[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Shortly after Eric Andre enrolled at the Berklee School of Music, he formed the band Blarf. The goal was to be the gonzo zygote of Frank Zappa and the Beastie Boys. It was supposed to be weird, but things just got awkward.
“We didn't last long. Our drummer got married at 18 to an extremely pro-life woman, and I had a song called 'I Love Abortions.' So he quit and killed the band,” says the namesake of Adult Swim's Molotov cocktail-of-a-talk-show The Eric Andre Show, in his trailer backstage at FYF Fest.
The 29-year-old Boca Raton-raised, L.A.-based comedian is performing this afternoon at 4:20 p.m. He tells me this information in a faux-stoned bro voice that matches his shirt: a hand flashing a “Hang 10” above the phrase “Fuck You.”
This is his perpendicular humor: heavily ironic, oddly confrontational and frequently hilarious.
Andre's appearance maximizes his comic potential: He wears yellow funglasses and puffs out an electric shock of hair with an Adult Swim afro pick. He once mocked his resemblance to Ernie from Sesame Street.
At an alternate FYF, Andre would rap or sing or slap the upright bass, the instrument that earned him admittance into the nation's most prestigious music school. The son of a doctor father and teacher mother, Andre started playing piano at 5 and attended a performing arts high school. In sixth grade, the half-Haitian, half-Jewish Floridian became obsessed with Wu Tang Clan's Enter the 36 Chambers. During high school he made homemade rap records that subverted “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me).”
“I was, like, 'Everyone in rap talks about money. I don't even believe in money. I'm a communist,” Andre says, briefly igniting the Eric Andre performance voice — a raspier, more absurd and histrionic timbre than his quiet, quasi-monotone normal voice. “Then I did this whole communist rap. I'd never show anyone. It's so embarrassing.”
After Blarfing, Andre interned for Matador Records (Pavement, Sonic Youth) in New York City and briefly considered starting a label. He'd switched his major from “songwriting” to “music business” and drew heavy inspiration from the indie-rap imprint Def Jux. But after seeing the economic vicissitudes of the industry, Andre shifted his attention to stand-up.
The Eric Andre Show validates his decision. Airing on Sundays at 12:30 a.m., it deconstructs talk-show clichés with destructive glee: part Andy Kaufman, part Tim and Eric, part Jackass. Andre interviews Jay-Z and Beyoncé, as played by a crazy cat lady-looking woman and a surly Asian man vaguely resembling the Japanese prime minister. There are interviews with a fake robot will.i.am and the answer to the question of what would happen if Atlanta firebrand Killer Mike played hype man to an opera singer.
Andre's lone musical performance comes on a sketch called “Eric's Musical Debut.” Backed by cocktail jazz, he roars like Mike Patton reinterpreting Edvard Munch's The Scream and shatters his desk with a giant amp.
Back on Earth, Andre is finalizing plans for an mP3-only label to release his beats and those of a friend. For now, the upright bass is retired.
“Music and comedy are similar because I like both to be subversive and piss the right people off,” Andre answers when I ask him if any common threads unite his creative pursuits. He's clearly ambivalent in the way that naturally funny people get when asked to explain their own funniness. Five minutes before, Andre had accidentally rubbed suntan lotion into his eyes. Now, he rubs his forehead into the wall of his trailer, as though we both know that explaining a joke makes it no longer funny.
“Honestly, I don't really know how music and comedy are similar,” Andre admits. “I try never to dissect it theoretically or academically.”