Comic satire in the age of Trump
If analyzing comedy is, as E.B. White famously said, like dissecting a frog, doing it to anti-humor is like microwaving one: pointlessly sadistic and awfully messy.
But, it might be worth it to discuss Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. The duo’s ingeniously bizarre show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,” which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a live tour that comes to Denver’s Paramount Theatre on Aug. 1, was the first of its kind when it debuted, employing break-neck cuts and purposefully clumsy editing techniques to turn the concept of a television program in on itself.
It is in a sense post-satire, poking fun of a world so inherently hilarious that the jokes are lying in plain sight and merely need their context shuffled. But if you squint at it right, with its commercials for mail-order clown children, cigarette juice and Pizza Rolls, there is a rough method to their madness, if not a message, that sprouts from the fact that all those aforementioned products are either not that implausible, or actually exist.
With Trump’s outsiders’ approach to Washington, which has increased
the threshold for the unconventional on both sides of the aisle, Heidecker has become an unlikely political firebrand, penning musical squibs and working a subtle impression of the president into his TV action spoof, “Decker.”
Heidecker said the consensus among his comedian friends is that no matter your style, Trump is the elephant in the room. “It feels strange to not talk about it,” he said. “We’ll look back on this in 15 years, and we’ll be like, ‘How did you talk about anything else?’ ”
And so, in his spare time in the last year, Heidecker has taken to writing songs to lambaste Trump and the altright in his typically absurd (and often scatological) tone. He’s a competent musician, having released a semi-serious album of singer-songwriter ballads titled “Glendale” just last year. But the music is merely a serviceable means to an end of taking a swipe at a persona Heidecker feels he could have dreamed up.
“I was always coming at it from a comedic place of Trump being a completely insane, ridiculous person,” Heidecker said. “Like a ‘Tim and Eric’ character. I couldn’t resist participating in that.”
Many of Heidecker’s songs are lowbrow missives in the vein of his show. They’re aimed at the concept of Trump, as what he called in one interview, “a stupid person’s idea of what a smart, successful rich person should be.” Much like the president’s tweets, they come without warning, focusing on oddly specific elements of obsession. The cover art for “Imperial Bathroom,” a sophomoric depiction of the president’s diet and GI tract, shows a chintzy bathroom, complete with a gold spray-painted toilet. “Cooked Chinese Chicken” has him making a deal to trade China “banking technology” in exchange for “cooked poultry,” and includes the line, “Can’t call it the White House anymore / Too many stains on that Oval Office floor.”
Heidecker is planning to release the songs through indie label Jagjaguwar, although you can listen to most of them on his Bandcamp website. One hundred percent of the proceeds from music sales there benefit charities.
Thanks to an active and outspoken Twitter presence, Heidecker attracted the ire of internet trolls long before he started writing songs. But in the months leading up to the election, that same base of “mean and humorless” trolls started increasingly raising the banner of Trump. Those attacks ratcheted up when he was accused by alt comedian Sam Hyde, who has been linked with the alt-right, of campaigning to get his racy show “Million Dollar Extreme” canceled at Adult Swim. (Heidecker denies the claim.)
Rather than lay low and let the swarm of threats subside, Heidecker took a page out of President Trump’s playbook and fired back, penning the musical rejoinder “I Am a Cuck.” The song owns as many of his faceless detractors’ assaults as he could set to music.
“One strategy is to ignore it, and the other is to jump in there and go at it with them,” Heidecker said. “The ‘I Am A Cuck’ song, I’m just putting what they say back out there. I wanted to tell them that the only thing you’re doing is inspiring me. You’re not changing me or belittling me.”
Many of the songs could be explained away as knee-jerk reactions to a vicious news cycle. But Heidecker wrote one song, “Trump’s Private Pilot,” as more ballast, if only perhaps for its severity. ”Trump’s Private Pilot” has Heidecker inhabiting its titular character, who sets up an online fund for his children before purposefully crashing a plane carrying the president, screaming the coda “and justice for you all” as they go. Heidecker’s material is often an innocous shock, but this toed a new line, catching the sharp edge where satirical comedy and objectionable hostility converge.
The song gained a wider audience when it caught the attention of musician Josh Tillman, better known as fashionably obscure singer-songwriter Father John Misty. Tillman, whose recent release “Pure Comedy” takes a post-ironic view of the plights of modern America that’s evident in the album’s title, posted a cover of the song online. His version textures it with creaking piano and stringy tenor, buffing whatever semblance of humor Heidecker’s Randy Newman-style of delivery lent it. (Tillman, who is headlining Red Rocks on Aug. 25, declined to be interviewed for this piece.)
“‘Trump’s Pilot’ was coming from a real sense of, ‘If not for this one guy, we’d be in such a different place,’ ” Heidecker said. “It’s been a very emotional time. Some of (the songs) aren’t going to be funny.”
Shortly before the 2016 general election, Heidecker performed the song live and found out just how serious it was. He was performing “Trump’s Private Pilot” live days before Trump would be elected the 45th president of the United States.
When the coda came — “and justice for you all” — the audience latched on, turning it into a “Pledge of Allegiance”-style en-masse sing-a-along. Heidecker started to choke up.
“It’s the weirdest thing. By the end, people were whooping and screaming,” he said, in awe of “feeling the same way about something” with so many people in one room.
Kind of like a Trump rally, he conceded.
Dylan Owens: 303-954-1785, firstname.lastname@example.org or @dylanacious
Comedian Tim Heidecker started sneaking a Trump-like character into “Decker,” a show that takes aim at action television programs.
The absurdist comedy of Tim Heidecker, left, has become unexpectedly resonate in the age of Donald Trump. Tim and Eric's 10th Anniversary Awesome Tour comes to Denver’s Paramount Theatre on Aug. 1.
Tim Heidecker began writing political songs in response to internet trolls.