Few funny people come close to the batshit-crazy level of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s brand of surrealism. In the ten years since Tom Goes to the Mayor premiered on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the duo have won legions of fans for their Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, as well as the 2012 film Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. This week they return to Adult Swim with their latest experiment, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, billed as “an anthology series in the tradition of The Twilight Zone.” Bedtime Stories, which debuted last night on Adult Swim, will feature a host of Heidecker and Wareheim’s comedian pals throughout each of its first season’s six eleven-minute episodes and one double-length episode. The team was kind enough to chat with us recently about the making of Bedtime Stories and their return to the medium of short filmmaking.
Nerdist: How did Bedtime Stories begin? What inspired it?
Tim Heidecker: Well, we love being on TV. We had failed at the box office with our film and we felt like we should go back to making content for the television market. We were too lazy to come up with a premise. So we said, “Why don’t we just not have a premise and do whatever we want every week?” That’s kind of where it started. Then we got more serious and wrote some scripts that had a darker kind of edge to them. And off we went.
N: Your past work could also be quite dark, how will this eclipse that?
Eric Wareheim: A lot of our sketches from our last sketch show were about dark subjects. One was about how when your son dies you get a replacement doll. Then you can raise that doll your whole life. That’s a pretty dark concept. But we did it in a funny way. We wanted to take those kinds of themes and expand them into full mini movies. As Tim and I are progressing as creators of things, that’s sort of where our minds are going. We’ve made sketch shows, we’ve made a movie, and now it’s time to tell these stories. What we want is more of an emotional response than just, “Oh, that’s zany and crazy.” We want you to be invested so when you’re done watching it you feel something, whether it be “That was ridiculous” or “That was really heavy.” I watched an episode with my girlfriend the other night and it hit her so hard we had to watch an episode of Seinfeld before she could go to bed. That was the nicest compliment she could give me.
N: When you were preparing this show, did you guys compile a long list of potential stories?
TH: We had a couple of overall concepts. Basically we said, “Every episode should be a nightmare.” The biggest nightmare of all is your friends and family turning on you. So we have a general quality like that. Some episodes are… We have a public endorsement with Jason Schwartzman, that’s about doing advertising for foreign markets like Japan, and something goes wrong and his career is ruined. So it’s not always super, super heavy themes. But each one is a nightmare, it’s something that goes wrong that is connected to reality in some way that we all feel like “Oh, I’ve been there. That’s f—ed up.” Jason Schwartzman plays a douchey version of himself as a young Hollywood hotshot.
N: What are some of the other guest stars can we look forward to?
EW: We have Bob Odenkirk, John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis [pictured above], Gillian Jacobs, M. Emmet Walsh — and Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead stopped by. The entire comedy/dramatic universe has come to us and said, “We want to be a part of what you’re doing.”
TH: M. Emmet Walsh plays a detective and John C. Reilly plays a loser. Lauren Cohan falls in love with Zach Galifianakis.
N: The show’s invited comparisons to The Twilight Zone. How does its level of surrealism compare to that of your past work?
TH: This series is more grounded than anything we’ve done before. Everything exists in the real world and the laws of gravity pertain to most everything. Which makes some of the humor more unsettling and more impactful. Because it feels like this stuff’s happening to real people. But I don’t think anyone’s gonna be confused or surprised by who’s making the show. It’s just a different show. It’s not trying to be Awesome Show. It’s its own beast.
N: Were you guys big fans of anthology shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits in your formative years?
TH: Yeah, I used to watch that. I still watch The Twilight Zone marathons on whatever holiday they do those for. The Twilight Zone really sparked the idea that every episode can be its own story and its own set of people and characters. That’s not necessarily feasible for bigger shows. Because more shows have a limited number of sets and the same actors and casts. Ultimately, that’s a better financial decision. A smarter way to do things. But we’re really good at being a small, nimble production that can bounce around all over town and bring in different actors and do a different story every week. It’s very natural for us to do that. So this works out perfectly for us.
N: If comedy is more difficult than drama, the comic anthology must be toughest of all — since the only thing you have to bring viewers back each week is the quality of every single episode.
TH: Yeah, we realize that it’s kind of a gamble and a risky format to go with. It’s not the most successful kind of show to do. So I don’t know whether it will be successful or popular or anything. We’re making little pieces of comedy that we love, these little short films. We’ll throw them out into the world and they’ll be received however they’re received. Some people are gonna like some of them and other people are not.
N: What else are you working on now?
EW: We’re in the middle of a whirlwind tour of North America. We’re going with Steve Brule. And we’re working on a book.
TH: It’s a self-help book for a new lifestyle system called “The Zone Theory.” I don’t want to say it’s a cult, but it’s culty.
N: What makes Tim and Eric laugh? What comedy do you find inspiring these days?
EW: We produce a show called Nathan for You [with comedian Nathan Fielder] which is very funny.
TH: That’s about it. Everything else is trash.
What else should Tim & Eric fans know about Bedtime Stories?
TH: We just want them to come in with an open mind and an open heart and know that we’re making a show for you so that you can perhaps not feel so alone in the world.
Bedtime Stories airs Thursday nights at 12:15 AM EST on Adult Swim.