Tim Heidecker Talks The Comedy, in select theaters Friday, November 9th
Look deep into the eyes of Tim Heidecker during certain unhinged moments in this year's earlier release Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie, and you will see true demons rising to the surface. He is bitter. Angry. A man fighting against the world. And that's where some of his best comedic moments come from. Taken out of context, its not hard to see a man devoted to the craft of acting. He has a humanistic skill set that escapes even the most gifted of performers. It's a needed tool when delivering something as obscure and twisted as Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It's a true belief in the material that enables this particular comedian to sell it home.
Now, Tim Heidecker brings those same instincts to The Comedy. Despite its title, the movie only wades through a shallow pool of uncomfortable laughs before quickly descending into the madness of a tortured soul. It's more of a psychological horror movie than it is a straight forward drama. You will watch some scenes on the edge of your seat, fearful of the anticipated moment that you know is coming. Tim Heidecker has the ability to break your heart in strange and unexpected ways. He gets under the skin, crawls around for a good bit, and then works at ripping apart your spin so thoroughly, there's no way you'll be able to stand straight after murking through this shadow boxing match replete with all the nonconformist terror one could hope for in a so-called "comedy".
Yes. The Comedy is that kind of experience. Captivating and provocative. Never shocking for the sake of a reaction, but surly discomforting and itchy. Its not what you'd expect from the man who gave the world Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule. But then, yes, it's exactly what we should have expected.
Most humor comes from a very dark place. The Comedy doesn't mind going their and hanging out a bit. Its an important time capsule for the disengaged generation it thwaps against the sidewalk like a used condom. It's the type of movie that will stand the test of time, and it will be referenced and studied when it comes time to revisit the styles and trends so healthily on display.
We recently caught up with Tim Heidecker to find out what he had to say for himself in regards to his performance in The Comedy. A little bit sad, a little bit serious, it's clear that he never sets out with the intention of pushing buttons. But it's hard for the man not to do just that.
Here is our conversation.
The director described you as someone who is 'world weary'. Do you see that in yourself? And was that your way into finding this character?
Tim Heidecker: Um...Sure, yeah. I think I can tap into that pretty easily. I think, as a comedy writer, as a comedy guy, it starts with a skepticism and a cynicism about the world. A frustration at the way things are. In general. So, that comes out in humor. I'm tapping into that.
Do you set out to be a provocative actor? Or filmmaker? I realize, watching some of your work with an audience, you have the ability to really push buttons...
Tim Heidecker: That is not our prime goal. Our prime goal is to make stuff that we enjoy making. Stuff that entertains us, and the people we know. We are not coming at it from a sense of wanting people to not like something. We are not working towards anti-comedy. It's just our sense of humor. Some of that comes from creating disturbing things. And creating unsettling moments. But that is the work we deal with.
When I saw Billion Dollar Movie...By the way, two completely different experiences, just amazing that they are coming out in the same year...But I think I saw it at the screening right before it played Sundance. There is this little group of old men and old woman who go to this particular screening room...
Tim Heidecker: Oh, boy...
They got up and walked out in disgust. The thing is, they were so vocal about their disgust, they made it known to the whole room. The audience that was there, who knew you guys and your comedy, thought this was too funny. Its like, their disgust at what they were watching was an added bonus. A joke that seemed to encompass the room. It happened during the scene where Zach Galifianakis falls into the swimming pool...
Tim Heidecker: Really? That is pretty innocuous. Huh?
I think it was the noise. The screaming. But it was immersive theater, in a way. Watching these old folks who couldn't get up fast enough, and watching the screen at the same time...
Tim Heidecker: Oh, boy...Yeah, we saw that happen at Sundance for sure. I don't put too much stock into it. I think, if you put me in a theater showing What to Expect When You're Expecting, I will probably walk out in disgust of that. It's all about what you are putting in front of people, and what's appropriate to them. Both of these movies were shown in this larger form, and it puts too much of the population into those seats. (Laughs) The movies are not necessarily made for your grandparents...
But its fun to show it to them...
Tim Heidecker: I don't know. I don't get any kinds of kicks out of that. It's not what I am interested in. Upsetting anyone intentionally.
That's actually pretty insightful. After watching Billion Dollar movie the first time, I thought maybe that was an intention in making the film. That being provocative on that level was one of the reasons it existed. But its not...
Tim Heidecker: No.
The people in The Comedy, this group of individuals that many stereotype as being hipsters, they almost seem stuck in wax amber. I'm not seeing a change in the trends as quickly as some of the other cultural groups who impact styles of the time. Is this movie taking place in modern day? Or is it taking place a couple of years ago?
Tim Heidecker: I think it takes place in the present. We shot it about a year and a half ago. So I guess it takes place a year and a half ago.
You guys nail the atmosphere and look of the Williamsburg culture on its head, its authentic in a way few films are...
Tim Heidecker: Yeah. Right. I think Rick Alverson was very concerned and precious about the clothes, and the shirts we were wearing, and the sunglasses, and the whole thing. It was very intentional. Its funny to think that it is a period piece from this year, or the last couple of years, for sure. But in time, the way that everybody looks is evocative of our parents. The style makes it seem like a weird period piece of people dressing up like they are from another generation. (Laughs) 70s glasses, and stuff. It was very much about creating a real thing. A real world.
I had this dialogue a few days ago, before I sat down and watched the movie. What would people in the future try to immolate from this time period. We're so reliant on our own nostalgia now, what would nostalgia for this time period look like. The Comedy is what it would look like. This is what it is. And it's hard to get that right. Movies don't, for the most part, get that right, because they push it too far into the realm of cliché. It becomes a cartoon of that subculture or trend. It becomes cartoonish.
Tim Heidecker: Yes. Right. It becomes very styled. On movies, you have a lot of stylists that get things too pretty. Everything gets steamed and ironed. It's just not the way we really behave. There is a scene in the movie where the back of my shirt rips. And the back of the shirt remains ripped. It surely adds a great kind of quality to it. That is real. I'm glad you noticed that.
In discussing the rest of the cast with your director, he explains that he brought on Tim, and Gregg Turkington, because he felt those people would be genuine. That it would be easier to play off that existing chemistry between you guys. That it would be more naturalistic. Did you agree with that conceit. Is that why you wanted them in the movie as well?
Tim Heidecker: Yeah. That was the idea from the beginning. To cast people that are comfortable with each other. People that had their own sort of comedy language. Their own sensibility. For a movie that is shot on such a low budget, there is not a lot of time, creatively, to be able to jump into the deep end. Especially when you don't know these people already.
Gregg Turkington is so much different than his Neil Hamburger persona. Did you always know this was a guy who could knock it out of the park, so to speak, in delivering this certain type of dramatic performance acting opposite you? Were you aware of what he could bring to a movie like this? Or was that a surprise to you, when you first saw what he was doing?
Tim Heidecker: I was pretty confident that he could pull it off. I know that people need to warm up into things. I think everyone was a little nervous. A little unsure of how this was going to work, because none of us had ever done this before. I think that goes for everybody. It was going to take a little bit of warming up. We all knew the kinds of movies we liked to watch. We all agreed on the tone. We had a very similar interest in that respect. Once we got into it, we relaxed about it. It felt like we could be relaxed, and bring out heightened versions of ourselves.
So, when you look at the movie, you do see yourself somewhat in the character of Swanson?
Tim Heidecker: Well, I see...Um, it's interesting. I can kind of watch it as an out of body experience. It's a combination of me and my sense of humor, but at the same time, I would never go that dark. I would never go that evil in the delivery of it, or in the ideas. I would never be that provocative in my own life. I don't dress that way. There are things that are different from me. But I didn't try to inhabit a different personality. In the way that Jack Nicholson, from movie to movie, is just Jack Nicholson. You know? That was the way we approached this. Don't try to stretch too far beyond your own strength and instinct. At the same time, turn off any kind of regulators when it comes to certain takes, and their appropriateness. You know?
You talk about watching the movie as an out of body experience. I have a friend named Seann Mantooth. You look and act like him so much in this film, at times I felt like I was watching him. It really took me out of everything you've ever done in the past. So, I wasn't watching it as though I were watching Tim Heidecker. For me, it never struck me that I was watching you play this character. Which is, I guess, why they call it acting...
Tim Heidecker: Yeah, right, I think that is good. I think people have been able to watch it...Regardless of what they are saying about the movie, no one is saying they couldn't get into the movie because I was in it. I haven't really heard that. That would have been disastrous. If people were watching this movie, and all they could think about was Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, or Spaghet. Me dancing around in tights, that would be really bad for the movie. I think people have been able to separate the two.
It was actually hard for me to separate the performance from Seann Mantooth in my head...
Tim Heidecker: (Laughs) Yeah!
I don't mean for that to sound dumb, but its one of those things were I'm like, "God, I'm watching Seann Mantooth. This is unnerving." It's so weird...
Tim Heidecker: Right...
The opening scene, with the underwear dancing and the beer spitting...That helps distance you from your past work, and the same goes for Tim. Was that the intention of opening the movie with that scene? Was it calculated?
Tim Heidecker: That was always the opening of the movie. That was a decision of Rick's.
The scene between you and the girl at the party is sort of terrifying. Definitely very uncomfortable for an audience to sit through. What went into capturing that moment?
Tim Heidecker: How did we approach it? I think it was condensed in the editing. But generally, I think that was the idea. That there was this flirting. There was almost a human moment. Almost a sweet moment between these two. They seemed to really get along. But then there is a record scratching there. There is a stopping to that moment. It was in the way it was written. That was me flirting, and trying to be charming and goofy. Rick cut it in a way that is abrupt and shocking. Liza Kate really did her homework. She commited to wanting to lock in this performance. I think it's a disturbing and shocking scene, that, really, on its own, there is not a lot going on. But in terms of the content of the movie, it comes at a place that is very affecting. I can't tell you why that is. It is pretty universal. I understand why people react to it.
How did Liza Kate survive you tugging at her face?
Tim Heidecker: You mean without cracking up? Or what?
Yes. She is lying so still. You keep expecting her to laugh, or react, or something...
Tim Heidecker: Yeah. She is a good actress.