2:56 pm Sep. 21, 2012
When talking about Eric Andre, it’s hard to avoid talking about punk rock.
Andre, who’s recently wrested his nihilistic, aggressive faux talk show out of its late-night Cartoon Network Adult Swim confines and brought it on a live nationwide tour, himself often brings it up. On a recent episode of public radio show and podcast “Bullseye,” Andre named Bad Brains and G.G. Allin among his biggest influences.
"The Eric Andre Show" (the live version of which stops at The Studio at Webster Hall tonight) does exude a certain punk spirit. Every episode opens with him running around his standard talk show set (gold curtain, cheap wooden desk, jazz band, rickety bookshelf), screaming as he demolishes everything in sight—he climbs the shelf, takes the band’s instruments and smashes them, kicks through his desk, and more—until he finally collapses, spent, in his desk chair. Then a fresh set assembles around him and the show begins. It’s as if he’s trapped in Hell, and his eternal punishment is hosting a cable-access talk show.
During the show itself, Andre and co-host Hannibal Buress do their best to weird out an assortment of C- and D-level celebrities (lesser Housewives, Lorenzo Llamas, and so on) without doing anything too overtly hostile. Mixed in are a few videos of Andre confronting people on the street. A recent episode found him in a suit of armor trying to barge into a Mensa meeting at a non-descript convention center while shouting questions like, “How high is the sky?” and “Pop rocks: are they science or voodoo?” It’s sophomoric, self-indulgent, and utterly indifferent of anyone else’s opinion. In other words, pretty punk.
Andre has another, more immediate set of influences, however: the raft of talk show satires from the late 1990s.
“I loved the Tom Green Show,” he told me on a recent afternoon, speaking on the phone as he drove from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia for another stop on the tour. “I loved Jiminy Glick, I loved Space Ghost Coast to Coast.” Understanding those shows, and their relentlessly weird and audience-hostile vibes, is every bit as important to understanding Andre as his punk attitude.
“I just had a lot of ideas as a talk show host,” he said, by way of his show’s origin story.
As crass and loopy as his television persona is, it’s obviously just Andre’s professional version of himself. He mumbled his way through our relatively brief interview, burping, singing, frequently spacing out or launching into non-sequiturs; he answered the phone by saying, “Chris, sweetie, honey, how are you?” One suspects he approaches all of his performance with the same rules he said he has for the taped real-world confrontations on his show: "The more uncomfortable, the more fun it is for the audience."
In this mix of punk and satire-of-satire, Andre has as much in common with musical acts like Odd Future (who recently scored their own Adult Swim cartoon) as with other comedians. Indeed, Andre says he would love to tour with the West Coast rap collective.
“Them, me, Dethklock from Metalacolypse, Tim & Eric, like we all do a mini Adult Swim Lollapalooza.” Yet Andre concedes his own audience, or what he’s seen of it on tour, is quite wild enough all by itself.
“Those kids are crazy out there,” he said, with a mixture of respect and awe. “They’re wild. We did a show in Boston, and they were so crazy. Ravenous. They were like grabbing my dick out of my pants and tackling me on the stage.” Did he find himself in the unlikely position of trying to calm down a crowd? “No, man, I was trying to get them even more riled up,” he said. “I was throwing rotisserie chickens at them. I chucked this rotisserie chicken into the crowd and rocked this guy in the face.” Andre promptly broke up into a fit of laughter.
Toward the end of our interview, I asked if there was anything more he’d like to say, and realized right away I’d merely set him up to end on a joke.
“Yeah, I’ve got something I want to say,” he said. “The Nation of Islam thinks that Elijah Muhammad lives on a UFO that orbits the earth, and I think that’s really interesting.”
The Eric Andre Show Live is at The Studio at Webster Hall tonight at 8:30 p.m.
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