For his new comedy special Legalize Everything, shot in New Orleans, Eric Andre says he whittled a 90-minute set down to just 51 minutes. "I wanted to have the shortest special on Netflix. I wanted it to be like, you can't breathe," he told VICE in a recent phone interview.
This editing makes Legalize Everything feel densely packed, with Andre running down a laundry list of bits on mind-altering substances, along with a hidden-camera prank opener and an absurd bit of "crowd work" involving an elderly couple. Andre caps a joke about the TV show COPS and the white supremacist roots of law enforcement in the United States with a comment about popping a blood vessel in his asshole. "You gotta mix the highbrow and lowbrow, or you're gonna lose the audience," he explained.
The special addresses a number of topics at a rapid clip. Andre even has a brief joke about disgraced fellow comedian Louis C.K., which Andre said he was a "little bit shy to do that joke at first, but night after night, [the people in the audience] were eating that up. It's a little topical, too. I hope it ages properly." (Since we spoke with Andre, another comedian with multiple Netflix specials, Chris D'Elia, has been accused of "sexual improprieties" as reported by The Los Angeles Times.)
We spoke to Andre about all this plus more about his new special, his TV show, and the current state of the nation on June 1 (before COPS was canceled).
VICE: Hello. Obviously it's a super weird time to be talking about comedy right now.
Eric Andre: No! It's the best time to be talking about comedy.
The news is currently flooded with videos of police brutality and talk of how to change our law enforcement system. I've watched a lot of The Eric Andre Show**, and there's a lot of humor about cops. Why is that a recurring theme for you?** You want the people you're pranking to buy [into the prank] at first. When you're doing hidden camera pranks, you want to start the prank out with a grounded character—a character that you would see outside. I'm always doing a cop, a meter maid, public servants—it's higher stakes. The most high-stake character you can do is a cop. The more absurd you are, and the more believable you look as a cop, and the more insane you're behaving, the more people are shocked, and the better the reactions.
As you've become more and more famous, has the novelty of the bit been lost because more people recognize you and say 'Oh, that's Eric Andre'?
It's a real simple equation: I just avoid people under 35. I have, like, little to no fans over 40. If I see a college kid or skateboarder coming my way, I just duck in an alleyway and kind of stare at my director and get the bat signal for when they've left, and then I reemerge. My friend put it like this: If Impractical Jokers can go into season 25 or whatever they're on, and if Sacha Baron Cohen was able to do Bruno after the success of Borat, I certainly can continue going out into the streets and pranking people. Because those guys are much more successful than I am. [laughs]
OK, back to Legalize Everything**, your new special. Did you get any notes ahead of time of what you could or couldn't do? Is there anything that got cut that you can tell us about?** It always goes through legal process, and Standards and Practices takes a look at it. Whenever I improvise something, there's plenty of rounds of them watching the edit, both the legal department and the S&P department. They were pretty reasonable about it, if I remember correctly. I think they were nervous and apprehensive, both the production company and Netflix, but I was like, 'Hey, talk to my lawyer, who's done five seasons of The Eric Andre Show with us, and helped us on the movie [ _Bad Trip_], and he'll put your mind at ease.'
I know what we're allowed to do and what we're not allowed to do. For instance, if I impersonate a cop, I'm not allowed to detain or arrest somebody, I can't go, 'You're under arrest!' and handcuff them. Or I can't run up to somebody and go, 'You're in a state of danger. There's a shooter! Fucking grab your weapons, run, run, run!' I can't put somebody in a state of emergency crisis, I can't arrest somebody, but I can go up to them with a bong and just act ridiculous and absurd [this is how Legalize Everything opens]. I know the do's and don'ts from doing The Eric Andre Show for eight years and the movie [Bad Trip].
You have to be so aware of the nuances of what you can do in public or not. Is there anything that's weird or unique that you know, but most people probably aren't aware of?
I used to be really cavalier, in season 1. I didn't want to listen to any rules. I was like, 'No, I have to get arrested while doing this!' I had some weird, romantic notion of it. And then I got arrested and it was a nightmare. And I was like, 'Oh, I never want to get arrested again.' And then I got arrested again. But doing the movie with Jeff Tremaine and hearing all the trials and tribulations of what they went through with all the Jackass movies and Bad Trip, he was really like a mentor to me as far as how close to the line you can go without getting in trouble. Getting in the right kind of trouble, not the wrong kind of trouble.
That first arrest, what made it such a pain in the ass?
Well, I did a prank in front of the mayor of the town we're filming in, and all the sheriffs were there, and the sheriff even told me, 'Dude, why did you do this in front of my boss? I have to arrest you. Why is this worth it?' He was like, 'Honestly, if my boss wasn't here'—meaning the mayor—'I would have just let you go.' I didn't know right from wrong. Our producers were all learning it for the first time.
What did you do?
You can watch the bit [runtime: 45 seconds] from the second season. It's just this dumb bit where there's some town hall meeting, we're inside some auditorium kind of thing, and while the mayor is talking, I run up to the podium dressed like a frat boy with a backwards hat on, and I go, 'Hey y'all, vote for me for class president, and I'll put beer in the water fountains, and cameras in the girl's locker rooms! Ow!' The sheriff walked in, like, 'What are you doing?' and handcuffed me and pushed me out, and I was like, 'Don't tase me, bro!' and then they were like, 'Why was that worth getting arrested?' Then they asked me for my name, and I was still in character, and I didn't want to tell them my name, so I told them my name was John Coltrane. So they were looking up John Coltrane in the system, like, 'You're not coming up in the database, Coltrane!' And then my producer came out and spilled the beans. So I got two charges: disturbing the peace and falsely identifying yourself or something.
With all the recent publicization of police brutality, how are you feeling about what's going on right now?
People are acting like police brutality was just invented. Police brutality is the norm. It's been the norm since the beginning of the police force. So people are just at a point yet again in history where they're being pushed to the limit, but this is history repeating itself. A cop just killed somebody yesterday in Kentucky. They killed some guy that was handing out sandwiches to the protesters and they left his body outside for 13 hours. So this is the country we live in. This is what Black people and people of color and working-class people have dealt with. The police are there to protect the rich. They're like private security guards for the rich and the mayors of the cities. It's nothing new. At all. My jokes are gonna be relevant now, and the next year, and the year after, unless there's a giant structural overhaul. But keep in mind, it's in the DNA of this country, which was a revolution of the aristocracy. Thomas Jefferson and a bunch of rich old white guys who owned slaves founded this country. It wasn't a working class revolution [like in] France, with people cutting off Marie Antionette's head.
You see other celebrities acting as if they just found out about racism, this gerbil-brain history where they only know about what happened in the last year or two. Is that something that you feel responsible for, letting people know this isn't really a new problem?
As long as it comes up organically. Usually as a comedian you're mad about something, or something's frustrating you about society, or the status quo. And you're mad about it for a while, you talk about it on stage, where you're just preachy and mad, and it's not really functioning as a joke. Then you sleep on it for a little bit, then you just start [to make it a joke], because you have to laugh about it. You're done with the frustration of anger; you just have to laugh, as relief. And then you can go back out on stage and talk about it and then find the joke in it. And that's why Richard Pryor was the best.
Are there any comedians that you extremely disagree with their politics but find them funny?
Yeah, I think Nick DiPaulo is super funny. He's right-wing, and he fucking cracks me up. His joke writing is just so fuckin' tight. Each joke is a little fucking, pop-pop-pop. Our country is guilty of being hyper-partisan. My therapist talks about splitting, where everything's black and white, but everyone's political worldview is like a spectrum. It's a little bit like the oligarchs have divided and conquered the working class in America by making it feel like everything is either Fox News or MSNBC, and there's nothing in between. But it's a divide-and-conquer thing. So that the working class doesn't realize they're being fucked by both parties, and they don't overthrow the whole system, like a French Revolution kind of thing.
Legalize Everything is available to stream on Netflix starting June 23.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.