The anti-humor of the Awesome Show

Even if you’ve never sat down and watched an entire episode of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, odds are good that you’ve at least chanced across the 11-minute program while flipping channels late on a Sunday night. The show, which just ended its second season on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” block, is a fast-paced blend of absurd sketches, intentionally uncomfortable moments and the occasional gross-out and surreal video manipulation. Tim and Eric is edgy, late-night comedy at its most experimental.

For the second year in a row, the show’s creators, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, are taking their comedy on the road on a music-venue-based national tour. Last year, the tour took them through Chapel Hill (a town they characterized on their blog as being filled with “college bros”), but this time they’ll be coming to Asheville. (Perhaps it’s because they claim, jokingly, to be “huge fans” of Mountain Xpress.)

Schadenfreude, anyone? Eric Wareheim (left and Tim Heidecker turn awkward failure and half-baked ideas into painfully funny comedy.

Heidecker and Wareheim met as freshmen film students at Temple University and soon began a collaboration that would eventually lead to projects such as the animated comedy show Tom Goes to the Mayor, their previous Adult Swim series. Or, if you prefer, you can believe their … er … alternative version of events.

“I was in a touring Disney troupe that visited elementary schools,” claims Heidecker, with disarmingly dry sincerity. “Eric was a Philadelphia gym teacher.”

Wareheim backs him up earnestly, adding, “That’s exactly right. I was impressed with his comedy of course, but also his athletic nature. That comes in handy because our comedy has a lot of dancing and stretching exercises.”

Regardless of how their collaboration began, it was the unlikely success of Tom Goes to the Mayor—which found humor in the absurd banality of small-town bureaucracy and the awkward monotony of the everyday business world (including dead-on recreations of proposals and presentations aimed at injecting excitement into ideas that are admittedly lame)—that made Heidecker and Wareheim creators to watch.

Of course, not everyone loves their work. In fact, there’s an element of “anti-humor” in Tim and Eric, that often arises from the painful failure of bad ideas and gags, which have left some viewers cold. Most notably, the show mines the highly awkward and amateur side of cable-access and local network-TV programming. A good example of this is the TV-news health-segment parodies featuring the decidedly uncomfortable and uninformative Dr. Steve Brule, as played by John C. Reilly. As often as not, the show’s humor comes from the failure of characters to understand exactly how awful and futile their situation really is. For those expecting high comedy and witty sitcom banter, Tim and Eric can be off-putting. But for the late-night-cable-besotted minds that make up Adult Swim’s viewership, it’s the perfect antidote to years of horrible TV programming.

As you might expect, transforming a show that largely focuses on the failed entertainment of TV into a successful live comedy act has its challenges.

Wareheim says that the live performance follows the same general themes of their TV show, consisting of “mostly high-energy, genuine entertainment with a few planned disasters and uncomfortable moments thrown in.”

Both Heidecker and Wareheim are experienced musicians, and audience members can expect bizarrely comedic songs to fill out the sketch-heavy performance. And, just for those who can’t bear the idea of Tim and Eric in a TV-free setting, the show will also feature new video material from the show’s third season, which debuts in August.

“We’ve got about 20 minutes of preview footage from the season that’s coming up,” says Heidecker. “Is that right, Eric?”

“You are spot on,” replies Wareheim. “It’s almost two entire episodes of awesomeness!”

And are there surprises for those who caught the duo’s tour last year? Heidecker declares that the show is composed of completely new material.

But, with a successful TV show ready to debut, why have they decided to take their act on the road at all? Heidecker says it’s the interaction with fans that makes it all worthwhile.

“If there’s one person at a performance having an awesome time, then we’ll be having an awesome time,” Heidecker declares. Although it can be hard to tell with a comedian who specializes in deadpan, it seemed like a genuinely unironic statement. “Will we be talking to people, taking pictures and signing autographs after the show? Yes! We will be hanging out at the bar and probably drinking a lot? Yes, of course!”

And, in the tradition of many a touring act before them, Wareheim then brings up the more pressing issue about the pair’s upcoming visit.

“I want to know where the after-party’s going to be in Asheville,” he says. “That’s my big concern.”

[David Cole is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]

who:Tim and Eric Awesome Tour 2008
what:Adult Swim’s absurdist TV show, live
where:Grey Eagle
when:Thursday, April 24. 8:30 p.m. ($12. Standing-room only show; advance tickets highly recommended. or 232-5800)

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3 thoughts on “The anti-humor of the Awesome Show

  1. Well, I’m showing my age I guess cause I can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

    I find some of their skits funny but a majority of the time they are painful to watch. At the show last night I walked into a song about Papa John’s Pizza that consisted of only three sentences that lasted five minutes.

    The funny thing is that I think that even they are surprised on how popular they are. They were mobbed after the gig by a crowd larger than most rock shows that I’ve been to. I commend them for getting paid for little effort!

  2. [b]Orbit:[/b] I think they’re pretty funny, but I can certainly see your point. As the article states, a big part of their comedy is the awful, horrid pain of profound failure. It that sort of “epic fail” mentality, I guess.

    Did you ever watch their other show, [i]Tom Goes to The Mayor[/i]?

  3. Wow really very nice and good information you share here. I read your entire post and really superb information you share here on funny stuff thanks for your information.

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