Absurdist comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim take awkwardness — arguably the comedic linchpin of our time — to its tensest, most uncomfortable extreme. Whether they feature an unnervingly close shot of Wareheim’s crotch or the amplification of Heidecker’s eating sounds, the sketches in “Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!” push “uneasy” to levels that would vex even “Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen.
It’s hard to say exactly when “unsettling” became the basis for so much of what we consider funny. But whether it was Jerry Seinfeld or Ricky Gervais who brought it to the fore, it is Tim and Eric who are taking it to the extreme. It’s hard to get even avid Tim and Eric fans to fully explain their appeal (though it must be pretty strong: a mid-show photo slideshow featured several fans sporting Tim and Eric themed tattoos). But their main draw seems predicated on their singular ability to do everything that normal people shouldn’t do. And when it comes to cringe comedy, nobody does it quite like Tim and Eric.
Heidecker and Wareheim have cited both “The Office” and David Lynch as influences, and there are definitely moments during their Adult Swim show that feel like Lynch toked up and wrote a few sketches for “The State.” But the live show is considerably less abstruse than their TV shtick. The opening act promoting the upcoming “Chrimbus” special, for example, was all silly costumes and lighthearted jokes about the landscaping and relative dampness of the Chrimbus bush (though the main punchline drags on just enough to remind you that they really want you to be uncomfortable). The onstage incarnation of “Jim and Derrick,” their Ed Hardy-clad alter-egos, was clownish and fun, featuring a males-only wet-T-shirt contest with members of the audience. And their band, Pusswhip Banggang, is actually a very musically adept ’70s-style rock ensemble whose lyrics include recipes for jambalaya.
The live portions of the show elicited a noticeably less enthusiastic response from the young crowd at the Ogden than the video bits of sketches from their show. Snippets of their signature fake commercials and odd recurring characters (like “Spagett,” a bald-capped Heidecker in a bad turtleneck who attempts to “spook” people on hidden camera) received more applause than the duo’s live skit marketing their pesticide-sponsored remake of “The Blues Brothers.” It seemed the crowd came for the the gross-outs, the freakshow extras and the just-a-little-too-muchness of the TV show; not a live action commentary on the absurdity of product placement in film.
Tuesday night’s Tim and Eric live show somehow lacked the 4 a.m. loopiness of the TV sketches, that zany, unsettling surreality that the diehard fans were looking for. But for those of us who rarely stay up late enough to see Tim and Eric’s bizarre Adult Swim fugues, it was just the right mix of crazy and clever.
Cassandra Schoon is a Denver freelance writer and regular Reverb contributor.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.