When Tim Heidecker says his wife is in school studying "criminalistics" to be a "private investigator, in law enforcement," it's hard to know whether to believe him. After all, the Atwater Village–based comedian is known for his stunts, pranks and fabrications. Last year he impersonated Bob Dylan in a 15-minute song about the sinking of the Titanic, and he continued the joke by later "announcing" to his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that Dylan would be replacing Beyoncé in the Super Bowl halftime show. (Folks in many corners of the Internet were hysterical.) For a web series called On Cinema at the Cinema, meanwhile, he pretends to be the hackiest, least knowledgeable film critic imaginable.
But that's just part of his charm. The 37-year-old, eastern Pennsylvania–bred parodist is best known for his experimental, schizophrenic Adult Swim comedy Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which ran for three years in the late aughts and was created with his former Temple University film school classmate Eric Warheim. Since then, Heidecker has been involved in practically a new project every week, including films (Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie), albums (a parody tribute album to failed presidential candidate Herman Cain) and even commercials — he and Warheim directed a series of Old Spice ads.
Among the plethora of dry-humored alternative comedians associated with Hollywood's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Heidecker might be the driest. Often invoking the spirit of Andy Kaufman, his jokes are intended to be so spare that you don't know if he's kidding or not. In an elaborate Twitter prank last year, he pretended to be the new editor of Rolling Stone — announcing that he'd be adding a sixth star to its album rating system and merging the venerable music rag with TV Guide. Many media types took him at his word.
"I play with reality and create fake universes," he says, speaking from his house's converted garage, where he keeps an office. "Through social media, you can tell longer-form jokes."
Sitting at his giant Mac, next to guitars and a keyboard with pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo above it, he'll take a break from his paying work to run with a silly gag, or to humorously confront Twitter antagonists. "I have this perception of being an asshole, a jerk," he says, and indeed, one might even make that mistake from his appearance: With some extra pounds, stubble and light-brown bangs parted in the middle, Heidecker's look is not unlike that of an '80s movie bully.
And that's not unlike the persona he employed for the podcast version of On Cinema during election season last year. He played an increasingly irate Romney supporter, focused on politics and refusing to discuss movies, as his guest critic, Greg Turkington, grew increasingly uncomfortable. "It's so fun to play dumb and arrogant," Heidecker says. "Sometimes you have to let the character tell you what's funny about him."
As for Heidecker himself, it's not always clear what makes him so funny. He strives to make his audience uncomfortable, or even to disguise his gags from them entirely. For those who are in on the joke, however, there's nothing more satisfying.