The Eric Andre Show marks new territory for comedy and television as a whole, narrowing the gap between the silly and the avant garde. The late-night talk show that began four years ago on Adult Swim matches high-stakes pranksterism with manic editing, using the absurdity of the show to throw a light on the absurdity of the rest of the world.
Part of what makes The Eric Andre Show so fascinating is his complete lack of responsibility to the audience, the network, and himself, but his total respect for everyone else involved. Andre's show serves as a level of progress for black performers, employing tons of black guests, writers, musicians, and co-host, Hannibal Buress, but the show still rejects the idea that a show with a black host and black collaborators has to be about race, or really anything.
The Eric Andre Show isn't an Aaron Sorkin–type show that presents politics as people talking quickly in suits within made-up, pseudo-intellectual scenarios. Rather, Andre's political power lies in his desire to elicit genuine reactions from real people on the street and the audience through antagonization and frequent acts of self-debasement. Andre transforms the camera into a kind of cultural microscope, recording the gleefully stupid experiment he and writing staff have concocted, whether it's dressing up like a cop and handcuffing himself to a pole in Harlem, forcing famous rappers to endure an American Gladiator–style gauntlet, or licking strangers while wearing a green-screen spandex bodysuit.
What Andre is calling his "dystopian Eraserhead season" of the talk show starts this week on Adult Swim. To launch the fourth season, he shot promos at the DNC and the RNC and opened up a "Legalize Ranch" pop-up dispensary at a bar on the Lower East Side of New York, further establishing the brilliantly dumb tone of the show. It was stunning to see the unique range of fans forming a multiple-block line outside of the dispensary, to say hi to Andre, and then chug a bottle of ranch. A few days later, we met up at a hotel bar to talk about his intentions behind the new season of the show.
VICE: So before you started doing stand-up, you studied upright bass at Berklee College of Music. What was that experience like?
Eric Andre: It's a waste of a lot of money. I don't regret going because I met cool people, and I got into comedy because I was in Boston. But it's a good way to waste $120,000, for sure.
Did that experience inform your attitude when you went into comedy?
I think so, because I didn't want to take any comedy classes. Music classes sucked the joy out of music for me, and it made it so academic and left-brained that I didn't want to take UCB classes. I eventually took a UCB class and I took a Groundlings class later on, and I'm glad I did. But I just wanted something to feel kind of pure.
Let's talk about your most recent season. You filmed some promos for your new season at the RNC and "near" the DNC. What made you decide to film there?
I just felt like it was a unique opportunity that only comes along every four years. It seemed like such a great breeding ground for high-stakes pranks, and it was. It was actually my writing partner Dan Curry's idea. He didn't even want to do the DNC, and we figured the RNC would be easier. But the network was like, "Let's try to make it balanced and do both conventions."
Dan is, like, the funniest guy I've ever met in my life. He plays Kraft Punk on the show. The phrase "bird up" he came up with. All of the ranch stuff came out of us bullshitting together in my office.
Did you feel any responsibility to talk about things happening within this election year?
I didn't feel a burden to expose anything politically or have a hard and fast political agenda. It would just be out of tone for the show. I'm playing this inept, incompetent talk-show host. To then suddenly be informed about politics or try to make a statement I think would have been a little bit out of place for the show. The statement made, if there is a statement, speaks for itself, based on the reaction from the people at the RNC, kind of digging their own graves. Like when the guy was shouting at me saying that I'm not Martin Luther King Jr. He's exposing his own idiocy. Why me asking Alex Jones to have sex with my wife would make me Martin Luther King Jr., I've never really understood.
It's kind of like Borat. Borat in character isn't like,"I'm going to expose people' s racism!" But the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen got people to kind of expose their own racism and bigotry and homophobia and stuff like that. The camera acts like a microscope.
"When the guy was shouting at me saying that I'm not Martin Luther King Jr., he [was] exposing his own idiocy. The camera acts like a microscope." —Eric Andre
I think your show is really representative of the progress of black performers. It doesn't seem like you have the same pressure to just talk about "the black experience" the way that Chris Rock or Richard Pryor did. Do you feel any responsibility to talk about your blackness on your show?
Yeah. I think that kind of comedy should happen organically, and I just wasn't as obsessed with race as most Americans are. I think because I grew up in a multiracial family, and had not only diversity in my family, but my friends and my family's friends. Americans make race a bigger issue than I think most other countries do. So it's just not where my mind goes. Sometimes Hannibal and I get into some race comedy. But it's not all there is to talk about as a black comedian, and that's how we felt.
When you started out doing stand-up, did you feel any pressure to talk about being black?
I think Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle and In Living Color and especially Richard Pryor and even Freddie Prince did that kind of comedy so well that it's like,"What else could I say that those guys haven't come up with yet?" Those guys are geniuses. I just felt I wanted to have my own perspective and do something kind of post-racial. But it wasn't like a big, heavy-handed agenda. It's kind of just organically where the show ended up.
Yeah, I think growing up in a multiracial home, you don't really see race until someone from the outside starts pointing it out and placing it on you.
Right! People want to pigeonhole you or put you into a box. I had a similar experience, for sure.
Growing up in a biracial household, did you ever have a difficult time seeing yourself in the stuff you watched as a kid? Were there things that you actually really identified with?
Actually, no. I didn't really make race an issue growing up. It was outside forces later in life that made race such a big issue that made me start to feel hyperconscious about it. I loved Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog.
"We just go in the writers' room and try to come up with the stupidest ideas first as a warm-up. Those usually end up being the ideas we fall in love with the most, because they're so stupid." —Eric Andre
Do you try to build segments around revealing some sort of truth about people?
I think it's case by case. We just go in the writers' room and try to come up with the stupidest ideas first as a warm-up. Those usually end up being the ideas we fall in love with the most, because they're so stupid. It's like a bunch of smart people trying to come up with the stupidest idea ever.
Do you think your show could exist the same way on a different network, or at a different point in time?
I don't know if it's the era. It definitely plays a role—I mean, I couldn't do my show in the 1930s. But I think Adult Swim is the best network for it. I don't think we would have had this much flexibility and creative freedom on any other network. They gave us carte blanche to do whatever we want, and they're just very nurturing. Mike Lazzo, the guy who runs the network, is kind of my Obi-Wan Kenobi. I owe my career to the guy. He's the guy who created Space Ghost Coast to Coast .
Are there certain points that you try to get across in the show?
Sometimes we have overarching thematic things I want to get out. This season was kind of like our dystopian Eraserhead season. I grew out my fingernails super long and lost weight. I made sure I didn't go into the sun at all the whole year. I didn't wear deodorant the whole time. I didn't wash my suit the entire time, so it reeked. I didn't brush my hair the whole time. I would, like, smoke cigars and shit in the morning, so my breath stunk. I would eat onions. I wanted to look like a hostage. Next season, I want to pick my head bald, shave my entire body, gain 50 pounds, get really tan, and then put veneers on my teeth and wear colored contacts.
Most of the show comes in the conflict between you and everything else. What do you think is unique about the humor that comes out of that situation?
I like that I play this low-status character in a high-status position as a late-night talk-show host. I'm kind of just forced, by this organism that is the show, to do a talk show. [But] I'm completely the worst person for the job.
"We kind of prey on celebs that don't even know what Adult Swim is." —Eric Andre
What's in the email you send someone you want to be a guest on your show?
We send them a very innocuous, lighthearted celebrity reel that shows snippets of interviews that don't seem that insane. Then when they get there, they're like,"Oh, shit! This is nuts!" We don't even try to send them that. We kind of prey on celebs who don't even know what Adult Swim is.
The musical guests have to be in on it somewhat so that they commit to whatever torture device we're putting them through. With that said, they're still being tortured. When we had Action Bronson [who is the host of the VICELAND show, Fuck, That's Delicious ] trying to run on a treadmill—the dude has a weight problem. He's a friend, I love him, I love his music, no disrespect. But he's a little bit big; he's a little heavy-set. So when you put him on a treadmill you know, it's not easy.
Was there anything you wanted to do this season that was outside of the budget?
We wanted to do an underwater intro. The intro to the show we call set destruction, and we wanted to do an underwater set destruction. It is just not going to happen. We were going to drive out to a tank in San Diego, hire all of these scuba-diving camera operators, build the set underwater, and teach the band how to hold their breath and make it look like they're not holding their breath. It would have been insane. It would have taken a week to film 30 seconds of footage.
Are there any dream guests you would like to have on the show?
I want Bill Cosby on.
What would you want to have happen with Bill Cosby as a guest—get him and Hannibal on camera together?
I think it would be a very tense interview. I would try to citizen's arrest him.
Can you imagine a bit you would write Bill Cosby into?
I would write him his final pudding commercial.
Season four of The Eric Andre Show premieres on Adult Swim this Friday, August 5.
Follow Matthew James-Wilson on Instagram.