Comic satire in the age of Trump

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Dy­lan Owens

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, dowens@den­ver­ or @dy­lana­cious

Pro­vided by Pitch Per­fect PR

Co­me­dian Tim Hei­decker started sneak­ing a Trump-like char­ac­ter into “Decker,” a show that takes aim at ac­tion tele­vi­sion pro­grams.

Ricket + Sones, Pro­vided by Pitch Per­fect PR

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.

Pro­vided by JASH

Tim Hei­decker be­gan writ­ing po­lit­i­cal songs in re­sponse to in­ter­net trolls.

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