Guesting on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! took serious bravery. Anything could happen once you were on set. Would you need to play a pitchman for rentable juvenile clowns on the brink of an emotional meltdown? Or were you simply asked to hold your arms up in a weird way as you made the case for artificial bones? For 50 episodes and five seasons, there was no more fertile and fucked-up terrain in comedy. You can still hear the echoes, more than a decade later.
Many of the best characters on Awesome Show were played by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. After all, the duo had a precise grip on the exact sort of limbic, haunted, late-night public-access show they wanted to make. They also found a surprising number of A-listers willing to play along with the mayhem. Everyone from John Mayer to Will Ferrell has gone down the rabbit hole with them. But the pair were also more than happy to pan through the benthic underside of Hollywood, trolling Craigslist for walk-ons who could provide the unsteady, amateurish tone the show relied on in a truly fluent way. (Some of the cult favorites Tim and Eric produced, like Richard Dunn, were pulled off the street.) This is our list of the 30 best characters in Awesome Show history, played by stand-up royalty and anonymous weirdos alike. In the world of Wareheim and Heidecker, everyone can be a star.
30. Dave Navarro
Everything in the Tim and Eric tradition — from The Eric Andre Show down to Tom Goes to the Mayor — relies on a certain indelible unscrupulousness in whoever is guesting on the show. Yes, it is funny when Patton Oswalt shows up and seamlessly plays along, but this kind of comedy is at its best when someone completely outside the ecosystem appears onscreen. The best example, in our opinion, is Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, who entered the “Dunngeon” hosted by Richard Dunn in season two. After spending a media career as one of the anodyne talking heads on shows like CBS’s Rockstar, Navarro was now correcting the Dunnman himself, dressed in a mesh top and leather pants, about the precise pronunciation of “Navarro.” It’s the perfect example of two universes colliding.
29. Maria Bamford
The first few seasons of Awesome Show reveal Tim and Eric’s strong creative symbiosis at the time with the “Comedians of Comedy”: Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis, and Maria Bamford. Both groups gave their productions an indie-music-kid ethos inspired by Neil Hamburger, and Heidecker and Wareheim welcomed all of the above onto their show to play some wacky characters. Bamford, already a wacky character in and of herself, appeared in seasons one and three as Maria Bamford. In a sketch that sends up QVC, Bamford hosts a program called The New You, where she shows you “how to rejuvenate and revitalize yourself … through lotion!” Unlike later seasons, where it appears that famous guest stars are doing their preconceived idea of what an Awesome Show character should be, this is a showcase for Bamford doing her signature mom impression. By season three, it appears that Channel 5 has let her have a show about cleaning cat hair, which of course devolves into an on-air breakdown and screaming fit.
28. Video Dating Gamer
This isn’t even a bit. This is what all gamers look like, especially if you meet them on a VHS dating service. We never saw much of the Video Dating Gamer after this season-two segment, but we’ll always thank Rainn Wilson for his education.
With each passing year, the early 3D-animated canon — think Shrek, A Bug’s Life, and the first Toy Story — grows more uncanny through the lens of modern technology. Grum, an exceptionally poorly rendered children’s mascot, is Tim and Eric’s tribute to that strange late-’90s catalogue. Everything looks a little queasy and weird in Grum’s universe. In 2021, there is nothing more unsettling than low fidelity.
26 & 25. Jim and Derrick
Occasionally, Tim and Eric would ditch the central conceit of their show and put together a half hour imported directly from inter-dimensional cable. Jim and Derrick represent the prime example of that genius. Filmed in 2008, right as the MTV burnout skater-cum-pranksters like Bam Margera were jumping the shark, it’s one of the best distillations of mid-aughts, Jackass-ian culture you’ll ever see. Nothing but gratuitous product placement, energy-drink chugging contests, and two hosts destined for a troubled tabloid future. It’s pitch-perfect.
24. Dee Vee
Dee Vee is Tim and Eric’s hairy little buddy who joins them for their Chrimbus Special as a way of selling copies of said special on DVD as it’s airing (Dee Vee is presumably a lazy shortening of DVD; he wears one on his chest). A little goblin with cloven feet and a full body of blonde fur, he is a repulsive little Ewok who nonetheless inspires some excellent Chrimbus music. Dee Vee reads as a parody of the barely considered furry sidekick added to children’s media to sell products (think Snarf from ThunderCats). Dee Vee gets a full arc when he is revealed to be the younger version of Awesome Show regular player Tennessee. Even on his deathbed, he shares a heartwarming Chrimbus message: that the meaning of the holiday is to buy the Chrimbus Special on DVD.
23. Ruth Carr
Old-school karaoke graphics were fever dreams. Like cable-access programming and local ad campaigns, these were just another genre of cathode-ray-native visual media of the ’90s that Awesome Show dredged out of our subconscious dumpsters and satirized just when no one was asking for it. Ruth Carr, played by Jennifer Mims, was the muse of Awesome Show’s “Song Legends Karaoke” segments. Carr begins her karaoke career in the season-two sketch “Come Over,” starring as a liberated woman cheating on her husband and beckoning the hunky neighbor with her coos of “Stroke my leg, pull on my hair, treat me like you don’t even care / Oh oh oh oh … come over.” It’s a sex-positive anthem and a thrilling tale of adultery, sold through half-committed dance moves. Carr’s plot thickened in the show’s ten-year anniversary special, in a sketch called “Spaghetti Again,” in which we finally meet her ingrate husband, Lindsey Porch (Bob Druwing). He wields a knife, dreams about a wife who would cook him “a cut still on the bone,” and criticizes her overcooked noodles. But Carr gets the last laugh with her veal Parmesan. A true rock star.
Before there was Karl Havoc and his hidden-camera prank show, there was Spagett. A mischievous, turtlenecked imp with a pubic wig sewn into his hairline, this spaghetti-slurping prankster (played by Heidecker) terrorized the globe with his signature spooks, popping out from behind planters and theater seats to try to squeeze a scare out of unsuspecting strangers who could not give less of a shit. The Just for Laughs Gags–esque ugly idiocy of his bit, matched by “victims” who just aren’t having it, is one of Awesome Show’s clearer comedy games, making Spagett a great entry point for newcomers to the show. Or you can always show them the feature-film adaptation.
21 & 20. The Universe Doctors
It seems exceedingly likely that both Tim and Eric watched a boatload of bad, wiggy, 1980s space documentaries in their youth. As adults, they finally had the chance to cosplay the black-turtlenecked astrophysicists of their dreams. Naturally, their season-four interpretation is less Carl Sagan and more Carl Sagan after a head injury, but for a series so often defined by pastiche and irony, it’s clear that the duo have a real appreciation for the cosmic optimism of the genre. You’re right Eric, it is really fun to think about taking a speed-of-light ride.
19. Tairy Greene
Tairy Greene is a recurring character played by Zach Galifianakis, and we like to imagine that he used the character to siphon off some of his own traumas as a working actor. Greene is a psychotic acting coach, constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and we get a candid glimpse at some of his seminars targeted for elementary-aged hopefuls: “YOU’RE NOT A PERSON UNLESS YOU’RE ACTING.” Galifianakis distills a lifetime spent absorbing the advice of questionable Hollywood eccentrics into 30-second-long rants.
18. Dr. Reid Tamaranda
There are some bits on Awesome Show that resist logic, analysis, or exposition, so I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to describe the appeal of Dr. Reid Tamaranda. Seriously, I wonder what direction Will Forte received for this character. He dreams up the exact kind of troubled, deep-web medical hustler who sells (usable, healthy) human bones, and he does so by fluttering his eyes, keeping his mouth constantly open, and positioning his arms parallel to his hips like the most camera-shy man of all time. That’s commitment, baby!
17. James Quall
It’s clear that Tim and Eric are both big comedy nerds, but in particular, they have an appreciation for the sort of warmed-over, hacky night-club circuit that thrived in the ’70s and ’80s. Quall, as a character, is a tribute to that gilded age, complete with golden bow ties, ridiculous lapels, and a bevy of terrible celebrity impressions. Let’s be honest: Quall would absolutely crush his sets today.
16, 15, & 14. Mini Van Highway
This is from the 2009 season of the Awesome Show, and despite our research, we’re unable to determine who these guys are. What we can say is that Tim and Eric predicted the uneasy, etherealized vaporwave revolution way before it soaked up Tumblr. You can feel society change halfway through, when the band kicks it into overdrive and the lead singer takes center stage for a low-end vocoder solo. We may never get another Daft Punk album, but at least we’ll always have “Mini Van Highway.”
13. Grill Vogel
Most of the characters that appear on Awesome Show are troubling and unsettling in all sorts of different psychoactive ways. But not Grill Vogel! Played by the legendary Ray Wise, Vogel walks us through the murky terrain of platonic male intimacy through a series of very, very weird hugs. After quarantine, we should be welcoming all of our friends with a Power Embrace.
12 & 11. Kent and Rudy (the Cinco guys)
Some of Awesome Show’s most enduring nightmare imagery comes from its line of fictional Cinco products and their accompanying commercial parodies. Many of these take the visual language of “As Seen on TV” paid-programming spots for obscure, patent-pending products promising to make the viewer’s life easier through infantilization, and apply it to horrific and disgusting body modifications. The charismatic and trustworthy stars of these ads? A couple of middle-aged pals named Rudy and Kent, played by Jay Mawhinney and Bob Ross (not that Bob Ross). In ads for MyEggs, the Cinco Food Tube, and the Cinco Eye Tanning System, we see the platonic best buddies casually sell each other on extreme physical torture, all in the name of avoiding an idiotic problem. Somehow, these “solutions” always involve poor Kent getting his teeth yanked out. The concepts and imagery are always ridiculous, but what makes these sketches soar is the genius, amiable deadpan of Mawhinney and Ross. It’s like Itchy & Scratchy on ketamine.
10. Paul Rudd (Celery Man)
Awesome Show’s most enduring one-hit wonder is Paul Rudd as himself (his Cinco operating system addresses him as “Paul”), as well as a number of digital identities, in the classic “Celery Man.” Rudd walks through some sort of digital void, boots up his Cinco computer, and begins generating different versions of himself onscreen to dance for him. There’s clean-cut Celery Man, rude dude with a ’tude Oyster, and Tayne, who can wobble a fedora and whose nude sequences frighten poor Paul for a second before he recovers. Rudd’s dance moves as Tayne are the stuff of bar mitzvah DJ legend.
9. J.J. Pepper
J.J. Pepper is a videographer for hire played by Will Forte, whose approach to pitching his business is “desperate plea.” Forte was a frequent guest on Awesome Show, but J.J. Pepper is his funniest character. If his shrill voice doesn’t win you over, his little vest will. The J.J. Pepper commercial sketch is an opportunity for the show to get meta about its use of lo-fi, public-access editing effects, as Pepper shows off his janky star wipes and CGI kangaroos. Hire him for your next “bra mitzvah,” won’t you? Jeez!
Ron Austar is another Awesome Show original. The man had only two film credits before Tim and Eric brought him in to play Pierre, the Channel 5 fixture and vaguely psychotic children’s entertainer. Austar was a natural, employing a Billy Blanks–like cadence in his many mind-melting dance breaks. “I Wanna Meet That Dad” is the classic, but really, we ought to celebrate the full Pierre catalogue.
7. David Liebe Hart
David Liebe Hart’s body of work exists well beyond Awesome Show: He has been an outsider artist using puppetry and music to explore themes of Christianity, the cosmos, and choo-choo trains for decades, often regaling passersby outside of L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl after shows. But Awesome Show gave him a platform and adoring disciples, and in turn, Liebe Hart gave Awesome Show some effortlessly bizarre music and real public-access authenticity. Liebe Hart gave the show a heart and a theology of its own, evoking alien romances and crafting small father-son dramas through song and ventriloquy.
6 & 5. Casey and His Brother
It’s the song that left Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Jessie J quaking: “Bang bang cops and robbers / Bang bang robbers and cops / Bang bang / Rob that bank / Put ‘em in jail, put ‘em in jail.” The beauty of parodies on Awesome Show, versus parodies on other sketch series, is that they are never an obvious one-to-one to anything existing in reality. They operate on dream logic. Casey and His Brother are child singers on the Weird Al–hosted Uncle Muscles Hour in the world of the show. Casey, played by Heidecker, is a distressingly red-faced boy with Sharpie eyebrows who comes across as deeply nervous and upset as he performs, interjecting his songs like “Horse and Buggy Ride” and “(I Want to Live in a) Choo Choo Train” with yelps and dry heaves. His brother, meanwhile, wears thick sunglasses and does little dances; it’s Wareheim at the height of his physical-comedy powers. In the world of Awesome Show, the boys are beloved, and it’s akin to a national tragedy when Casey goes missing after having gotten into a van with a child clown salesman and eventually dies in an explosion. So what was this parodying, exactly? The mystery of their grotesquerie only improves the experience of songs like “Hamburgers and Hotdogs.”
4 & 3. Jan and Wayne Skylar
Jan and Wayne Skylar are the only married news team in the tristate area, and like their friend and colleague Dr. Steve Brule, they are Channel 5’s very own. Jan is a brilliant drag character for Heidecker, who plays the deep-fried meme equivalent of a Kids in the Hall dame — a sensible woman in horror-clown rouge who is sexually repulsed by her husband, Wareheim’s put-upon Wayne. Wareheim’s greatest natural comedic gift is that tiny little mouth of his, and it’s made funnier when framed by Wayne’s penciled-on goatee. The childless (Jan’s canal couldn’t birth a child, and she’s constantly avoiding her husband’s advances) legends, in their flamboyant craft-store vests, bring a delightful slow-burn cringe to all of their sketches, framed like local news that’s ultimately just the portrait of a crumbling marriage. Tim and Eric also play a workplace couple in their recurring “Carol and Mr. Henderson” sketches, but Jan and Wayne are the two at their most camp, and therefore they get the edge. In our humble opinion, these two should be the only straight couple allowed at Pride.
2. Richard Dunn
Richard Dunn was perhaps the greatest discovery during the Awesome Show run. Here was a Korean War veteran born in the 1930s, whom Heidecker approached in a parking lot and offered him a gig playing his father in the pilot episode in 2007. Dunn would never leave. His one-of-a-kind frame — rail-thin with a pair of big, burgundy glasses balanced on the edge of his nose — paired perfectly with the duo’s house style. Dunn helped pioneer the off-kilter and quietly menacing rhythm that sent both Wareheim and Heidecker to stardom. He died in 2010, which is a real shame, because at 74, he was still just getting started.
1. Dr. Steve Brule
It had to be him. John C. Reilly was getting nominated for Oscars before jumping on a late-night Adult Swim show to play a doctor with a child’s mind. It’s a total outlier — one of the strangest career transitions in Hollywood history — and it couldn’t have worked out better. Dr. Steve Brule’s whirlwind, grotesque segments on Channel 5 were great, but Reilly really made his bones in the recurring “Brule’s Rules” breaks, where he’d bless the audience with an inscrutable nugget pulled from his one-of-a-kind worldview. (“Ever wonder why ice cubes taste so boring? It’s because you make them out of stupid water!”) Brule immediately became a fan favorite, to the point of earning his own spinoff show. We can talk about his stints in Magnolia, or Boogie Nights, or even Step Brothers, but really, Dr. Steve Brule is John C. Reilly’s greatest role. For your health.