If there is someone between the ages 14 and 21 living in your house, there’s a very good chance, unbeknownst to you, that in that young adult’s universe Tim and Eric enjoy a secret (and unrivalled) superhero status. If you are between 14 and 21, you already know that Tim and Eric are the funniest people in the world, wildly irreverent and inappropriate — and irresistible, like watching breast augmentation surgery on the Discovery Channel is irresistible.
But chances are you’re over the age of 21 and you’ve never even heard of Tim and Eric, arguably the two most important comedians on television today. Your ignorance probably means you are relatively serious and you are steadily employed. Great job! On the other hand, it indicates that you are dangerously out of touch with your children, your children’s friends and the millions of Americans tuning into Tim and Eric every week. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — the hit live-action sketch-comedy series on the Cartoon Network — probably isn’t for you. In fact, if you’re a voracious reader, a connoisseur of fine art, politically informed and even marginally pious, then perhaps you should stop reading right now. However, if David Lynch makes you laugh, brown is your favorite color and you know what “bit torrent” is, Tim and Eric might be just what you’ve been looking for.
For the past five years, Tim and Eric have taken cult status to a new level. They are a favorite among college and high school students across America, but strangely enough, their most vocal fan base consists of fellow comic actors. As a result of this popularity (and camaraderie), Tim and Eric routinely incorporate comedians and actors like Patton Oswalt, Will Forte, Weird Al, John C. Reilly, Michael Cera, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Flight of the Conchords and Rainn Wilson into their skits. Lines from sketches such as “Spagett” and prank calls to Macy’s department store are being uttered with the reverence once reserved for the great poets. Kids across the country, emulating their heroes, are mounting their own “Cat Film Festivals.” To fans, the faux-gritty “Mustache Movie” might as well be Mean Streets. The world of Tim and Eric — low-fi to the point of no-fi— is shaped by experience: In their case, miniscule budgets, crappy equipment and the conviction that if what they’re doing at least makes the two of them laugh, they are off to a good start. At worst, it’s satisfying a happy audience of two.
The kids in high school who somehow got away with everything, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim — from remote Allentown and Audubon, Penn., respectively — sit in an even more remote corner of contemporary humor, (think of them as second cousins to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno), where Eugene Ionesco and Vince Shlomi (the “ShamWow” guy) might have collaborated to distill something equal parts absurd and uncomfortable. In fact, discomfort is their stock in trade. An alternative to previous generations of ironists, polemicists and slapstick artists, “discomforters” derive as much satisfaction from the sweat stains under your arms as from your laughter. And a half-hour with Tim and Eric — on the aforementioned T&EAS,GJ! — makes you ponder the big questions (like the meaning of life) every bit as much as a half-hour reading Lao Tze, Kant or Wittgenstein, only you don’t need a dictionary.
Twelve years ago, Heidecker and Wareheim were film students at Temple University (Bill Cosby’s alma mater, though his influence on their work is profoundly unfelt). There, they shared an ambition to “make stuff” and a generally bemused (and amused) attitude toward Temple’s decidedly less-than-state-of-the-art equipment. That exposure to “low-tech” and the charm of DIY mentality would become an integral part of the Tim-and Eric aesthetic, (a funny word to apply to their sensibility, but a word sure to make them laugh.) After college, where a taste for Godard ran parallel with a love for prank calls, they made the trek to Hollywood where they both interned as production assistants. Eric describes the experience warmly: “We both hated it; it’s a brutal system. So we went back to the East Coast and got jobs.” Eric went to Philadelphia where he worked as a photographer shooting weddings and bar mitzvahs, and Tim left for New York where he landed a job as an assistant at the Entertainment Software Rating board, “a nightmare job” with a “psychotic” boss. From their respective cities they maintained a partnership — now online — taking advantage of Eric’s substandard video editing equipment (with “the worst filters and the worst effects”) and Tim’s unlimited (and illicit) access to the office copy machine for flyers advertising the pair’s early work.
In 2000, “Tim and Eric,” the team — and brand — was formalized. A Web site, timanderic.com, was conceived. “At that time, you could make fun of the Internet,” Tim reminisces. This early work led to a development deal in Los Angeles, enough money to fly here, get a house and write an episode. And, crucially, it gave them the chance to work with their idol, indie comedy legend Bob Oedenkirk. Eric reserves especially kind words for Oedenkirk. “He held our hands through the Hollywood world. He was amazing. He said, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. These guys are going to want you. Tell them to fuck off. Be nice to this person.’ We didn’t know anything about this scene.” Tim adds, “He also taught us so much about structure and script and telling stories. You know, we had never done anything like that before. Even though there are stories, they’re like condensed sitcoms. It still has the same structure.” What is striking about both Tim and Eric is their generosity in praising other comedians’ and potential competitors’ work. There is not a shred of competitiveness to be found in their dialogue, nor any snobbery. They speak admiringly of their peers: Bobcat Goldthwaite, Robin Williams and Tommy Wiseau all elicit kudos during our conversation. And schadenfreude, Hollywood’s grotesque engine, is as foreign to Tim and Eric as a million-dollar budget.
The show — the plum of Cartoon Network’s programming — has gone by various names: Tom Goes To The Mayor (with effects so crude they appear to have been created with an old mimeograph machine), and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, among them, and has featured dozens of recurring segments including the “Channel 5 Married News Team,” commercials for the “Cinco” brand of hopelessly useless products (such as the “Encyclopedia of Numbers” and “My New Pep-Pep” — a mannequin sold as a surrogate grandfather complete with “Thanksgiving scent”), the “Vodka Movies” and “Uncle Muscles Hour,” which featured a nightmarish song called “I Don’t Want To Go To School” — a problematic little number that has haunted anyone who has heard it since the segment first aired two years ago. The show is entering its fifth year of production, and Tim and Eric, who exhibit no signs of flagging, continue to conceive and produce human-interest pieces from mankind’s outermost fringe; all this work leading inevitably to … Tim and Eric: The Film.
In person, Tim and Eric surprise you with their gentleness. They are polite, articulate and thoughtful. Though there is some of a classic yin-and yang dynamic, personally — Tim the quieter and more guarded, initially, and Eric, the more voluble and trusting — the two of them have remarkably consistent tastes and priorities. The friendship and partnership appear seamless; they exchange the roles of writer, director and producer (not to mention composer) as deftly and ego-lessly as the Coen brothers. All of this is not to suggest, however, that there is no creative “rub.” Though there have been no “physical” moments (Eric’s very funny word), Tim is candid: “I think, relatively speaking, it’s been pretty good considering the amount of time we have to spend together. We are very different people, but we manage to make it work.” Nor are we talking about highbrow humor here. Tim and Eric can’t resist anything scatological; a portable enema machine and upcoming sketches called “Diarrhea-phragm” (“which is a kind of a dam”) and “Diarrhea-betes” (in which “Tim’s going to have ‘diarrhea-betes,’ and I wipe him down with a towel and the towel is all brown”) attest to the pair’s fecal preoccupation. Indeed, mentioning the word “brown” makes them both laugh out loud.
Particularly impressive is their shared disdain for being constantly “on.” They have clearly delineated private and professional lives, and, unlike the Chris Farleys and John Belushis, they can go home —
So, if you should wander into your teenager’s room and discover him suddenly sporting a 12-inch beehive (in which he hides miniature bottles of vodka) or her munching on a Cinco’s “Candy Tails” — chocolate-flavored hair extensions made from real horse hair — fret not. Your child is merely emulating his or her favorite role models: Tim and Eric. And while you might wish it were Barack Obama or LeBron James or Carrie Underwood or even Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag they admired — or Liz Cheney for Christ’s sake — don’t worry. You’re in good hands. Tim and Eric feel a keen responsibility to their fans. They know that popular music has been so compromised by the music business that rock stars are no longer, well, rock stars, and that movie stars are nothing more than cartoon characters with all four fingers and a thumb on each hand (albeit hands equipped with spinnerets), and that athletes contain more steroids than the chickens in our markets. They realize it is now up to comedians to help a younger generation tell their parents, “This is my time. Get out of my room. Fuck off.” Which is, after all, a rite of passage as old as time.
I fucking LOVE them. Feel free to turn this post into a Tim and Eric lovefest. If you don't like them, that's cool too. You're just a subpar human being.
but not really.
also, i'd like to take this time to designate myself as ONTD's resident Tim and Eric stan.