Did this video make you laugh? If not, then congratulations: you don’t like Tim and Eric! But at least 3 million people disagree with you.

So, what the hell is going on?

Tim and Eric is a longstanding comedy duo between best friends Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Known for their surreal, gross, confusing, and intentionally campy humor, “Tim and Eric” is a familiar phrase to anyone who grew up with Adult Swim. They got their big break in 2004 with TOM GOES TO THE MAYOR, but they didn’t become household names until the debut of their flagship series, “TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW: GREAT JOB!”. Despite their massive success over the past 10 years, they’re still  very polarizing figures—their brand of humor is an acquired taste at best. Even people who like them describe their comedy as more akin to watching a train wreck than anything else.  I personally started out hating them, but I’ve slowly grown obsessed with their bizarre comedy over the past few months.

So I want to understand exactly what’s wrong with me. Why do people love Tim and Eric? Where does the humor come from? What does this mean for comedy in general?

Well, let’s take a look!

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First, we need to come to an understanding of what comedy is. I’m of the school of thought that all humor is rooted in some form of suffering. Humor is how we cope with the nonsense of the world; it’s a positive reaction to something that logically should just frustrate or befuddle you. It can be argued that one of the most relatable forms of suffering is confusion. I think this is what lies at the heart of Tim and Eric’s comedy. Whether you find it funny or not, that “Sit on You” video probably left you with more than a few questions. Who let this guy put this on the air? Why are his victims only mildly annoyed by his antics? Has he killed before? Tim and Eric are masters of confusing comedy, and after watching one of their skits, there’s three fundamental questions you’re likely to ask.

1. Why does this exist?

My grandfather loves Adult Swim, but mostly for the cartoons like AMERICAN DAD and FAMILY GUY. Whenever Tim and Eric comes on, he quickly becomes confused and frustrated at the “weird infomercials” that keep playing.

This is the Tim and Eric experience in a nutshell. You’re flipping through the channels, or you fell asleep with the TV on, and suddenly you’re assaulted by bizarre, disturbing, and gross infomercials. You have no idea what’s going on, nothing you’re seeing makes sense, and you’ll probably assume you’re having some sort of fever dream. By the time you realize what you’re seeing is real, you’ll no doubt be left with a haze of confusion and a number of concerns.

I never got into Tim and Eric until I realized that this was entirely intentional. The show itself is a troll designed to make you wonder why it exists in the first place.

A lot of people try to find some deeper meaning, or method to the madness to Tim and Eric’s comedy. On Youtube, you’ll often see numerous comments trying to “dissect” the videos, looking for something symbolic or intelligent. While there may be some vague subtext in a few of the skits, by and large the only purpose is to make you over-analyze it. The show knows you want to understand it, and it’s laughing in your face for trying.

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Once you realize you’ve been duped, a lot of Tim and Eric’s humor comes from imagining other people going through the same process as you. Picture your conservative aunt minding her own business, only for this to pop up on the TV screen.

She’ll probably think this is real, and she’ll probably think this is why “America’s falling apart.” The humor comes from thinking about people who aren’t in on the “joke”.

2. How does this world work?

The world in which Tim and Eric’s skits take place is as terrifying as it is intriguing. Their skits are supposed to look like public access programs – low-budget, non-curated television shows – that have gone horribly awry,  But there’s something else happening here. Take a second look at the previous video. There’s a lot of stuff here that doesn’t add up. How does moaning and talking about nachos help your baby? Are these women being held under duress? For that matter, is this actually an accepted thing within the world of the show? Or is it just supposed to be some creepy found-footage from your neighbor’s basement? Trying to understand the world of Tim and Eric is like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle that’s also a magic-eye painting. You don’t even know if you’re really solving anything, and it’s probably just nonsense.

But honestly, that’s half the fun: trying to figure out how this all fits together, how a world could function with lunatics like this running around is one of the most hilarious things for Tim and Eric fans to think about. Just take a look at this ad for the “Cinco I Jammer”.

What starts off as a strange kid’s toy quickly devolves into some sort of alien brainwashing program. This is supposed to be a commercial, something that will encourage you to buy this for your children. Notice how the adults seem completely fine with what’s happening. 12 year olds having seizures on the floor and eating watery oatmeal with their hands is just an average Tuesday for these parents. The way things escalate, and the way no one in this world reacts the way they should to the insanity, is part of the magic. Trying to make sense of the madness and put it all in context is part of what makes Tim and Eric skits so much fun to watch.

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3. What is wrong with these people?

So, we’ve explored the world in which the show takes place, but have you noticed something about the actual actors that are cast for these roles?

Yeah, something’s wrong with these people. They don’t talk right, they look like random people who were picked up off the street, it seems like all their lines are delivered on the first take. You often find yourself wondering if these people are in on the joke, or if they have no idea what’s actually happening. Are Tim and Eric just giving them bad direction? Or are these people genuinely crazy?

I think it’s a little bit of both. 

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The celebrities who appear on the show are often even more disturbing than the amateur actors. Being on Tim and Eric has become almost a rite of passage for comedians and actors who you would never expect to see on a show this campy and low-budget. Will Farrel, Zack Galifanakas, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, and others have all made guest appearances on the show, often in leading roles. There’s a sick fascination in seeing these famous and respectable personalities taken down to Tim and Eric’s level. My personal favorite is SNL’s Will Forte, who always plays seemingly kind but secretly disturbed individuals. Here’s an example:

(Warning: slight, obviously fake gore)

Have fun sleeping tonight, kids! Whether they’re celebrities or amateurs, these performances are just mesmerizing to watch. It’s oddly satisfying to see them stumble over their lines, speak unnaturally, and generally butcher the fine art of acting. You can’t help but wonder where these people came from, and what led to their deranged performances.  The bizarre performances and the stories behind them are definitely one of the major reasons people enjoy Tim and Eric’s comedy.

The Point

Tim and Eric’s peculiar sense of humor works in its own peculiar way. It may not conform to your particular tastes, but it’s clear that it’s built upon the same foundations of all comedy: suffering, frustration, and confusion. There’s a method to the madness of Tim and Eric’s comedy, and even if you don’t like it, hopefully you can see why so many people do.

6 Comments

  1. ywhateley

    July 22, 2018 at 12:05 am

    I guess you could say I’m your “conservative aunt” (or uncle, actually), I don’t use drugs, and I actually enjoy “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and “Check it Out!” (along with similar [Adult Swim] shows like “The Heart, She Holler”).

    I think this article’s author is over-thinking the show, but if that’s what helps the author enjoy it, then great job!

    I enjoy it for the surreal cognitive dissonance… it rests in an uneasy grey area between reality, humor, and horror, a region where a lot of humor and horror (and reality) operates.

    If over-thinking is what it takes, though, then consider the following:

    Any of us growing up with a TV through the 80s and 90s (and no doubt beyond) will recognize the typical TV commercial for toys and breakfast cereals in that I-Jammer commercial: loud colours, loud noises, kids screaming, shouting announcers… in reality, it all faded into the surreal background of kids’ TV programming, a place where it was totally normal… taken out of that context, it’s weird, frightening, surreal, and silly.

    The Pre-Natal Life Coaching is the same way: it has all of the surreal and vaguely cultish quality of an infomercial or daytime talk show fad fluff piece, taken out of its original “normal” context, and performed out of context where all of its unsettling and absurd aspects are left standing awkwardly on their own. Pre-Natal Life Coaching lives somewhere on the same street of your local neighborhood as fortune-telling, yoga classes, chiropractors, those magnetic copper magic chi bracelets that are supposed to work medical miracles, those crowd-funding campaigns for turning water vapor into free water, and every church or politician you’ve ever heard of. These might sometimes rouse you to a half-hearted rant on the internet if you think that’s what the internet cool kids want to hear, the might rouse you to a half-hearted smirk or a chuckle if you really stop and try to think about how their “magic” is supposed to work in real life, but in reality, you probably just walk by them, hardly noticing them, and letting them fade into the background of everyday life, unless you choose to stand in lie with the ordinary, every-day people who treat them as if their magic is real. Yank them out of that context, and put them on a stage where they don’t belong, and suddenly they become confusing, weird, unnatural, upsetting, terrifying, and – yes – amusing.

    You’ve seen all of those amateur actors before – they’re your next door neighbors, your coworkers, your teachers, they’re you and me. Take them out of the normal context, and put them in front of a camera, and they look crazy, out of place, and both – they’re the man-on-the-street people you see interviewed in local news broadcasts, and they’re just as weird and awkward and crazy there as they are on a Tim and Eric show, but edited down a little bit and stuck between commentary by trained news anchors who make their part look “normal” in context. Those “even worse” celebrities are the same every-day people, except they make their celebrity living by doing surreal things that we’ve just grown used to until they, too, fade into a vague background. You don’t notice just how weird, creepy, silly, and normal those celebrities are, until you take them out of their normal context.

    Psychologically, there is a fine line between humor and horror… biologically, there’s very little difference between our responses to threats, and laughter: it’s not unusual for people who have been terrified or horrified to laugh. It’s no accident that a large number of people find clowns funny, and a large number of people also find them terrifying. The sources of humor and horror are rather similar, sometimes the only difference between a movie scene that is funny and one that is terrifying is just a matter of music, sometimes even then it depends heavily on context.

    A lot of people find, for example, “The Three Stooges” very funny – when you come down to it, it’s a series of little movies about men poking each other in the eyes, beating each other, and attacking each other with tools and hardware. For a lot of people – many of them the same audiences who laugh at the Stooges – that’s the stuff of horror movie entertainment. And, for a lot of people who may or may not enjoy the Stooges and horror movies in their respective contexts, a bunch of guys hitting each other is still entertainment in the form of boxing and other sports, which is equally surreal and horrifying and blackly funny in its own way: perfectly ordinary people lining up to buy tickets to see two men beat each other into unconsciousness, and finding it neither horrific, nor comedic….

    Thus it is for “normal”, every-day life: the world we have built for ourselves is weird, senseless, absurd, horrifying, unsettling, and ambiguous. Tim and Eric’s humor simply takes every-day things out of every-day context, and shines a light on just how little sense they really make when you’re given a chance to step back out of the chaos for a moment and really see them for the first time.

    The too-long, didn’t read version? People enjoy Tim and Eric as entertainment, because Tim and Eric are 21st century television’s equivalent to Picasso’s weird, funny, yet horrifying “Guernica” (if you’re unfamiliar with the painting, look it up sometime, and read a bit about its inspiration….)

    /overthinking

    Reply

  2. Kina Mathis

    May 1, 2018 at 4:21 am

    Smoke a joint and you’ll know! It’s just a fucking weed show dude. If your a super serious person who has never smoked weed your probably going to hate this show. You can’t take it seriously and you don’t have to smoke weed to enjoy it but it helps.

    Reply

  3. Idkmybffjill

    March 29, 2018 at 2:08 am

    Yup and your one of the people who make us laugh just a little bit harder when we watch. Your obviously a close minded piece of horse meat that my grandmother put in a blender and forced the result of the blending into my eyeballs and told me I was a bad boy and going to hell after allowing her to do that, followed by the amazing game of twister while I vomited the blending results back out through my eyeballs.

    Get it????

    Reply

  4. Tim and Eric need to die

    March 17, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Anyone who finds this show entertaining or “comedy” is mentally ill. Hipster nerds think they’re “in” on the “joke”, yeah keep telling yourself that.

    Reply

    • Austin

      November 6, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      Is that a fact? There seem to be elements of what would normally make up what some people call “an opinion”. That’s really awesome you were able to take the idea of opinion and somehow transform it into an objective fact of life. The part of your dissertation involving mental illness was especially gripping, very well thought out and executed. I’m sure your sense of humor is far superior to everyone else’s, great job.

      Reply

    • fred

      December 6, 2018 at 1:07 am

      i don’t think mental illnesses determine your sense of humour

      Reply

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