim: Crocodile Dundee. There are a couple jokes in which we got into legal trouble with. They said, 'This is really close to the Dundee style.' And we said, 'It's just a Dundee style. It's not verbatim.'
Heidecker: [In the movie] he said, 'Look at this knife.' And they said, 'You can't say that.'
With the success of your shows, how much space did you have to work with the content of this movie?
Heidecker: About the size of this room.
How would you classify your fanbase?
Heidecker: It's definitely directed towards a specific type of person, and not a mass audience.
Heidecker: Dunder-heads. There are skags, moishies.
Heidecker: They're like b-boys who don't hang with the crew. They're on their own.
Wareheim: Chicken whiz.
Did you face any challenges in adapting your style to the big screen?
Wareheim: It was a big deal, you know. The TV show is ...
Heidecker: The TV show didn't matter. There was no reason to do it. But with this movie, there was a real investment opportunity. It became something in which we had an opportunity to make a couple bucks. Cause we're suckers to buy sh*t.
What amuses you most about animated movies? I've seen you guys make jokes about Shrek 3, Rango, and now The Lorax.
Heidecker: It's kind of a coincidence. I happen to love the Pixar movies. I don't think the Shrek movies are that great. I'm not against animated movies or anything. The Shrek thing was about the over-promotion of the film. And with Rango - it's just funny to say you got 'Rango'd." And then The Lorax is coming out the same day as our movie. So we just said, let's just go after Lorax, and bring Lorax down.
Did anyone from The Lorax respond?
Heidecker: No one responds. Everyone thinks they are so cool. They think they are high and mighty that they won't talk to people like us.
Even when you were having people sign contracts promising that they would see your movie in theaters, they hesitated at the part in which they had to say "The Lorax looks bad."
Heidecker: I have a friend who works in a competing animation company. And he said, 'I would love to sign this, but I actually could lose my job if I go on the record saying not to see Lorax.
I'm going to name three movies, and you tell me the influence each of them has had on you and your humor style. First: UHF. Were you big UHF fans?
Wareheim: "Weird Al" Yankovic in general. It's about how far he goes. We really dive into what we do, and he is so committed to being super silly. We don't really parody a lot of pop culture like he does.
Heidecker: He also has a clear dark, dark sensibility, where you if you look back on some of the older records, he gets into weird stuff, like psycho killer stuff. That's like PG-13 in a way.
"Christmas in Ground Zero."
Heidecker: Yeah, exactly.
Where is "Weird Al" Yankovic in this movie?
Heidecker: [sighs]. We had to make some tough choices.
Wareheim: He's not just a fan, he's also a really big fan of ours. He's so sweet.
Heidecker: There will be other roles.
Next movie, or really, they're movie stars - The Three Stooges. What do you see from their humor in your comedy?
Heidecker: I think there are a couple things. In general, the Stooges are in situations in which they are just trying to get a job, get out of their situation. They're generally poor, and they're dumb. And they're mean, and you kind of like them. And that's what we're out to do with our relationship. We're against each other sometimes, and we're competing, but there's something brotherly going on. And then there's the sound effects and the cartoony stuff. I think that movie is really funny.
Last film: Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis.
Heidecker: I used to love that movie. I recently re-watched it, it's really difficult to watch. There are elements of it that I f**king love. They're totally influential to me. The credit sequence in the beginning, in which it's just one frame. It's like a director losing his mind. I wrote a review for McSweeney's I think about that movie. Look that up.
Eric, have you seen Schizopolis?
Wareheim: I thought it was great the first time I saw it. But I saw it recently, and wasn't turned on by it.
It's really interesting in Soderbergh made the movie to rejuvenate himself. Do you have any interest in doing anything so experimental?
Heidecker: I don't know how you can get those movies made anymore. There's no market for it. Making this movie was so hard, people were so scared to get this movie, which has Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and all of them were attached from the beginning. And it's a fairly traditional film in some respects, I mean, it's crazy and all that stuff, but it's a comedy. It has an audience. If it was hard to make this movie, I don't know how people can make movies like Schizopolis.
He had a unique contract with a movie studio after making his previous films.
Heidecker: I think that this movie for us is a foot in the door into this world of movies. We have never been in this position before. And hopefully yeah - this business is like what Soderbergh went through, where you get more position the better you do, and you get more control the better you do. Things are going to get weirder after this. We're not trying to conform to anyone's idea of what a film should be. So yeah, maybe we will get to make that type of film eventually.
With how graphic the film is, did you worry about the NC-17 rating?
Heidecker: We have friends on the MPAA. We know people there. We make a couple calls.
Were there any scenes you had to take away?
Heidecker: No, there were a couple scenes we had to add. In general, you just put a little envelope under the door.
Wareheim: A little scratch ...
Do you have any plans for making more movies?
Heidecker: Yes. No official plans. But we love this experience.
Wareheim: We'll be here next year with you two. Again.
Of many creative duos like Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of "South Park"), or the Coen Brothers, one of them seems to have a little more outward control than the other. Which one of you is the Trey Parker in this relationship?
Heidecker: What I understand about Joel and Ethan [Coen] is that they really both do things, and the idea of only listing one of them as director was a Director's Guild thing. [Eric and I] are pretty equal, when it comes to writing, and directing. We definitely have different strengths. Eric has a little more of an eye when it comes to lighting, and the compositional elements.
What do you have an eye for?
Heidecker: That wouldn't be for me to say.
[To Eric] What does Tim have an eye for?
Wareheim: Tim's a really great performer. It's an honor to work with him. There's a reason that we connected. We're both just trying to kick ass at whatever we're doing. It takes a lot to do this kind of sh*t. Directing a movie, I couldn't do it by myself. I don't know how people could. It's insane.
Do you ever get burnt out? You have this fanbase, and you have these people who always want you to keep doing certain things. Does it wear you down?
Heidecker: We're not as prolific as we may seem. We need time off, and definitely value not working as much as we value working. I also think we're at a point where we have to go grow, change, and adapt. Like with "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!" that was going to start becoming a commodity. So we'll need some time after this to move onto the next phase.
What kind of mental preparation went into filming one of the more grotesque scenes in the movie?
Wareheim: Not a lot. It's kind of fun for us, to play with prosthetics. It's kind of a challenge in which you're trying to direct, and you're suited up with a fake arm and then sitting in a tub with all of these boys. That's why you kind of need two guys for this stuff.
What's in the shrim?
Wareheim: Almond and oatmeal. And they warmed it up for me. It was very pleasant.
Do you like any scenes in the movie in particular?
Heidecker: No. It's not fair to the other scenes, they're like our children.
Were there any favorite people who you worked with in the film?
Heidecker: No, same thing.
There's a lot of stuff about human behavior in your comedy. What amuses you most about human behavior, or regular human actions? What amuses you in daily life?
Heidecker: People are hilarious. The choices that they make, and the formalities that exist. Especially with service, and waiters. [Eric and I] were having lunch downstairs, and the manager came over and the way he asked us how everything was so obviously insincere. Everyone is playing this weird game with each other.
Wareheim: It's funny when people think they're really important. We've always been obsessed with that - people thinking they are way more than they are.
Heidecker: I also feel there is a language that develops with certain service people. Like they have to talk in a certain way, and are instructed to speak. It's just not real. It's not how people really talk.
Would you prefer people to be straight-forward?
Heidecker: Yeah, just conversational.
Eric, does your character keep the penis piercing after movie's "makeover" scene?
Wareheim: It's still there. The hole will be there forever. The ring is gone.
When do you know a joke has reached his limit - when the absurd is just too absurd?
Heidecker: It's an organic thing. It's just a feel. There's no testing strip that you can put on a screen and see if it's working.
Wareheim: All of our stuff has been very instinctual. If it's not making us laugh, then it's gone. If we feel like it has run its course, we kill off characters. We're not doing the "Saturday Night Live" thing. With our character Spaghett, we reference that in the show - he got too popular, had surgery and ...
Heidecker: We try to make sure that things are not absurd for absurd. But that there is some other comment going on, another angle. I actually don't like stuff that is pure whimsy.
Heidecker: Like "The Mighty Boosh." It's just kind of like unhinged, crazy wacky, Lewis Carroll absurdity that is more about psychedelia than satire.
Is there some line you won't cross with comedy?
Wareheim: Killing babies. Anything else?
Wareheim: Killing mamas.
Heidecker: I think the line is constantly changing.
How do you hope that audiences will react to the film?
Heidecker: I hope that people will enjoy it.
Wareheim: We're doing this to make people laugh.
Heidecker: People will enjoy it, and realize it's just a movie. There are thousands of movies that come out every year, and most of them suck. Most of them come out every year, and you can't even watch them.
With your film and your TV shows, especially "Tom Goes to the Mayor," you display a fascination with food and middle America. What interests you the most about this subject?
Wareheim: We all have our Applebees, and other processed food joints. So restaurants like Sauceman's (from "Tom Goes to the Mayor"); it's funny when people try to make new things, but at the heart of it it's really bad, and really gross.
Who wrote all of the bread puns in this movie? Was that James Quall?
Heidecker: I wrote a couple of them, and I think James Quall came up with a bunch. We suggested a few.
That was one of the punniest scenes I've ever seen in a movie.
Heidecker: Every single one. And what makes me laugh about that scene, which I don't think is that obvious, is that you see that whole set from beginning to end. It's like two minutes of comedy. When would you ever see that? And then he comes back, and does it again. It's a strange thing.
Do you guys plan on putting out a blooper reel?
Wareheim: The DVD will be filled with stuff.
What kind of content will be on the disc?
Heidecker: Wacky jokes.
Wareheim: Probably all of the Dundee jokes, if we get clearance.
Heidecker: And there's a big salute to Chicago that we do. Just on the DVD. Everyone on the cast, we all sing "Sweet Home Chicago." For anyone that loves movies about Chicago, this one is for them. We just couldn't make it into the movie, but what an extra. Right up on the Sears Tower. Just jamming.
How do you think this script would have been different if you had written it during your "Tom Goes to the Mayor" days?
Heidecker: It wouldn't have been as good. We've learned from making "Awesome Show," and we probably wouldn't have been as good. In terms of writing a script, or joke wise?
Heidecker: Yeah, I don't think we would have been capable to do that.
Wareheim: But the movie is very "Tom Goes to the Mayor"-esque.
Heidecker: We actually wrote a long outline for a "Tom Goes to the Mayor" movie years ago. Unfortunately, one of the big ideas was that the town would get put into a dome. Which was used in The Simpsons Movie. There wasn't real serious talk about a "Tom Goes to the Mayor" movie, but someone at Adult Swim (on Cartoon Network) was like, 'What if there was [a movie]? Crazier things have happened.'
The Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie happened.
Heidecker: Yeah, that happened. And then we tried "Tom Goes to the Mayor" as live-action in "Awesome Show," and it just didn't feel right - for obvious reasons. It's weird. We haven't watched that show since we made it, if you can believe that. We don't watch our own stuff very often. It'd be curious to have a screening of that. How many times have you seen your movie?
Heidecker: 300 times.
Did you watch audiences reactions?
Wareheim: Last night it was very positive. A long Q&A. People enjoyed it.
What part of the filmmaking process best allows your humor style to shine? Is it the editing process, or the writing?
Wareheim: We have always written, directed, starred, and edited our own stuff. It's the whole thing.
Heidecker: If I had to pick, I'd say the editing. That's where you really make the movie. We write it, and give ourselves just as much content to make the movie. All of the ingredients are there with the script, and the actual footage. But the choices in the editing room, as to how to make the whole movie work together, it seems like that's really where the creativity has to really shine as bright as possible.