Even in the seen-it-all world of modern comedy, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s brand of humor stands apart as odd — and quite unlike anything else out there. Since its debut in 2007, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! has cultivated an army of fans (and famous comedy friends) drawn to the duo’s nightmare landscape of TV surrealism, a carnival of comedy non-sequiturs and awkward freeze frames where all entertainment seems to have paused on loop in an alternate 1992. This week, they unleash Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie , in which Wareheim and Heidecker squander a billion dollars of studio money on three minutes of unusable footage and so — obviously — set out to transform a desolate suburban mall, where the last 30 years of consumer culture has gone en route to the abyss. Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis and John C. Reilly co-star, along with a phantom wolf, a Johnny Depp impersonator, and bountiful servings of shrim. Roger Ebert hated it, so you know it’s good. We sat down with Tim and Eric recently for a chat about the film.
I thought the studio would have put us all in Schlaaang Super Seats, pumped full of drugs for the optimal movie experience.
Eric Wareheim: [Laughs] They’d be more comfortable.
It’s scary, but they seem almost like a possibility in the near future.
Tim Heidecker: Well I think there’s a version of that that almost exists already, you know? Like the shock seats?
TH: Yeah the D-Box thing. We kinda heard about that and thought that we’d take it 10 steps too far.
I like that you’ve reinstated Jeff Goldblum to his rightful place as movies’ pre-eminent pseudo-scientist.
EW: Yeah. He’s been an awesome supporter of us and he’s always been game to do something zany. He just gave the best performance.
Where did the idea for the movie originate?
TH: We met with Funny or Die, with [producer] Adam McKay and those guys, and just sort of talked in general terms about what kind of movie we wanted to make. We had some ideas about it being a Tim and Eric sort of odyssey, and we wanted to make a movie about movies; so there were these sort of general themes that we knew that we wanted to do in our first movie.
Was the mall always something you explore as part of that odyssey?
EW: It started out as a town and we had to change it to a mall over time, for budget reasons, but we’ve always been interested by malls, and mini-malls and stuff.
What is it about them? Your mall is a kind of gateway to Hell — it reminded me of Dawn of the Dead.
TH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we grew up around malls and it’s a really great microcosm of the culture of America. You can have fun with different kinds of stores and the people who work there, and it just became this fun world to play around with.
Were there any movie inspirations for you, given you had to go from a short TV show to a 90-minute big screen comedy?
EW: We tried to — like everything we do — we tried to not look at other things. We looked at a couple of movies to not repeat what they’ve done. In the script there were a couple of things where our producers were like, “You know, this is sort of like this movie.” So we were very conscious of doing our own thing and not really taking too much from other movies.
You guys are fans of David Lynch, so it must have been a treat to have both Mr. Eddy (Lost Highway‘s Robert Loggia) and Leland Palmer (Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise) as your villains.
EW: We were definitely aware of that, and we were honored that they would both be a part of it. Their performances in Lynch’s work is like what we wanted, you know — Loggia freaking out and Ray Wise just doing his creepy kind of thing.
TH: We’ve also worked with both of those guys on our show before, so in some ways it felt like they’re part of our troupe.
Do you have a favorite moment from Lynch?
EW: I just rewatched Twin Peaks and one of my favorite moments is when Leland — it’s, like, infamous — is singing and dancing with his wife along to the record player. It was just an eerie, awesome moment.
Along with the spiritual guru, did you get big entourages and weird star clauses now that you’re making a movie?
TH: [Laughs] No, it was a pretty bare bones operation making the movie. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is meant to be a pretty ironic title, considering the amount of money we really had. It was very independently made.
Did some people really walk out of the Sundance screening? Why?
TH: Yeah. I mean, it was a midnight movie, so I’m sure there were a few people that wanted to go to bed. There’s a lot of people at Sundance that are older, rich snobs and are just people who didn’t know what they were getting into. It got to a point in the movie where they said, “This isn’t for me.” We don’t really think it’s that big of a deal.
And you didn’t have any problems with the censors and the grotesque bodily stuff in the movie?
EW: I can’t believe we got an R. We didn’t have to cut anything from the movie, which is kind of crazy.
Are you still offering the “Billion Dollar Movie Guarantee”?
EW: Definitely. You go to see the Billion Dollar Movie, and if you feel like you are not satisfied we’ll refund your money and I’ll personally come over to your house with a check, pay you the 10 bucks back, and I’ll also do any dirty dishes you have in the house — no matter what.
TH: You have to be able to prove that you didn’t enjoy it though.
How do you prove that?
TH: That’s the trick.
EW: It’s a long process to prove that you actually didn’t enjoy it.
TH: We have a legal team on our side.
EW: Polygraphs, and all that stuff. It actually ends up costing us a lot of money to prove that.
Nobody’s actually tried this yet, have they?
EW: No. Everyone’s satisfied.