Eric Wareheim reaches across the table and dips his pastrami on rye into the small cup of Russian dressing sitting next to my plate. As he pulls it back to his mouth without thought, there’s hope, for a moment, that he’ll shove it endlessly deeper, absolutely gorging himself in a mess of squirt sounds and viscous saucy meat. Over a decade of watching him and his partner Tim Heidecker in some of television’s most unique, bizarre, and grotesquely humorous scenes, such messiness is what we’ve come to expect from the guy. But, instead, he just swallows and laughs, recalling one of their earliest projects together that set a tone for most everything that followed.
While students at Temple University, they were driving through North Philadelphia and happened upon an odd “open air” DJ called “Sneaker” Pete Thompson, says Wareheim, sitting opposite Heidecker. “He had this DJ booth, and he would set up in front of Staples, because he knew the assistant manager, and he would play songs and sing on top of them, karaoke style—this big fat guy with huge, thick glasses. Tim and I drove by him and we’re like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ We just had to turn around and talk to him.”
Now, nearly 20 years later and more than a decade since their 2004 television debut with the crudely animated series Tom Goes to the Mayor, the two have parlayed their preference for eccentrics and awkwardness into a signature style honed over five seasons on their offthe-wall sketch spectacle Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! As their own creative oeuvre has grown to include an album, a number of actually funny and cool commercials, live tours, a film, and a self-help book called Tim and Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Easy Steps to Live a Perfect Life that will be out this summer, their growing scale has moved production out of Wareheim’s one-bedroom Echo Park apartment and into a massive new office space that houses their parent company Abso Lutely Productions in nearby Glendale, where they run four separate comedy series.
Pulling early influence from earnest weirdos like Thompson, sophomoric prank calls, cable-access TV, and the most uncomfortable moments of Spinal Tap, Tim and Eric have become cult heroes for delivering unnatural characters who have no place on-screen. This has been developed by hiring non-actors for their sketches, like veterinarians and cable guys, letting the camera run, and just hurling lines at them to repeat awkwardly. In addition, the duo has found a list of notable allies with the chops to step into similar roles with ease, including John C. Reilly, Bob Odenkirk, and Zach Galifianakis, among others.
Separately, Wareheim has established himself as a substantial music video and commercial director. Heidecker has a legitimate musical side project called Heidecker & Wood, and has impressed in film roles, including 2012’s The Comedy. But it’s their work as a team that has ushered in a lasting fad of non sequitur, strobing, out-there comedy. It’s infiltrated other shows and commercials, with brands such as Old Spice cashing in on their style of weirdness as a marketing tool—a natural by-product of young Tim and Eric fans now entering the creative industries, says Heidecker.
“Tim and Eric is a brand, really; it’s not just us,” says Heidecker. “Awesome Show was all these other people that were editors and people involved in the show. When we’re not working, those people go off and work. Kroll Show’s editors, Portlandia’s editors, a lot of them started with us, so their instincts are the same,” he continues. “If someone says, ‘Make this funnier,’ they’re going to add a ‘doing’ sound effect when they put their glasses on or something.”
The two are now settling into their new pseudo-horror series Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, which is preparing for its second season on Adult Swim. Despite their acclaim, Heidecker says it still feels like each new project comes with a fight. “Even with Adult Swim, we still both have this feeling like they’re gonna hate it, like it’s the last thing we’re ever gonna do,” he says. “It’s always a fight.... I feel like we still exist from the outside, fighting our way in. We’ve got some people who really support us, but it’s just like every project we do is starting over a little bit.”
Clearing his plate, Heidecker says, through a convincing grin, “Then we get the call saying they loved it.”