“It’s been seven years and an exhausting redemption crawl through the sewer to get here,” comedian Eric Andre remarks wistfully about Bad Trip, his new prank comedy for Netflix. The outrageously fun fake out film debuted at number one in the country on the streaming network’s coveted “Top 10 in the U.S.” category this month.
Though Andre has been a featured talking head on plenty of comedy programs, was a guest star on sitcoms such as 2 Broke Girls and had a voice part in Disney’s The Lion King live action film, most people know him from The Eric Andre Show, his wild talk show satire for Adult Swim (watch a sample below or see full episodes on AS’s website). If you enjoy that program – also available to stream on Hulu – it’s fair to say you like your humor over the top, cringey and ridiculous. Andre’s hidden camera stunts don’t just push the envelope, they rip it to pieces and his in-studio interviews with celebrities add to the lunacy with wonderfully uncomfortable exchanges that go beyond the oddball public access show (or parodies like Between Two Ferns). More often than not, you want to cover your eyes in embarrassment for all involved while watching. Which is kinda the point.
Like Sasha Baron Cohen’s TV and film offerings, everything happens for a reason in Andre’s world and there’s a lot of social commentary underneath the surface – about media, about commercialism, about fame, about politics, about hypocrisy and about the absurdity of life in general. Andre’s bad behavior and bodaciousness may be what grabs attention, but what he serves up is rarely mindless, even if it might seem so on the surface.
If you missed his nutty namesake show, Bad Trip probably put Andre on your radar. And if you liked that, you must check out his first Netflix standup special, Legalize Everything, from last Summer, as well. Showing his range and story-telling genius, Andre creates a convoluted comedy experience, and his standup veers off into tangents that aren’t really tangents. Follow him down the rabbit hole and prepare for an ADHD-amped adventure that packs in subconscious observations on top of WTF-ish proclamations on top of a goofy good time.
“I have good news; I finally smoked weed with my mom. It took me 36 years of campaigning but I finally did it,” Andre tells a rowdy New Orleans crowd during the comedy set. “She came to my house in Los Angeles, and we’re driving around and I go ‘Mom smoke pot with me,’ and she goes, ‘no, it’s illegal,’ and I go, ‘no it’s not, it’s legal now.’ And she goes, ‘Ohhh okay!’ So we go to my house and I’m trying to smoke a bowl with her and she can’t inhale. She looks like Dizzy Gillespie the whole time [puffs cheeks]. So I give her a little weed cookie and we start playing Scrabble and 20 or 30 min later her eyes got all red and she looked up at me and says ‘my mouth is drrrry…. Is that part of the appeal?”
Now that cannabis is indeed legal in most states, the above anecdote is relatable for a lot of us. We can finally smoke weed with our parents guilt-free, and more than likely the experience was or will be comical. Add some edibles to the mix and it’s a no-brainer. Keep in mind that delivery and physicality is key to whatever craziness this guy shares. Andre is Black (his father is an Afro-Haitian immigrant) and Jewish (his mother is a New York Jew) and his exaggerated impersonations of mom make the anecdote work.
With an intro stunt that involves dressing up like a cop with a bong in hand and asking people on the street to smoke out with him and a portion of his stage time dedicated to stories about “the most high I’ve ever been in public” Legalize Everything is the perfect viewing option for 4-20 next week. And by the way, Andre’s top two moments include 1) when he did Molly at a comedy festival and 2) the time he went to Coachella to see the Tupac hologram but missed it because he had a blackout on Xanax in a porta-potty. He had a classic Eric Andre freak-out during Snoop Dogg’s set because of it and in his re-telling, it’s all about “the homo-erotic appeal of the thug rolling a blunt” behind him complete with mouth, tongue and hand gestures that show what he means.
For Bad Trip, Andre changed things up a bit. He plays Chris Carey, a mild-mannered dude who works minimum wage jobs but wants something more. He finds his purpose – for the movie anyway – when his high school crush (Michaela Conlin) walks into his place of work, and he decides to take a road trip to New York where she lives to declare his long-held love. What follows is a wacky buddy flick meets love story meets chase movie as Chris and cohort Bud Malone (Lil Rel Howery) steal Bud’s sister’s car for the trip. The sister happens to be violent criminal Trina (Tiffany Hadish), who gets out of jail and decides to follow the duo so she can cause some bodily harm to them both.
Lots of gross-out moments, elaborate accidents and mortifying sexual situations (one involving a Chinese Finger Trap and another featuring a horny gorilla at the zoo) follow as the trio meanders through real bars, restaurants and high traffic hangouts. The best part is – of course – all the unsuspecting (non-actor) folks who fall for the set-ups, get involved in the fake drama and get eyefulls of things they really never wanted to see. Thankfully, the end credits show all the participants’ reactions when the truth of each situation is revealed before release forms are signed.
In real life, Andre is quite chill and introspective. Despite using his name, he says he plays a “character” on the talk show and made a conscious decision to soften up his personality for Trip. “My persona on The Eric Andre Show is a lunatic – totally destructive, psychotic, emotionally volatile,” he tells L.A. Weekly. “You can’t follow a character like that for 90 minutes. You needed to sympathize with him.”
Bad Trip was supposed to hit theaters this time last year, but the Orion Pictures release was postponed due to COVID-19. The virus wasn’t the only thing holding things back, though. The film, “from nose to tail as a chef would say,” has been a long time in the making. “Bad Grandpa came out in Oct. 2013 and around that time my agent said we should meet with Jeff Tremaine, co-creator of Jackass with Knoxville and Spike Jonze,” Andre recalls. “We started pitching like off-the-wall ideas and putting it together, and then I was working my show on and off and, you know, that took time, then a few years of finding a story and then we pitched, I think at the end of 2015. We got people to sign on in 2016. Then 2017, 18 did filming, and then it was 2019. But we saw a better opportunity to come out in 2020. And then we had a SXSW premiere in April scheduled and then the global pandemic happened…”
In terms of the “prank film” as a genre, Andre says it’s pretty new for full-length movies. He gives Cohen – whom he showed a cut before releasing – credit for creating the first narrative prank movie, though he draws distinction between films like Borat, in which the public sees that cameras are involved, and hidden camera movies. For Bad Trip, creating “the story” was the first and most important step in the filmmaking process. “Jeff kept telling us we had to have the story first,” says Andre. “The pranks were based around the story. The story was critical and crucial. It was the first time I’ve ever had to do any narrative story writing.”
After watching and loving the Adult Swim show, his stream of consciousness comedy special or new film, one will probably wonder what Andre won’t do for a shocked reaction or belly buster. Though he surely gets asked this all the time, we had to know, “Is there anything he wouldn’t do?”
“I look at every prank and every joke case by case,” he answers. “John Waters gave the best quote about this in his book Shock Value: ‘There’s good bad taste and there’s bad taste and everyday you got to figure out like, what side of the line you’re on.’ “
“A lot of it is about context, but I think it’s very easy for journalists or people on social media to recontextualize any joke or anything for their own virtue signaling or personal and political agenda,” Andre continues. “But you know all art is in the eye of the beholder, so everybody has a right to interpretation. I think you’re always gonna look back like, if something is mean spirited, what’s the context? What’s the set up and the subtext – are we using irony, are we using sarcasm, high brow or low brow? You’re always kicking the tires trying to figure out how to be shocking in the right way.”
This process is what makes Andre stand out in the comic crowd. He is always thinking and connecting and conjuring. You don’t need to be high to enjoy his work, but it does make it more fun. Like good weed, good comedy can be silly or introspective or both. Andre’s often-deranged seeming humor is no different, and while it can be shocking, it’s not meant to offend, it’s meant to make you think or simply feel… things.
“I’ll never apologize for a creative choeice or comedic choice because my intentions are pure,” Andre insists as the minutes to our scheduled phone chat run out. “My intentions are to make people laugh. I mean, what can we do? It’s a short time on this earth. Humanity’s fucked, this world is a scary place, there’s a lot of sadness. I just want to make people laugh. I enjoy that more than anything.”