Tim and Eric Do a Great Job of Making the Real Surreal

Tim and Eric: still doing a great job with their awesome shows.
Tim and Eric: still doing a great job with their awesome shows.
Caroline Bader
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Watching Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! when it first aired was like channel-surfing through an alternative universe’s cable offerings. Everything is familiar, but also grotesque: Public access show hosts spew vomit and slime in-between their sales pitches, VHS cinematography goes haywire, insane products and films are marketed in cheap-looking ads. To paraphrase the old anti-drug PSA: This isn’t your brain on drugs. This is the entire world bugged out on some bad shit.

But the Tim and Eric universe looks less strange in the year 2020, when the man with the nuclear football spends his days screaming about toilet water flow and perfect phone calls.

“The crazier the real world gets, the closer our absurdity feels to reality,” Tim Heidecker says over the phone.

Along with his partner in surreality, Eric Wareheim, Heidecker is gearing up to take the disorienting Tim and Eric experience across the country with this year’s Mandatory Attendance Tour. (It stops in Phoenix on Tuesday, January 28). The idea of seeing the duo's show in-person seems counterintuitive at first. So much of what makes them unique is the lo-fi cinematography, warped editing techniques, and rinky-dink production values. But Heidecker says they’re intent on making the tour its own thing.

“It’s certainly different than the show — it’s very immersive and interactive, with a lot of video and music and sound effects incorporated into the sketches,” he says. “We’re trying to think about how to exploit and subvert the idea of a live show. How can we make every little moment of this show surprising, funny, gross, upsetting, and scary with all the props and costumes and lights and music and stuff at our disposal? We want you to feel like you don’t know what’s coming.”

That feeling of discomfort is central to much of Tim and Eric’s work, which skirts close to outright horror. That's particularly true in their series Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories, which finds the pair going all in on the kind of gonzo weirdness you’d normally see in Neil Breen movies or David Lynch at his most unhinged. “Lynch was a big one for us — especially the idea of creating a really strange, sticky, uncomfortable feeling that’s present in a lot of our work,” Heidecker says.

In addition to the Tim and Eric shows, Heidecker also works with comedian Gregg Turkington on their long-running On Cinema at the Cinema series. What at first seemed like a spoof on Siskel & Ebert has evolved into a prank masterpiece, a series so dense with meta-humor, real-world high-jinks, and plot twists that it’s reached an almost X-Men level of complexity. The show was at its most deranged when Heidecker put his character on trial for murder, airing it as a limited series designed to look like a re-creation of a televised trial.

With their penchant for creating shows that present a distorted version of reality, it’s not surprising that a few Tim and Eric bits have been mistaken for reality by less-savvy viewers.

"A lot of our Cinco commercials from Awesome Show have ended up on weird parts of the internet with people going, 'Can you believe this,'” Heidecker says. “There was a thing we did, a commercial for Candy Tails, which is this product where you dip your ponytail in candy so you can eat it off your hair. And that ended up on somebody’s Instagram with people going, “Look at how crazy white people are!”

Tim and Eric's Mandatory Attendance Tour is scheduled on Tuesday, January 28, at Orpheum Theatre. Tickets are $45 to $95 via Ticketforce.

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