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Eric Andre Couldn’t Have Made Bad Trip Without Meg Ryan

Eric Andre. Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Eric Andre’s prank movie Bad Trip is out on Netflix today, and it’s possibly the funniest film to come out since quarantine began (okay, second funniest, after the “Imagine” video). In the movie, Andre skewers rom-com tropes, Lil Rel Howery just about quits, and Tiffany Haddish gives the bravest performance this side of Maria Bakalovafor pulling stunts on strangers in open-carry states. Under all the fake vomit and gorilla jizz, though, lies a sweet message about how people are fundamentally good, kind, and patient, even when you’re pulling stunts on them. Vulture spoke with Andre about how the mechanics of a large-scale prank movie even work (answer: a lot of free food), the scene with Chris Rock that had to be cut (too famous), and why he owes it all to Meg Ryan.

We’re doing this interview a couple of days after the Oscar nominations for Borat, another prank-based narrative film that’s received praise for the “bravery” of its performers, Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova. Bad Trip is that level of bravery compounded tenfold. Because on top of pulling these stunts in the American South, you’re doing them with police officers, with army men. You’re performers of color, and you don’t have the shroud of presenting as celebrities. Were there times you thought you were going to die?
Many times. I would say that Maria Bakalova is brave. Sacha is incredibly brave, but she had never done prank movies. So shout-out to the both of them. They deserve all the accolades they’re getting, and then some. What they did was no small feat. But yes. Rel, our first day of shooting — and the first time Rel had ever filmed a hidden-camera prank in his life — we had a knife pulled on us because we went into a hood barbershop with our penises stuck in a Chinese finger trap, and we asked the guy for scissors. He looked for his gun, found his knife, chased us out with a knife, and that was the first time Rel had shot a hidden-camera prank. He almost quit the movie. So that was incredibly stressful.

But because of that, he was so verklempt that he called his manager and agent, and he was like, “Eric’s gonna get me killed. It’s a nightmare, I shouldn’t have done this. I should quit.” And then he called Tiffany Haddish, who wasn’t in the movie yet. He just called her to vent to her. He was like, “I’m doing this Eric Andre movie. It’s very stressful; this guy pulled a knife on us. I don’t want to do this anymore.” She starts dying laughing. They finish the phone call. She calls me five minutes later and she goes, “Dude, you almost got Rel killed doing pranks?” I go, “Yeah, I kind of want to keep that hush-hush.” Then she goes, “Hell no, that’s awesome. I live for that shit. I want to be in your movie.” I was like, What?! And just by the grace of God, the woman that was supposed to play her role had just dropped out because she had a prior obligation to her television show, so there was an opening. Tiffany presented herself as an option, and she was incredible in the movie. So it was definitely stressful and hairy, and got pretty violent. We were shooting in open-carry states, where people were armed. It’s hard.

I want to talk about the gorilla scene at the zoo. How do you orchestrate a prank like that, how many times do you shoot it, and how do you know, this is the take we’re using?
I think we only did the gorilla prank two times, and the majority of the footage was the first group. They were so on the hook that it was tough to beat. We’ll go on Craigslist and say, “Hey, we’re opening a new zoo and we need people to check out this zoo for the first time. We’ll give you free pizza at the end of the day,” and you’ll get 40 people to show up, and you just put them in little tour groups. And then I just “happen” to make my way into the gorilla cage in front of them. Craigslist was a great tool for us. Like “Free Taco Truck!” and then Tiffany hangs me off a roof.

So the taco truck is a plant?
We hired a taco truck, and we paid the taco people however much to just give free tacos to anybody that walks up. We put a big sign out, like “Free Tacos.” And then by the time 15, 20 people are wolfing down tacos, then Tiffany chucks me off a roof in front of them. You’ll see a lot of free food or food-adjacent things off in the peripheral in the movie. It’s just a way to corral people into the proper location so that we can pull our pranks.

There was the doughnut shop …
There were a lot of free doughnuts at that doughnut shop that day.

This is all making me realize I’m the sort of person who would totally be a mark for a prank movie, because I never say no to free food.
Most people don’t!

Do you tell the people, say, working the taco truck or the doughnut shop, to react in a certain way in advance of pulling the prank, so that they “sell” what’s happening to everyone else?
Oh yeah. All the reactions in the movie are genuine. And anybody that had to be “in on the prank” for any production purpose was out of frame. You’ll literally see a guy working at a bar, and his head’s cut off, and that’s on purpose. But honestly, the people don’t have to work hard. All eyes are on me, or Tiffany, or Rel, because I’m screaming at the top of my lungs about to be dropped off a building.

Are there any stunts or pranks you wanted to do that were just impossible?
Most ideas I have are impossible — either too expensive or dangerous or illegal.

Any examples?
It’s a bummer. We had Chris Rock do a prank in the movie. We were trying to corral people into the car, and we were going to shoot it in a way where it looked like they were hitchhiking, and we just picked up a hitchhiker. We were going on Craigslist, and we had some elaborate ruse that made no sense, like “We’re in town visiting and we want somebody to take us around.” But we looked really suspicious, me and Rel in that car in like a Burger King parking lot trying to corral people inside.

We got one guy inside the car, and immediately he could tell we were fishy. We had Chris Rock pretend he was a cop and he pulled us over, and he was going to get the guy out of the car and be like, “Drop and give me 20!” and plant drugs on him and light the guy up and freak him out. But the guy recognized Chris Rock. Chris Rock is super famous! So it just didn’t work, and we couldn’t get people in the car, and the prank failed. It was so frustrating, because we had my comedy hero in the movie, and we had to cut him out because the prank fell apart — not because of him or his performance. That kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s almost so common that I’m numb to it a little bit. You have a 20 percent chance when you go out and film a prank that it works.

This is the last Borat-based question I’m going to ask …
Oh no, ask away!

Okay, 100 Borat-based questions then.
That’s the name of the segment.

The ultimate M.O. of the Borat movies is exposing the ignorance, or stupidity, or hypocrisy of so many average people. What’s refreshing, generous, and ultimately very sweet about Bad Trip is that you expose how people are ultimately decent, compassionate, and deeply concerned about your safety …
Yes! I think that this movie pulled off the greatest magic trick: We were a prank movie and we weren’t cynical. We show the Good Samaritan nature of people, and the humanitarian nature.

This is a great story: We showed Sacha Baron Cohen a very early cut of the movie. It was kind of in shambles, and he was helping us piece broken parts together. And he turned to me, and he goes, “You know, my movies show how shitty rich, white people are. Your movie shows how beautiful and sweet and genuine Black and working-class people are.” I think that’s the major difference. So even the king of rock and roll himself pointed out the very same point you made. He’s there to take down Mike Pence and all of the people orbiting around Trump, whereas my movie showed the humanitarian nature of the proletariat.

Did you always know you were going to end the movie with the credits sequence of clips where you, Rel, and Tiffany reveal yourself to the real people in the scenes?
We were taking off from what Jeff [Tremaine, Bad Trip producer] did with Bad Grandpa and the Jackass movies, where their credit reel is some of the best material, because they get to put in quick little pops of chaos or things that failed. So for us, it was extra important, because it showed us revealing it was a hidden-camera prank to all these people, and them being good sports about it. It felt like this great release of tension. I strongly encourage people not to change the channel and watch through the credits, because it’s the true grand-finale dismount of the movie.

If Bad Trip is a satire, it’s satirizing how if people acted the way that lead characters act in movies — like that declaration of love — but in real life, it would look insane to everyone surrounding them. What movies did you watch, besides prank movies and White Chicks, to get into that headspace?
We watched a ton of rom-coms. For the bus scene, we were inspired by When Harry Met Sally. We were watching Love Actually, and Meg Ryan movies from the ’90s, thinking, What’s the prank version of the breakup and makeup scenes that happen at the end of all of these movies? And then we wrote the hidden-camera version of that. Shout-out to Meg Ryan.

So much of the humor of The Eric Andre Show is postproduction based. How did you write the pranks in Bad Trip, knowing that you wouldn’t have that element?
Story has to be the foundation of every single movie, even documentaries. Eric Andre Show benefits from only having to be an 11 and a half minute run time. You’re with each episode for such a quick burst that it’s kind of like anarchy. I was very resistant to a lot of story because it’s very confining, coming from Adult Swim where I have total creative carte blanche and I don’t have to play by any rules. The rules of storytelling felt like a straitjacket at first, and then you realize their importance. You realize the pranks that are on story are actually the most satisfying to pull off.

Do you have a different mind-set when you’re pulling a stunt on a celebrity versus average folks?
Yeah, my adrenaline is surging. I’m nervous and out of body. It’s intense. I’m in a heightened state of reality.

Were there moments when people recognized Tiffany?
We all got busted here and there, but it wasn’t too bad. Tiffany was the most disguised. She had the face tattoos and cornrows, and she was dressed like a construction worker. Every once in a while you get busted, but you wait it out for the person that’s calling you out to leave, and then resume the prank. My demographic skews young, so I knew that anybody over the age of 45, anybody that looked like a mom or older, they weren’t going to recognize me. Not a mom on Earth knows I exist.

Do you see yourself writing a more traditionally scripted, non-prank movie, after Bad Trip
Yeah, absolutely. I have no loyalty to any particular medium. Music videos, prank phone calls, fine art … I want to build the world’s biggest hamster cage at the Guggenheim. That’s been a dream of mine. Don’t tell anybody.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Eric Andre Couldn’t Have Made Bad Trip Without Meg Ryan