Eric Andre Isn’t as Confident as You Think He Is
We spoke to the comedian about the relationship between fear and comedy.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/Mandee Johnson, www.ericandre.com
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The Eric Andre Show may be getting an official Canadian debut today—thanks to Adult Swim and their new 24-hour channel—but Canadians already know who the man is; the same vomit-downing, face-kicking, nutso host we’ve grown to love. The man we think we know.
But absent the cameras or pre-planned bits, it’s surprising to learn how different the Florida-born comedian is from his past roles. “I’m not really that confident. I’m actually pretty nervous,“ he told VICE. “I have a lot of anxiety, and I cope with my anxiety with therapy and meditation.”
From 2012 to 2016, Andre lived in a strange place, where D to A level celebs would unknowingly step onto his sets jammed with anti-talk show talk, tomfoolery, and general displays of intentional insanity. Sitting at his side was also the dry-faced sidekick, Hannibal Buress, who landed early writing credits with Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and who added a ying to his yang.
With a suit-to-sneakers ratio that made him appear like a lunatic, it was all a testament to the comedic energy that was as planned as much as it was performative.
Fortunately, I got the chance to reminisce with Eric about old times, past feelings, and the North America absurdities that seem just as shocking as his humor.
VICE: It’s still great that you were this guy who wasn’t afraid to be really messy, and somehow, it was still picked up and was funny as shit.
Eric Andre: Yeah, I can’t believe it worked out. Hannibal and I filmed the pilot for it ten years ago in an abandoned bodega in Brooklyn with no money. We were both totally broke, too. Hannibal would sleep on the subway, I’d sleep on couches. I’d do stand up at night and ask audience members if I could sleep on their couch, and I had like six toothbrushes all over New York. The fact that it worked out from all that is incredible.
I literally downloaded a cracked version of Final Cut, and bought this book called Final Cut for Dummies, and from there taught myself how to edit. It took me a year and a half to edit this seven minute pilot [laughs]. Then, I sent an email all over town, over to Comedy Central. Everybody hated it, except for Adult Swim who loved it. God bless Adult Swim.
Where does your confidence come from though? To be this kind of do-anything comedian? You were a hologram for VICE at one point if I’m not mistaken and showed off your junk. You can’t really teach that.
[Laughs] I’m not really that confident. I’m actually pretty nervous. I have a lot of anxiety, and I cope with my anxiety with therapy and meditation like some therapeutic regime that I stick to. The confidence isn’t what it seems. I’m just trying to come up with comedic choices in the moment, and I trust my gut and intuition whenever I do. Make no mistake, I’m kind of nervous when I’m performing, but I’ve always known that the end result would be comedic. My thing is in pushing forward, and I know that where it feels uncomfortable, that’s where the comedy exists. Without the struggle, there’s no progress. I just have to keep leaping off of the diving board, even when my nerves say otherwise.
With the extent that you go to, even if that sounds good on paper, a normal person with anxiety would rather run away from putting themselves in those situations.
It was just one of those things, where I knew with experience, the more and more I did it, I’d get used to it. My stage fright would diminish over time. I had to get over my fears by confrontation. That’s how you get over phobias, by charging forward. I also really didn’t want to work at a desk job. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I actually studied for the LSAT at one point, and was planning on doing the law school thing for five seconds. It was really an existential thing of asking myself, what else am I going to do with my life? It got to a point where I just knew I needed to do this because I wouldn’t want to look back on my life and wonder, what if? Even though it’s really some nerve wracking stuff that I do.
Given how far you’d go, was there anything at least that you’d think twice about doing again?
[Laughs] I've got to be careful when there’s weapons involved. I remember interviewing Alex Jones while he was on stage at one of his RNC speaking engagements. We were in an open carry state, and there was this Bikers for Trump rally and they were all heavily armed, and did not think I was funny. So next time, it’s a bulletproof vest or a security guard the next time I do something like that because obviously, that’s pretty dangerous. But I know, it’s very watchable and comedic. I’m only thinking about what the best outcome of the moment is, which isn’t the best way to live long [laughs].
I showed this to Sacha Baron Cohen, who's one of my idols and good friends recently, and he looks at me and says, “I’m telling you, you have to have security with you the next time you do something like that, I’m telling you from experience.” This is a guy who’s had guns pulled out on him and he's been attacked and arrested as well. So he’s like, if you got stabbed, and went to Oregon and ended up in a hospital for eight months recovering, it wouldn’t be worth it. So yeah, I can do this stuff, I’ve just got to be careful. That’s really the kind of moments that come to mind. Harassing a bunch of armed Hell’s Angels [laughs].
You’ve also pissed off a few people in your day. Did you ever have to apologize afterward?
Well I do hope that people know that my end goal is to not actually be mean to people. I don’t think that’s funny. I’m not malicious or sadistic, I’m just pranking someone for the comedy and the absurdity of it all. But yeah, I had to call Flava Flav. There’s that interview when Hannibal kicks him in the face [laughs]. It’s like whatever man. Sometimes you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Fuck man, I’m just a man. I’m just a fucking nerd. I looked like Steve Urkel for the first 20 years of my life man. I'm doing the best I can you know? We’re all doing the best we can.
Well regrets aside, any favorite moments though? Like say you had to put one on your resume.
That’s always hard to say, they’re all my darlings. But I guess it’s The Matrix Morpheus rap. That has made me laugh every single time I’ve watched it, I don’t know why [laughs]. It’s just the stupidest shit where Hannibal dresses as Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix rapping about Morpheus. It’s like, just as stupidest shit ever and it makes die laughing.
I want to shift gears a bit. As a comedian who’s used to giving out shock, in terms of America today, I’m interested in your view of things. Are any of the things you see shocking to you?
Shocking and not. I mean, the history of America has a well-documented history with racism. Anytime there was a little bit of progress in the black community for example, there was also a massive white supremacist backlash. The KKK came only after the slaves were free. And then black people were lynched every single day between 1890 and 1920. Statistically, I think it was a lynching a day for 40 years or something like that. Might even be higher. It’s just the disgusting, horrible, racist history of this country that hundreds of millions of white men cannot stand seeing a black man succeed. That anger is a great motivator for tyranny.
I think the eight years of Obama gave us Trump because we let go, and the middle class was also suffering. They wanted an outsider and the republicans got that, and the left didn’t get their own outsider which was Bernie Sanders because Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC was corrupt. Bernie Sanders realistically won, so in the year of the outsider, the left didn’t have theirs. That fucked everything up. People are sick of the status quos and current system. Since the 70s, we’ve shipped every blue collar job we had overseas for cheap, and children lead labor that we’ve collectively endorsed.
I had to ask because I spoke to another comedian who once said that it’s more difficult to be comedically shocking today. Especially with all that’s going on in North America.
In the case of comedy, from my perspective, good comedy has always been what it’s always been, therapy. It’s a way to process and cope with tragedy. It’s also a way to distort the truth, and add absurdity to the truth. As shit happens, yeah, it’s shocking. We’re living in a world of clickbait, social media, and we’re in a hyperbolic reactionary state of victimhood. The news that we have is hyper partisan, and it’s more difficult to get unbiased information. There’s very little true journalism in the grand scheme of things, and I think the America that existed the day before Trump was elected isn’t vastly different from the America that exists the day after he was elected.
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.