Note: This interview took place in early 2020, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Eric Andre is feeling nostalgic. He wistfully recalls a simpler, but arguably not any less crazy time in his life, as he anticipates the public’s reaction to his upcoming movie, Bad Trip.
“Back in like 2009, I’d dress up like Ronald McDonald and head into a McDonald’s,” Andre tells us about one of the earliest segments for his Adult Swim series. “I’d be drinking booze, crying and smoking cigarettes in there. That was all just with one mic and one camera on me.”
For over a decade, Andre and director Kitao Sakurai have been entrenched in the experimental comedy scene. But the team behind Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show has moved from killing time with a bare-bones setup in dingy New York City fast food joints to far higher production values in the feature film world. With those bigger venues come bigger risks, and the potential of infuriating someone not in on the joke. In one harrowing instance, Andre and his Bad Trip co-star Lil Rel Howery had their lives threatened during a confrontation in an Atlanta barbershop.
“It was our second day of shooting [Bad Trip] and this guy pulled a knife on us,” says Andre, with a mix of both joy and concern in his voice. “For this bit, our dicks are caught in a Chinese finger trap. So we’re stretching our junk back and forth. The guy’s like, ‘Oh, hell no!’ He grabbed a knife and chased us out. We could barely run in the thing, and Rel fell down and rolled under a truck. That was terrifying. That was Rel’s second day, not only of filming the movie, but ever doing hidden camera pranks. So he was miserable.”
There are no limits for Andre; anything goes in the name of comedy. The scope may be wider now, but Andre is still up to his same signature brand of absurdist humor. So enters Bad Trip, an extreme hidden camera film that is also something of a road trip adventure for Andre and Howery, one they’ve been working toward since 2013. In the film, Andre and Howery play two best friends who embark on a cross-country journey of self-discovery. In the process, they subject the unknowing public to radical stunts like faking a prison break (with help from co-star Tiffany Haddish) or menial day jobs that result in gushing blood or embarrassing nudity.
While Bad Trip feels like a big moment and natural extension of the comedian’s brand, Andre has been an important face in comedy for years. The Eric Andre Show has been a fixture on Adult Swim since 2012 with its much anticipated fifth season finally arriving in October 2020. Andre has also been a bright spot in series like Man Seeking Woman, Don’t Trust The B—- in Apt. 23, and Two Broke Girls. In recent years, he even landed prominent voice acting roles, appearing in Matt Groening’s Netflix series Disenchantment and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King.
In many respects, Bad Trip is what Andre’s career has been building toward, as he puts together what could easily be his purest—and craziest—piece of work.
DEN OF GEEK: You’re no stranger to unscripted “man on the street” style stuff, but did you intentionally want to make this bigger or have specific goals since it’s a movie?
ERIC ANDRE: The weekend Bad Grandpa was coming out, my agent called me and he’s like, “Hey man, this Bad Grandpa movie is testing through the roof. It’s going to make a bunch of money. You do these crazy pranks.” Season two of The Eric Andre Show hadn’t even come out yet, but he’s like, “You should meet up with Jeff Tremaine and you guys should work on something together.” This is how long I’ve been working on this. At that point I barely knew how to slap a television show together, no less a movie.
So me and my team and Jeff and his posse just kept putting our heads together and developing and writing this idea and started going around town pitching it. But after seeing Bad Grandpa we were like, “Holy shit. Hidden camera pranks can work, narratively,” which is groundbreaking. Borat did that too. The only difference between [this and] Borat is that the cameras were part of the conceit because he was a journalist from Kazakhstan. This is hidden camera where the cameras weren’t overt.
In terms of a script, were you guys working off more of an outline, or did you actually have a full script written out?
You still need a story that you’re getting across like in any other movie. The actors’ parts were scripted, but it was kind of like an outline in other areas. Obviously we don’t know what the people that we’re pranking are going to say, but once my clothing gets vacuumed off and I’m butt naked at a car wash, we get the idea that the person we’re pranking is going to have an emphatic reaction to that.
We would kind of make guesses based on the severity of the prank on how the person was going to react and sometimes we were wrong and you had to reshoot. You do the prank a few times until you get the result you want and you tweak it each time to yield that result. But it is like an experimental filmmaking process because you just have to shoot way more and you have to hope for the best. You have to get out there and continue talking to the real people until you get the plot points that you want. We’re getting actual exposition from real civilians. That’s what makes the movie so rich.
It would seem that a movie of this nature would have a lot of unused footage when stuff doesn’t go as planned, but that’s interesting to hear that you’d keep filming scenes until you got what you needed.
Every reaction in the movie is 100 percent real. We never ever faked a reaction or asked the person that we’re pranking to say a specific thing. We only use genuine reactions. That was kind of our ethos going into it. Honestly the audience can smell it when it’s fake, you know what I mean? They can sense it and it jeopardizes the rest of the pranks because then they’re like, “Wait, if that’s fake, then is that fake?” Nothing can be scripted.
On The Eric Andre Show you’re usually doing these kinds of pranks by yourself, but here you have Lil Rel Howery with you. Was it nice to have a partner in crime when you were filming this?
Yeah, it was a little like starting over because I’m usually just out there on my own. There are two things that were different from The Eric Andre Show, which is that on The Eric Andre Show I’m just being completely absurd and schizophrenic in public. But for this I had to be more grounded and we needed narrative information out of a random pedestrian on the street. So it was a lot more challenging. This is like an evolution from the performances I was doing in The Eric Andre Show.
And then Rel and I had to figure out our dynamic, not get in the way of each other, plus gel and be believable as this hapless duo. It’s a different feel because you’re going out there and it’s awkward with real people. You’re going out and pissing people off. It’s all to get a rise out of people. It’s intense and it’s dangerous. So, it was like a crash course for Lil Rel, but by the end of it he understood the mechanics of it and how to take people on a ride.
You’ve gotten to do a lot of voiceover work in animation lately, between The Lion King, Disenchantment, and your upcoming role in Connected. Did you ever expect your career to head in this direction?
Not at all. I always auditioned for this kind of stuff, but I never got it. Then I got an email for a Matt Groening project and I was like, “It’s Matt Groening. He created The Simpsons. I got to audition for this.” I didn’t think I would get it. It was like a Hail Mary pass, and I even did it on my phone. Then they were like, “They want to see you,” so I auditioned again, I got the role, and I kind of broke it all open.
Once you get booked for one cartoon, all these other animation projects are like, “Oh okay, you get it. Let’s get him in there next.” Then I got Lion King and I’ve got a couple of other animated movies on the way. But really, having Matt Groening vouch for you is pretty damn big in the animation community.
I loved what you and Dan Curry did with the KRFT PUNK Special. Was it surreal to see that character get put in the spotlight and how much that universe has expanded?
Yeah, well, there’s nothing more organic than KRFT PUNK. I remember when Dan first pitched the character, in what I think was season three. He pitched it kind of jokingly because it’s such a dumb idea. But we’re in the business of dumb ideas. We’re in the dumb idea industry. It just instantly became a fan favorite and he’s one of the most popular characters from The Eric Andre Show. So, his spin-off was warranted.
Do you think that more KRFT PUNK could happen? Dan Curry was talking about how he wanted to go to Antarctica to do a Flat Earth special.
Yeah, absolutely. We’re expanding our universe in big ways. We’re onwards and upwards.
Bad Trip is available to stream now on Netflix.