Rick Alverson Talks The Comedy

Rick Alverson Talks The Comedy, in select theaters Friday, November 9th

If you are heading into The Comedy expecting a follow-up to Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie, you are in for quite a shock. While the film does offer a few early laughs from star Tim Heidecker, the story quickly descends into pitch black territory, and what we're left holding creeps deep into the horror genre. It's a disturbing psychological drama about a man whose life has no real meaning, as he sits and very impatiently awaits his father's death so that he can live out the rest of his life with little to no responsibilities.

The Comedy is also a time capsule of our current trendier than thou hipster culture, and it dissects that well-worn disenfranchised soul with an X-acto knife. It's an important look at the disintegration of the human spirit, while also being about hope and forgiveness. It falls at various different degrees, and will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It's a polarizing film, and it's director, Rick Alverson, knows this.

We recently caught up with Rick to chat about the film. Why he made it. Why he cast Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim together. In roles that are far removed from their Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! personas. We also chatted about beer and the term 'hipster'.

Here is our conversation.

Is 'Hipster' the correct term for these people we are watching in this movie?

Rick Alverson: It is kind of a ridiculous classification. (Laughs) I think more than anything, it's a description of a certain world, or conception of the world, or a nucleolus of a cultural kind of experience. It doesn't mean that much, and it's a vague kind of indicator. You know how these things go. People need something that is palpable and rigid in order for them to engage with your work at all (laughs).

I know the film takes place in Williamsburg. My girlfriend works over in Echo Park. I see people who look, and act, and talk like the people that are presented in this movie. When you are around these people, they don't ever call themselves hipsters, but once you step behind the glass, that's what other people call them. Especially those who point a finger at them, and say, "I hate those hipsters."{/quote

Rick Alverson: It is just a convenient sort of thing. Williamsburg is an example of a cultural nucleolus, where people believe they are on the cusp of something. It's this idea that you can believe that you are at the cusp of the cultural experience. I know some people in Williamsburg feel that. That, more than anything, is what interested me in it. At the cusp of this idea in culture, you can have it be tepid and spoiled, and redundant. It seemed to be useful.

The movie really struck me in terms of its accuracy and authenticity, and how exacting the edge of the knife is here, and how deep it goes. You can't fake this. I didn't know anything about the movie before I sat down to watch it...

Rick Alverson: That's good.

Looks and trends. I see these people all the time. Just head down Sunset before it turns into Caesar Chavez. Yet, I have never seen a movie that captures that essence as perfectly as you have here. This really, more than anything, is going to serve as a unique time capsule for our current decade. It serves almost as a scrapbook...

Rick Alverson: That is a pleasant byproduct of the thing. There is a real interest in this budding naturalism that is in the thing. If anything, we worked against the cultural stereotype of the hipster. There are the indicators, from the Ray Bans, to the Vans, to the American Apparel shirts. These things are in there. But it's not the cookie cutter, Hollywood stereotype kind of thing. Where everyone has a handlebar mustache, and everyone has that particular style of hair. There is diversity in there. I think the legitimate, honest thing...The way to approach any kind of demographic is to show contradiction. And there is plenty of contradiction in there. Maybe that's what seems real about it. If that is the case? Them I'm happy about it.

That's what it is. You nailed it on the head. I have yet to see anyone else get this right, like it is in the movie. Even the so-called hipsters that try to do this in some of the other low budget indie films I have seen, push it too far into the land of stereotype. I feel here as though I am watching a camera glide through the reality of this set up and situation.

Rick Alverson: Oh, good!

As I said, I was shown this film without knowing, literally, anything about what it was. Or who was even in it. I'm a fan of Tim and Eric. I know you get this all the time, but how did you get hooked up with these guys? And why was it important to have both of them in the film? Because that almost seems like a distraction to the drama.

Rick Alverson: Yeah...I was familiar with their work. I approached them, and I realized that Tim was maybe right for the protagonist. It was really important for me to have Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in the movie, as it was to have their friends in the movie, along with their colleague Gregg Turkington, who plays Neil Hamburger. Jeffrey Jensen as well. It was a group of folks that knew each other. They were at a particular chemistry that I could hijack, for lack of a better word. So.

I watched this film alongside some colleagues who you might perceive as hipsters if you saw them from a distance. Whenever Tim is doing one of his noises, or playing to one of his signature traits that we've come to know him for, in this movie, especially in the beginning, I hear these laughs. They aren't genuine laughs. They seem to be a sort of higher than thou, I am smarter than you laughs. Like, this isn't funny, but I understand it and you don't, so I am going to acknowledge that I am smarter than you by making this noise, kind of laugh. Do you know what I am talking about? I heard it all through Billion Dollar Movie as well. It seems to come with watching Tm and Eric...

Rick Alverson: Watching this with a lot of people, with different demographics, is really interesting. I believe that it is a drama. I consider it a horror story. And it's tragic. But that doesn't mean I don't understand where the humor comes from. I am very aware. It depends on where I am at, during a certain point of the day, whether I will let myself go there or not. I have tried to dissect that to some degree. Some people are trying to take the movie as just a straight indictment. And they are surprised by the joy some others might find in different actions, or what they believe is joy. I fundamentally believe that the humorous moments in the movie are derived by the audacity of engaging in the subject matter. A particular word. Events. It is much more about an exasperated, joyful release. The cathartic audacity of something. Crossing a protocol. It's the infringement of a typical propriety. I think that these things are what are being challenged. Not the actual subject matter that it is pointing to. I think you could question a lot of people that laugh during some of the scenes that involve race. I think they are laughing at the audacity of the character. And the audacity, honestly, of the depiction. I really doubt...I think you'd find it hard pressed to get inside these people's private lives to find the smallest...


The phone has gone dead...


Rick Alverson: I am back! I thought maybe you'd just had enough of me.

No, I was listening to you, the call dropped...

Rick Alverson: By the way, that's all I have to say about that!


Rick Alverson: The dropped call was the punctuation to what I was saying.

Exactly. But what I am saying is, I know a genuine laugh when I hear one. And I know a scoff...

Rick Alverson: I suppose that might be out there. Its something I have no relationship to.

Yeah. It is the same with Billion Dollar movie. It's almost an elitist sort of laugh. Did you see Tim & Eric's movie?

Rick Alverson: Yes. I saw it at Sundance. Yeah. It's hard for me to speak to the fans of Tim and Eric. And the people that go see their comedy. I really don't know. These two movies are very different to me. They share the common fact of Tim and Eric's sensibilities. But they are couched in totally different environments.

I know Gregg Turkington a little tiny bit. This performance here is 360 degrees away from what he does as Neil Hamburger. And I can't recall ever seeing him act outside that persona. Did you know what he could give your film in terms of his work as an actor before you signed him up for this? Or did you bring him on solely because he is a friend of Tim and Eric's, and a frequent collaborator?

Rick Alverson: I think I reached out to him first, before I even talked to Tim and Eric. I have a lot of respect for Gregg's sensitivity and his disgust. I think that they are both real assets to work with. He is just an amazing person. Yeah.

Tim is profound in this. His work as a dramatic actor is going to surprise some people, but even looking at Billion Dollar Movie, there is bitterness in that role that sort of eases its way out. You never get the sense that he is trying to be funny. In fact, I felt a deep resentment or rage coming from within him, both here and in his work from earlier this year...Even in Bridemaids he seems a little off...

Rick Alverson: To some degree, when I bring someone onto a project, I will look at their work. But more than anything, it happens when I sit down with them, and I see their demeanor. Tim Heidecker is a very smart man, with a very accessibly sensitivity. I don't know. There is a world weariness that he has. That I share. That is a very human side of him, which I knew would contrast with the reckless demeanor of the protagonist, and some of that propagandistic humor that I knew was accessible to him.

Maybe this will be a dumb question...But I want to ask about Pabst and its involvement with the film. The Pabst Brewing Company has been really generous to indie movies in the past, especially in films where the beer is not being portrayed in a positive light. Like with Will Ferrell's role in Everything Must Go, where he plays an alcoholic, whose constant guzzling of Pabst is not an appetizing advertisement for the product. Again, it was the same with Pabst's Rainier Beer in The Catechism Cataclysm.

Rick Alverson: (Laughs)

Pabst seems to be the only real beer willing to participate in these kinds of movies. What is the behind the scenes nature of their participation in that? Is it because they understand the audience for a movie like this is going to be drinking Pabst while they watch the movie? They understand the culture?

Rick Alverson: I didn't actually deal with Pabst. My kind producers Mike S. Ryan and Brent Kunkle dealt with them. Its good to have a beer where you don't have to worry about turning it while you are in the middle of a scene. So, it seems to me...They will put their product in a movie regardless of its content, because of their demographics that they sell too. Certain urban hip folks, or working class folks, they don't really give a shit about that type of advertising. Pabst seemed to be really generous. It was very easy to realize their product, for lack of a better word. (Laughs)

It does bring a certain, palpable authenticity to the movie. Some people also think that Pabst Blue Ribbon is a cliché of that culture...

Rick Alverson: Yes. But it's an active cliché. I don't have any problems dealing with clichés. It's usually about dealing with the environment around clichés that make them reprehensible kinds of depictions. Yeah. You have this really distilled, remote, satellite kind of cultural world of Richmond, Virginia, where I live. You go into certain bars, and there are echoes of these certain products, or cultural indicators from Brooklyn. They sell Pabst in all of these bars in Richmond. Its what everyone orders. Maybe that is changing now. I am 41. I don't frequent these places like I used to. I do know that some clichés are real.

That cliché is very real. It's the two dollar beer in Silverlake, when you go in a bar. That and Schlitz. Sorry, I won't take up any more of your time talking about beer and the movie...

Rick Alverson: No, this is good.

I honestly think this is a very unique film. And I believe that it is going to stand the test of time, and that it is going to stand out as a movie that defines a certain moment in time, culturally. How do you see it pushing you forward as a filmmaker?

Rick Alverson: It's an interesting engagement with a larger audience. A flirtation with that audience, and things that I believe will bring them to the table. It's also a lesson, in not just understanding the appetite of your audience, but also that audience's willingness to be really challenged by the medium. I found that there is a ceiling on that. A legitimate, and maybe even unfortunate, threshold of people who want their entertainment to be a palpable, self-affirming, placating thing. So, that has been really interesting to see. It has really educated me on engaging with those things in other films.