Tim Heidecker is best known as half of the "Tim and Eric" comedy duo whose odd shenanigans on Adult Swim and elsewhere have made them underground heroes. But Heidecker also stars in The Comedy, an inappropriately titled dark satire about a bored man with no moral center. We talked to him about the movie, his philosophies on comedy, and whether this particular film is supposed to be provocative.
Movies.com: This is one of the few things that you've had a major role in that you didn't also write. And yet it also seems very much your style. How did you come to be involved in it?
Tim Heidecker: I was contacted a couple years ago by Will Oldham, who is a singer and songwriter and a guy I know, who had worked with this director Rick Alverson. He sent me a text saying, "Would you ever want to act in a movie?" And I said, "Yeah, what's that about?" So he got me in touch with Rick, and Rick had been watching our stuff and thinking about this idea for a movie. So yeah, he basically got me roped in.
Movies.com: There are things in the movie that seem very much like the kind of comedy that you do anyway. Did you contribute at all, or was it already written in such a way that it was your kind of thing?
Heidecker: Well, there was an outline, which Rick likes to say was a 20-page, dialogue-free script, that kind of had the scenes laid out. But we spent a long time talking about it and meeting and just sort of working out the characters. Then when it came to the dialogue, that was all improvised on camera, and allowed to give birth on-screen, with some suggestions from Rick.
Movies.com: Your partner, Eric Wareheim, shows up in a small role. Are you leaving him behind? Or was he afraid that you were?
Heidecker: No, I wouldn't phrase it that way... We're still working together, making stuff. We realize that it's healthy in a partnership to be free to do stuff outside of it. You don't want to get trapped in a loveless marriage. It feeds back into it, as well. We get all sorts of good things out of doing things like this and opening it up to a different audience. From our perspective, we had very little -- we came onboard, had some meetings, showed up, did our parts, got out of there. And Rick put together this incredible film. And I'm happy to do press and promote it as much as you can. You gotta do this to get the word out.
Movies.com: This isn't exactly a marketable mainstream movie. What sort of thoughts and feelings do you hope that people have after they've seen it?
Heidecker: I hope it makes them kind of think about the way that we all kind of talk to each other. A lot of times we shroud our conversations and our relationships with people in irony, this sort of sardonic, sarcastic language.
Movies.com: Distance ourselves from it.
Heidecker: Yeah, and I think that, to a degree, is fine. I'm not preaching that we all should talk to each other like a bunch of hippies or anything. But I think it's worth drawing attention to it and check in on it. I think it's also important. One thing I know Rick was interested in was thinking about the way that you engage with a movie, the way you watch a movie, and what your expectations are. We've been sort of trained to watch movies a certain way, where we expect a certain level of sympathy out of a character, and almost a sense of being entitled to certain things in a film. There's a great tradition in independent film of that not existing, and I think this is tapping into that -- reminding us that there are other ways to experience a film that aren't just about satisfying the audience with what they think they want to see and want to hear.
Movies.com: That even plays into the title. Calling it The Comedy puts one idea in people's minds, and it's not necessarily what they're going to get out of this particular movie.
Heidecker: Yeah, anybody with a fair level of intelligence should be prepared, should realize that anybody calling a movie The Comedy... there's gonna be something behind it. It would be pretty obnoxious to just call [a normal comedy] The Comedy.
Movies.com: Who were your comedy influences when you were growing up?
Heidecker: Oh, you know, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Christopher Guest and the Spinal Tap guys, SCTV, and the Coen Brothers. Woody Allen. Chris Elliott.
Movies.com: Did you consciously decide to not go the mainstream-comedy route and do the edgier, weirder stuff?
Heidecker: No conscious decision. I mean, we were making what we were making -- for fun, really. We were just experimenting and taking an idea and executing it and building a style. I think only once we showed it to some people that we were friends with, that were very encouraging, they said, "This is funny, you should do something with this." That encouraged us to go and try to reach out to the entertainment world and find a way in. But we never had a sit-down and said, "We should make something really big and fun for the whole family!" It was just what made us laugh, what ideas interested us.
Movies.com: Surely you knew that what you were doing was not normal.
Heidecker: We always felt a little outsider-y, whether it was music we were doing, that was just the scene we were in, this underground, alternative world. That's the way we approached comedy as well, it wasn't about market value, or whether or not it was going to be of interest to everybody. We just wanted to get it out of our skulls.
Movies.com: Do you worry about being perceived as a sellout if you should happen to do a big mainstream comedy?
Heidecker: Well, it depends. I was in Bridesmaids, and that was a huge movie. But I did it because I'm an actor as well, and it's fun to do, and I thought working with those people would be fun. And it was. I didn't expect it to be a big movie or anything. Who can predict that kind of stuff? So I just try to do things that seem either interesting or have some creative value to them and sound like they'll be fun. If we have an idea one day that makes $300 million, you know? Because for some reason that's what people are interested in? Then I'll be VERY excited. At the same time, we wouldn't creatively sabotage something to be "too weird" just for the sake of that. It really always has to be fueled by the idea and feel right.
Movies.com: With The Comedy, what sort of feedback have you gotten?
Heidecker: There's been a minority of negative reactions that I always find are really coming from the wrong angle. They're really reactionary. Or, in the case of like a Q&A, they're coming immediately after the film ends, so it's sort of like, have you really made up your mind how you feel about this movie? You're not letting it sink in and thinking about it. So I almost don't even want to give those kinds of opinions any attention, because they're just so reactionary and probably have a lot more to do with their own personal life than the movie.
I talked to my friend, the actor John C. Reilly, who's a big supporter of this, and he's seen it a couple times now. He said to me, "You have to be more confident about this movie, because it's a really good movie, and it's not something you should be apologetic for. ... Don't apologize for it. It's not that crazy. It's not that disconnected from another kind of movie that really doesn't get made that much anymore." And I understand that the negative reaction is an interesting story, but it's also just like, "F*** those people." They didn't like it, that's all there is to it.
Movies.com: Fair enough. Do you feel like the movie is provocative?
Heidecker: No, I get it. There's gonna be people that aren't gonna like it. There are lots of movies I don't like. I didn't like The Avengers. I thought that was a piece of garbage. I didn't like What to Expect When You're Expecting, which I had to watch on an airplane. That was a pile of garbage. So of course people are going to have opinions about movies, what they like or don't like. And "provocative?" Sure, I guess, you know, because there's nudity in it, and there's bad words, and it's not structured like a traditional three-act Hollywood studio film might be structured. That's gonna feel weird for some people who are used to watching those kinds of movies.
Movies.com: What's next for you? Are you and Eric doing more stuff?
Heidecker: Yeah, we're working on a couple different things. We've got a little miniseries idea that we're doing for Adult Swim, we're writing that right now. We were just touring, and we did Australia, so we had kind of this weird, busy year that wasn't very productive in terms of television creation, but we've been doing lots of little weird things, recharging the creative juices, and not feeling like we just want to jump into the first thing we're doing. Taking the next step kind of carefully.
Movies.com: Do you have any solo plans coming up, or mostly team projects?
Heidecker: Mostly "Tim & Eric" stuff, and live stand-up shows around the country. I do a stand-up act. It's fun. Just see what happens.
Movies.com: How did you decide it would be "Tim & Eric" rather than "Eric & Tim"?
Heidecker: Well, I think just when you say it, doesn't it sound better? It's a little lyrical, it's got a lyrical tone to it.
Movies.com: Timanderic. Timanderic.
Heidecker: It just came out that way. I think it's a little bit of -- Eric's much taller than me, so there's gotta be a compensation.
Movies.com: Do you feel like the movie's getting a good response? It's on On Demand and coming to theaters.
Heidecker: So far, so good. I'm really pleased with some of the first, initial reaction that came out of it being on iTunes, from my audience. My fans that follow me were really, overall, like super-positive, and happy and encouraged about the movie. I've had enough good positive reactions that I don't think I really care anymore about what anyone else thinks. I feel pretty confident that we did a good job, and it's gonna be a good, important movie for some people, and I'm glad to be part of it.