With Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, Adult Swim dadaists Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim make the leap from the small screen to the big one. We sat down with the comedy duo last month at a Chicago hotel to talk about censorship, working with actors and the challenges of a new medium.
Funny or Die funded Billion Dollar Movie. Did they provide more creative input or notes than Adult Swim?
Eric Wareheim They pushed us to do our own thing.
Tim Heidecker They gave us some great advice. It was all positive. It was never "How can we box this, or rein it in?" It was just how to make the best thing possible.
There's some R-rated material in the movie. Is this is the kind of stuff you would have done on the show if you could have? Or did you feel some sort of obligation to give audiences the "R-rated experience"?
TH We weren’t trying to come up with ideas that would push taste or censorship issues so much as we just thought they were funny ideas. Some of the cursing I think is a little bit closer to the way we naturally speak. We were less worried about watching our language. But the the Shrim bath scene—the famous scene that everyone’s talking about—would probably go on our show. There is nothing that crosses the line, necessarily.
When you were still doing Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, did Adult Swim ever step in and say "You've gone too far with this gag?"
EW Not Adult Swim, but the standards people at Cartoon Network, yes. Kids watch that channel earlier in the day. So we’ve had to censor a lot of stuff.
TH They love violence, though. You can cut somebody’s head off. You can rip their eyes out. But you can’t say "Goddamn."
In the movie, there's a very funny bit about Top Gun.
TH There’s like a 35-minute version of that scene. It kept on getting cut down. It’s actually really funny. Hopefully that will show up on the DVD.
On the show, you used a lot of nonprofressional actors—people you just found on Craigslist. Did you coach them or was it just about casting real-world oddballs and letting them do their thing?
EW Well, it depends on the role. A lot of the times we’ll see audition tapes and there's a natural energy. We’ll give them lines and just say "Do this in your style." Other times it’ll be more traditional directing when we’ll give them notes on how to hit a certain inflection.
TH Yeah, sometimes it’s literal parroting. "Say it this way!" or "Repeat me exactly like this," and that’s how a lot of it gets done. It becomes almost like sculpting, sometimes, where you’re just trying to get exactly what you want.
There's definitely a unique cadence to the way actors on your show speak.
TH Yeah! Very unnatural. [Laughs] I mean, but I’ve been noticing lately, if you watch commercials—which most people don’t do anymore; they just fast-forward through them—but if you watch them there is like a way that people speak in them that, if you really pay attention to it, it's like a bunch of lunatics. They’re talking about things in a way that you’d never talk about things. Like, the one that always gets me is this Lincoln Financial ad. There's this green line you’re supposed to follow if you want to retire. People obsess about this line in the commercial. If you took it out of context, it would be like listening to mental patients.
When people like Zach Galifianakis or Will Ferrell come on board, do they bring material with them? Or do you mostly create characters for them?
EW Zach, you know, he brings this sort of character he does with everything we do. Just this explosive kind of guy. But another thing about the show—and this goes for the movie, too—is that it’s a place where they can come and experiment. The "Dr. Steve Brule Show" [sketch] originated with John [C. Reilly] coming in and being like "I have this character. You guys want to work on it with me?" And it was a very collaborative effort.
I was disappointed to not see Steve Brule in the movie.
TH See, I think you would have been disappointed to see him in the movie, to be honest. We thought, "This is a different experience. It’s not meant to be a longer version of the show." There are no regular characters from the show. Steve Brule has a great home on the Check It Out show. It just wouldn’t have fit in the movie. We wouldn’t have been allowed to do it, either, with Cartoon Network not funding this movie. So, we still wanted to work with John. He’s an amazing actor. Why not use him in different ways? I think you would be sitting here now going "Why did you guys put Steve Brule in here? He’s not making any sense!”
Were any of the Awesome Show regulars disappointed to not be a part of the movie?
TH I remember hearing about almost a support group among some of them. They were following the casting progress. There were only so many roles in the movie and only so many slots to fill. I mean, the hope is that we make more movies and everybody gets a shot at the big screen.
You've described the show as a nightmare version of television, and there are certainly moments that veer more toward horror than comedy. The child clown sketch, for example, still haunts me.
EW [Laughs] Sorry about that.
TH We think it’s really funny, so it probably says more about us.
Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is now playing at Landmark's Century Centre.