We talked to them about their new show, the underlying terror that lies beneath the surface of the everyday, and...boys!!!
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are the kings of kooky programming. Their shows Tom Goes to the Mayor, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,and Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule arewildly successful,bizarrely beautiful odes to the absurd. Their latest, Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories (premiering September 18 on Adult Swim), is a bit of a departure from the weird territory that's served them so well. What makes it different? In a word, its normalcy. Which is not to say that it's genuinely normal—far from it. This is Tim and Eric, after all. A parody of psychological horror dramas like The Twilight Zone and Tales From the Crypt,it contains more of a traditional narrative and darkly comic tinge than any of their previous works do. We recently caught up with them at their offices in beautiful Glendale, California, and chatted about Bedtime Stories, their storytelling influences, the underlying terror that lies beneath the surface of the everyday, and... boys!!!
VICE: So, I watched the first two episodes of Tim and Eric's Bedtime Storiesand noticed that the humor is subtler—less slapsticky—than the special that aired last year. Is that going to be consistent throughout the series, or does that just happen to be the first two episodes?
Tim: Yes. The show is much more like the first two episodes than it is the pilot. The pilot was like, "Let's just get started doing something." We had Zach [Galifianakis] available, and when we do something with Zach, it's usually in the characters of these three stooges. That's the way that went. But then when we actually started writing the series, it kind of drifted toward more cinematic, dark short stories and not so genre-based. So most of the episodes are like the first two.
I noticed in the second episode, you guys don't appear at all. Is that going to be consistent too?
Tim: That's the only one that we're not in. There's another one where we're in a much smaller role, but that's the only one where we're not in it at all.
Eric: We really enjoyed that opportunity to just sit back and direct it. It was actually amazing.
Tim: You put on less makeup when you're directing.
OK, so this is some armchair analysis from yours truly, but the common thread I noticed in the episodes is the underlying fear that exists below the surface of the modern suburban existence. Am I just up in my own ass about that, or was that intentional?
Tim: I think it's there for sure. I think our ideas are products of our environment and our life, and we're white boys: suburban, middle-class people. So I always think about that. We're way close to the edge of everything falling apart. It feels like that every day. How has this not turned to total shit? How are people still working at TJ Maxx and not throwing garbage cans through windows? So the relationships that characters have in our shows are generally relationships that feel like they could turn into murder at any point.
Eric: Yeah, I think one thing we've connected—even back in college—was that we've always seen the undercurrent of what was happening. There's society, and then there's like, you can't believe what is really happening. I recall this one image of this poor guy who was a sign twirler at this big real estate development. It was just a guy holding a sign, and across the street, at another development, was a motorized guy with the same job. That just blew my mind—that this man had to sit there and look at that motorized version of himself the whole day. Those are the kinds of themes that we look at, and we're like, "That's a real fucking nightmare existence." That's what we're trying to do in this new show.
Tim: Once we started making the show, and we saw what we were actually doing, I sort of thought, Well, this show is not going to make you feel good. And we shouldn't be feeling good! We're shit people. We're a shit culture. This is like punishment for being horrible. There's so much feel-good stuff that comes out, especially in comedy now, where things are very cute and very clever and sort of like everybody's in on the joke and winking. I feel like our show tends to try to be like a little more reminding of how awful things really are in the world.
Eric: My favorite films or art or music are when you feel something from it, and we want these episodes, even if you're not laughing at the end of it, we want you to go away with like, "Whew, that was something." That's what we're interested in now. A little different than the sketch show.
How do you think that people work at TJ Maxx without throwing garbage cans through windows?
Tim: That's maybe not the best example, but yeah, I don't know. I mean, I don't want to sound like an elitist, but it seems like we all put up with a lot of crap. It's amazing how much crap we put up with.
Eric: We didn't start our lives making TV shows. I worked at Burger King for many years. I used to just make Whoppers for myself and put them in my pocket and go into the bathroom and eat them. I was such a hungry teenager, it was disgusting.
Tim: Growing boy.
Eric: I had to hide the trash. So I've been there. I've been on that level of life. I used to shoot Bat Mitzvahs for rich people. I think all of those life experiences add up.
Tim: And he's anti-Semitic, so it was very challenging. [Laughter]
Oh, the blogosphere's gonna love that anti-Semitism. I've been asked to ask you: Who are your storytelling influences?
Tim: Oh, I heard that was an idea for this story. Well, Dostoyevsky.
Eric: Who's the guy that does the Giving Tree? Shel Silverstein? [Laughter] I mean, like, for me, it's things like David Lynch. Recently, we were watching his old stuff, like Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, which are almost like traditional stories—which we're trying to tell here—but there's this perverted nature of everything. It's really interesting.
Tim: For me, the Coen Brothers, where there's always characters who are on the verge of going through some kind of meltdown. Normal people who are complicated and having trouble, and being shit on by the world. Especially some of their later films—like, A Serious Man I just rewatched—goddamn it. Hell is lived through. You know, all the greats.
Eric: We also try not to be egomaniacs, but I mean, we try to live in this universe where we create stuff trying not to emulate anything. I feel like that's the way we started. Even when we came to LA, we tried to really not get into the sitcom scene. We just wanted to stay in this universe.
Tim: The sitcom scene is a pretty cool scene.
Eric: It's very hip.
You create completely original content, but while still operating under traditional dynamics. This is kind of like a Twilight Zone type of show.
Tim: Well, yeah. When we were writing this, we thought... a lot of times, on Awesome Show and other stuff we do, there isn't so much of a concern about the narrative. It's not like, "How can this wrap up and be satisfying?" You know, a lot of stuff just kind of ends where a baby explodes out of our heads. It doesn't matter. So for this show, we're like, let's tell real stories that have an ending and generally kind of conclude and wrap up in a way. That was an exercise for us and a new kind of thing we decided to care about, for the sake of making something feel different than what we're used to seeing.
Are there any other tropes like that you would be interested in tackling?
Tim: You know, I think sci-fi is something we want to try to do more regularly. More science fiction.
Eric: Or something like The Shining. Real psychological horror, which I think we're almost there in some of these episodes. Like, true horror. Not gore, but true really-fucking-frightening.
That segues flawlessly into my next question, which is: What genuinely terrifies each of you?
Tim: I'd say that VICE News special on ISIS.
Yeah, that's terrifying shit.
Tim: That's the scariest shit. All that shit really does frighten me. Today, I was driving back from an interview, and there was an Enterprise rental truck in the furthest lane. It was like, in the middle of the highway, just parked, with the hazards on. No driver. So obviously it had broken down, and the guy was on the other side, but my head immediately was like, "That's a bomb!" Then I started thinking, well, if you're terrorists, you could do that at the 10 freeway, the 5 freeway, and the 101. You'd need five guys, spread them out, time it right, and LA goes down. So that's what I think about all the time. I make sure I have enough water in my home, and that kind of stuff. I'm this close to becoming one of those lunatics.
Eric: Do you have a survival kit?
Tim: I have a shitty one from Home Depot from a few years ago.
Eric: My biggest fear is having a daughter, and she turns into a fucking nightmare teenager slut.
Tim: Anal porn?
Eric: Yeah. I don't know why I think about that a lot, though. I think about having a kid that hates me. That's my biggest fear.
Tim: Shit. I actually have a daughter, and that's not my biggest fear.
Eric: I know! I don't know why I think about it. I see kids sometimes, and I'm just like, "They hate their parents." They just want love.
What's the least terrifying thing you can think of?
Eric: The least terrifying would be... My little cats, sleeping. Snuggling with my kitties.
Tim: I don't think that's a legitimate question. That's a very strange Seventeen magazine question. Not up to VICE standards.
OK, so what do you think about boys?
I was going to ask, "Do you remember the last time you were ever scared?" More on that Seventeen magazinetip, you know.
Eric: I would say that I did have this dream that included my first girlfriend, of 11 years, Tim, my parents, my friends, everyone turned on me. My girlfriend was fucking one of my friends and doing heroin, they killed Tim, and my sister and my family disowned me. I remember being so horrified for months because of this dream. It was really bad.
Like you couldn't shake it?
Eric: Yeah! It was one of the heaviest things that's happened, and it wasn't real. It was like, classic horror ideas all rolled into one. Weird.
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