A barrel of oil is cheaper than a 99-cent Big Gulp. Georgia announced that its top priority is to open up the bowling alleys. Quibi … exists. The world is weird, and the only things weirder than it are the alternate dimensions spun by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in series like Awesome Show, Great Job! and Bedtime Stories. Now they have a sitcom on Adult Swim, and it’s both totally out of time and somehow of-the-moment.
Beef House puts Tim and Eric in the traditional sitcom setup of being roommates, alongside Eric’s wife, a hardworking police detective played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Beef House wears its Full House inspiration on its sleeve, only instead of filling the house with lovable scamps and charming uncles, it’s full of character actors from Tim and Eric’s stable of weird, middle-age talent: men like the bowl-cut Tennessee Luke, foul-mouthed Ron Auster, and sex pervert Ben Hur. The laugh track still sets off on cue and goes “Aww” at heartwarming moments, but the plots revolve around feces spray, stabbings, and spoiled eggs. We chatted with Tim and Eric about the new series and how they’re doing while quarantining in their respective beef homes.
How are you holding up in quarantine?
Tim Heidecker: I’m doing pretty good. I’ve got two small kids, so that’s been challenging. My wife and I have become first-grade teachers. I’ve realized it’s not something I enjoy or am good at. It’s not great, but we got so lucky because our tour ended the day before quarantine began, and we had Beef House in the can. So I feel pretty fortunate overall.
Eric Wareheim: I’m editing a video for one of my best friends, Jen Stark, an artist. It’s a music video called “Pop That Booty.” Everyone did all these booty dances, and I cut it together into one megavideo. We’re gonna screen-share it in the middle of her Zoom birthday. We have a couple male strippers as surprises for her that will just join the Zoom at random. So it’s an experiment that I’m excited for.
Tim: I’ve been doing some live strip … I wouldn’t call it stripping; it’s live on a website called YouPorn.com, and you can stream me masturbating and doing that kind of stuff.
Eric: What’s your handle?
Eric: Oh! It’s cross-promotion.
Tim: Yeah, I talk about the show and answer questions and explore my body.
Do you have any quarantine advice or recommendations?
Eric: We’re recommending anything beef-related. Beef House, of course. Also it’s a fun time to just watch all of our shows.
Tim: That’s a strong recommendation. Eric, you’ll be proud of me: I’ve been baking bread. Last night, I made bagels. Have you ever made bagels? They’re so easy. You take your pizza dough and just make little bagel shapes, easy little rings. Boil them for a minute, and then put them in the oven for 30 minutes at 400. They came out as good as bagels I’ve had in New York. Put little poppy seeds on top. It’s fun.
Eric: I put a couple recipes online for people to try simple things. I did a grandma sauce, or red sauce. I think it’s really good.
Have you been in contact with the other Beef Boys since quarantine?
Tim: We had a Zoom with Ron and Tenny, but we couldn’t get ahold of Ben Hur. That’s always been the case. Ben Hur is sort of a mystery. We can’t get a sense of where he comes from or what he does when he’s not working with us. We feel like he’s probably in some kind of KGB situation. But yeah, we talked to the other guys; they’re doing good. They’re so excited about the show and being a part of it. They’re like, “When can we do more? Please?”
So much of your work is very post-apocalyptic and dealing with disease or viruses. On tour, you had “Pork’s Disease,” and in Beef House there’s a prune shortage and the neighbor’s hoarding prunes. It’s very of-the-moment. What do you know that we don’t?
Tim: It’s stuff that’s out there. It’s always out there in the world, and it doesn’t always affect us in America. I felt like for years and years now, How is everything still going so normally? I’ve always felt in the past ten years or so, like, everything’s sitting on this really flimsy house of cards. Life is very absurd and incredibly dangerous at times and scary. And we filter that through comedy, but other people can make horror movies or very depressing things. But it is freaky. Like you said, the Pork’s Disease thing happened. Obviously, we were not thinking about any kind of pandemic, but the way it timed with our tour and it sort of creeping into the country was very spooky to us, as well.
The sort of family sitcoms you channel on Beef House feel very quarantine TV. It’s confined to a living room. It’s people getting on each other’s nerves in a small space. It’s being trapped in this day-to-day episodic existence. What appealed to you guys about the sitcom genre?
Eric: When we were shooting it, we had this B-plot that I would always deliver Tim his pills and milk. He has a back problem — there’s this little hint that he maybe took too many pain pills, and for some reason, I served him every day. And that feels very quarantine — like, you just start doing these things over and over again. And we love that idea of Why are they living together? Are they forced to live together?
Tim: That also spoke to the genre that we’re parodying. You never thought too closely about what these people did outside of those walls. It was always about what happened in that space. The repetition is something that’s kind of interesting. We made a sitcom, but we don’t have network stooges that are going to say, “Do the same thing every episode.” We have Adult Swim, and they’re going to say, “As soon as you feel like this is boring to you, blow it up and compound it on itself.” We feel like we have these fun borders that we’ve made, but we don’t feel like we’ll ever need to feel constricted by them.
Are there any sitcom tropes that you’d like to explore in future episodes?
Eric: We had an idea that my dad came to visit and he was a musician. And of course, he gets along with Tim more than me, and I get jealous. I think he might make a move at Tim sexually. He kind of becomes a discussion for the whole house.
Tim: And also, we can do supernatural stuff in the show. A lot of sitcoms didn’t mess with that for good reason. But there are those shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch where they just had this magic cat. [So] you have a plot problem, you just go, “Well, Tennessee can just use his mind to fix it. We have like 11 minutes, so Tennessee does something with his mind.” It’s fun that we can play outside the lines of the sitcom format when we want to.
Still, this is maybe the most grounded show you’ve done so far. Why did you guys want to set a show in a living room in a suburb in “Rimwood, Florida”?
Eric: It’s a two-part thing. One is that we’ve never done it before, and Tim and I get bored of stuff really quick. So this was an opportunity to just try a new format. On the first day, we were so unsure, we had our editor do a quick supercut of a scene, just to see if this looks like a sitcom. And it did! She added laugh tracks, and we were like, “Oh shit, we feel it.” We have a theory that because it is palatable, a lot of people are enjoying it on a different level. It’s still obviously a Tim and Eric experience, but you know every day you’re going to be in Rimwood at that house. And the characters kind of stay the same, in a way, which is just something we’ve never done.
Tim: Eric and I have done a lot of extremely challenging, alienating work, and there is something appealing to us as we get older to try to make something that isn’t as hard to watch, and it’s fun. Especially now, again, we didn’t plan this, but I think the reaction from a lot of people watching it has been like, “It is so nice to watch something that’s so stupid and so silly and easy to understand what it is.” Once you settle into the rhythms of it, I think it is fairly approachable. It’s like we say: It’s a sitcom, but it’s funny. That’s the difference.
Eric: If you think of the Easter fashion show going into a bunch of middle-aged men looking for Easter eggs as normal, that’s as normal as we get.
If Easter takes place in the universe of Beef House, does Chrimbus? How far does your universe go?
Tim: Somebody pointed out a can of Turbo Fuel energy drink in the living room in one episode. We probably approved that, but we don’t want to make it a superfan show. I like the theory somebody had online that this actually exists in The Sopranos extended universe: Meadow died at the end of The Sopranos and she’s in hell.