There are these staples of late night television that remain from host to host and generation to generation — the desk and the backdrop. Imagine those thrashed into a million pieces; imagine them on fire with a mad man standing over them, out of breath, with an entire show still waiting to be done.
“I think I just wanted to find an excuse to destroy a bunch of crap and have somebody else pay for it. I really wrote the show as an excuse to do the opening and then I was like, ‘oh crap, I’ve got to come up with this [concept] or something else.” That’s Eric Andre, who I spoke with in addition to the show’s producers, Andrew Barchilon and Kitao Sakurai, and this is the story of their new anarchistic talk show, The Eric Andre Show.
A manic comic who has appeared on Lopez Tonight, Andre says his stage persona is closer to his actual state of being than the more upright and relaxed roles that he has played on The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and most prominently as a regular cast member on ABC’s Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23.
“My stand-up is me.” Andre says, adding that “The Eric Andre Show … I describe it as me doing an impression of myself and Hannibal [Buress, co-host and co-writer] doing an impression of himself. With that said, I … love playing Mark on Don’t Trust the B****, because it is so opposite from my character on The Eric Andre Show.”
Barchilon and Sakurai (a.k.a. the production team known as Naked Faces) come off as polar opposites to Andre. He’s an untethered comedian. They’re subdued film geeks from the world of music videos and indie film (their debut feature, Aardvark, is a festival fave) who are happy to talk about the way that they accomplish the unique visual feel of the show. They make the entire production look like a lost and found gonzo sketch from the early days of SNL crossed with bad public access.
“Andrew and I didn’t come from comedy,” says Sakurai, “and instead came out of a world of commercials, where a story is largely told through the look and feel — I think that adds that unique aesthetic to The Eric Andre Show.
Andre is chilled out when speaking to me, easy going and hardly intense, but when I see his debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he comes off as a simmering ball of electricity, prompting me to ask if he has tried Ritalin or if his energy comes from caffeine, cocaine, or natural effervescence. “It’s bath salts,” he deadpans before continuing, “No, It’s nervous energy. I’m just terrified before I perform. I just hyperventilate my way through life.”
The show, which was originally pitched to NBC and then MTV before the trio filmed a pilot for $20 in an abandoned Brooklyn bodega, feeds that impulse. Andre’s nervous energy is on full display, contrasted by Buress’ extreme state of chilled-outedness, but it’s a bit more well constructed than it seems, with the creative team well aware of both their goals and which shows they’re trying to honor.
“The questions we asked ourselves when we were making the set and setting up the production was, how can we get it to this iconic feeling that drove back to (early) Letterman and back to Carson.” said Barchilon.
“I like mock talk shows.” says Andre. “I liked Chris Farley’s show on SNL when he used to play a terrible talk show host. Like that is the thing, that’s the influence. I liked the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer steals the Merv Griffin set and he tries to do The Merv Griffin Show from his apartment. I just love Space Ghost, Jiminy Glick, Tom Green, and Da Ali G Show. I loved Conan when I was in high school. I’m a big fan of Conan.” Andre also tells me that Tim Heidecker exposed him to Fernwood 2Night, a mock talk show from the ’70s with Fred Willard and Martin Mull that has, what he describes as “eerie parallels” to his own show.
Still, though The Eric Andre Show appears to be happily feasting on the late night genre’s ample tropes, Sakurai cautions that he does not like the term “spoof.” “I think [the term] implies that we’re 100% dependent on the material that other, legitimate talk shows supply, that we’re just living off of that. I think it’s more of a deconstruction, an alternate reality talk show rather than a spoof. I think that the interviews that we have with real people and celebrities have their own value that goes beyond spoof.”
Speaking of those interviews, the show has, thus far, switched between real guests like Dolph Lundgren and imitation guests like fake George Clooney and faux Russell Brand, who was played by an elderly man named Semere Etmet. “I wanna adopt him as my grandpa; he’s sweetest guy,” says Andre, while Sakurai and Barchilon tell me that they aren’t entirely sure where Etmet came from and that he keeps showing up on set.
Going forward though, Andre sees a need to move toward more real guests: “I think more is at stake and it is more exciting to watch with real guests. I kind of have to be the straight man with the fake guests, so I get to be a little more crazier when it is the real guests.”
The ever changing opening sequence, Andre’s on-display madness, physical kamikazery, and the guests are only one half of the show’s comedy. No, the real part of The Eric Andre Show that sets it apart and keeps it from being a mere spoof is the risky and cracked man on the street segments that have become a staple of the show, something that both delights and terrifies Andre and company.
“I don’t know where it is and I have gotten in trouble before where I have gotten beaten up and had my life threatened and have had my life flash before my eyes,” says Andre when I ask him how he knows where the line is, and how he avoids getting stabbed or having his face eaten. “It is f****** terrifying sometimes, and like my stomach is just like bleeding internally before I go out and do some of these — I am, like, terrified. At best, we have a crew, so if [someone got] really violent or hostile or crazy, I have enough people to jump in… I am seriously thinking about hiring security for season two because it f****** sucks, it f****** sucks sometimes. Like one time, I was stuck in a garbage can and the guy was going to, like, punch my f****** lights out and I was like, ‘gahhhhhh’, man, I could feel my nose being broken.”
“Ironically the most angry and violent people we’ve got from things are like people at a Mensa convention,” says Sakurai “He was physically attacked.” Sakurai assures me that that exchange will make it into this season of The Eric Andre Show.
Will the show make it past this season though? No one knows for sure, but right now Eric Andre is literally throwing himself at a wall to entertain you, so it might be worth checking out before he breaks through or breaks his neck trying.