In Which I Pull a Hammy Trying to Explain the Unexplainable
There aren’t many people more polarizing than Tim and Eric. There’s a yawning chasm between the people that love their absurdist, low-fi “nightmare TV” aesthetic (confession: me), and the people who hate them, who’ve tried their best to understand it but concluded that “there’s nothing to get,” and that the people who like Tim & Eric are just stoned, wannabe-ironic exclusionary dicks who deserve ass cancer. (Virtually every bad Tim & Eric review is a subtle variation on this theme). I’ve spent probably too much time theorizing about what might cause this hard split, and here’s the best I could come up with: I think there’s a certain type people see the universe as essentially logical and ultimately explainable, that existence has some greater meaning that all humor should aspire to articulate in some small way, to bring us closer to ultimate understanding. They have no use for anything that doesn’t, which they consider a waste of their time that could be better spent figuring things out. Then there’s another type of people who’ll entertain the notion that the universe might ultimately be some cosmic joke, not solvable and with no explanation, and can revel in its utter inscrutability. Almost all of Tim & Eric’s best bits hone in on some piece of minutiae that the second type of people find hilarious, because it just is, existing at some level of absurdity beyond explanation. The same bits do nothing for the first type of people for the exact same reason. Typical reaction to a Tim & Eric bit:
TYPE 2: “They’re just running with their arms down at their sides, why is that so funny!?”
TYPE 1: “Yes, why is that funny? By which I mean it’s not.”
So, full disclosure, that’s my insanely pretentious justification for why I find things like Robert Loggia playing a CEO of Schlaaang Corp named “Tommy Schlaaang, Jr.” endlessly hilarious. I chuckle just typing that. For counterpoint, see my reverse opinion twin Roger Ebert, who writes: “The corporation is in violation of Ebert’s Law of Funny Names, which teaches us that a name intended to be funny in a movie will almost certainly not be funny. Not everybody can come up with Rufus T. Firefly or Elmer Prettywilli, and if Tommy Schlaaang is the best Tim and Eric can do, they shouldn’t have tried.”
We can agree to disagree on some level, but if you honestly think “Elmer Prettywilli” is funnier that “Tommy Schlaaang Jr,” you’re a f*cking idiot, and maybe you shouldn’t be writing comedy rules.
Oh right, the movie. The plot is that Tommy Schlaaang of Schlaaang Corp has given Tim & Eric a billion dollars to make a movie, which they blew on personal makeovers and a guru played by Zach Galifianakis. They’ve run out of money with just three minutes of footage starring an impersonator they thought was Johnny Depp wearing a suit made of diamonds in a film called “Diamond Jim.” Their scheme to get the money back is to manage the abandoned S’Wallow Valley Mall for Will Ferrell, which has become a haven for hobos, and where a young sickly boy named Taquito played by John C. Reilly has been raised by a vicious wolf, who still lives there.
The biggest question for Tim & Eric fans is how they’d be able to adapt their 15-minute sketch show into a 90-minute movie. The answer is that they do a pretty good job breaking up the 90 minutes into short bits, meta-fourth wall corporate instructional video parodies, commercials, etc. So that while there is a greater plot structure, it still feels like Tim & Eric, and not them trying to be something else. Like all Tim & Eric creations, there are times when it works brilliantly – Taquito introducing himself with a rap song, his line “maybe I won’t be sick in Heaven,” a sequence at a bread-themed comedy dinner theater called “Inbreadables” (“bready when you are!”) – and other times less so, like some of Galifianakis’s bits trying to get by on facial expressions alone, or Will Forte trying to do the same with shouting.
One thing you see in a lot of negative Tim & Eric reviews is “deliberately bad.” That’s not what it is. The best way I can explain it is that it’s like when our friend Joe King used to do improv. The guiding principle of improvisation is “yes and,” agreeing with your partner and adding something. Which Joe would do, but because he’s slightly unhinged, his “yes and” would often take the form of “yes, and when you light the cigarette, be careful because we’re on a spaceship.” Improv teachers hated it because they want you to build the scene slowly, whereas with Joe King improv, and with Tim & Eric bits, it isn’t about building a scene slowly. They’re more about finding humor in going way, way overboard to defy expectation. That’s only “deliberately bad” if you already think of not building step-by-step until everyone’s onboard as “bad.” It’s just a different approach.
I suppose this is all a really long way of saying, “I like Tim & Eric. I like the Tim & Eric movie.” There were moments when I didn’t laugh, but I accept them because of the other times when I laughed my dick off.