If you haven’t heard of the filmmaking duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, here’s a litmus test to see whether or not you will appreciate their work: Would you find it cringingly funny to watch an enormous man undergoing a soul-cleansing ritual sitting in a tub full of boys’ feces? If the answer is yes, you will not only enjoy Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, which is in theaters on March 2, but you should also look into their Adult Swim cult classics, Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! and Tom Goes to the Mayor.
All of Tim and Eric’s projects have the same grotesque pastiche aesthetic: They cobble together short clips that look like hyper-low-budget ads from the ‘80s and ‘90s, full of Diane Arbus-grade freaks selling fake products, like a teddy bear filled with pasta. The Billion Dollar Movie is the pair’s first attempt at a real narrative. It’s about two guys named Tim and Eric. A sinister mega corporation has given them $1 billion to make a movie, and they promptly piss it away on a suit made of diamonds and a quack New Age healer (played by Zach Galifianakis). In a bid to recoup the $1 billion, they take control of a broken-down mall in a dystopic netherworld. Stars like John C. Reilly pop in to play characters like Taquito, a boy who got lost in the mall who was subsequently raised there, nourished by Cinnabon scraps and nurtured by wolves.
Slate talked to Tim and Eric about their new movie, finding their earliest influences in a creepy old children’s TV host, why they didn’t fit in at film school, and why they idolize Christopher Guest.
Slate: You’ve said in earlier interviews that you were influenced by TV Carnage—compilations of random, bizarre video clips passed around on VHS in the 90s. But I’m curious about what your earliest recollections of TV are from when you were kids. Was there a lot of great public access in Pennsylvania? Were there specific infomercials or shows you thought were amazing?
Tim Heidecker: I grew up in Allentown and we had Channel 69, no joke, which was just local car commercials, carpet stores. That and local news. Out in Philadelphia, there was this thing called Al Albert’s Showcase, which was this creepy old man in a tuxedo, who would have really little kids on doing songs and jokes. It was really low production value, creepy.
Slate: Did you watch Twin Peaks at all when you were young? I ask because I love the casting of Peaks star Ray Wise in the Billion Dollar movie, and your work shares a squirmy feel with that show.
Eric Wareheim: The first time I watched it in high school it was sophomore year. I remember having discussions in one of my classes and not really getting it. In college I rewatched like every Lynch film and Twin Peaks, and I think that’s when it really set in.
Slate: You met at college. What was that initial meeting like? Were you immediately kindred spirits?
Wareheim: We definitely cracked each other up. We shared similar sensibilities.
Heidecker: I think we both immediately saw the film school experience as a little ridiculous, and a little taking itself too seriously. We both had a rebellious attitude towards it, and that expressed itself with us being a little class-clowny.
Wareheim: The technology that we used in film school was so crappy—old VHS recorders and editing equipment—and that kind of informed the early Tim and Eric short videos.
Slate: New York described Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! as “brain-rapingly abrasive.” Do you ever think about the viewer response when you’re making the show? Or do you mostly make it in a vacuum?
Heidecker: Mostly in a vacuum. We make it for ourselves, the editors, and the producers. We have some consideration for an audience, which we know more about now then when we were making the show earlier, like what people react to.
Slate: Were you surprised that the Old Spice ads you made with Terry Crews became so viral? Were you trying to be more mainstream when you made them?
Heidecker: Those commercials for us—we’re sort of hired guns on there, we don’t have a lot of say on how they’re marketed or how they’re conceived. So we don’t spend too much time thinking about them, frankly.
Slate: You guys obviously pay a lot of attention to your Twitter feeds and how you present yourselves on the social network. How much time do you put into it?
Heidecker: I’m looking at my Twitter feed right now as you’re talking.
Wareheim: It stems back from the early days of Tim and I trying to self-promote our stuff. We took to the Internet early with Tom Goes to the Mayor, and we found a community of people that were into it and we stayed connected with them, because it’s a very personal thing, those little Awesomecon conventions, and we always do fan meet-and-greets in every town, and we think that has a lot to do with the awareness of our stuff.
Heidecker: And a lot of our fans are really smart, creative, funny people. So oftentimes if I have a little idea that I might not be able to get to, I’ll throw it out there on the Internet, and I’ve gotten lots of things done by connecting through our fan base.
Slate: What’s your favorite fan-created piece of art?
Heidecker: I had some people make some music videos for my soft-rock band Heidecker & Wood. This one kid made this video that’s all from stock footage that’s really amazing. He spent a long time working on it, and unsolicited he just sent it to me.
Slate: Tim, you spoke to Slate’s Dave Weigel about the songs you made about Herman Cain back when he was still running for president. I know you rarely do political humor, but is it something you’d want to explore again?
Heidecker: We don’t get into specific issues, but it’s an extension of the absurdity that we touch on all the time. It’s just completely bonkers, some of the stuff that’s going on out there, and it’s the same way with Tim and Eric that we satirize commercialization and mass consumerism and junky television and junky products.
Slate: What’s the best thing you’ve seen on the Internet this week?
Heidecker: I’ll give a plug to the Christopher Guest video he did for the Oscars. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I saw a video of it online. The focus group for The Wizard of Oz. A friend of mine made this comment, you know, Billy Crystal wasn’t that funny to me, and maybe because he’s older. But then Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy and Fred Willard are the same age, and they’re hilarious. Those guys are heroes of ours, and I just like to see them as much as I possibly can.
Wareheim: Mine is more personal. I saw an animated gif of my penis being pierced.
This interview has been condensed and edited.