Purveyors of comedy catnip like Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Bedtime Stories, and Billion Dollar Movie (among many other projects that they’ve created and/or produced), Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are eager to put down roots with Beef House, a short-form riff on multi-camera sitcoms that launched on Adult Swim (episode two launches next Sunday). Fueled somewhat by a connection to (and befuddlement with) the sitcoms of the ’80s and ’90s that they grew up watching, the show feels vaguely familiar yet original (naturally, considering whose involved). It also might be a launchpad for any number of absurd concepts and takes if Tim and Eric have their way.
Uproxx spoke with the pair earlier this week about the show’s potential, its DNA, what they’re doing to keep busy during this unique moment, and their hope that all this reflective time allows for creativity to bloom.
Does this come from a place of nostalgia or affection for that kind of multi-camera, laugh-track heavy sitcom from the ’80s and ’90s?
Eric Wareheim: I was just thinking the other day that we didn’t do much research for this show. Tim told me to watch an episode of The Connors, which was just very hard to watch. We watched the first episode of Fuller House. I think because we both grew up watching sitcoms as kids in Pennsylvania, when we started writing these it was all of those tones and story arcs… they were just embedded in our heads. They just kinda came naturally: there was a little problem, the guys had to solve it, and along the way, there were these little jokes every other line. So I think it was a little bit of nostalgia, but also we’ve done the sitcom format before with Just 3 Boyz with Zach Galifianakis and we just loved the idea of a laugh track. The pacing of it was so different. I think, Tim and I, we love doing different things. Bedtime Stories was our anthology and we had a sketch show, we did animation, we did a movie. So this was sort of the next step in that and it was really fun to make. We want to make a hundred more of them. It came out really good.
Tim, your thoughts on that? Is there affection for these sitcoms or was it just something that felt like it needed to be skewered a little?
Tim Heidecker: I think it started from a bit of more of a satirical-parody place, which is what we’ve done in the past. The sitcoms that Eric and I grew up with, I think there’s something to the fact that those shows were broadcast in a very lower resolution than things are now. The SD, square model for those shows worked a lot better then. If you look at Fuller House or any real modern sitcom in the past 15 years, there’s this real glossy, HD-present comedy… or the way it’s handled that feels insane. It feels like you’re seeing every detail. I think Eric and I grew up in a time when those [shows] felt a little more removed and it was just sort of how we learned about family relationships, problems, how you deal with problems. But what I think we’re satirizing is the idea of a real family sitcom with multiple cameras and the audience… It seems absurd to still be doing that today. A show [like that] that’s on the air right now feels very disconnected from reality.
Some of those shows dealt with so much absurdity and just tried to push it down like it was normal. I was watching the second episode of Beef House and the hot tub thing is such a wonderful play on the absurd sort of, “this kid built a robot in his basement” or Stefan Urquelle. I think they ran out of ideas at some point and just decided, “Fuck it. Just throw it against the wall.”
Eric: I think that also comes from having to make hundreds of those shows. Literally, coming up with all these stupid ideas and as a viewer it’s fun to see, like the kid build a robot. I remember watching these things and being blown away that all this fun can happen in someone’s house, or their basement, or their garage, or something like that. That’s exactly the idea for the hot tub scene. The idea that these guys come together and do this thing. They organize and workshop this horrible idea together. It makes you love the characters the way Ron Auster works with Tim and everyone’s trying to help him out. I think that’s the stupidest situation.
You can see going back to the well repeatedly on this?
Tim: Yeah. I think we went into it and it was very experimental. We weren’t sure what we were doing, not sure what we were going to get. So we didn’t want to bite off too much and we used those first six episodes to… almost like you would with a pilot, like figure out what works, what doesn’t. We came off of it being like, “That was really fun.” We were really happy with the cuts and the final product. And we thought, “Well, boy. I think we’re just getting started when it comes to these characters and the stories we can build for them.” So, yeah, I think it would be fun to see… Because we’re doing it at a place that encourages unorthodox storytelling and everything, I feel like we could easily drift from the format. There are a million ways to keep that fun and interesting for us and the audience.
How much do you guys pay attention to, I don’t want to necessarily say emulators, but people that have been influenced by your work and where comedy is now? Or are you solely laser-focused on your sensibilities?
Tim: We try to obviously not do something that somebody else is doing or that somebody else is doing better and make sure we’re not copying anything that is working out there. We keep up with our own gut about what is funny these days versus what we might’ve thought was funny 10 years ago and we make sure we’re not just lazily putting stuff out without thinking about the social context of everything. But other than that, we’re not too worried about our peers or what they’re up to. We don’t try to compete with anybody or anything like that.
How much of a challenge is it to just try to keep topping yourself and try to keep evolving a comedic style?
Eric: We think about it quite seriously when we do a project. The tour, we were like, “Let’s do a tour that is different than our other stuff. Let’s make us a sitcom that’s different than our other stuff.” We don’t like repeating ourselves, but I think we haven’t run out of ideas yet, so we’re just going to keep going until we do.
How are you guys dealing with the situation now? How are you keeping busy?
Eric: Well, luckily we have Beef House that’s premiering so we’ve been excitedly promoting that. We got Adult Swim to air an episode early. Some people got to see it and get some laughs during this time.
Tim: We had just come off three months of touring and there were months of making Beef House. We feel embarrassingly lucky that we got in a lot of work before the end of the world here. We were kind of, in our heads, thinking, “Oh, it’d be nice to start to take a little break there anyways.” [I’m] just doing some stuff around the house. I’ve got kids so I’m trying to figure out how to keep them busy all day. Setting up Office Hours (my call-in show) to be running out of my house. And spring cleaning. There’s lots to do if you want to keep busy.
Yeah, we’ll see how it is in a month. Now there’s a lot to do. I wonder how people are going to handle it.
Tim: Yeah, exactly.
Do you guys feel any pressure to keep creating things (like you said with Office Hours) and to keep putting things out there that are helpful distractions for people?
Eric: Yeah. Like I said, we have five more episodes of Beef House, so I can’t wait for that. There’s some tour footage that I’ve been going through, some rehearsals that are really funny. I do feel this obligation to put some stuff out there for people to laugh right now.
Does it help you also? To keep your mind on continuing to put out stuff.
Tim: Yeah, it’s the only way I know how to deal with it. I think what’s really interesting to me is Instagram Live and being able to socially connect to your audience. It should be sending a message that you don’t need a lot of these gatekeepers that exist. The fact that Jimmy Fallon is doing a show at home is like, “Well, I’m doing a show at home too. So what’s different about that? What’s the difference?” [Laughs] Hopefully, new artists come out of this having carved a little place where they’re like, “Oh, I’ve just been doing this comedy show in my basement and now anybody can watch it.”
Episode two of ‘Beef House’ airs on Adult Swim Sunday April 5 at 12:15am ET