On Cinema's Tim Heidecker on Running for Office and Treating Star Wars Films Like Pornos

Gregg Turkington (left) and Tim Heidecker (right)
Gregg Turkington (left) and Tim Heidecker (right)
Courtesy of Adult Swim
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There's a word that pro wrestlers use to describe their commitment to maintaining the illusion of their craft: kayfabe. To keep kayfabe means to never drop character, to treat staged events as though they were spontaneous and legit. It's also a good word for describing certain performance artists and pranksters like Andy Kaufman and The Residents who were masters at keeping their guards up and never letting you know when they were putting one over on you. Tim Heidecker, one half of Dada meets Dumb & Dumber duo Tim & Eric, can keep kayfabe with the best of them.

In addition to working with Eric Wareheim on their various Adult Swim shows, Heidecker also has a long-running creative partnership with Gregg Turkington (who is known for his kayfabe character: lounge lizard schlock comic Neil Hamburger). The duo host a Siskel & Ebert-style film review show called On Cinema, where they rate films via bags of popcorn instead of thumbs or stars. On Cinema is more than a film review show, though: It's also a descent into comic madness as the two grapple with long-lost bastard children, drug addictions, quack New Age medicine, debilitating health issues, and their own passive-aggressive hosting relationship. On Cinema's world is surprisingly vast, encompassing government conspiracies, shadowy corporate groups like The Delgado Group, and even a protracted legal drama where "Tim Heidecker" was tried for murder after a series of vape-related deaths happened at an electronic music festival.

The show has also birthed various side projects, like the spy show Decker, where Heidecker and Turkington play out an insane, Ed Wood-esque version of 24. It's also an opportunity for Heidecker to live out his cock-rock dreams with the band Dekkar, which finds him singing alongside sidemen with names like Axiom, Vinny, and Manuel.

The "Tim Heidecker" that's on On Cinema is very different from the Tim Heidecker who puts out records and acts in other people's movies. The "Tim Heidecker" we talked to on the phone (in advance of On Cinema's upcoming live show in the Valley) was all kayfabe. We talked about his political aspirations, what fans can expect from the On Cinema live show, and which summer movies are on the top of his must-see list.

During your latest episode, you announced that you’re planning on running for the position of district attorney of San Bernardino County, California. How far along are you in terms of your campaign planning?

Sure. You know, it’s still in the early stages of planning. That decision was made sort of in the moment. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on it, it is something that I am going to pursue and we’re working on strategies on how to best achieve that goal. So it’s an exciting time for me. Obviously it’s something people are interested in, something that’s needed in that area. Somebody who’s got the courage, and the intelligence, and the skills to change the system, and to really upset the status quo.

If you did get elected, are you worried that your new position would conflict with your ability to host On Cinema?

No, I would obviously move on from that. I’d take a break from doing that. My full 100 percent focus would be on the people of San Bernardino, to serve them to my fullest abilities. So, uh, there’s always going to be movies and I’ve stated on the show before that movies are — people get too wrapped up in caring about them. It’s not the most important thing — it shouldn’t be the most important thing in anyone’s life. If you self-examine and find that you care about movies more than anything else, that’s a sign that you have a problem. So the world will keep spinning, movies will keep coming out, and if I should take a break from hosting a movie show I think people will survive … including myself.

You’ve been hosting this show for a long time, and there’s lots of footage of you doing things that might be … compromising, for a politician. Like your crippling vape addiction, or the fact that you called a political rival a cunt on camera. Are you worried about any of this stuff getting in the way of your campaign?

We won’t be speaking about that. Yeah, we won’t be speaking about that. You know, what I think I bring to the table is a lifetime of experience. I’m not — I’ve never described myself as the perfect individual. Of course we all have a past, a background, and in fact I think it makes me a more relatable and stronger candidate. As opposed to somebody who’s lived in a convent or a sanctimonious bubble. I’ve been down in the grit, in the grind. I’ve had tough times and I’ve had great times. I’ll be a D.A. that people can relate to. They’ll be able to walk up to me and talk to me on the street. A man of the people, so to speak. I’m happy to take on any negative campaigns the other side throws at me — I’ll just roll with it. 'Cause like I said, I’m not presenting myself as Jesus Christ or anything. I’m a complicated guy, so it’ll be interesting to see what they choose.

Anyways, there’s no reason to go into the specifics. I’m certainly not going to comment on them.

Do you feel like playing Decker has prepared you for this new role? That all the time you spent playing a government agent has gotten you ready to step up and be an elected official?

Of course. I will apply that knowledge — because, you know, writing and producing and starring in Decker gave me the ability to learn so much about the inner workings of the C.I.A, the White House, and a number of governments. For all the problems that are associated with the federal government — and I’m not running for a federal position — I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from that experience. And I think it’ll be a great fit when I can apply some of the stories and episode ideas to assist me while I’m in office.

Going back to On Cinema: it seems like your production values went through the roof last season, thanks to all your sponsorships. But it also seemed like there was some conflict behind the scenes once The Delgado Fund took over … Should y’all do another season of On Cinema, will it retain these values or will you return to your do-it-yourself roots?

We’ll see. That’s something we’ll have to see. We’ve got a tremendous partnership with Rio-Jenesis. And we had trouble, we had issues with The Delgado Fund coming in and seizing things. Right now we’re in a period of transition; we’re not sure what the future looks like. Of course my focus right now is running for district attorney. I think there is a version of the show that is in concert with that ambition and can be used as a platform for my campaign, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For your upcoming live shows with Gregg, are you planning on making your campaign a part of the conversation onstage? Or are you going to keep the focus on talking about movies?

Well, there’s a little bit of a misunderstanding in terms of what the show is. …  Not only have we made a hundred episodes and something like five Oscar specials, an enormous amount of content — my music career with Dekkar, DKR, is sort of world-renowned now for having the number-one download “Empty Bottle.” It’s natural for that group to go out there and do what U2 would do, and every other great group would do, and play concerts. Because of certain elements of the deal we struck together back in the day, it brings along some baggage. So there will be a compulsory segment of the show dedicated to Gregg, to whatever Gregg deems interesting to him — probably something about movies. But we’re working on two shows, it’s really two shows that you’ll be seeing that will be battling it out for your entertainment. With Dekkar you’ve got Axiom and Manuel — I don’t think it’s a fair fight, but it’ll be an interesting night, for sure.

On last week’s episode, Gregg refused to rate Solo and said he was boycotting the film. Did you see Solo? If so, how many bags of popcorn would you give it?

Solo? No, I’m with Gregg on that issue. I am not supporting any of George Lucas’s films anymore. I don’t think he deserves one dime from me or anyone else. It’s like asking me if I’ve seen a new porno movie or something. I have no interest in it.

[Random grinding noises in the background]

So, are there any films that you’re looking forward to seeing this summer?

This summer? Well, there’s a tremendous amount of films coming out this summer. I’m just going to be so busy with my campaign. [Grinding continues] Uh, I can tell you that there’s a few that I’m looking forward to: Tag looks like a lot of fun. Of course there’s Jurassic World, back with more dinosaurs. [Grinding intensifies] Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise. Probably going to get snubbed for an Oscar. But I can already tell ya, without having seen it, that he gives one hell of a performance in Mission Impossible: Fallout.

[Grinding gets even louder]

Do you feel that being a celebrity gives you an advantage for your political ambitions, in the same way that it’s helped Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, and Kid Rock?

If it does, I’ll be grateful for it. I understand that makes it so my platform’s already raised a bit. I have an audience that’s tremendously supportive — my whole audience doesn’t live in San Bernardino but I think that goodwill is going to trickle down to the good people of San Bernardino. [Sound of crinkling starts to mix into all that grinding.] It’ll be fun to get know people down there: shake some hands, attend some town halls. Get to know the issues.

I think it’s true that in any field, any arena, that if you can find the upper hand — I don’t care how you get it — you got to play with both hands.

On Cinema: Live! Featuring Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington and Special Guests is happening on Saturday, June 9, at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are available via Ticketfly.

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