Comedy wouldn’t look the way it does today without Tim Heidecker. One half of the venerable comedy duo Tim & Eric, Heidecker has largely been known for his surreal style, and has given rise to comedians and projects of similar absurdity (The Eric Andre Show, Nathan For You, 555) through his production company Abso Lutely Productions. He’s appeared in a slew of movies over the years, such as Bridesmaids, The Comedy, and Mister America, but has also crossed over into other genres with appearances in projects like Ant-Man and the Wasp and Us. Following Trump’s election, he released an album of parody songs called Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump. His most recent album, High School, is a straightforward indie rock album about childhood and growing up—a pivot from the comedian with a notoriously bizarre affect. On his current tour, The Two Tims, Heidecker embraces both halves of his artistic production, spending the first half of the show as his stand-up character and the second half as a regular musician. I talked with Heidecker about the balance between absurdity and earnestness, the intersection of comedy and horror, and how to change with the culture.
You’ve done a ton of different types of projects over your career. How would you describe this one?
It’s total joy. I get to do two very different things within the span of two hours. So I get to flex two different muscles that I enjoy flexing. And nothing goes on too long. The show flies by because it’s so dynamic and the mood of the show kind of changes throughout the night. It’s exhausting. It’s probably physically the most challenging thing I’ve had to do. It’s a weird word, but me and the band use it a lot—it’s a joyful night. It feels very satisfying for us and I think it does for the audience, too.
Are you partial to one half of your show?
It’s like picking my children. [laughs] I feel more supported during the second half with the band. It’s a little easier in a way. I don’t know, there’s challenges for both. Everything goes too fast. I don’t have a preference; I don’t know. These are tough questions, you’ve really got me in a corner here.
I guess I just know that one character, the character that you play, is a lot more—is a challenging character. And one half is a lot more earnest. Do you have specific challenges or things you enjoy about both of those things?
The challenge in the first half, which is the stand-up character, is not blowing my voice out and giving everything I have, because I need to kind of hold onto something for the second half of the show. The adrenaline of coming out and just screaming at people is very tempting and I have to try to find the balance of still giving it a lot but not ruining my voice. But the thing is, the people that come to the show kind of know what they’re gonna get. Especially with the stand up. So it’s very hard to offend people, it’s very hard to confuse people, because they know what the deal is. It’s almost like I’m pretending to be a bad guy and the audience pretends to be a bad audience in the sense that they’re laughing at this terrible comedian.
Then the only challenge with the second part is that there’s the technical issues. I’m using a guitar with pedals and cords, and I didn’t really appreciate how hard that can be up until doing it every night, where there’s a million things that can go wrong and I’m flailing all over the stage and giving 100%. So a guitar cable’s gonna come flying out of the jack, or I’m gonna step on the wrong pedal, or I’m gonna trip over the monitors. It’s like you’re up there in the middle of a battle or something. There’s just so many ways to get hurt and so many ways to screw up that you’re just trying to dodge—it’s like you’re going through an obstacle course.
Your work is known for being very absurd and surreal. But I think even before you’ve taken this more earnest turn with your music, I think there is a streak of earnestness in your comedy. Can you talk about that balance of doing the really absurd thing but having heart behind it?
That’s a good observation. Certainly with Eric [Wareheim] and I, we weren’t being earnest necessarily in the presentation of our work, but I think there was a consistency to it and a purpose behind it that felt intentional. There was thoughtfulness behind it. From us, and our whole team. There was a unified vision and unified set of rules that, for us, equaled something that wasn’t just throwing stuff up at the wall and seeing what sticks. There was certainly a lot of freedom and experimentation. Maybe a sidebar, but somebody asked how we came up with some weird, absurd line I said in some episode that was like a nonsense word, and I was like: There’s no way I thought about that, it just came out. There’s a lot of instinct in improv and stuff, but yeah, I think everything we do, there’s a core purpose behind it and intentionality and care put into it, and I think you’re feeling that when you’re enjoying it.
Having this more direct, earnest music outlet—how has that been for you?
It’s challenging. It’s fun to do when I’m doing it with the right people. I love playing music; I love getting to play music with other people, so the creation of all this stuff is always very fun. You know, reacting to the reactions of it—not always how I want it to be, but over time it’s kind of trickled into the consciousness of my audience, that this is something I like doing. And enough people have appreciated it and sent nice messages and stuff that I feel good about it. But you know, I’m always comparing myself to other people and judging it against the broader landscape of indie rock music. I always want more, I want to do better, I want to improve on this side of my creative output.
One of my favorite performances of yours is in Us. I know you’ve done horror stuff also, but I was wondering what you see as the connection between the horror and the comedy.
Well, there’s certainly a lot of horror in the comedy that we do. I think whereas some styles of comedy are meant to be more passive and life-affirming and, you know, recreational in the way you watch them, I think our comedy tends to be way more visceral and interactive. We want reactions out of you, we want you to be confused or disgusted—and I think horror does a lot of the same thing. And sometimes we end up spoofing horror, or using horror or body horror, or gore, blood and guts and stuff in a funny way. Whereas horror will take it seriously. I think we use the same tools as horror often, but we’re looking for slightly different results.
Is there ever going to be a more straight-on horror thing that you do?
I’ve got a couple ideas that would fit into that. They’d be more in the Ari Aster, Jordan Peele…
Yeah, I think that’s my question. Because I’ve hoped for that day to come.
Yeah, not a gorefest. I’m not a big horror fan, but I mean, I love David Lynch, of course. There’s a lot of horror in that world. And Eric and I have a couple ideas, we’ve just been a bit lazy about actually getting ideas down and pitching them in a way that makes them a reality.
I was talking to somebody about this the other day, it’s like still kinda coming out of that pandemic feeling. I don’t feel like doing much in terms of work. The tour has been great, and it’s really fun, and it is work. But in terms of like, television and movies and stuff, it feels like there needs to be kind of a change in the vibe of the people making these things. It’s not the right time. So we’re just kinda waiting for that to maybe feel better. I like horror, I like working there, but I also want to do silly, stupid stuff and make people laugh. There’s only so much you can do. I’d be happy to act in horror. I’d be happy to show up and play a serial killer. But yes, ideas are brewing, but I don’t really want to reveal anything specific.
I know that you recently got off of Twitter. First of all, congratulations.
I was wondering what the final tipping point for you was.
It was this argument that I engaged [in] with some people that are leading the boycott of Bud Light and Target and all the places that were embracing Pride Month. And I’m very protective of my LGBTQ+ community, and friends of mine, and certainly a lot of my audience, and my own history growing up with a lot of great gay men in my life who inspired me to do what I do. So I get very mad when I see these people trying to turn back the clocks, you know? And turn back progress. So I got into it with them, and they showed these [tweets] on their shows, and that encouraged this mob of scary trolls who—a lot of it’s of course hyperbolic, but there’s this nasty homophobic current happening right now. It’s pretty fucked up. So, you know, I could stay on that service and fight, but it’s not really doing any good. I decided it’s just better to abandon this ship of Twitter and let them all just talk to themselves. The more people that get off that site that are progressive-minded people, I think maybe just let that site go to sea. Let it cost Elon Musk his fortune. Let it be the big folly of his life.
What shifts have you noticed in comedy since you’ve started? And also in your approach to comedy?
Well, culture changes. It’s always changing. I think if you’re not gonna change with it then you are going to be making stuff that feels stale or offensive or hurtful in the wrong ways. I think a lot of people start in comedy young and hungry and not really worried about any of that stuff. If I have changed in any way I think it’s growing and being more sensitive perhaps to other people and other people’s problems and issues. There’s just things that we would do maybe 10 years ago that we wouldn’t do now for various reasons. And that’s just a sensitivity to the changing culture, I guess. There’s still a million ways to be funny, and still outlets to be funny, but if you’re going to be stubborn about it and not adjust your sensibilities to the changing world then you’re gonna have to either play to a certain kind of vile audience, or you’re going to just be angry and bitter all the time.
There are creative ways to make fun of everything, or to find comedy in everything, or find humor in everything. I try to do that. I try not to say, “Oh I don’t want to get near this topic because it might offend somebody.” But if I feel the instinct to go towards that topic I just make sure it’s for the right reason, and not just for a cheap laugh.
illustrations by Sadie Wiese