Eric Andre On ‘Righteous Gemstones’ And The Similarities Between Preaching And Stand-Up

To hear comedian Eric Andre tell it, we’re witnessing something quite special with his appearance in season 2 of Righteous Gemstones as a televangelist with great big intentions. And he’s not talking about his ascension up the style icon ranks with the hurricane of denim and cowboy swag that he’s rocking. (Though shouldn’t we all be talking about that?) Andre, the star and driving force behind The Eric Andre Show and Bad Trip simply isn’t used to having other people put words in his mouth, preferring to call his own plays in an effort to best get the “musicality” of a moment. It’s an understandable preference, especially when you think about how successful Andre has been at building his “brand” as the “hardest working man in comedy” (to quote our Bad Trip review).

But for Danny McBride‘s satire of American largesse and family dysfunction, he’s making an exception. Why? We spoke with him about that, the weird similarities between preaching and comedy, what’s next for him, and the Eric Andre Show super fandom of one particular Oscar-winning director.

So this is an interesting role for you. What’d you think when this came across your table?

I love Danny McBride, and I love Rough House [Productions] and everything they do. So I was coming into it like a super fan. I usually don’t pursue just regular acting gigs, but I trust them creatively.

What is it about regular acting gigs that you’re not feeling at this point?

I’m not an actor. I didn’t grow up in the theater. I’d rather perform something that I wrote rather than just reading a script and trying to be a mind reader and figure out what the writer wants and what the director wants. I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’d rather be either on both sides of the camera or just behind the camera, except for something like this, or something I just did with Panos Cosmatos up in Canada. If it’s somebody that I’m a super fan of, like McBride and his crew, then I’ll pursue it. But I’m not a mind reader. I need to hear the musicality of it to know what the fuck they want. I don’t get it from a script if I didn’t help write it.

Bad experiences in the past? I know you did some stock… Not stock, but like “acting work” before.

Yeah. I did some stuff just to pay the bills in the beginning for sure. But it wasn’t as enjoyable as The Eric Andre Show or Bad Trip. It wasn’t until now that I’m having these opportunities where I… I love doing voiceover. That I’ll be an actor for higher forever. I love doing the cartoons, but I typically don’t just blindly audition for a bunch of willy nilly stuff like a regular actor.

The process with this, is it that it was just a totally different experience working with them? Or is it just the quality of the material?

All the above. I felt like I was in a very safe, nurturing, creative environment. I felt like I had the ability to improvise as much or as little as I wanted. The writing was so rock solid and strong and funny and well thought out that even if I just stick, fully committed, to the script, I would be just as happy im improvising my way through it. And yeah, they’re just a great group. And Charleston’s a really fun city. And I had a blast.

The spectacle of being on stage as a televangelist, what are you channeling there? Is there research as a part of that? Or are you just going?

When I first got to Charleston, Danny sent me a bunch of YouTube links of a bunch of televangelists that he thought were like really entertaining and hilarious. So I went down a YouTube wormhole. But it’s very similar to standup comedy, in a way.

That’s what I was thinking.

Yeah. It felt very easy to get into that.

You’re all over the place in a good way. On the stage there, it’s very, very much akin to what I saw you doing with the last special. So I imagine that feels right, which is a little off-putting, isn’t it? That stand-up comedy, the showmanship of standup comedy and the showmanship of televangelism are akin to each other.

Yeah. It’s kind of the same. It’s weirdly the same thing. It’s like you have to seduce and rope a herd of strangers into believing in you and liking you.

Saving souls. Because you’re saving souls with your comedy, obviously.

[Laughs] Saving souls. Yeah.

What about the central focus of the show? Is that something you’re into, obviously in certain ways, I think a lot of people mistake it as being anti-religion. I know Danny’s been really adamant about that not being the case. What’s your take on just the hypocrisy [that the show focuses on] and everything going on with people stuffing money into walls, et cetera?

Yeah. I think that like our art imitates live life. Life imitates art. But there’s nuance. There’s depth to the concept because there’s hypocrisy in all industries, and there’s dysfunction in all families. So it’s relatable in that respect, but it’s also calling it out in organized religion in these megachurch families that seduce a lot of working-class people and poor people into giving the last of their dollars over to God. And I think they thread the needle. I think whether you’re religious or not religious, or anti-religious, everybody can find enjoyment in it because everybody comes from a family with some level of dysfunction.

It’s interesting how this season in particular showcases what happens if you take somebody who’s very successful and you threaten to take everything away from them. And seeing how they react. It’s an interesting part of the family dynamic to see the levels that… people almost turn into animals, essentially, trying to defend what’s theirs.

Yeah. Yeah. We’re primates. I think that humans are flawed, and we’re basically glorified chimpanzees.

That’s accurate. I think that’s the takeaway from the article. We’re glorified chimpanzees.

A human being has more in common DNA-wise with a chimpanzee than an African elephant has in common with an Indian elephant. That’s how closely related we are to chimps and Bonobos.

Okay. I think we’re all primates is the headline. Do you have any alternate headline suggestions?

Hey, man. Then when you nail it on the first take…

What’s going on with you otherwise?

I just shot this thing for this Guillermo Del Toro anthology series for Netflix, with Panos Cosmatos directing. He’s one of my favorite directors of all time.

What genre is that?

It’s a psychological sci-fi thriller with comedic relief.

Is that a genre you’re specifically interested in?

Mandy was one of my favorite horror movies I’ve seen in the last 20 years. And I just called my manager and said, “Who is this director? I want to know everything about him. And I want to pester him until he gives me a job.” That’s what I did with McBride and Brandon James and all the Rough House guys. I just tapped them until they hired me.

Del Toro’s awesome. He crashed an interview I was doing at Comic-Com once. That guy has so much energy. It’s crazy.

He’s so sweet. He’s such a friendly teddy bear. He gave me a big hug in the parking lot. And he just gushed about the Eric Andre Show for 15 minutes with me. He’s awesome.

Now, I’m going to try to figure what his favorite Eric Andre bit is.

He knew specific bits. He was calling out. It wasn’t service speak. He was calling out specific little gags I did. So I was like, oh shit. He truly is a fan.

What about comedy? Are you back on the road yet?

Nah, I’m going to focus on the thing I’m working on that I’m not allowed to talk about, wink, wink. And yeah, I’m just writing right now, writing, prepping, shooting. And I’m just going to focus on that.

‘Righteous Gemstones’ season 2 is running Sunday nights on HBO at 10 PM ET