There’s a moment in 2012’s Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie — a fever dream crossed with a severe case of ego death and diarrhea co-written, co-directed, and co-produced by comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim — in which Wareheim receives a Scientology-esque alternative healing treatment at the hands of Twin Peaks actor Ray Wise. Wise runs a center out of a mall filled with struggling stores like E-Z Swords and Reggie's Used Toilet Paper Discount Warehouse, as well as characters like Taquito, a mall-roaming vagrant raised by wolves played by John C. Reilly, who is later put out of his misery by a gun-wielding Will Ferrell after being mauled by his wolf mother in the mall’s food court. Meanwhile, Heidecker gets pegged with a series of dildos and anal beads by Katie, owner of the Celebrity Balloons kiosk, as his new son Jeffrey, whom he stole from Reggie, of Reggie’s Used Toilet Paper Discount Warehouse fame, watches on.
“Let the brown, foamy mess wash all over you,” Wise says as Wareheim writhes in a bathtub that is slowly, and messily, being filled with medically concerning human feces, or, as it is referred to in the film, shrim.
To both Hiedecker’s and Wareheim’s delight, the film’s Sundance premiere prompted a steady flow of walkouts and, at one point, the duo started a rumor that it had been compromised by an unknown culprit who inserted clips from Johnny Depp’s animated lizard flop, Rango, into the film. Once it was released, the film encouraged frequent use of review descriptors like “grotesque,” “torture,” “painful,” and “a nauseating child's nightmare of Sisyphean despair.” Even the late great film critic Roger Ebert had some thoughts: “There is a scene in this film where a character is defecated on by several people at the same time, and I dunno … I didn't enjoy it.”
Though one could attempt to condense the Tim and Eric experience — because that’s what it is, an experience — into Billion Dollar Movie’s therapeutic shit bath, it would but scratch the surface, er, neglected butthole, on two decades of Heidecker and Wareheim’s incredibly complex, subversive, and mostly demented brand of critic-labeled anti-comedy.
The Pennsylvania natives met during freshman year at Philadelphia’s Temple University, and it was their first comedy short, Tom Goes to the Mayor, that caught the attention of Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk and landed the animated series on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s alternative late-night block. The show would get a 30-episode run before the comedy duo would land Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the five-season Adult Swim sketch series that ran from 2007-2010.
For the unenlightened, a typical Awesome Show episode went something like this: There's a commercial for a fake product, usually produced by a fake brand known only as Cinco. Take the Cinco-Fone, a product endorsed by Ed Begley Jr., which has just one button, cannot receive calls, and gets so hot to the touch that it is sold with a facial cooling gel. Or the Cinco Food Tube, which removes the fork from the equation and optimizes food consumption when eating out by first removing your teeth to install the food tube, which liquefies your food to fit down the tube, because who needs teeth? Or D-Pants, clear pants that you can blast liquid shit into, which almost always never leaks. There’s also a disclaimer: No solid loaves when using D-Pants.
And then there’s an ongoing character sketch, like, for example, a fame-hungry Spagett, played by a balding, turtleneck-wearing, marinara sauce-covered Heidecker, who hosts Channel 5’s hidden-camera show, Spooked by Spagett, or an appearance from the deranged musical duo made up of Casey Tatum (who appears to be disconcertingly ill, his face dripping in a viscous phlegm) and his brother, played by Wareheim, usually performing an interpretive dance. There’s more mock commercials, too, like Steve Mahanahan’s Child Clown Outlet, a store that rents out sad child clowns trained to perform by the sound of blow horn and disciplined with special poison child clown spray. There’s a very pre-#MeToo workplace sketch starring Heidecker as creepy and demeaning boss Mr. Henderson, and Wareheim as Carol, a homely and horny employee. At one point Mr. Henderson compares Carol’s “vagine” scent to a burrito he had been eating that “went bad an hour ago.” Carol, wet and nervous, says, “Thank you, sir.”
The heart of the show — though a heart that does not pump blood, but instead white wine and shrimp (the diet of Tim and Eric’s alter egos, Beaver Boys Dilly and Krunk) — is its rotating cast of Z-list actors. There’s eccentric puppeteer and alien-obsessed Christian Scientist David Liebe Hart, and celebrity impersonator James Quall, or the frequently used Tennessee Luke, a pizza freak whose personal YouTube channel states: “YOU are The STAR when You are ON CAMERA.”
Wareheim cites Monty Python and early Saturday Night Live as inspiration and, later, the duo turned to the wry and uncomfortable honesty of Christopher Guest films, like This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman. But the main source of inspiration for Awesome Show and the duo’s unpolished video art aesthetic was the sad and unassuming failing stars of public access programming.
“All of our actors were on the worst casting sites in Hollywood, literally cab drivers and street performers,” Wareheim says. “We realized that they had the same energy as what we were watching growing up on cable access. And there's some authenticity about that. And then we would hire real actors like John C. Reilly and he would try to play these guys. You know, if you look at Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Will Forte, all the people that work with us … I think you would have to be a very good actor to work with us and make it seem legitimately bad, you know?”
One of Wareheim’s favorite sketches is one that neither he nor Heidecker star in. It’s called “All Dolled Up” and features an unsuspecting pair of character actors (likely pulled from the bottom of the headshot pile, as has been described of their actor selection process) getting kabuki makeup applied for no damn reason with the camera rolling. The two are Frank Slaten, an actor who has been in “the business” for 35 years, and Barry, a man who claims to have been on the crews of Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Happy Days. Wareheim says it’s a standout sketch because it “is so real.”
‘Our work has always been our reflection of what's going on ... we dive a little bit more into the grossness of over-marketing and schlocky bullshit that's occupying all of media right now and kind of harness that.’
The series also welcomes real celebrity guests like Paul Rudd aka Nude Tayne; Weird Al as Uncle Muscles; Jeff Goldblum as, uh, Chef Goldblum; Josh Groban as himself; and Forte, also as himself, who appears in one of the greatest sketches of the series, “Quilting with Will,” in which he reveals his deep, dark daddy issues and says: “Cook your own dog?! No child should be made to do that!” Comedian Maria Bamford shows up, too, for a simple lesson on cleaning up after your cat, which entails removing cat turds from the litter box by hand, one by one, and waving them in the face of her ex-husband — a man apparently not well-versed in cat care. Most notably, though, is Reilly, the Oscar-nominated Tim & Eric staple and star of Awesome Show! spinoff Check It Out!, who plays Dr. Steve Brule, the lovable, curious, bumbling, socially confused master of mispronunciations and misunderstandings, who will eat anything (even discarded seafood), and who, we think, means well.
Both Heidecker, 44, and Wareheim, 43, have other non-Tim & Eric careers, too. Recently, Heidecker has embedded himself in the music world, releasing the folky divorce album What the Brokenhearted Do last year, and, in 2017, a collection of songs titled Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs. It includes “Trump’s Pilot,” a song that fantasizes about President Trump’s private pilot taking one for the team and crashing Air Force One into a field somewhere outside of Cleveland. “I will find a field and I will take her down/ Screaming justice for you all.”
Meanwhile, Wareheim has rather distinguished tastes for a man who once had Heidecker help him expel his swollen prosthetic nipples for a T&E holiday special. When he’s not attempting to explain how the universe works while wearing a very Steve Jobs-esque turtleneck against a green screen of the cosmos (we have all likely received that reaction GIF of Wareheim excessively having his mind blown), he has his hands in a few things that are not shrim. He’s a director, including for the on-hiatus Aziz Ansari Netflix comedy series Master of None, which he also stars in, and his music video for Beach House’s “Wishes” will make you cry without really understanding why. He's the co-founder and creator of Las Jaras Wines, a natural wine company that offers a red blend called Sweet Berry Wine (with Dr. Steve Brule’s face on the label). For a mouthwatering look into Wareheim’s hyper-sophisticated double life, look no further than his Instagram, where he dumps photos from his foodie-focused globetrotting. For a while, though, he committed to posting countless photos of himself drinking white wine and, in the captions, insisted he was drinking piss.
“I think about it a lot,” Wareheim says. “If I went to jail and I was being electrocuted for some reason — I hope that doesn't happen — my last meal would be one piece of seared Chutoro from Sushi Salama in Tokyo and one fried chicken thigh from Willie Mae’s [Scotch House], which is in New Orleans.”
He may get to snag some of those eats without having to be on death row, as the duo’s latest outing, dubbed the Mandatory Attendance Tour (the tour announcement alleges that by watching the video you are now legally obligated to attend) finds Heidecker and Wareheim “amping up” everything fans have come to expect from a T&E live show — which, in the past has involved a disturbing blend of live sketches, video segments, special guests, and music by “the greatest swamp rock band to never have existed,” Pusswhip Banggang.
“We take it so seriously, even though some of it looks very nonchalant, we want to make it really good,” Wareheim says. “We work really hard on it, but to us it's like if we can make each other laugh, we feel like each of us are refreshed. That's how we do it.”
Wareheim adds that there’s a segment in their latest live set that tackles what he refers to as a topical “big, scary medical thing,” but assures it’s both “deep and dark” and really funny. “I mean our work has always been our reflection of what's going on — not in the sense that we do topical or political humor, but you know, we dive a little bit more into the grossness of over-marketing and schlocky bullshit that's occupying all of media right now and kind of harness that,” he says.
Next month, the duo will release the first episode of their latest venture: a Fuller House-style, multi-camera Adult Swim sitcom entitled Beef House. They both star in the series, alongside some T&E regulars like the “Doo Dah Doo Doo” guy, Tennessee Luke, and actor Ben Hur, as well as an out-of-left-field performance by Jamie-Lynn Sigler of The Sopranos, who plays Wareheim’s wife. Oh, and all of these people live under the same roof, to which we say: poor Jamie-Lynn.
“She was a fan of the show and we were such a fan of hers,” Wareheim says. “On set, all she'd do was ask us, like, ‘How do you guys do this?’ And all we did was ask, ‘How was it working with James Gandolfini?’”
Wareheim, who sports a curly fro and full beard for his character and gifts Sigler with a “sexual egg” in the trailer, says the show they’ve created is “a fun and weird world” complete with canned laughter, which they had previously experimented with in an Awesome Show episode that followed the format of a sitcom flashback.
“I feel like we've done all forms of media. I mean that's one reason we wanted to do a sitcom, is because we've never done it,” Wareheim says. “We try to keep ourselves busy. The live show is 100% different than making a TV show, which is 100% different than, like, me directing Master of None. And then I make wine and that's like a big part of my life. And I'm doing a cookbook next year, which is like another big project. We are very lucky that we get to do what we want. And so we just keep banging it out. The reason Tim and I bonded when we were 18 was because he was a workhorse and he took stuff seriously, even though we were making silly video art.”
There is almost nothing Heidecker and Wareheim haven’t done in terms of blurring the line between bad taste and high art, be it hypersexual, crass potty humor, or just, like, really fucking unnerving social commentary. (Look no further than the recurring Song Legends Karaoke bit starring Ruth Carr performing “Come Over” or the song “Live With My Dad,” performed by Jim Furns, a man with virtually no upper lip.) Wareheim says they've made it a point to steer clear of poking fun at real-life horror and tragedy. For the duo, the future of T&E is not so much about finding new ways to elevate their comedy or push boundaries, buttons — it’s about making one another laugh, one shit-filled bathtub at a time.
“If it makes us laugh, we'll put it in, but we want to have some restraint,” he says. “So it's not all shocking, you know, it's very important to us to make it funny. There's a lot of shock humor out there right now that sucks — there's no backbone to it. With Tim and Eric, I feel like there's a lot of shocking things that happen, but it's kind of backed up with something else that means something. We noticed the older we get, the funnier the dumb stuff is. We've always had a sense of juvenile humor, a little bit of the potty humor, but when we do it now, you know, it seems funnier,” he says. “We're never going to stop doing this.”
Tim and Eric’s Mandatory Attendance tour will take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the Cathedral Theatre at the Masonic Temple; 500 Temple Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3200; themasonic.com. Tickets are $47.50+.
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