Tim and Eric on Johnny Williams, Real-Life Fears, and Diapers
The duo talked to Maxim about their Bedtime Stories special and their creative process.
Tim and Eric, Adult Swim’s most bizarre comedy duo, are back. They’re armed with additional episodes of Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, and they want you to be a part of their strange yet inviting world — whether you go willingly or kicking and screaming.
The first season of Bedtime Stories aired last year, an anthology series that combined the surrealism and horror of The Twilight Zone with their unique brand of comedy (like these parodies of film reviews). We sat down with Tim and Eric to discuss the show, what went into creating it, and the familiar faces seen within the latest episode of Bedtime Stories, Sauce Boy. Full disclosure: They’re a lot more “switched off” behind closed doors.
“Sauce Boy” had a much more cinematic tone than the first season’s episodes. They’re all similar in scope but this one felt a little more epic. Why did you decide to approach it like that?
Tim Heidecker: Certainly, I think we learned a lot from making the first season. And when we went into making the first season, we weren’t exactly sure about the cinematic, dramatic direction we wanted to go with the show, but when we ended up editing the show we ended up liking the ones that were a little darker, little more cinematic, and a little, more like you said, “epic.” So we got to make these two extra ones, and make them for us. We got to make them a little bit longer than usual, a half hour. To us, that’s a huge compared to what we’re used to.
I think the subject matter demands both for different reasons. With Sauce Boy we really wanted to hit that sort of Sopranos/Goodfellas/Mean Streets, cinematic nod. With Tornado the subject matter was so silly and ridiculous that by making it more cinematic and serious would going to be important to juxtapose the silliness of the subject matter.
Will these two specials be launching into another full-fledged season or are there only going to be Sauce Boy and Tornado for now?
Eric Wareheim: Right now, we’ve done two specials and seeing how it goes, as it’s a much bigger show for Adult Swim. As you can tell we’re trying to go to the next level.
Tim: We never value quantity over quality. We’re happy to make these two episodes, two half hours which ended up taking a big chunk of the year up for us. It’s hard work. We’re writing it all ourselves, directing it, and we’re in it. We’re walking through every step of the way and we didn’t have to sacrifice anything on these two episodes for the sake of time or having to make a big batch of these. It’s fun making smaller batches of things. I think the show can go on for a while if Adult Swim wants it in various forms. We could put out six next year, if they wanted to do that, or one or none, then come back in five years and make another ten. Adult Swim doesn’t really play by the TV rules about when or how many of things there should be or when they should come out.
Are you going to start incorporating additional celebrities into Bedtime Stories? Did you want to involve Johnny Williams at first with “Sauce Boy,” or did that happen after you had written the script?
Tim: I think for Bedtime Stories we wanted to work with some more seasoned actors, not necessarily celebrities, who can sell the characters. Their performances didn’t need to be ironic or purposefully bad or anything, but genuine to make you forget — like all good movies and TV show should do — and lose yourself in the story. The joke isn’t so much about us making the show as it is the stories we’re trying to tell. But it’s really project-dependent. We’re doing another season of Check It Out!, and that’s filled with questionable types. So it depends on what we’re working on really.
With Bedtime Stories, I think it’s more valuable to have the seasoned veterans. We made a wish list of people from those kinds of movies and you just go through who’s available and who would work well. With Sauce Boy and Johnny, we were like “Oh, this guy was actually in Goodfellas,” so that’s all we needed to know.
Sauce Boy feels very authentic and unexpected. It’s not a side that most people would expect from you guys, so it’s nice to see that, but there’s still an element of humor. You laugh and feel a little uncomfortable, and then you leave the episode feeling a little something else. With that said, are any of the Bedtime Stories episodes based on things that have happened to you before in real life but with a funny twist?
Eric: Yes, in the first episode of the first season with the hole. The idea of your whole family and everyone you love turning on you and burying you alive is inspired by a fear of mine. I think that’s the worst nightmare of all. I remember having a dream where my girlfriend was fucking all of my friends, she was on heroin, and my parents hated me. It’s the heaviest feeling. We tried to put that in the finale scene where my wife and kids and neighbor are burying me alive.
Tim: Yes, I think we look at that when we’re making these episodes. We tend to look beyond the story. What are we trying to say? Do we have a point of view here that we can inject into this? They can be very simple and they’re usually depressing and leave you feeling a little thoughtful about stuff. With Sauce Boy it’s just the simple idea that some people are incapable of change. It’s not good news. And also, like maybe Eric’s character eating diapers isn’t so bad. Maybe he should just be happy with that and not be too judgmental of people that eat shit. But I just had a baby a couple of years ago so diapers have been elevated in our work.
Angel Boy was a personal favorite from last season. Do you think he might somehow return or you may revisit things that happened from any of your previous episodes?
Tim: We talked about that as an idea. We came out of making that show, feeling really happy with it and really positive. We felt like we were just starting to build a new world. With any show we do there are the beginning stages of introducing new characters and ideas and all the stuff that goes into Check it Out! or any of the shows we’ve made. And with this one, we were like “Oh God, wouldn’t you want to see more from Laurie Metcalf’s character from the baby episode,” or “What about Eric’s character in Angel Boy? Where does he work?” We didn’t even know. So we started thinking about the show as though we’re in a town and these things are all happening and you could in subsequent seasons explore different avenues of these peoples’ lives. So we’ll see. If we get to make more next year that might be an approach we take, but we also have so many ideas on the wall that we want to make new ideas too.
How was the fan response to the first season? Did you get a different response from fans than you predicted? Was there any feedback you worked into these features that you just made?
Eric: I think we got some great feedback in terms of what you were talking about with the emotional state you enter after the episode. A lot of people said they just haven’t experienced that kind of comedy before, where sometimes it’s a little painful, and not always super obvious. Our hardcore fans are always going to love the Awesome Show’s quick, punchy, wild stuff. I think it’s going to take a little time for everyone to adapt to the new style, and it’s just one thing we do out of many.
Tim: There’s going to be a contingent that are just like, “Why can’t you just do this one thing that I love over and over again?” That’s not what we’re about as people that have ideas and want to try different things. But overall, everybody that I heard from was like “we’re on board” for the most part. I think we were consciously trying to make a big broad appeal to everybody but it’s a slightly more center of the universe kind of show, and it’s not as insane. But then we show it to some people, and they’re like “This is really dark and crazy. It’s the weirdest thing on TV.”
Speaking of darker content, would you ever be open to exploring the horror genre more fully in the future?
Tim: Yes, I think it is definitely something we could do with our style which really isn’t far from the pathological horror movie. We’ve done a lot of stuff in the Troma style, so it’s only a matter of time until we put all that stuff together.
Eric: Horror is so easy to do as a style and a genre, and to make fun of it. I think that the trick with Bedtime Stories is that we always try to not make it a joke. It’s scary, but you actually get to a place where you do feel how a real good horror movie would do is to make you actually feel upset or moved in some way, so not to do with the parody of the movie but the explosion of that.
What are you working on aside from Bedtime Stories at the moment as well as your upcoming Australian tour?
Eric: We’re editing the fourth season of Check It Out! and we’re in an area where we just had a great meeting about some ideas that we’re very excited about. It’s very top secret.
Tim: We’ve been going strong for a while now, as you can tell, and we just keep putting stuff out. I think we need a little creative time where we’re just gestating and developing and figuring out stuff. It takes a little time. You have to give it that time, but then you’ll find out sooner or later.
Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories airs Friday night on Adult Swim at 11:30 PM EST.