In the few short years since his flagship Adult Network series, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, premiered in 2007, Tim Heidecker has established himself as the clown prince of improv awkwardness. Despite building a comfortable niche in his area of expertise, Heidecker has in his most recent film, The Comedy, begun to hold a dark mirror up to a pervasive phenomena of cultural irony and sarcasm, two things he has become synonymous with.
Marking Tim’s first foray into drama, the film follows Swanson, a self-loathing and affluent loafer who commits his limited energies to either lounging with his fellow aging Brooklyn hipsters in a self-indulgent haze, or laying siege to a general populace whose genuineness alienates him. With a sardonically venomous manner of speech and emotional remoteness, Heidecker’s Pagliacci has become an instant icon of arrested development.
I sat down with the man himself, and talked all about the difficulties of playing a troubled character, the new experience of working in drama, and his future plans for Tim and Eric and Dr. Steve Brule.
Cultural Transmogrifier: Tim, I just want to dive into the question that the world wants to know: How did you prepare for the role of Dougie in Bridesmaids?
Tim Heidecker: (Chuckles) Umm, to be honest, I didn’t do much.
CT: The Comedy is a unique film and, perhaps more importantly, a departure from your body of work in humor. Speak a little on the way your director, Rick Alverson, first addressed your character of Swanson and the concept of the film with you.
Tim: He laid it out to me that this character is a privileged, trust-fund guy that doesn’t need to work and is still living in that post-collegiate, partying and drinking life that maybe should have ended a few years ago.
CT: What fascinated you most about the material and particularly this type of person?
Tim: It was an area that I just hadn’t seen done well in film. I saw in Swanson similarities with people that I identify with. That style of communication and language that he uses hasn’t really been dealt with properly and I thought this could be an opportunity to explore that.
CT: Your director spoke about the character as being a casualty of the modern world, desensitized to an environment where everything is attainable. What was it about this broad theme that attracted you?
Tim: I felt like the movie was an examination of this kind of character that felt isolated and lacking some kind of genuine grounding in his life. I connected with that, since I’ve found that there are a lot of people of my age group that are a little rudderless and have a disconnection from the world. There’s a sense that, while most people aren’t as wealthy as Swanson, they can live in their little circles and don’t have to worry about anyone else. So, these were the things that I think interested me from a human sociological point of view.
CT: You’ve said that although you see parallels between yourself and Swanson, you are not nearly as jaded. How then did you summon some of his darker elements?
Tim: I think there’s a sense of humor that exists that I share with him, which I used in the movie. It’s the main place where I can connect with and understand him. But what we wanted to do was to take his jokes to the extreme and make it more intense and more confrontational, to the point where it becomes very uncomfortable to watch.
CT: As much as you had to embody the character, did you find it difficult to reserve blame for the deplorable things he does?
Tim: I think that’s for the audience to have their own experience. I just wanted to play him as real and honest as possible and not let the film be judgmental towards him. We left that to the audience.
CT: I’ve spoken to your director, who is a very insightful and unique individual. Talk about working with Rick Alverson, who claimed that his main job was to make the film less funny.
Tim: Yeah, Rick wanted to make a serious film but he knew that casting me would involve some humor inserted throughout it. But he pushed us to a place where we were outside of our comfort zone and doing something different and challenging.
CT: There are so many things that inform the character as a tragic figure and make us grasp for a motivation, from his affluence to his dying father. How did you shape your own character from Rick’s dialogue-free 20 page script?
Tim: We spent a lot of time looking into the different modes this character would be in based on the situation that the script put him in. We wanted to shine some light in and see how he might behave when no one is watching or when he’s dealing with other people, and try to find a little sympathy there. So, depending on the situation, we addressed how we imagined he might act.
CT: How much shaping was required between takes to get reach harmony with Rick on how the character should be portrayed?
Tim: Well, there wasn’t that much time, you know? We were under time constraints due to the small budget. So we didn’t mess around. We got in there and just did it. We had faith in what we were doing and trusted each other. We took two or three takes each at most.
CT: Even though there is a lot of comedy in The Comedy, it’s hardly for the purpose of eliciting laughter. Did you have any reservations about working in a dramatic field after working so much with humor?
Tim: Yeah, there were definitely some reservations. I had to think about it for a bit and talk to friends. But, it always felt like the thing to do, to broaden my field, and that always seemed like a good sign to me.
CT: What were your main concerns? Were you nervous that people might start questioning whether you were trying to be a comedian or dramatic actor?
Tim: That was it. That was the issue in my mind, what the perception would be. So far it’s been working out. People have understood that it was just a choice based on the investment in the role, and doesn’t reflect on any of the other work I’ve done or will do.
CT: I know you’ve had your fingerprints in almost everything you’ve done, but you entered The Comedy from a strictly performance standpoint. How was this project different from the ones you’ve had more personal control over?
Tim: Like you said, it wasn’t my idea, it wasn’t something we were directing, but I immediately liked the director and got along with and trusted him. Everything I’ve ever done, the stuff with Eric [Wareheim] obviously, but even my music, or the stuff I do with Gregg [Turkington] on my podcast, it’s always in collaboration. So it’s always fun to make stuff with people, especially people that you like and respect. This was just another case of collaborating with a person that shared my interest in doing something different.
CT: Irony, sarcasm, and anti-comedy are central to the film, but obviously dealt with in a different way from your work with Tim and Eric. What trends did you see in how these two address these things?
Tim: I think we dabble in uncomfortable situations and try to create a level of irony to everything. We both have an absurd, skewed sense of the world and some disconnection from the more mainstream, traditional elements of culture. So, I think that’s the beginning of a good friendship there.
CT: Are you comfortable with this realm of drama now—is it something you’d like to explore further, or was this a one-time venture?
Tim: I don’t think I’ll be ruling anything out. I just want to keep doing interesting projects, be it drama, comedy, western, or sci-fi. I try not to think of things as so genre-defined. I’m just interested in making cool and satisfying things. And that’s not limited to movies, either. That goes for TV shows or music or whatever.
CT: Talk a little about Sundance, where the film premiered.
Tim: We were chosen to be exhibited and be part of competition. It’s a pretty cool environment. It’s hectic and the pressure with the film is to see who’s going to buy it, and that whole side is interesting and fun to watch. It was a great experience.
CT: Where do you go from here with personal projects?
Tim: It’s to be determined. I don’t have a clear idea. I’m making stuff with Eric right now. What’s on my mind is just to keep making stuff, keep delivering. Someone might see this movie and cast me in their movie; that would be neat. We’ll see.
CT: Will we be seeing Dr. Steve Brule (played by John C. Reilly) again?
Tim: I hope so, friend. I do. We’re trying to make it so that sometime next year, we’ll shoot another series, schedule depending. It’s just so hard to get everyone in the same room.
The Comedy is now open in limited theaters and available instantly on Video on Demand.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSrh7o-Ia_U]