Tim & Eric, PFFR and the Art of the Non-Interview

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At a certain point in the recent WTF episode with Tim & Eric, Maron brings up how sometimes they fuck around in interviews and do bits and stuff. He keeps asking them what their strategy is and what they’re trying to say or how they prepare for them, and it gets to a point where you just want to say, dude, they’re just…being funny guys. That’s kind of what it all boils down to.

After that I started thinking about these kind of non-interviews, the ones where the subject isn’t totally cooperating with the interviewer – and sometimes they’re the most memorable ones. I like to think you can say just as much about yourself or your project by fucking around as you can by answering questions directly, just like in an improv scene where you can still say “yes” to an idea by saying “no” to another character. Like, fucking around when you’re promoting your Adult Swim show tells the audience that, hey, this show is made by people who fuck around in interviews. And it’s like, cool, yeah, so would I.

Of course, with anything where someone’s trying to be “weird,” there’s a huge risk of coming off as just annoying (See Letterman v. Phoenix). But when someone does pull it off, these non-interviews can be really great. Anyways, here are some really good ones, that I like and are cool as well.

Tim & Eric themselves are a great example; they do tons of interviews and you get the feeling that a lot of their bits just come out of the boredom of answering the same questions a million times. Also, at this point everyone is kind of expecting them to be “weird” and they have to keep outdoing themselves by like wearing crazy outfits on Jimmy Fallon. They’re probably the best, though, at starting with a concept in an interview and just building on that one idea, kind of in a Scharpling & Wurster way. In fact, there’s at least one really good phone call to the Best Show where they talk about a crazy live show they’re doing in New Jersey. There’s also a good episode of Comedy Bang Bang where they talk about the crazy new website they’ve made to support Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. There are probably a lot more – they do a ton of interviews. Heidecker recently did a really funny one on DJ Douggpound’s Poundcast where he talks about shitting in David Lee Roth’s mouth (as Mike Love of The Beach Boys).

The comedy/art group/collective / art/comedy collective/group PFFR is probably the best example of these, or at least my personal favorite. It’s pretty much impossible to get any real answers out of them. There’s even a series of interviews with the AV Club where they develop a rapport with the interviewer and he kind of stops trying altogether. There’s also a good phone interview with Jesse Thorn on The Sound of Young America where he asks how they write the scripts for Wonder Showzen and they say something like, “Well we don’t write them, we wait until the mythical dragon fucks a sea beast and shoots a laser beam of light into God’s brain, and then She queefs the scripts onto Earth. Then we just pick them up and make them.” Isn’t that a much better answer then, like, we come in in the morning and pitch some ideas and then go write them up? They also did a really good DVD commentary for an episode of Xavier: Renegade Angel where instead of explaining the show there’s a Stephen Hawking robot voice giving a very academic speech about the possibility of time travel.

One thing you might notice is so far both of these examples have been groups that are pairs of guys. (For the record, PFFR has more members, those are just the two guys who do most of the writing and directing.) Now I don’t know what that means, but it would seem that it’s harder to get a straight answer out of two guys than it is with other configurations of people. More evidence for this is these interviews with Chatman and Lee separately are way more restrained and straightforward. Probably because like, it’s fun to fuck around with your buddies.

There’s also another sub-genre of these interviews where the fuckery is that the subject won’t give up his or her identity. Mysterious prank phone call guy Longmont Potion Castle is probably the most pure example of this, where it is actually impossible to find out who he is, as opposed to like Neil Hamburger. Anyways, the LPC calls are really popular in touring musician circles, or at least they started that way, so there is some speculation that he is a well-known musician. He will tell you how he makes the calls and stuff, but he won’t tell you anything about his identity, as you can see in these interviews. I frankly don’t get why people love these calls so much, but I do agree that the mysterious identity thing is cool. It could be anyone! The Banksy Effect.

Another example of these non-interviews that’s kind of notable for being an exception is the DVD commentary for the ASSSSCAT 3000 DVD, where the UCB 3 just very dryly discuss what’s going on in the scenes without doing any bits. Kind of jarring because it makes you notice how often they’re trying to do bits in interviews and discussions and stuff. So yeah, not that funny, but you do learn a lot about improv if that’s your thing. Which it probably is if you’re watching the ASSSCAT 3000 DVD with the commentary on.

And on the topic of DVD commentaries, it would be a downright crime to write this article without mentioning the Mr. Show ones. I can’t explain how good they are. A lot of it falls in that other subgenre of fucking around where you can’t tell what’s fucking around and what’s real. Like at one point David Cross says they got all the ideas for their sketches from Canadian newspapers, and I believed that for a few years because it sounds like it could be true, right? They also did this funny interview on Letterman once when Janeane Garofalo was hosting, which I’m surprised people don’t remember more.

Anyways, there are probably a ton more that I can’t remember, but those are some good ones. In fact, I’m sure there are examples going back to like the Marx Brothers and up to more recent ones. But these are some. Thank you very much.