Tim & Eric, Neil Hamburger FItzgerald's November 12, 2010
It took Aftermath a while to "get" Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim's Awesome Show (Great Job).
We were a fan of their original Adult Swim offering, Tom Goes to the Mayor, but at first unfairly lumped in their more live-action-oriented Awesome Show with a slew of brain-dead Adult Swim shows which we still believe the network produced for no other reason than that its staff smokes way, way too much pot. Shows like 12 Oz. Mouse, Xavier: Renegade Angel, Perfect Hair Forever and a few others exemplified a kind of lazy, detached, stoner-friendly writing style that had us repeatedly changing the channel.
A re-evaluation a few years later showed us why Tim & Eric's Awesome Show has stuck around while all of those other shows have been mercifully canceled; it's probably the only series on television right now where you can get high-quality, honest-to-God surrealism.
The program's basic conceit is to more or less recast comedy as a disorienting nightmare. What if David Lynch or Luis Bunuel had had a Saturday-morning variety show in the early 80's?
It would be a lot like the Tim & Eric show. Filled with bizarre, possibly mentally handicapped supporting cast members, rapid-fire, disjointed and disorienting editing, and eye-strainingly psychedelic animation. This gave us cause to worry about the live show. How would Tim and Eric translate that dreamlike quality onto the stage?
Fellow alternative comic Neil Hamburger opened, and Fitzgerald's was already packed to the brim before he even went onstage. It was the first time Aftermath had been to Fitzgerald's upstairs since the renovation, and the place looks good. A new, better lighting rig hangs beneath the new chandelier, and tasteful, austere décor has replaced all the stupid Hoarders-style shit they used to have hanging from the walls like a poor man's Notsuoh.
Remember the moose head? The bicycle? Yeah, they're gone. Unfortunately, the place is no bigger. When at capacity, it still feels like way too many people packed into way too small a place, especially when the crowd is as tall as they were Friday night. Seriously, if you ever need a whole bunch of tall freaks for anything, hit up either a roller-derby match, a rockabilly show or a Tim & Eric audience. Weird.
Another thing about the new Fitz is that its sound system does not appear to be configured for comedy. When Neil Hamburger took the stage in trademark slurring, mumbling character, it was nearly impossible to understand him. Sure, Hamburger frequently mutters insults and curses under his breath, but even when he was enunciating, it was difficult to make out what he was saying.
The problem seemed to be affecting others in the balcony, so we moved down below, looking for some kind of "sweet spot" where maybe the speakers coalesced into a clearer sound. It helped a little to be on the floor, but the spoken-word bits still sounded oddly canned and stuffy.
Hamburger's set went well, with his crotchety character finding plenty of time to interact with the audience. He did about ten minutes' worth of material on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, particularly Anthony Keidis, which is kind of genius. After all, Hamburger's stage persona is supposed to be ridiculously out of touch, so he had to find a celebrity to savage who would be dated, yet not so dated that no one would know who he was. Keidis and the Chili Peppers fit that description perfectly.
After a brief video introduction by batshit-crazy ventriloquist David Liebe Hart on the backdrop projector screen, Tim & Eric emerged to enthusiastic cheering from the packed-in crowd. They came out as their characters Jim and Derrick, two fashionably extreme Generation-X douchebags whose own variety show is run like the one Ben Stiller worked on in Stiller's 1994 Houston-shot film Reality Bites. It's one of their better bits of straightforward satire, so the show started out pretty strong as Jim and Derrick's trying-too-hard capering quickly won over the audience.
Unfortunately, the show settled into an all-too-standard format: Video, costume change, new characters, repeat. This was when we noticed that all of the supporting characters - all of them - were only appearing via pre-recorded video segments. Now, we understand if John C. Reilly and Zach Galifianakis are busy and can't go on tour with Tim & Eric, but what the hell is Liebe Hart doing that he couldn't come along and do some of his lunatic schtick while the main duo are changing costume?
Is James Qualls really so busy that he couldn't attend? Pig-faced dancing guy? Scary weightlifter lady? Pierre? Nobody? What gives Tim & Eric's show its nightmarish sheen is, in large part, its supporting cast of genuine derelicts and crazies. Without them, the live show didn't reach anything close to the level of surrealist comedy that it should have.
We don't know how Tim & Eric could have made up for the lack of editing and animation, but they should have been able to come up with something better than they did. Plenty of stage shows utilize sound, lighting, props, and stage effects to horrifying or psychedelic effect, and virtually none of those elements were deployed.
Tim & Eric themselves appeared to be having a blast and were, it must be said, putting a lot of hard work into their live appearance. Why, then, was all of that effort spent on putting together such a run-of-the-mill stage show? Not that it was terrible, but we had a right to expect better from Heidecker and Wareheim.
The format of the evening went like this: Hamburger warmed up the crowd, Tim & Eric came out as the opening act, and then we got the main event: Tim & Eric's band Pusswhip Banggang. Pusswhip Banggang's schtick is that they're pretty much like any older rock band from the late 60's or early 70's, now long past their prime - sort of like if the Eagles and Santana weren't still selling out stadiums the size of Vermont but were instead relegated to the mid-sized venues they deserve.
As the cranky, diva-like front man, Heidecker hurled abuse at both the audience and his bandmates, repeatedly railing against anyone with a cell phone out, while Wareheim played the part of a perma-fried ex-hippie, even going so far as to take a few hits from a gigantic dry-ice bong at center stage.
It was amusing enough schtick for 15 or so minutes, but began to wear on our nerves after a while. They were performing the songs from the TV show, of course, but without the editing and animation accompanying them, a lot of those songs are simply trite. And boring, sadly.
We showed up expecting an epic mindfuck. Instead, we got something it felt like we'd seen many times before. It wasn't terrible, just mediocre. Not a disaster, but a decided letdown. (It should be mentioned that Fitzgerald's sound system handled the music much, much better than it handled the earlier spoken-word portions.)
Tim & Eric are extraordinarily talented guys, and we'll gladly check out whatever projects they undertake. We just hope that, unlike this particular live show, they retain the innovative genius the pair is known for in their next venture.
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Personal Bias: Like we said: big fan, but took us a while to get there.
The Audience: Almost exclusively college kids. Tall, tall college kids.
Overheard In the Audience: "I can't understand what the fuck he's saying, can you?" "Nope."
Random Notebook Dump: A T-shirt giveaway as an encore? Seriously?