We interviewed comedian Eric Andre on 9/11. What could go wrong?

Sep 25, 2019 at 1:00 am
Eric Andre.
Eric Andre. Jeremey Freeman

Eric Andre believes in the power of positive thinking.

Meanwhile, he has never participated in a blood ritual nor taken a shit on his own kitchen table. Don't let this fool you, though. Andre is also an agent of chaos.

As a regular exercise prescribed by his therapist, the Florida-born Jewish-Haitian comedian takes to the mirror to deliver daily positive affirmations centered on self-esteem. A shocking revelation for anyone who has subjected themselves to Andre's anti-talk show talk show on Adult Swim, which has been terrorizing unsuspecting people both on and off screen since 2012.

"I believe negative thinking manifests," he says. "And I think positive thinking manifests."

It's only appropriate that a conversation with Andre occurs on the 18th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, for no reason other than the show's recurring joke that combines 9/11 conspiracy theorists with the band 311, naturally.

"Investigate 311!" a balding and rotund man says, bounding through the already haphazard and half-destroyed set of an episode of The Eric Andre Show. This, of course, occurred during an interview with Tyler, the Creator — just moments after Andre asked the West Coast rapper if he believed in god and staged a tearful reunion between Tyler and his, obviously, not biological father.

A season later, Andre would waterboard the real 311 during a performance of the band's hit "Down" as rapper T-Pain busts through a curtain, laughing maniacally and declaring "What about T-11?!" into a microphone.

If none of this makes any sense to you, you're not alone. For Andre, it's not about making sense. It's about having fun, and, maybe, sometimes, escaping reality.

"It might be [an escape], but I don't consciously look at it like that all the time," he says. "Are people surprised to know that I'm a normal dude? I think sometimes. But that persona from my show is a part of me."

For the uninitiated, Andre's show is, at its core, an artistic and absurdist deconstruction of the run-of-the-mill talk show format, complete with monologues, street sketches, celebrity interviews, and musical guests. Instead of wholesome late-night bits like James Corden's "Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts" segment, or Jimmy Fallon's lip-sync battle, Andre takes on the persona of an unhinged, unpredictable, totally disgusting and radical host who does everything right to get everything wrong. Oh, there's no audience, either, just canned laughter and heckling. There is, however, a silent Asian man who sits in the corner and sometimes fires a gun.

Andre shares the show with deadpan comedian Hannibal Buress, who plays both the straightlaced sidekick and an equally unpredictable accessory to Andre's fearless madman, and a revolving door of eccentric characters. (Take the ever-annoying Kraft Punk, for example, a hybrid of the band Daft Punk and Kraft macaroni and cheese. For the record, Andre, the host, hates Kraft Punk and usually kicks him in the crotch whenever he busts onto set.) Andre's show is hell-bent on making us uncomfortable. And we like it.

Andre, the nihilistic talk show host, has done the following: plastered Seth Rogen's actual cell phone number on the screen; instructed a P.A. to grab "civil rights leader" Flavor Flav's dick; insisted that Jersey Shore star Pauly D's mother was racist TV chef Paula Deen and, when the camera zoomed in on Andre's note cards, it was revealed that there were no words, but instead swastikas in permanent marker; did whippits with Jack Black; and posed one of the most demented questions ever asked to none other than a George Clooney impersonator: "Gun to your head, who would you rather have sex with: your mom or your dad?"

One of many questions viewers are confronted with is how the fuck does Andre convince celebrity guests that his show is a legitimate platform to plug a project as part of what they believe to be a totally innocuous press junket?

"We're doing the fifth season right now and [it's] harder," he says. "But it got to a point where it didn't matter if they knew me or knew the show; we just came up with clever ways of fucking with people. But, also, I'm pranking people but not in a mean-spirited way. I'm pranking them in an absurdist way. I'm not out to get anybody. I'm creating an atmosphere of confusion around me. So it [doesn't] matter if they [know] the show or not; I just [create] nonsense all around them."

Perhaps the most talked-about moment in Andre's twisted collection of Rorschach-test-style interviews is that between Andre and The Hills star Lauren Conrad, who endured the usual anti-amenities of the show, namely his strategically un-air conditioned studio, before storming off set. Her breaking point? Andre puked on his desk and slurped it back up. It wasn't real vomit, of course. It was oatmeal. The reaction, however, was real. As is the case with each interview or unsuspecting gonzo encounter.

"I'm not trying to be unlikable," Andre says of his exaggerated host persona. "I try and remain likable while terrorizing somebody. It's like I'm like ... tap-dancing on a razor's edge."

If anyone is going to tap dance on a razor's edge, they might as well do it on Adult Swim, the alternative Cartoon Network afterhours platform. Adult Swim originated as a late-night time slot in 1999, with cult cartoon Space Ghost Coast To Coast serving as the network's evolution into content with adult themes; it also took a stab at rehabbing the talk-show format. Since its conception, the network has launched dozens of original cartoons and sketch shows, most notably Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, which premiered in 2013 and paved the way for Andre's brand of low-budget cringe humor.

"They're so lax and nurturing and hands-off as a network," Andre says. "They're Adult Swim, you know what I mean? Like no other network has carte blanche like they have." 

But even alternative, boundary-pushing networks have veto power, limiting jokes or bits about realistic suicide or drug use. In one case, the network pulled a sketch that had already been filmed. Andre calls it a "pro-al-Qaida country song" and proceeds to sing it: "'Oh, sweet al-Qaida/can't believe I never tried ya/ you're more American than me/ the CIA trained ya/ but no one can contain ya/ I know you can't drink beers/ so I'll drink two for you and for me' ... It was something like that. It was about to air and they panicked. I think it made its way up the chain beyond Adult Swim, like all the way to Turner Corporate."

Andre says he's not sure why it was pulled, seeing that he and his writing partner Dan Curry have poked fun at some pretty taboo topics (among them, abortion, Scientology, slavery, and claiming to have seen the movie Precious in 3-D), but he suggests this particular sketch may have followed the 2015 San Bernardino shooting or another show had been criticized for a similar joke.

"That's usually when those calls are made, or just the wrong person up the corporate ladder watched the episode," Andre says. "They used to be harder on religious stuff. We had a lot of, like, sacrilegious stuff. In Season One, we made fun of Jesus and that got cut during the writing stage. I think it was, like, Jesus masturbating with the holes in his hands or something."

An episode of The Eric Andre Show clocks in at just 11 minutes and, within that time frame, a lot can happen. As with every episode, Andre destroys his set at the front of the show. Screaming, leaping, and slamming through his drywall desk, tackling members of the house band, often stripping until he's naked, sometimes setting himself on fire or spreading his butt cheeks, only to have the entire set rebuilt and replaced around him as he sits in his chair gasping for air. Burress emerges shortly after, and during Andre's monologue, Andre and his co-host exchange insults. Sometimes, it gets physical.

Between each episode's two or three celebrity appearances, Andre likes to take his dysfunction to the streets. The heart of these segments, which are filmed in New York City, is that of the reactions from people who find themselves tangled in his tornadic Tasmanian Devil antics, the camera zooming in on someone's bewildered expression as Andre pukes on himself, or sticks his hand in a blender during a smoothie demonstration, or enters a subway car dressed as a sad centaur carrying precariously balanced birthday cakes.

‘I just know when I’m doing it, it’s comedic and it’s entertaining and it’s captivating — so that’s why I’m putting myself at risk.’

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Not everyone can withstand his invasive behavior, but Andre claims to have only felt as though he was in real danger twice: once when he infiltrated the Republican National Convention and instructed right-wing nutjob Alex Jones to have sex with his wife, and another incident (which he does not disclose in detail) that occurred during the filming of Bad Trip, Andre's hidden-prank narrative feature film due out next year.

"Yeah, I fear death and fear for my safety," he says. "I just know when I'm doing it, it's comedic and it's entertaining and it's captivating — so that's why I'm putting myself at risk. But I don't want to be stabbed or shot; I don't have a death wish." 

He's been arrested, too. But only once, during Season One, after he hijacked a town hall meeting in Rancho Cucamonga dressed as a frat-bro.

"Vote for me for class president, and I'll put beer in the water fountains and cameras in the girls locker rooms! Go, Bobcats!" As he was escorted out by security, he slammed a beer and begged, "Don't taze me, bro!"

And, unsurprisingly, he's hurt himself. The entire format of the show revolves around Andre's brand of gross-out, slapstick physical humor. Over the years, he has suffered bulging discs in his back after attempting to pick up a seated Burress, withstood permanent damage to his knees after repeatedly crouching and jumping out of a trash can to scare people, burned a hole in his butt cheek, and has had many a bloody confrontation with glass. Despite this running list of self-inflicted injuries, Andre admits his pain tolerance has gone down as he's gotten older.

"I'm not like Steve-O or Johnny Knoxville — those guys have high pain thresholds. I mean, those guys have really fucked themselves up, like broken bones and gouging their eyes. Those guys are the masters at that. I'm just a shmuck. I'm just a fucking loser," Andre says, cackling. "When I hurt myself for real and end up in the hospital, I'm like, fuck. I didn't mean to do that. That means something went wrong."

A lot had to go wrong for Andre to helm one of the most fucked-up shows on television. Andre, who graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in fine arts, was receiving unemployment and had just $200 in his bank account when Adult Swim entered the picture. Earlier this month, Andre posted a photo of the Beacon Theatre in New York City, with his name on the marquee above the words "Sold Out" in bright yellow digital letters.

"Look mom I made it!" Andre's Instagram caption reads. "I was so broke last time I played up in the upper west side. I had to pass out flyers in the snow for an open mic 14 years ago."

Andre is, without question, reaching his zenith, forging a ranch-dipped legacy for himself. He admits that the format of The Eric Andre Show is not necessarily sustainable, which is why he views next year's Bad Trip as an evolution of his brand of comedy and the next step in his career. But when asked if he's concerned about forever being known as the over-accessorised frat-bro jester who dresses in ill-fitting neon club attire, hoverboarding on a skateboard with no wheels, calling men on their lunch break "mulatto" and asking them if they want to take a swig from his suspect, lukewarm bottle of ranch dressing, he's not at all worried. He's flattered that people are paying attention — even if it means they have to look away every now and then.

"That's like the highest compliment," he says of people who shout his own jokes at him. "I know they're true fans ... and they were watching the show when I was so broke and miserable for so long. I had been doing comedy for a decade before I made a single penny," he says. "So when I hear someone yell 'ranch!' it's like a great wave of relief."

Eric Andre will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27 at the Fillmore; 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; thefillmoredetroit.com. Tickets are $35.

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