When Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming in 2007, critics routinely described it as bizarre, amateur and nightmarish. Those are hardly glowing reviews, but they pointed to the carefully cultivated discomfort that made Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim so hard to look away from. Their eponymous sketch show, which more closely resembled a public access program than a cable television series, was designed to entertain viewers in part by creating confusion as to which elements were real and which were fake, and which were intended to be funny or sad, insightful or disturbing.
“That's just their aesthetic and the choices that they make and the type of actors they choose to work with,” says Vic Berger, a fan turned collaborator who has worked as an editor for some of Heidecker and Wareheim’s TV specials. “A lot of times it’s people that you don't see on TV or that you shouldn’t see on TV.”
Berger’s first taste of the comedy duo came in 2008, when a friend from Temple University — where Heidecker and Wareheim met while film students — showed him A Vodka Movie, a short Heidecker and Wareheim created with Zach Galifianakis. In it, they all wore wigs and bathrobes and sipped vodka martinis in a softly lit living room. The relaxing get-together becomes a heated confrontation punctuated by exaggerated sound effects, quick edits and lingering camera movements, all elements typical of their productions. Like a lot of viewers, Berger questioned whether it was an advertisement or a joke — it turns out it was the former, commissioned, somewhat implausibly, by Absolut Vodka.
“It was just completely new to me and I was just trying to figure out what the hell am I watching,” Berger recalls. “I just really didn't know what it was and I had to see more of it.”
Berger wasn't the only one who got hooked on Heidecker and Wareheim’s comedy. In the decade since Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! debuted, the two have since created, written, performed and produced dozens of TV shows, many of which have attracted cultlike followings and countless copycats seeking to emulate their unnerving aesthetic, nightmarish as it might be. Their collaborators, meanwhile, have gone on to develop high-profile projects of their own — Berger now edits viral videos for the entertainment company Super Deluxe, and Galifianakis is a bona fide movie star and co-creator of the FX television show Baskets. Audiences, too, have gotten savvier to Heidecker and Wareheim’s antics.
Which is why, when the two performers decided to hit the road this summer with a live show to honor the 10th anniversary of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, they knew they couldn't just revisit old sketches for the sake of nostalgia — they also had to develop new material to keep even their most cynical fans guessing. “Tim and I are interested in experiences. We get very bored of just the same thing, and we think about what have we never done?” Wareheim says. “What’s a way to do a character but not in the same way that we’ve seen before?”
One solution they came up with is Troi, a new character that Heidecker developed specifically for the national tour, which ends in Los Angeles on Tuesday and Wednesday night at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Heidecker teased the bug-eyed, fedora-wearing character in a promotional video for the tour (edited by Berger), but refuses to reveal any details about his personality, so as not to risk ruining the live surprise. “He’s kind of next-level comedy. He’s like what we consider Comedy 2.0,” is the only thing Heidecker will say about Troi. The performance is enhanced, he says, “by the way that the audience kind of pushes back and pushes with the character.”
Another new bit the two came up with for the tour involves harmonizing together in song, which is something they realized they’d never done onstage before, and thus had the potential to mesmerize audiences. “It’s a beautiful moment — people stand up and slow dance to it. Every night we pull new [people] up and have new experiences and crazy shit happens,” Wareheim says. Heidecker adds, “It’s finally getting to that place where we have the sort of elbow room to experiment and push our audience in a next direction, take it above and beyond what they can expect.”
The tour also coincides with the 10-year anniversary of Wareheim and Heidecker’s production company, Abso Lutely, which has become a launching pad for comedians such as Nathan Fielder — it produces his Comedy Central prank show Nathan for You — and Eric Andre, whose self-titled interview series also is produced by Abso Lutely and airs on Adult Swim. But part of the impetus for taking a break from producing television and touring the country this summer as performers, Wareheim and Heidecker say, comes from wanting to celebrate the show that helped launch their own careers — even if it meant doing it themselves.
“We both thought, ‘No one else is going to be presenting us with any awards, and there’s not going to be any TV specials celebrating the huge influence that we’ve had on culture and comedy, so we have to go up there and do it ourselves,” Heidecker says. “I think our comedy’s spread. We’ve been touring for 10 years and it means a lot to the audience that they can come and not only see us but also be in the same room with a bunch of people that also like the same sense of humor.”
One thing Heidecker says has changed since when they first started touring together 10 years ago is that they now seem to attract a more mainstream audience. “There’s a sense of like, ‘I can't believe that person who looks like they just came from their job at a bank or something is here for this,’” he says. “That said,” Wareheim adds, “there was a man front and center last night that wore sunglasses, an all-black leather outfit, one large glove and four gold chains.”
“He was dressed up as Decker,” says Heidecker, referring to the secret agent character he plays on the TV series of the same name. “Oh my God!” Wareheim says, bursting into laughter.
It's possible that this is a bit, but it appears that Heidecker and Wareheim have created so many characters and spinoff shows that every once in a while, they even manage to surprise themselves.
The 10-Year Anniversary Awesome Tour!, Theatre at the Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway, downtown; Tue. and Wed., Aug. 8 and 9, 8 p.m.; sold out. theatre.acehotel.com.