Having watched the comedy stylings that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have perfected over the past decade, I thought the interview with Heidecker might turn into some nightmarish journey into the subconscious.
But there were no horrors involved at all. Turns out he's just a guy who cares about making people laugh and eating good crumpets. And if he's as good at the latter as he is at the former, he's going to be eating a lot of crumpets while he's in town.
Heidecker and Wareheim return to Seattle for their 10th Anniversary Awesome Tour, which is hitting the Moore on Saturday, August 5. So I swallowed my fear and chatted with Heidecker about the aforementioned crumpets, how his work has evolved over the past 10 years, and why he and Eric are nothing like U2.
After a year and a half of working on some big projects, how does it feel to get back on the road with Eric?
It's as fun as ever. We've had a busy year together already. We've been making another season of Bedtime Stories, so we've gotten back to working together pretty much every day for several months. That's being edited now. Then putting this show together, it feels like it has always felt. Every year it feels a little bit sillier that we're still doing this. Dancing around and just doing a full nonsense show. The work we do is so stupid. We love it, but we look at each other sometimes and see the gray in our beards and say, "I can't believe we're still doing this. Still on the road, laughing about diarrhea jokes."
So is this an all-new set of material? Is the fountain of those jokes an endless well when you guys collaborate?
It's definitely not an endless well. Also, when we approach the tour—it's not like we're U2, where you can lie back on the hits and play the same sets you've played in years past. It's comedy. You have to surprise the audience; there's diminishing returns when you fall back on the same jokes. That's true as a stand-up or doing sketch. We have to throw everything away after each tour and rethink it.
But there's certain moves we know that work. And certain kinds of performance that we feel comfortable doing. So it becomes a mix of "What are we going to enjoy doing?" and "What does the audience feel satisfied seeing?" So there is a little bit of "Let's do something from this character" or "Let's do something that's evocative of this type of sketch," which is helpful when you're writing.
Your aesthetic calls into question what a show can even be. So when you set out on a tour, are you thinking about the big conceptual challenge you might take on, or does that emerge from the sketches you're creating as you go?
A little bit of both. We start with a broad brush of "We want to do a kind of presentational sketch here, and a musical number here," and something we call a mood piece, which is sort of a weird... bit of something... so we have these broad strokes and concepts. And then we'll say, "What's this show? What's the angle here?"
With this one, the angle is that it is our 10th anniversary. That starts to shape it a little bit. That gets you in the door. Then immediately it's how do you fuck that up? How do you subvert that idea? In years past, we've done stuff like the Chrimbus Tour, and that's something to get you in the door, and then you start shaping it. Now, I don't want this to get too boring and theoretical. I don't want to ruin it by getting into what the specifics are. Then people will read this, and go, "Well, I guess I'm not surprised by that."
This is of course a no-spoiler space for the live show.
So you guys are 10 years in. You have a very distinct way of working—you work as producers. How do you guys see your influence in the next generation of sketch comedians? Aesthetic? Originality? Or do you not think about yourselves in that way at all?
I don't think about myself at all. [Laughs] No, I think we've seen the influence of our work in all kinds of stuff. I think from the beginning our work appealed first and foremost to creative people. And those people tend to get jobs making commercials and videos. I get that and appreciate it. We all do. Because it's not me. It's Eric and me, and our editors, and the collective of guys and girls that have worked on our shows. We created our own way of doing things 10 years ago without a lot of supervision and without really following the rules of how to make a comedy show. I think it holds up for others, but our intention was always to make something that we thought was funny and that didn't feel like anything else.
How have you seen your show, both on-screen and onstage, change over 10 years?
It's interesting. When you start something, you don't really know what you're doing. You're doing it by your gut and by your instincts. The more you do stuff, the more stuff you've done. You can look back to it and say, "What did work? What didn't work? Should we do that again?" So it's been a constant evolution and learning experience.
We're making Bedtime Stories now, which has a very different aesthetic to Awesome Show, and it sometimes doesn't feel at all like anything we do, but it also couldn't have been made by anybody else. At the same time, we're learning how to make it. Sometimes we get an edit in where we're like, "I don't know, we may have to remake this whole thing." One week I may send a note to Eric being like, "Wow, man, everything is just coming in great," and the next week it'll be like, "I don't know what the fuck we're doing." It's a feeling of never being on solid ground. Of never being fully confident in what you're doing. But at the same time, you have to go out there and believe in it.
To bring it back to the tour, when you go out and you get to a city, are you thinking about refining the material from last night's show? Or are you thinking about enjoying getting around to pretty much all the best cities in the country every couple years?
I am thinking about that crumpet shop in downtown Seattle. And salmon. [Laughs] The first week of the tour? We're refining the show, as when we take it out we don't really test it. It's "Let's think we know what we're doing here," and then we do it. After a couple of shows, you get a sense of what's working and what's not working. It gets tightened and rejiggered a little bit.
But after the second week, it's a thing you do every night. You find ways to make it fun for you and surprising for each other. You gotta just do the show. Then after a week, it's like, "This is what I do. I live on the road. I eat fast food. I do nothing all day long. And then I put tights on and make an idiot out of myself for 90 minutes. Then I stare at the wall 'til I try to fall asleep."