Back when Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim were working on the second season of their quirky, animated series Tom Goes to the Mayor, the duo launched their own production company, Abso Lutely, with business partner Dave Kneebone. “We wanted to control as much as we can of the process,” Heidecker recalls on a recent trip to the studio's Hollywood headquarters. “It started from that, producing our own stuff.”
Of course, Heidecker and Wareheim's reputation has increased vastly since the days of Tom Goes to the Mayor. Their follow-up series, Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! was a hit on Adult Swim that ran for five seasons. They toured and released the feature Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie. Abso Lutely grew too.
“We've cultivated this style of doing things,” says Heidecker, adding that they've worked with a lot of the same editors and other production pros over the years, some of whom started out with them as interns. Their unique brand of comedy attracted more than just viewers, it made Heidecker and Wareheim sort of go-to guys for cutting edge TV.
“I think there's definitely a thread with most of the shows that we've worked on,” says Heidecker. “There's a sensibility that's similar. Absurdity. People trying to do something different from what you normally see.”
They worked with John C. Reilly on the Awesome Show spinoff, Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule. Abso Lutely also had its hand in Jon Benjamin Has a Van, starring the actor best known for his leading roles on Archer and Bob's Burgers, and Comedy Bang! Bang! with Scott Auckerman and Reggie Watts. Abso Lutely, essentially, works with folks who are a little outside of the mainstream, people who are pushing the boundaries of televised comedy.
“This is a good business model for us. We've got the facilities. We've got the infrastructure built,” says Heidecker. “We can help people that used to be in our position make their shows.” That includes The Eric André Show and Hot Package.
See also: Tim Heidecker: L.A.'s Driest Wit
This Thursday, The Eric André Show enters its second season on Adult Swim. The bizarre spoof of late night talk shows features comedian André as a brash host interacting with, and possibly unnerving, guests, his co-works, the audience and random people on the street. “I think it's more interesting to watch a completely incompetent talk show host making guests uncomfortable,” says André.
André, who is influenced by shows like Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and The Tom Green Show, started out as a musician. He took up an interest in stand-up comedy while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He left music, ultimately selling his bass to swing a move to Los Angeles.
The talk show idea had been ruminating in André's head for a long time. Since he didn't think that people would respond to the written concept, he opted to direct it himself and got some help from a few co-producers. “They had these cool vintage cameras and we rented out this abandoned bodega in Brooklyn,” he recalls. “We filmed it there.” Unable to afford editors, André taught himself Final Cut and spent a year piecing together the footage. He then sent a six-minute clip to a slew of networks. “They all passed on it,” he says, “except for Adult Swim.”
The show's first season was filled with “a lot of trial and error,” according to André. But, there haven't been a lot of changes in the series. The new episodes are still jam-packed with bizarre behavior and awkward moments. “It's always best when we take the guests out of their comfort zone,” says André. “That's the highest stakes stuff and the most interesting stuff to watch.”
Hot Package, which makes its debut on Adult Swim this Thursday, features Derrick Beckles, who was a writer for the first season of The Eric André Show and hosted the Adult Swim special Totally for Teens. In his new series, Beckles takes a stab at entertainment shows and the types of series that emanate from his native Canada.
“A lot of it is reminiscent of how amazing Canadian TV is,” he says. “It does amaze me, Canadian television…They're so done on the cheap. That's part of the inspiration for it.”
Beckles has a good amount of journalism experience, although, he adds, “I wouldn't necessarily call myself a journalist by trade.” He went to film school in Montreal and made fanzines. He started writing for Vice and then became an early contributor to the magazine's series of travel videos.
“I loved doing stuff there because we got to go to really sketchy places and meet a lot of interesting people who were, in a lot of ways, risking their lives by telling us their stories,” says Beckles. “In turn, we were risking our lives like dumdums because we had no escape route planned.”
Beckles also founded TV Carnage, the series of found footage videos, and it was that venture that caught the attention of plenty, including some people at Adult Swim as well as Heidecker and Wareheim. Beckles has known the comedy team for a while. When the situation with another producer didn't work out, he took Hot Package to Abso Lutely. “They really foster the projects and help you bring them to fruition, but they allow you the time to get it done properly,” he says. Hot Package has been in the works for a long time and, now that it's ready to go, Beckles is excited. “I think everyone who has a show, especially first season, you kind of lose your mind a bit,” he says. “You've spent so much time with the show, it's been incubating.”
He continues, “Especially with the type of shows you get to make with Adult Swim and Abso Lutely, you're very close to them. When you have to release it to the world, your brain starts malfunctioning.”
It's not just the up-and-comers that are hitting Adult Swim this month. Heidecker and Wareheim are making a return to the late-night network on Halloween with the premiere of Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories: Zach's Haunted House. It's a reunion of sorts as Awesome Show ended a few years ago and both Heidecker and Wareheim have been busy at work on separate projects. (Heidecker has a new album, as half of the duo Heidecker & Wood, slated for release in November.)
This time around, they'll be working with pal Zach Galifianakis to take on one of the classic tales of TV and film. If they want an inheritance, they have to put up with a haunted house. “We wanted to do something that we've never done, which is one of the oldest comedy ideas,” says Heidecker.
“It's a deconstruction of the classic Three Stooges concept,” Heidecker adds. That comes complete with slapstick elements. They filmed the special in two-and-a-half days. Heidecker racked up a couple injuries in the process, which taught him a lot about this genre of comedy. “I just had a new appreciation for the Stooges and all the old guys who would do this kind of really dangerous slapstick,” he says. “You kind of got to be in shape.”
Heidecker adds, “One thing we learned is that you should rehearse more when you're running into stuff. Sometimes, we're just so eager to get going that we just jump into the deep end.”