While half-checking your phone on Thanksgiving, you may have noticed that Tim Heidecker’s podcast Office Hours Live was on the air, but this was not an ordinary week for the talk show. In the special episode, Heidecker moderates a meandering marathon interview with comedians Jeremy Levick and Rajat Suresh. Wearing a ball cap with the logo for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Heidecker serves up stoner-friendly questions like, “How much can the brain absorb … when it comes to new information?”, and Levick replies simply by listing different parts of the brain in pulse-slowing monotone. Elsewhere, Suresh describes an Unsolved Mysteries–level news story about the discovery of one of the devil’s horns, a topic that all three agree the New York Times would be too scared to pursue (“Follow the money,” Levick murmurs knowingly). Heidecker reads ad copy for Quad Core, a pyramid-scheme-seeming “lifestyle health system” that you can sign up for with the discount code “Fuddruckers,” which may draw your eye to a neon sign for the burger chain green-screened behind him.
If this reminds you of another podcast hosted by a certain UFC commentator and former Fear Factor host, you’re right. Though he’s booked interviewees as relatively innocuous as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jay Leno, Joe Rogan’s hands-off style draws in guests who like that he won’t push back on their résumés and responses, whether alt-right figureheads like Alex Jones or conspiracy-prone tech magnates like Musk, whose 2018 weed-toking appearance is invoked by Heidecker’s hat. But this hangout vibe also means that many Joe Rogan Experience episodes clock in at three hours or more, which is a long time to listen to anyone shoot the shit. This dull endlessness is the starting point for the Office Hours version: Heidecker, Levick, and Suresh’s stream lasted for nearly 12 hours, an amazing stunt to witness in real time. While digesting turkey or a meat alternative, you could drop into the eighth hour of the show and hear Suresh explaining that humans can be considered animals “on a cellular level.”
In reality, the special loops an hour-long base video, but this feeling that they could go on forever makes the episode such a compelling (and funny) satire of Rogan. As the three comedians nail the lethargic tone of the Experience, everything that they actually discuss is patently ridiculous, spun from smart-sounding but meaningless buzzwords — Levick says to Heidecker at one point, “I’m glad you said ‘countercurrent,’ because it’s a sea change” (whatever “it” is). Even if everything resembles the real JRE, each flimsy metaphor makes it harder to ignore the void at the conversation’s center. There’s a scene from Surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty with a similar atmosphere: Characters attend a dinner party where toilets surround the table instead of chairs, but no one in the film views this as unusual. Instead of a visual gag, Office Hours’ punch line is conceptual; the joke might be on you if you’re willing to listen to three weirdos talk for 12 hours about The Rock ruling the U.S. as a benevolent monarch.
That kind of obsession with formal detail, but with one major screw loose, is Levick and Suresh’s trademark as a comedy duo. They’re best known for their 2020 viral-video spoof “conservative lecturer DESTROYS sjw college student”: Levick plays a writer who pedantically eviscerates an audience question from Suresh about the moral compass of his book … called Mr. Mouse Goes on a Fun Little Adventure to Happy Town (“Define ‘special mouse,’” Levick snaps repeatedly). Levick’s pompous character was inspired by reactionaries like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, but instead of mimicking anything heinous that these people might say, the video lowers the stakes to the ground. What’s left is the underlying aggression that these particular exchanges share, now hilariously displaced into a heated argument over a cartoon mouse or, in a parody of an anti-masker bystander video, the message of When Harry Met Sally. Newly-minted SNL cast member James Austin Johnson does something comparable in his Donald Trump impression videos, in which he embarks on all sorts of free-associative tangents, like how Weird Al was “mean” to Coolio. Since he so closely replicates the real man’s bizarre speech patterns, Johnson’s videos feel like staring into Trump’s erratic id, which gets at something less obvious than Alec Baldwin’s topical caricature. These comedians are more interested in unleashing toxic energy with pitch-perfect accuracy, a better fit for an absurd political reality that can’t be rationally described.
Heidecker is the perfect partner in crime for this super-dry, committed brand of satire. Across all of his series with Eric Wareheim, he’s made laser-precise parodies of infomercials, sitcoms, and, for the 2013 pilot of their horror anthology Bedtime Stories (2013–2017), a useless aftershow in the style of Talking Bad. The closest of his projects to the Rogan takeoff might be his epically scaled The Trial of Tim Heidecker from 2017, in which his character from On Cinema at the Cinema is on trial for murder. Directed by Eric Notarnicola, The Trial is nearly five hours long and stylized exactly like a live feed of court TV, but that aesthetic only makes its core psychodrama more perverse. At its heart, On Cinema is a soap opera about the power struggles of two incompetent film critics (Heidecker and Gregg Turkington), and in The Trial, their feuds look especially pathetic when they collide with the “real” world. The judge, lawyers, and jury have no frame of reference for a petty argument over which Star Trek movie was set in San Francisco, but they also seem powerless to stop this bizarre lore from swallowing up the legal process. As much as Heidecker has absorbed Trump’s and Alex Jones’s mannerisms into his QAnon-prone, alternative-medicine-hocking On Cinema character, The Trial is more focused on the total inability of conventional systems to deal with his character — and, in the end, he gets away with negligent homicide for selling faulty vape pens at a terrible EDM festival.
When Office Hours drains the center of The Joe Rogan Experience, what’s left behind is a soup of directionless anecdotes and lamentations about cancel culture. Suresh worries that his stand-up jokes about Einstein in antifa might attract controversy, but Levick reassures him that this hour is “valid” and “fucking funny.” This also seems to be the premise of Rogan’s podcast: the possibility that each guest’s perspective could have a kernel of validity, and listeners are free to come to their own conclusions. By following Rogan’s format, Heidecker, Levick, and Suresh highlight something related: JRE episodes are mainly about unchecked rambling. Topics on deck could be as banal as Rogan and Musk vaguely spitballing about the future of AI, or as potentially harmful as misinformation about ivermectin and COVID vaccines. Whatever it is, it’s all delivered in the same casual, conversational tone. So when Heidecker talks about the therapeutic power of “crab salts” — crystallized DNA from decomposed crabs which, if taken in capsule form, could provide complete immunity from disease and irreparably disrupt the pharmaceutical industry — it’s important that this idea can jump out of the show’s ASMR rhythm enough to make you laugh, jolting you awake from a multi-hour galaxy-brain session. If a perfect imitation of JRE can tap into its essence, Office Hours finds three men desperate to talk, but with nothing of value to say. And if that seems laughable, then it’s hard to see what might make it valid.