In many ways American comedy has always lagged behind the British when it comes to pushing the medium forward. I needn’t even give examples to prove my point, considering the ubiquity of influential British comedy. Indeed, even the subversive duo of Tim and Eric (who I choose to spotlight today) have much in common with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer – not even mentioning the clear parallels between their work on Check it Out with Dr. Steve Brule and the output of Chris Morris (particularly The Day Today and Brass Eye). The Americans however, despite the obvious lines of influence that can be drawn, tend to take different spins on our attempts. Never before has this been more glorious than in the output of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, whose own personal universe puts a mirror up to our own in a way i’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before.
Even if they weren’t doing what they do deliberately, which they are, Tim and Eric’s work would still provide hilarious and often disturbing looks on the obsessions that take over our popular culture and television networks. At first it’s easy to tune in to their flagship Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and consider it an infantile mish-mash of Jabberwocky nonsense humour, designed purely to work on a “catch-you-off-guard” level. While this is undeniably a feature of the work, it doesn’t take much looking closer to realise that we’re seeing a version of society that isn’t actually that far warped from the one we live in. The show is stuffed with celebrity, sex, consumerism, food and the awkward hidden emotions we all try not to express on a day to day basis. As a result, there’s usually some clear and intelligent philosophy behind the colourful insanity. Take a look at this standalone clip as an example, and just try to tell me that amongst the inherent ridiculousness of the thing you don’t pick up on what is actually a deep and focused satire on the way we rely on social media characters of our own creation:
Realising the pretentious over-analysis in my words and embracing it with tongue firmly in cheek, are we not all as equally uncomfortable with our own “Nude Tayne”? If not, why then are our social media profiles littered with only the positive and flattering? Even disconnecting from the meaning behind the sketch (which I admit is almost like making excuses for it), it’s wildly funny regardless – something that remains a backbone of the majority of Tim and Eric’s work. They like to look at the people who really shouldn’t end up on the screen, rather than those who have been hand-picked for their aesthetic, charisma and ability to speak. This obsession is kicked up tenfold for their inspired spin-off, Check it Out with Dr. Steve Brule which simulates something far closer to what i’d like to see on television, opposing the over-polished comfort foods that merely disguise their awkwardness better. Tim and Eric describe their own work as wanting to create an alternative “nightmare” universe. I suggest that they merely expose the truth of the “nightmare” universe we already live in, doing what only the best of us could and making us laugh at it. To me, Tim and Eric (while occasionally hit and miss, which they definitely are) perform the greatest kind of comedy – the kind that dissects and examines our perspectives before making us give up on them and laugh anyway.