It’s 2017 and Tim Heidecker confidently throws his six-foot dad-bod onto a stage in Los Angeles to kickoff his first stand-up comedy special. From afar, his cherubic face wears the smirk of a cock just below its surface. As he yells hello to the Regent Theater audience, primed by his partnership of many years with Eric Wareheim for something original and absurd and oft-putting and hilarious, Tim steps to the center staged microphone to welcome the crowd to the rest of his life.
Then the microphone drops and, with it, the mic stand. Tim’s catlike reflexes – honed to Garfield efficiency by good eating, aka burgers – grab at the cord before too much damage is done but what comes next is a delightful bit of fumbling, bumbling, harumphing, f-word laced, shitstorm drenched slapstick between man, mic and stand. It’s two minutes and 45 seconds of proof that “funny is funny” because this was funny in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
It was funny in 1932 when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy spent 29 minutes pushing a huge piano up one hundred and thirty-three steps in the comedy short The Music Box. It was funny in A Plumbing We Will Go of 1940 when Curly – the favorite of all the Three Stooges (fight me!) – traps himself in a maze of pipes trying to shut off a leak. The comic similarities aren’t lost on Heidecker. “Definitely – I love the Stooges and that kind of slapstick comedy,” he says, reminded of younger days in Allentown camped at the TV studying the classic trio’s routines. “It’s in all our work, and certainly in the way that I treat the microphone or other assorted props on stage. It’s a simple elemental aspect of comedy, that failure, under the right circumstances and in the right context is very funny.”
To paraphrase Bill Gates, context is king. With every iteration of Tim and Eric, the context was the same – anti-humor, a brand of comedy that evokes nervous laughs from cringing senses; sophomoric in appearance but more polished to the touch. The commonality of spirit united the college mates in 1994 at Temple University in Philadelphia and spurred their giddy-up into short films and sketch comedy. Soon enough, the duo was the lifeblood of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim; their surreal wit seemingly taking over the network’s weekend lineup in the 2010s, beginning with Tom Goes to the Mayor (2004-2006) and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (2007-2010) and closing out with Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories (2013-2017) with the occasional spin-off, one-time special and ‘billion-dollar movie’ thrown in for shitz and giggles.
A hallmark of their comedy was making fun of the convention of comedy itself. Production values were kept low, the sketches felt like first drafts, and the humor was deadpan and sardonic. And of the two, Heidecker was the one with the twinkle in his eye, telling the audience “it’s okay. I only play an apeish man-child on television.” Any doubt of that was cast aside in 2017 with the release of Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs, a collection of parody songs that point to Heidecker’s political thoughts on 45. The funny is there but so is Tim, man sans child. His fears about the regime…the presidency of Trump are on full display in tracks such as “Trump Tower” and “Trump Talkin’ Nukes.” It was the first step of the grown-up stepping out from the shadow of the successful partnership (and doing so very amicably; no Desus & Mero here, folks) with the second step appearing on a stage near you, bringing the funny and strumming a guitar – very well.
Heidecker is on the road with the No More Bullshit tour, a blend of stand-up, sketch, and absurd hi-jinks capped off by a suite of original tunes from Tim’s most personal project to date, the introspective High School (Spacebomb Records, 2022). The title refers to the “Tim” who Godzillas his way through the opening half of the show, laying waste to all comic norms and precedents (taking “no more bullshit”). In a recent interview with Vulture, Heidecker noted that “on the surface, [he’s] an entirely narcissistic bully, and then you can play off some really sad, pathetic qualities in that person.” That rambling, tortured mad man – played brilliantly for our amusement and bemusement (seriously, Tim looks like every puppy you ever wanted to pet and every old sad pooch you wanted to carry up the steps) – gives way in the second half of the show (more like the bottom third) to Tim, the fortysomething-teen-year-old trying to navigate the adolescence all over again via memory-soaked music plucked by the Very Good Band. Heidecker’s singer/songwriting has long been the cleanest window into Tim’s life, beginning with his contemplations on middle age Fear of Death in 2020, and High School is his funnest jaunt yet. I’m partial to the hum-ability of “Chillin’ In Alaska” but the early 90s verve of “Sirens of Titan” is infectious, wearing its earnestness deep in its grooves. The mini-concert is a perfect capper to an Evening with Time Heidecker.
I’m reminded of another comic who took absurdist performance art to the edge and over until he fell one time too often from the ledge – Andy Kaufman, a comparison that Heidecker appreciates with appropriate irony. “Yea, it’s crossed my mind”, Tim confesses. “Who knows? If Andy had lived, he (might) have grown out of working from behind a mask or a persona.”
Tim Heidecker “No More Bullshit” Live! Featuring Tim Heidecker and the Very Good Band, tickets available now; For tour dates near you, visit timheidecker.com