Sometimes there can be a fine line between idiocy and genius. I’ve had people try to convince me that George W. Bush must have been brilliant to come across like such a clueless dipshit, but I don’t buy it. Whether it stems from nature or nurture, the exploitation of a people’s trust, powerlessness, and limited education, for personal gain, is more of an automatic and selfish response than an ingeniously devised political tactic. I believe that his transparent buffoonery wasn’t intentional, but rather, unavoidable, like a menstrual stain seeping through a pair of linen culottes. Ironically, while the former President’s attempts to present himself as a scholar backfired by exposing his inadequacies, others, like the comedy duo of Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim, have actually utilized absurdity and foolishness to spotlight their intelligence for composition, timing, and astute observation. Obviously, self deprecation and a low brow approach to comedy aren’t enough to create something of quality, or even something that is funny or entertaining. Ralphie May and Larry the Cable Guy are prime examples of those attempts gone wrong. However, when fused with a well-constructed format and a fresh delivery, as Tim & Eric have been able to do, it is possible to tread the high-wire of comedic lunacy strung by legends like Charlie Chaplin and Jerry Lewis, without falling into a moronic cesspool with Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White and Joey Lawrence.
When The Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! first aired back in February of 2007, the bold contrast to the rest of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup was hard to ignore. The high energy introduction, with it’s choppy digital effects and retro Tron-esque graphics, provides a great example of what can be found interspersed throughout the rest of the program. There are random comedy skits, mock commercials, and musical numbers. Depending on the particular segment, the individual look can range from that of static-filled, low-quality public access programs with poor tracking, to frenzied schizophrenic light shows, like the Pokemon episodes that induced epileptic seizures in Japanese children back in the 1990s. Overall, the fragmented visuals and dated, brightly-colored geometric computer graphics are reminiscent of an instructional video you might be forced to watch in a Jr High health class, your first day of work for fast food restaurant, or when applying at a temp agency. This is an aesthetic that Eric Wareheim has carried over while directing videos for artists like The Bird and the Bee and MGMT.
Tim & Eric’s previous project, the web-toon turned TV show, “Tom Goes to the Mayor“, was produced by Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show) and was more story based. The Awesome Show has running themes, although they are often about “Tiny Hats” or trying to get anally penetrated from a kids musician, but it is much more segment oriented. Tom Goes to The Mayor was primarily animated but would often include short live action clips. In many ways, Awesome Show is quite the opposite. It is mostly composed of the live-action style clips that were only featured minimally on the previous program. Some of the live-action characters and subjects from TGTTM clips like Jan & Wayne Skylar (the married news team) and the fictional company “Cinco” were actually brought over to The Awesome Show and are now featured more prominently. Another formula that they have stuck with is the random celebrity cameos. Both shows have featured appearances by actor Jeff Goldblum and from comedians like Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis. The new format seems to allow for the comedy duo to increase their flexibility as artists. By creating a program focused around a schizophrenic grab bag of interests and ideas, the possibilities are limitless and the performers are even able to switch roles as straightman in their double acts. I feel that the doors which they have opened with the more random approach are great but, when they decided to take the act on a nation-wide tour, I was curious about how they would be able to pull it off live.
Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Tour
I actually didn’t expect to attend the opening performance on “The Tim and Eric Awsome Show, Great Job! Tour“. I had never received a response to my requests for passes but, on the day of the show, 2 tickets arrived in the mail. No letter or anything, just two loose tickets in an overnight mailer. I sent out an email confirming that I would have a photo pass waiting and made it down to the venue, about a half hour before the doors opened. I walked past a large tour bus on my way to Will Call and, as I picked up my pass, I was handed a third additional ticket as well. I called my friend Sean Prince to come down and we walked in to a large unimpressive warehouse known as The Showbox SODO. I haven’t heard the most positive feedback about the SODO as a venue and, unfortunately, I had to agree with the consensus. The stage was on the far wall of a square, brick room that looked like a serial killers basement and the roped off bar area at the opposite end was more like a beer garden. It was difficult to see the stage if you were standing too far on either side and the structure was not set up to allow for much of a view from anywhere beyond dead center. Visibility is essential for sketch comedy, so I managed to work my way up reasonably close before the opening act, DJ Dougg Pound, took the stage with his comedic techno DJ routine.
Dougg Pound’s act consists of him making pun-centric humor about things like “unconditional” love and shampoo, along with playing generic mixes on his equipment, while his coke-bottle glasses and headphones would slide off of his head. After each joke DP would ask the crowd, “Are you ready for the remix?!” He would then kick into cheesy happy-hardcore and house beats with awkward vocal samples taken from unorthodox sources, such as NPR. The sound of his mixes made it immediately clear that Douggpound has a hand in the upbeat music featured on the Awesome Show, so it was no surprise when he returned, wearing a black wig and a hat with a pot-leaf embroidery, to man the laptop and music controls for the headliners.
Before the show, a security guard asked me what he could expect. I gave him the same explanation that I gave my girlfriend’s mom earlier in the evening, “The only thing that I’m sure about is that there will definitely be at least one poop joke“. My suspicions were instantly confirmed when, after a brief video message from the elderly program regular Richard Dunn, Tim and Eric entered the stage singing a song about diarrhea. There was a giant screen behind them projecting images of active children, women with strollers, men in golf carts, swimming, etc. The word “diarrhea” appeared above them. Tim and Eric marched in shiny, tight, gold lamé body suits and sang the word “diarrhea” into headset mic’s like they were on the “Blonde Ambition Tour“. It was only moments before T&E broke the separation between themselves and the audience by climbing off stage, marching through the crowd, and guaranteeing that attendees would receive a little something more than they could by simply watching the program at home.
The “toilet” humor continued throughout the night with fake product ads from the trademark Cinco Family corporation. One product promoted full-length plastic underpants for adults to freely fill with their watery defecation on the go, while another commercial featured a contraption, involving a PVC pipe being mounted onto a urinal in a public restroom, to help modify it for use as a shower. The utilization of video wasn’t overdone and actually aided with transferring the feeling of the show to a live setting and helping the duo to smoothly transition between acts. The screen was also used to show exclusive clips and video from actors that would be, otherwise, too busy to be featured on the tour. One Cinco ad starred Alan Thicke selling apples dipped in a slimy sedative that looked like blue hair gel. John C Reilly also appeared in a video as his popular character from the show, the awkward Bob Ross wigged Steve Brule. The skit featured Brule wearing an anatomically correct Slim Goodbody-style suit and surrounded by school children.
Other major characters from the program actually did make it out on the tour. The crooning comedian/impressionist, James Quall, came out in his lip gloss, rouge, and standard tuxedo, with the glittery bow-tie and lapel, to offer up his poorly crafted brand of off-key tunes, forced jokes, and terrible impressions. Later, public access icon, David Liebe Hart, sat on a wooden stool with his puppets and performed classic tunes like “Salame” about his real life alien abduction in 1968. Hart first gained notoriety by performing in front of the Hollywood Bowl and through his cable show “The Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program“, also featuring Quall. When he is fully visible on camera, as is the case on the Awesome Show, it becomes instantly clear that Hart really possesses no ventriloquism skills and that his mouth is clearly moving and wide open. Both Quall and Hart individually entered the stage to applause and recognition. Tim and Eric have one of those programs that make you feel like you are the only one watching it in the world, so it was exciting to know that real fans were at the show and that they even existed. Although Quall and Hart’s appearances were highlights, they also worked as awkward speedbumps in the continuity of the show. On television they are shown in brief clips that mix in perfectly with the structure of rapid tangents but, it was almost painful for the audience to sit through their entire routines in a live setting. When black vocalist Sire “the Artist“ took the stage looking like a member of Ready for the World, his appearance was integrated much more smoothly. Sire sang the title song from the “Sexual Romance” skit while Tim humped a blow up doll in tiger drawls and Eric jealously fired a pistol at him in a red satin jacket and driving gloves.
Heidecker and Wareheim’s live act was set up like a great concert setlist. They provided all the hits that anyone could ever hope for, as well as new and unexpected material that made it worth getting off the couch and making the trip out to see them. The show had it all from a fake live infomercial to characters like Spagett and the duo as their “Kid Break” personas rapping the songs “I Kiss my Sister on the Lips” and “I’m Never Gonna Wipe My Butt“. For me, the part that made the show special was the interaction with the audience. During their sketch as the shrimp and white wine enthusiasts, “The Beaver Boys“, Eric pulled a bearded audience member on stage and dressed him in a wig and fake boobs to “trick” a blindfolded Heidecker. Whether they were dressed like toddlers, wearing suits, or sporting dayglo lycra with glow-stick piping, the comedians were reaching out to the audience and high-fiving them throughout the night. I recommend checking out one of the stops on The Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Tour 2009 if you get a chance, but come prepared with knowledge. At the end of the show the comedy team came out in robes and brought select attendees on stage for a show related quiz. Apparently, John C. Reilly has already appeared at some of the follow up shows on this tour. The transition from web to television to stage has been flawless and, as a whole, I’d say that the show was “awesome“. If I had to describe the performance in two words, I’d have to say “Great Job!“.