“The mis­con­cep­tion is al­ways that, based on our work, we’re lu­natics who are complete acid­heads, who just go around with un­der­wear on our heads"

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS - BY MAX ABELSON PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ART STREIBER

In­side a two-story of­fice build­ing on the out­skirts of Los An­ge­les, Tim Hei­decker and Eric Ware­heim are grin­ning into a computer screen. On a wall nearby, a paint­ing de­picts the co­me­di­ans in pink suits and on fire. “Hey Doc!” Ware­heim says. “Hey Doc­tor!” Hei­decker says. “Hi friends,” says John C. Reilly, who’s on a video call from a stu­dio in Aus­tralia. Reilly, the Os­car-nom­i­nated actor cel­e­brated for his sen­si­tive char­ac­ter work in Magnolia and other art-house clas­sics, has built a sec­ond ca­reer in cult com­edy. He’s Skyp­ing in to record voice-overs for one of Hei­decker and Ware­heim’s tele­vi­sion shows, Check It Out!

With Dr. Steve Brule. The fourth sea­son pre­mieres this month on the Car­toon Net­work; it’s air­ing af­ter dark, when the chan­nel’s candy-col­ored an­i­ma­tions for kids make way for the night­time pro­gram­ming block Adult Swim.

On the show, Reilly, as Brule, an ea­ger and in­com­pe­tent lo­cal-TV health ex­pert, sports a bad suit and a hel­met of thin­ning curls. In the Aus­tralian sound stu­dio, he’s wear­ing a sharp short-sleeve shirt. Ware­heim, a huge man, is draped on a couch fac­ing the computer. On the floor in front of him, Hei­decker folds his body into a crouch. “We have one shot at this,” he says. “One shot,” Reilly an­swers. “All right, let’s make some ho-hos.”

What they’re re­ally mak­ing here is the kind of TV Hei­decker and Ware­heim have re­fined over 20 years. It’s wob­bly in a way that sug­gests their equip­ment has bro­ken down, the tapes are dis­in­te­grat­ing, and all the adults have fled the sta­tion. The style has made the co­me­di­ans into alt-hu­mor he­roes, and, as they help other odd­balls make TV, it’s turn­ing the two into em­per­ors of the new fan-driven, plat­form-polyg­a­mous com­edy land­scape. “Ac­tion!” Ware­heim screams from the couch. “When he says ac­tion,” Hei­decker says right away, “you’ve got to start.”

“Do it again!” Ware­heim screams, pre­tend­ing to boil with Hol­ly­wood rage.

“Here we go,” Reilly says and then pauses. When he speaks, what comes out is Dr. Brule’s voice, mushy and crooked. “Jail’s where bad boys live,” he says. “It’s where all the mean­est hunks sleep.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Hei­decker says, feed­ing him a new line.

“Jail is where all the bad boys live,” Reilly says. “It’s pretty cool,” Hei­decker says again. “I heard you,” Reilly says, not un­der­stand­ing. “Oh! Say ‘pretty cool’?”

“Like you kind of like it,” Ware­heim says. “Cool place.”

“Jail is the club­house where all the bad boys live,” Reilly says. “It’s where all the mean­est hunks sleep and live. Pretty cool!”

The three gig­gle and pass lines back and forth about big-boy crimes and hand­some mug shots. Hei­decker leaves the room, Reilly hangs up, and Ware­heim runs a rough cut of the episode, which fol­lows Dr. Brule into jail and on a highly un­pro­fes­sional po­lice ride-along. Just like Tim and Eric Awe­some Show, Great Job!, the se­ries that made the two semi­fa­mous, the work is too pe­cu­liar to count as slap­stick but so funny that it doesn’t qual­ify as con­cep­tual art—though their aug­mented ug­li­ness brings to mind the artist Ryan Tre­cartin’s kamikaze post-apoc­a­lyp­tic videos. Watch­ing the cli­max of the episode, which in­volves a kiss for Dr. Brule from a small man named Scott Clam, Ware­heim laughs so hard that the noise ris­ing out of him sounds like a hun­gry baby’s wail.

For a company de­voted to the an­tic and off-color, the head­quar­ters of Abso Lutely Pro­duc­tions has a gen­eral air of cor­dial­ity and calm. (Its name comes from the an­swer Hei­decker’s dad gave in an old home movie when asked to sum up their va­ca­tion in two words. “Abso,” he said, shirt­less but wear­ing a neon-or­ange hat. “Lutely.”) At the end of an open workspace, past some pink couches and the por­trait, there are three offices in a row. Ware­heim’s is on the left, with a big poster of Stan­ley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Hei­decker’s is in the mid­dle, and on the right is the of­fice of Dave Kneebone, who, de­spite his vaude­ville name, is the company’s busi­ness chief and straight man.

Last year he man­aged a $26.6 mil­lion pro­duc­tion bud­get, up 16 per­cent from 2014, mak­ing nine dif­fer­ent shows. For roughly the same sum, you could pay the Big Bang The­ory leads for a hand­ful of episodes.

Tim and Eric are fig­ur­ing out a new method of com­edy pro­duc­tion. De­pend­ing on which sub­red­dit stream you’re reading, they’re ei­ther ge­niuses or point­lessly ni­hilis­tic and di­gres­sive. But their abil­ity to pump out con­tent—from their Super Bowl ad­ver­tise­ment for Loc­tite su­per­glue to 15-minute seg­ments of Check It Out!—while en­tic­ing house­hold com­edy names to make cameos is al­low­ing their fief­dom to grow.

Their tim­ing is good. There may be mur­murs of a TV-con­tent bub­ble, but right now there’s money flow­ing as stream­ing ser­vices mul­ti­ply and ca­ble com­pa­nies scram­ble to in­vent new busi­ness mod­els. Off­shoot Abso Labs, for in­stance, has been promised about $1 mil­lion from Super Deluxe, an arm of Time Warner, to de­liver short dig­i­tal videos and more. That in­cludes a satire of celebrity ma­gi­cians, Mind Jack, star­ring Brent Wein­bach, whose power in­volves se­men.

“It’s been a crazy, seis­mic megashift in how TV is done,” says Matt Sel­man, a Simp­sons ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. As me­dia em­pires crum­ble, he says, dis­tinct voices that speak to loyal fans, even if they freak oth­ers out, will only be­come more valu­able. “There’s no one in a bet­ter place right now for where TV is go­ing than them.”

Kneebone says that Abso Lutely has turned a profit the past two years and that a po­ten­tial buyer has shown in­ter­est. Ware­heim is glad he

doesn’t worry about the busi­ness side: “I try to stay fo­cused,” he says as the sun sets be­hind him over L.A. “A lot of peo­ple are like, ‘What do you want to do?’ I’m actually just do­ing my dream job right now.”

In the past year Abso Lutely has pro­duced Com­edy Cen­tral’s Nathan for You, hosted by an awk­ward Canadian who foists out­landish ad­vice on strug­gling small busi­nesses; Adult Swim’s The Eric An­dre Show, a talk show whose episodes open with the oblit­er­a­tion of its set; plus IFC’s

Com­edy Bang! Bang! and Net­flix’s W/ Bob & David. Also in de­vel­op­ment: a show star­ring rap­per and Bernie San­ders ac­tivist Killer Mike, a spe­cial about the beauty in­dus­try with the ex­cep­tion­ally dry Esther Povit­sky, and a se­ries with the hammy pair Kate Ber­lant and John Early.

On a bright morn­ing the day af­ter the

Check It Out! record­ing, Hei­decker is emp­ty­ing boxes of vinyl records onto the floor of his of­fice. It’s his new al­bum, In Glen­dale. He re­leased an­other record in 2013 with joke songs about urine, but this one is sin­cere. “I’ve lived right here for over 10 years, don’t ever think I want to move away,” he sings on the ti­tle song, about the L.A. County neigh­bor­hood where he lives and works. “Have a cou­ple of kids and take them to the beach to play.” It’s al­most soft rock.

“My guy is Randy New­man, who can mix the silly and stupid with very sweet and sad,” Hei­decker says, find­ing a marker to start sign­ing copies. “This isn’t a char­ac­ter, re­ally. It’s just about me and my fam­ily.” At work, Hei­decker, who is 40 and mar­ried, wears the crum­pled T-shirts, baggy jeans, and tired eyes of a new dad. He coos over videos of his young daugh­ter, which is dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing to any­one fa­mil­iar with the mon­strous ba­bies and cruel par­ents who pop­u­late his com­edy.

“The mis­con­cep­tion is al­ways that, based on our work, we’re lu­natics who are complete acid-heads, who just go around with un­der­wear on our heads,” he says. “We’re hav­ing fun; we’re goof­ing around; we’re laugh­ing. But we’re very re­spon­si­ble—very re­spon­si­ble to the work.” Be­hind him hangs a framed 2002 re­jec­tion let­ter from Com­edy Cen­tral.

Ware­heim also turned 40 this year, but he’s a bach­e­lor. When he makes it into the of­fice, he’s wear­ing a white shirt, white pants, and white shoes. He’s been post­ing In­sta­gram pho­tos of late nights out with young fe­male artists and mo­tor­cy­cle rides into the desert. “I live like I’m 25 a lot of the time,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a midlife cri­sis.” The 6-foot-7-inch co­me­dian has a flair for stretch­ing his face into pouts and grins, which can give the im­pres­sion on screen that he’s an over­sized boy. He might be most widely rec­og­nized as the hip­ster side­kick on Aziz An­sari’s Net­flix show, Mas­ter

of None (which isn’t pro­duced by Abso Lutely). He and An­sari went to Europe this year, shot video of them­selves feast­ing on lo­cal del­i­ca­cies, set it to Kanye West’s Fa­mous, and put it on­line. The rap­per ap­proved, and it’s now on Ware­heim’s YouTube page as the “un­of­fi­cial official video.”

Ware­heim grew up in the Philadel­phia sub­urbs, where he liked high school less than play­ing a kind of mu­sic called screamo, which is emo but with scream­ing. It has few fol­low­ers. He and Hei­decker met as fresh­men film stu­dents at Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity. “Every­one was do­ing these artsy black-and-white emo­tional nudes,” Ware­heim says. He and Hei­decker made videos about film class. One early short is sup­posed to be a pro­mo­tion for a cat film fes­ti­val. “For ex­am­ple, like a Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val,” Hei­decker ex­plains to the cam­era fee­bly and sighs, be­fore the video cuts to a bed­room, where he tries and fails to give the due date for sub­mis­sions. He and Ware­heim lie on a bed, in­ter­view­ing a house cat. There’s an illustration of a defe­cat­ing kitty. And that’s it. Al­ready the duo was un­der­min­ing the for­mu­las be­hind ad­ver­tis­ing and en­ter­tain­ment pablum.

Be­fore grad­u­at­ing, they drove a van to Los An­ge­les and got Hol­ly­wood in­tern­ships. Things didn’t go well. They lived in a Bur­bank build­ing filled with child ac­tors who’d moved out West to make it big. “It was us and these kids … ,” Ware­heim says, sound­ing spooked. They moved back East. While Hei­decker lived in New York, Ware­heim shot wed­ding and bar mitz­vah videos in Philadel­phia. The bad part was bump­ing into peo­ple he knew from school while wear­ing a silky tuxedo shirt; the good part was be­ing al­lowed be­hind the scenes with high­strung fam­i­lies feel­ing pres­sured to look their best while seething be­hind tight smiles. On days off, the two tapped that deep dis­com­fort for the videos they made to­gether. This was be­fore any­one with a phone and lap­top could shoot and edit, so Ware­heim’s videog­ra­pher equip­ment and soft­ware came in handy. They also bor­rowed the gaudy fades and shabby wipes from fam­ily videos, in­fomer­cials, and cor­po­rate pro­mo­tions for their loopy gags about may­ors, mimes, and mur­der.

They sent a few to Bob Odenkirk, now known for his role as a slimy at­tor­ney on Break­ing Bad and Bet­ter Call Saul. Back then, Hei­decker and Ware­heim wor­shipped his idio­syn­cratic HBO com­edy, Mr. Show. Odenkirk re­sponded to one in par­tic­u­lar, a crude but dis­tinct mix of an­i­ma­tions made with pho­tos that looked like they’d been run through early copy ma­chines. They packed up the van and headed back to Cal­i­for­nia. To­gether they turned that video into Tom

Goes to the Mayor for Adult Swim. It drew in guests

like Jack Black, Sarah Sil­ver­man, and Garry Shan­dling, but it lasted only two sea­sons.

What came next, the live-ac­tion Awe­some Show, was on a dif­fer­ent level. The edit­ing was shaky, the act­ing was worse, the story lines were thread­bare, the light­ing and mu­sic were epilep­tic. Com­mer­cials for the prod­ucts of Cinco, a fake con­glom­er­ate, in­clud­ing a game whose only rule was to not say Jackie Chan’s name and a fe­cal dam whose ad was set at a wed­ding, reached grotesque depths and psy­che­delic heights.

Even the cast­ing was eerie, com­bin­ing street per­form­ers and B-movie ec­centrics with the cool kids of com­edy on breaks from main­stream hits. Will Fer­rell showed up to hawk the Orig­i­nal Child Clown Out­let (“I’m go­ing to have to put them in cages they can’t see through”); Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis lec­tured child ac­tors on ac­cents; and Michael Cera starred in a TV drama as an or­phan who turns into a kitty. Most me­morable was Reilly’s Dr. Brule, who graced Awe­some Show’s lo­cal news­cast be­fore Check It Out! spun off.

The co­me­di­ans threw a pic­nic in a San Diego park only a few months af­ter Awe­some Show’s 2007 de­but, and fans ar­rived in home­made cos­tumes, spout­ing show trivia. Af­ter a few sea­sons, the sen­si­bil­ity in­fected Satur­day Night Live: In 2010, con­nois­seurs com­plained on­line about the par­al­lels be­tween an SNL skit about tiny hats and a Hei­decker and Ware­heim bit. Last year, San An­to­nio Spurs cen­ter Matt Bon­ner got three team­mates to film a shot-by-shot re­make to post on YouTube of an Awe­some Show mu­sic video about sports. By the end of 2010, af­ter fin­ish­ing 50 episodes and a hol­i­day spe­cial, Hei­decker and Ware­heim had de­cided to build the team that wrote, filmed, and edited the show into a full pro­duc­tion company that worked on other projects. “The out­side world is scary to us,” Ware­heim says. “You carve out your own world? You can live a won­der­ful ex­is­tence.”

Their first hit as pro­duc­ers, The Eric An­dre Show, pre­miered on Adult Swim in 2012. When An­dré, a Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic­trained bassist, sent them his demo com­edy video, they rec­og­nized a kin­dred may­hem, and helped him chan­nel it. The right pieces for a stan­dard talk show are here—mono­logue, celebrity guests, side­kick, stu­dio band, and man-on-thestreet gags—but it’s all scram­bled. In the open­ing minute of his de­but as the host, An­dré ap­pears to pry out one of his teeth, tack­les his drum­mer, and stands naked with both hands in raw chick­ens. On one episode, he throws up while in­ter­view­ing reality star Lau­ren Con­rad, who freezes, aghast, un­til he slurps the oatmeal-col­ored goop off his desk. “I like her,” he says calmly to his side­kick, Han­ni­bal Buress.

One floor be­low where Hei­decker and Ware­heim brushed up Check It Out!, An­dré is work­ing with di­rec­tor Ki­tao Saku­rai on their show’s fourth sea­son. Wear­ing Ree­bok high-tops and a shirt cov­ered in pho­tos of women’s nip­ples, An­dré slouches with his feet up on his desk, eat­ing a ba­nana. “They don’t want to get sued, that’s the only time we get push­back—but right­fully so,” he says about Abso Lutely. “Thank God, we don’t have to deal with an up­hill battle.”

Saku­rai sits across from him, un­der an enor­mous chart that plots out episodes. “Their in­fra­struc­ture and what they’ve cre­ated as a company is part of the art of tele­vi­sion,” Saku­rai says. “When you make an or­ga­ni­za­tion, a con­stel­la­tion of peo­ple that are able to do these things, that is a form of ex­pres­sion. That’s what they’re do­ing here, con­sciously or not, which I think is the most pow­er­ful thing about Abso.”

That same day, in a stu­dio across the street from the of­fice, Hei­decker is in a makeup chair on-set for a new show, Decker:

Un­clas­si­fied. The idea for it can al­most be pinned on Roger Ebert. In 2012 they re­leased their first fea­ture film, Tim & Eric’s

Bil­lion Dol­lar Movie, which fol­lowed the pair af­ter they waste a mogul’s for­tune on a movie-within-a-movie star­ring a Johnny Depp im­per­son­ator. The film was fi­nanced by a real billionaire, Dal­las Mav­er­icks owner Mark Cuban. (“I wasn’t in­volved in the pro­duc­tion be­yond writ­ing a check,” he wrote Bloomberg

Busi­ness­week in a one-sen­tence e-mail. Ac­cord­ing to Box Of­fice Mojo, its ticket tally was $201,436.)

Ebert de­clared in his re­view: “De­scrib­ing the movie is bring­ing down the level of my prose.” Hei­decker took re­venge. He started a movie-critic web se­ries called On

Cin­ema at the Cin­ema, prais­ing all block­busters. His critic char­ac­ter then launched his own ac­tion show, Decker, all Trump-style pursed lips and pa­tri­o­tism, whose episodes were posted on­line. Adult Swim picked it up for six in­stall­ments that pre­miere this month.

In the small room over­whelmed by the thick stench of his spe­cial-agent char­ac­ter’s hair spray, Hei­decker waits as a makeup artist puts tiny dots on his ear­lobes. “In the last sea­son of On Cin­ema, I had my ears pierced,” he ex­plains. “So, since my char­ac­ter on On Cin­ema is play­ing Decker in the sea­son, you at least have the holes. Two peo­ple are go­ing to pick up on that.”

Hei­decker re­ally seemed to mean it when he said he and Ware­heim aren’t lu­natics who go around with un­der­wear on their heads, but he’s now in a makeshift dress­ing room in light-brown Walk­ing Co. socks and his un­der­wear.

“What we’ve been do­ing, the num­bers aren’t that big, but they’re re­ally con­sis­tent—and there’s an au­di­ence there that keeps com­ing back to the same thing,” Hei­decker says. The

Eric An­dre Show’s third sea­son av­er­aged 1.2 mil­lion view­ers watch­ing live or up to seven days later, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen.

Nathan for You’s third sea­son got about half a mil­lion. “Are we more pop­u­lar than what­ever sit­com is on?” He doesn’t an­swer his ques­tion.

Hei­decker and Ware­heim don’t want to be mak­ing work in the lo-fi style for­ever. Episodes of Adult Swim’s re­cent

Tim & Eric’s Bed­time Sto­ries, their ver­sion of a hor­ror an­thol­ogy se­ries, were shot cin­e­mat­i­cally. Even so, the plot lines in­volved cas­tra­tion and di­a­pers. Hei­decker puts on his cos­tume and walks on-set, where the other ac­tors have taken their places. “This is what it’s about! Com­edy! Every­body, come on,” he says. “We’re here to cre­ate mirth!” He gets into his spot in front of a cam­era. “You see some­body not laugh­ing? Tickle them! Tickle them!” <BW>

KNEEBONE, THE MONEY MAN; PRE­VI­OUS SPREAD, WARE­HEIM (LEFT) AND HEI­DECKER

The cheery film re­view­ers: On Cin­ema at the Cin­ema (2012-present)

The weirdo hor­ror an­thol­ogy: Tim & Eric’s Bed­time Sto­ries (2013-present)

The world’s most psy­chotic ad for pizza rolls: Totino’s (2014)

The Com­edy Cen­tral gem: Nathan for You (2013-present)

The in­sane spy satire: Decker (2014-present)

The Net­flix com­edy: W/ Bob & David (2015) The al­most-soft-rock al­bum: In Glen­dale (2016)

The next big web video, maybe: Mind Jack (2016)

The faux-Scien­tol­ogy book: Tim and Eric’s Zone The­ory (2015)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.