Two of TV's greatest pranksters are bringing their highly unstable mix of anarchy and awkward to the big screen as they roll out the diamond carpet for "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie."
Comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim made a splash in 2004 with their Cartoon Network animated satire "Tom Goes to the Mayor," and continued to win a cult following on Adult Swim with "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" which featured bizarre infomercials, celebrity guests (Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Ben Stiller) and characters that looked like they were plucked out of a methadone clinic.
Now "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" finds the pair squandering a fortune on a terrible movie-within-a-movie starring a Johnny Depp lookalike. The psychotic billionaire who funded it wants his money back … in blood. The movie features guest cameos from Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Will Forte and Will Ferrell.
We chatted with Tim and Eric about why big stars love them, how to get a billionaire to play a hobo for you, and what the two of them fight about.
As kamikaze as the film is, it's surprising how much it adhered to classic movie structure, with a villain and a love interest.
Tim: We felt that those were the fundamentals of making movies, and if you f**k with that you're really gonna start f**king with people's ability to sit through it. We could have those little tentposts there and have a simple story and then be able to go crazy in other ways. It's obviously not the most traditional story and we're f**king with it all the time. We like movies and that experience and getting involved with the characters and stuff.
Were there rights issues in bringing back characters from the show, like Dr. Steve Brule?
Tim: Yeah, we made all those shows for Adult Swim, and Turner owns all that stuff. It's their property. We realized early on that we wouldn’t be able to use characters from the show without it being a legal nightmare, and then we felt like that was a good opportunity to make a movie that wasn't just for fans. It took a little bit of creativity to find new ways of doing things.
People were probably just as excited to see John C. Reilly no matter who he was playing. Would it be fair to say that a lot of the big names you attract to your show, and now your movie, are excited because they get to go balls-out in ways they don't in their mainstream roles?
Eric: Definitely. One of the reasons John C. Reilly did Brule on our show was he had this idea and loved our workspace. He could have as much time as he wanted to experiment and try things. It's a very different experience than the rest of Hollywood, our little world.
Does startling an audience get your comedy rocks off just as much as making them laugh?
Eric: Yeah, I mean we purposely made the movie to have these big, dynamic leaps into penis piercings and Tim taking a boy away from his father. Those are not necessarily laughing moments but, "Oh wow." We love that.
You got an actual billionaire to fork over the dough for this project. Does Mark Cuban play a hobo as well?
Tim: It's actually his partner, Todd Wagner. We wrote a part for both of them and it was a little too self-referential to who they are for them to be comfortable. (laughs) Or maybe his schedule didn't work out, I don't remember why.
Was this a no-strings-attached kind of deal?
Tim: Like the movie, "No Strings Attached"? No, yeah, we were given a small budget, but then after that, left alone. I think through "Awesome Show" we demonstrated that we're capable of doing stuff, and we've been able to do that because we've been left alone. That formula seemed to be not something anyone wanted to mess with. There were practical limitations, but no conceptual limitations.
There is an epic fistfight in this movie. What's something that you guys fight about in real life, with fists or otherwise?
Tim: I'm a Christian, he's a Muslim. That creates a LOT of tension.
Eric: A lot of friction in the workplace.
Especially around Ramadan?
Eric: We often work until daybreak, and then I have to pray, so he gets pissed.
How did the on-demand release last month create word of mouth?
Tim: It's created word of mouth. [laughs] The hardcore fans saw it, most of 'em loved it, have been tweeting about it. We met a guy who rented it four times, once out of curiosity, and then [he] kept renting it to have little screening parties. It's doubled the life of the movie because there's been all this smaller press, and once it hits theaters it'll reignite again for a slightly older, more serious audience. [laughs]
Another movie you're both in that premiered at Sundance was "The Comedy." That got a really divisive reaction. Were you expecting that?
Eric: I was coming from watching tons of f**ked-up art films. I expected a Sundance crowd to be more accepting of it. Everyone always talks about how f**ked up our movie is and that movie and people walking out. I feel like in both cases I was really surprised at people getting that offended.
Tim: The perception is different from the reality because there were some walkouts at Sundance the first night of that screening, but as it screened throughout the week at the Eccles theater, there were some walkouts but maybe 10 people out of 1,200. Most people I talked to on the street said they liked it, and some people didn't like it but then the next day said, "I slept on it and it's actually pretty amazing." There were a couple stories that came out and that became gospel, and it's probably good because it creates controversy.
The movie paints a pretty dark picture of Williamsburg hipster types. When it hits New York will there be even more vitriol from people who find themselves looking in a mirror as they watch it?
Tim: Nobody hates hipsters more than hipsters. So I think they'll love it!
Eric: I hope they do a Brooklyn screening. They should do one in the park.
I had the pleasure of actually seeing you guys perform your Crimbus show live. That was interesting because a friend roped me in and it was the first time I'd seen anything "Tim and Eric"-related.
Did touring help "grow the brand" or was it mostly for die-hards?
Tim: That's a good question.
Eric: I think by us getting out there and doing press and people talking about a live experience [it] definitely helped more people watch the show, but the live show was made for fans of the "Awesome Show." How did you feel about it after seeing it?
Tim: So you hadn't seen the video stuff before? You just walked into that theater being like, "Who the hell are Tim and Eric?"
Nothing. Totally cold, yeah.
Tim: That works on a different level of absurdity, 'cause there's no reference. A lot of the stuff in the live show are characters from the show, so you're coming to it with some understanding, but if you're just out there twisting in the wind ... You know, like what we're doing now on this promotional tour for the movie, there's a sudden reason for people to write articles and then people read those articles and Google your name. It makes practical sense. It's also meeting fans after the show and signing stuff and taking your picture with them that's like grassroots politics. These people take it personally and they become fans for life.
You guys also appeared on a really great episode of "The Simpsons" last year, and even wrote a song for it. Was that a double dream come double true?
Eric: Yeah, it was awesome.
Tim: That's something that our brains, my brain, won't be able to process for many years. Don't even want to think about what that means in the context of our career right now. It was fun to do, and maybe in 15 years I'll watch it on FOX reruns. It'll be on, and I'll be like, "Oh yeah, that really happened." It's crazy. Then again, the Red Hot Chili Peppers also did "The Simpsons," so you have to put it in perspective.
Does being on the most successful show of all time mean there's a mainstream iteration of your act?
Eric: I think the movie is as broad as we can get right now. As long as people keep financing our projects we're gonna keep it our vision. It's never a conscious thing like, "Let's expand this a little more."
The plan is to keep doing them like Cheech & Chong, a different thing every time?
Tim: That's in our minds right now because the relationship between the two characters can really put them in any situation. It's all about finding funny stuff to do. Yeah, that's sorta the way we're thinking of it.
You can do Tim and Eric in the Middle Ages, Tim and Eric in space…
Tim: You could see how good those movies turned out. Wasn't there a Cheech & Chong in the Middle Ages?
Yeah, "The Corsican Brothers."
Tim: Ugh, that's unwatchable.