We spoke to Jamie Grefe, who wrote a novel based on the insane Adult Swim shorts about a CIA agent who doesn't play by the rules.
Tim Heidecker is fucking pissed off. In the introduction to the first book from Heidecker Publishing, DECKER: CLASSIFIED by New Mexico-based writer Jamie Grefe, Heidecker asserts, "My rant is a product of my extreme outrage at the state of things in this country. When I conceived of the idea for DECKER, it was based on my frustration, hatred and fear of the direction this country is going in. I don't see us turning back. It seems as though we have crossed the Rubicon. We must realize that there are too many politics and special interests dividing us. These interests can range anywhere from Wall Street, big government, to teacher's unions, to unions."
This bizarre new ebook is Grefe's novelization of Heidecker's Adult Swim web series DECKER. Over the course of five shorts released on YouTube, the series follows Special Agent Jack Decker as he visits Afghanistan to collect an explosive-wired briefcase containing documents that outline a terrorist plot to destroy not only Central Park, but also the Super Bowl. The president, played by Joe Estevez, is too timid to eradicate the entire Middle East via nuclear warfare, so upon his return to America it's up to Decker to single-handedly thwart a devastating attack on two of our most valued national treasures. DECKER is, hands down, one of the dumbest fucking things I've ever watched in my entire life, and considering how much of Heidecker's output I've consumed over the years, that's a sterling accomplishment on his part.
Rounding out the cast of DECKER is Gregg Turkington, Heidecker's partner from On Cinema at the Cinema and the man behind anti-comedian Neil Hamburger. Their dynamic, as always, is awkwardly hilarious as Turkington plays "Special Agent Kington, Special Agent CIA," a master codebreaker who is the only man capable of gaining access to the explosive briefcase without leveling all of Washington, DC. DECKER's aesthetic shares much in common with a lot of Heidecker's previous work: It looks like total shit. Heidecker continuously flubs his lines, and scenes supposedly taking place in New York City or Afghanistan are quite obviously shot in Southern California.
The written adaptation is equally ridiculous. Grefe describes his own writing as engaging the "realms of the bizarre, the darkly comedic, the surrealistic, the horrifying, and the cinematic." Did this web series need, or even deserve, a novelization? No. My God, no. So, naturally, in the spirit of the Tim and Eric universe, it got one. An almost literal play-by-play of what happens in each episode, the book itself is divided into five chapters, each one devoted to one of the shorts. The brilliant bits in Grefe's version are his descriptions what's going through Decker's head and the president's abject physicality.
This choice excerpt, from the beginning of "Chapter 3: Kington," highlights Grefe's absurdist language play at its finest:
President Davidson's beady eyes dart left and right like a stuck pig and the cold steel of Decker's gun nuzzles the side of his head. It's now or never. He knows Decker's unhinged enough to pull the trigger, spray presidential brain-syrup all over the desk. But letting Decker share communications with a top secret agent could cause political ramifications from here to Bora Bora.
"The choice is yours, Mr. President," Decker says, ready to roar. "Do you want your skull and brains and blood splattered all over your desk or are you going to pick up that video phone and call the CIA and get me your best code breaker?"
And this is it. The president feels death well up in his belly. His estranged wife. Delinquent kids. His legacy as a leader. All gone to scrim. It must be done. "Fine," he says, giving in to the heat.
The book rounds out with a verbatim reprinting of both The Constitution (Appendix A) and the Declaration of Independence (Appendix B), plus a 40-year filmography of Joe Estevez. As a comic object, Grefe's take is near perfection. I managed to track him down and convince him to talk with me over GChat.
VICE: OK. I've seen the DECKER web series... but, perhaps briefly, can you tell me exactly what the fuck I just read?
Jamie Grefe: Ha! I can try. You read my adaptation of Tim's masterpiece, a short, novelized version of the first season of DECKER, in which I've attempted to expand, interpret, and deepen the DECKER experience in the best way I could, by studying the shit out of those videos and the world they open up. In a sense, it's an homage to Tim.
How many times would you estimate that you've viewed the five videos? Because the writing is insanely precise, down to each detail.
I would watch each video a handful of times without taking any notes. I would then watch while transcribing the dialogue—verbatim—and try to highlight any slight facial expressions or actions that the characters expressed—anything that stuck out to me as particularly relevant. I would then watch the video a few more times to make sure the dialogue was precise. When I felt it was time to roll, it was time to roll. I would write each episode in one sitting from start to finish, check it to make sure I wasn't missing anything by watching the video again, and then edit the piece twice a day to hone the humor and the vividness, until the day would come to tweet the link to Tim.
Is that how he heard about the project?
I mustered up the gall to reach out to him to see if he'd be interested in having someone do a literary adaptation of the first episode. He agreed the same day, I believe, and then shared the link on Twitter when the piece was finished. I didn't ask any questions, just kept writing as the videos were released. And he kept sharing. If I remember correctly, he'd mentioned he was working on a book called Hog Shots, and that sparked the idea in my mind that he might be into someone doing a literary version of his work.
Is this a writing method that you use regularly? And if so, what other writing interests you?
I tried to do a literary adaptation of a B-movie in 2013, but that was too big a task at the time. I think I could do it now, but at the time, I felt I was biting off more than I could chew. That led to some screenwriting work that I can't go into detail about. But that way of writing, and being influenced by film and television, flowed quite naturally for me. I felt a positive pressure with DECKER because Tim and Gregg are two artists that I've admired for years. I had to keep imagining that they would be reading this adaptation, and that helped raise the bar for myself. Otherwise, I've been focusing mainly on novella-length projects and original screenplays these days.
Can you tell me a little bit about the decision to almost literally adapt exactly what happened in the episodes?
I really like the idea of working with other people's creations and presenting my own interpretation of how I imagine they would do it, were they to undertake it. For DECKER, it was being as faithful as I possibly could—obsessively so—to the source material, to give that source material a different kind of artistic life. It's my way of praising and honoring someone as well as trying to learn from how they do what they do by way of imitation. I honestly wasn't thinking about Tim & Eric or Neil Hamburger, as much as I respect and enjoy those creations, during the writing of these pieces. But yeah, maybe this novelization does come off as a kind of anti- or weird novelization in the precision of the experience. I've certainly spent significant time studying their output.
I feel like you took some liberty with extrapolating on certain things—like what's going through Tim's brain as he interacts with the other two characters—but in a way that is really on-point and funny. Did you feel like you had to kind of inhabit his persona that he's embodying in the sketches to do this?
Definitely. The comedic elaboration on my part was a risk I needed to take to seduce myself further into a character who is not of my own creation. I had to imagine how Tim as Decker and Decker as Tim would spin a metaphor or extend a scene for both characterization and comedic purposes. We're not given what Decker thinks on the screen or certain parts of his personal life, so it became my task to try fall into the Heidecker zone. In that sense, I wrote what seemed right given what I imagine would be his comedic tastes.
How's the response been for you so far? The ebook was just released, right?
Yeah, the ebook came out on February 3 and the response has been tremendously satisfying. It's a grand feeling to contribute to a web series of such high comedic caliber, and working closely with the whole Heidecker Publishing team has been a joy.
Do you have anything in particular that's coming up about which you're excited? Any projects or things like that you want to shout out?
I have a short novel called Doumo Ariga DIE!!! coming out in paperback and e-book this spring through the wonderfully-strange Rooster Republic Press. It's a surrealistic sci-fi revenge and redemption story set in Tokyo that follows a badass female assassin on a quest to save her sister. And have just finished editing another novella called STATIC, which is the Lynchian swirl of a man who exists simultaneously in four dimensions of death. Real family entertainment.