Tim Heidecker talks 'The Comedy'
Writer-director Rick Alverson’s new movie is called The Comedy and stars funny man Tim Heidecker. But the film is actually a semi-improvised drama about a New York slacker-type who spends a good deal of screen time hanging out with pals played by Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem singer James Murphy. So what’s up with the title? “You can interpret that as being sarcastic but I don’t think it’s purely a ‘F— you,’” says Heidecker, who together with Wareheim stars on the Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! “We talked a lot about the way these characters almost exclusively communicate through their own wit.”
While the film may be deliberately short on belly laughs it is long on footage of Heidecker’s own naked, and rather cuddlesome, stomach. “I said to the director before we shot it, ‘This guy’s supposed to be a hipster. Shouldn’t I get really skinny?'” says the actor. “He was like, ‘No, I think you’re just like a guy that drinks too much Pabst. We’ll go that direction.’ At a Q&A someone was like, ‘Why would I want to watch some fat guy?’ I was like, ‘I’m not Dom Deluise!’”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Comedy is not the easiest film to summarize. How would you describe it to, say, an aged aunt?
TIM HEIDECKER: I’d say, “It’s a character study of a directionless, cool, trust fund guy. I guess it’s about a midlife crisis taking place in slow motion.” Then, if I kept going I might lose her. But I’m not really interested in that audience.
It sounds like you hate your imaginary aged aunt.
Yeah. [Laughs] She’s driving me nuts.
You give a very different, much more subtle kind of performance from what we are used to seeing on Tim and Eric. What was it like occupying that space?
The challenge was adding realism to it and making the performance smaller. In the world of Tim and Eric, everything is big and ridiculous and absurd. The film needed to feel real. I’m not classically trained, or anything like that. But, as a filmmaker, I understand that the camera is right up in your nose and anything you do or anything you say is going to be just huge on camera. So I just always tried to keep things subtle and small and real. The film was mostly improvised—the dialog was improvised, I should say—and that adds realism. If you can get away with making it feel like you’re not reading a bunch of lines off a page, it helps.
You are very much the star of the film while Eric has a supporting role. Did you insist on a bigger trailer?
No. [Laughs] I tried to keep that dynamic from becoming awkward. It certainly could have been weird but Eric was super cool about being in it and being not the lead. The scenes with Eric are where you get to clearly see that this is a genuine chemistry, a genuine friendship. It sort of adds this spark to the movie, I think.
What was it like working with James Murphy, who doesn’t really have an acting track record?
He was great. Eric had known him. I had never met him and didn’t really know him. We clicked right away and have similar interests. It was all of us kind of going into this project where we didn’t exactly know what it was going to be and didn’t exactly know what to expect from it. But at the same time we all went into it with good intentions and this attitude of “This should be interesting.” Like, more of a curious reaction to it. So we were all in the same boat.
At one point in the film you do a very good Nick Nolte impersonation.
I’ve been waiting to use that for years. I used to do that in college. In Tim and Eric, we don’t really do impressions that much, so it’s my one little thing.
Did you do it in college to impress women?
I don’t think I ever really used it for that—and it certainly never worked. In that scene we just wanted to show a slightly less a—holey quality to this guy, at least for a little bit. It just came from being in this sweaty hot cramped boat. It just felt like, “This would be a scene from a Nick Nolte movie.”
A reviewer for the Huffington Post (actually, Blair Witch Project actress Heather Donahue) who saw the film at Sundance wrote that The Comedy was the first movie she ever walked out of. Which I only know because you quote that review in the movie’s publicity materials.
Yes. I thought that was a great idea. It wasn’t mine. But with Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie we used these quotes that were just made up quotes from our parents and each other. Like, “This is the greatest movie.” I think it’s funny to f— with the way those quotes are used. I think generally people are dubious of critics anyway and are slightly encouraged when something gets a negative review. It’s no fun if it’s like, “This bored me to sleep.” But if somebody says, “This movie made me want to pull my hair out” or “This is the worse thing I’ve ever seen” that almost makes it sort of intriguing to me, I want to see it. And that f—king Huffington Post moron — it’s absurd that you didn’t finish watching the movie. So we’re going to use those kind of quotes hopefully against them.
You played the groom in Bridesmaids, but only got to say two words (“I do”). Are you hoping for more lines if they make a sequel?
I’m going to call that a “funny question.” And funny questions get serious answers. I would be honored to work with that talented crew and cast again. It’s up to the screenwriter to determine the amount of lines for any given character.
You recently wrote and recorded a 13 minute song about the Titanic disaster after hearing Bob Dylan was releasing a track of the same length about the same subject. Why?
Well, I love Bob Dylan, let’s make that clear. He’s one of my musical heroes. But I [read about the song] and I thought, “Jesus, I bet I could predict to some degree what that song is going to be like.” It turned out to be incredibly easy to write stanzas with the Wikipedia page on the Titanic open, just making this little poem.
The joke in mine was that, ten minutes in, I started talking about the movie Titanic, with James Cameron and Leonardo DiCaprio. What was amazing to me was, when I finally did hear Dylan’s version, he mentions Leonardo DiCaprio in his song. And it had a similar structure. There’s only so many ways you could go.
Are there plans for more Tim and Eric TV shows?
We have a TV show idea that we need to write and more Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule we hope we’re going to be making later this year. That’s in the fire. We’ve got a lot of weird little things that we want to do. Maybe make another movie soon. Who knows? We’ve kind of taken a weird year.
You can see the trailer for The Comedy below.