Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have a comedy style that’s not for everyone: It’s awkward, bizarre and a little disturbing. But the duo reached cult status with their Comedy Central after-hours show, “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
And with that success, the duo decided to write a book. It’s titled “Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Easy Steps To Achieve A Perfect Life.” The book is a parody of “self help” books and controversial spiritual beliefs like Scientology.
Tim and Eric spoke with The Frame's John Horn about how Los Angeles inspired them to write this book, their unique comedy style, and how they get worn out from being in character.
What kind of research went into writing this book?
Tim Heidecker: We did send an assistant to the Goodwill to pick up a number of these books because that is where they generally all end up.
They do their help and people toss them? It's kind like elliptical trainers that have two miles on them.
Eric Wareheim: Yeah, I ordered something — I can't remember the name of it — but it was basically a lot of recipes of different herbs and natural Eastern medicines for a new age diet, which sort of inspired us. But, to be honest, we didn't really want to base it off of any of that stuff. It's more fun just to create our own universe.
You guys are also part of Hollywood, which is obsessed with what we'll call "alternative" spiritual or food practices. Did you come across those types of people and did that start to shape how you wanted to present the characters in this book?
EW: Yes of course. Just moving to this city you get overwhelmed with people that are involved in all of those things — even some friends. Even some things that we do. Other people in other cities would laugh at us for juice cleansing and doing meditation. All of our comedies come from where we are and Los Angeles has really pushed us to make fun of those things.
TH: My wife works for the Transcendental Meditation center.
Did you have conversations about whether or not this was a little close to home or does she go with the joke?
TH: Hah! Yes, it's all good.
The book is clearly ridiculous. There are chapters designated to help you with specific things like writing a poem, specific diets where you only eat white foods, and recipes that include red bricks and a bag of cotton balls. Are all those chapters kind of grounded in specific truths about self-help as well?
EW: If you look at Scientology, they're obsessed with taking these old memories and getting them out of your head so you won't have this distress. In our Zone Theory, we believe that you have this anxiety and depression because poems are locked deep in there and we'll teach you simple steps of hypnosis to unlock hundreds of thousands of poems to make you a better person.
TH: Yeah. Part of a comedy principle I suppose is having this counterpoint of when you say something is easy, and then [when] you actually talk about what is easy about it, it's incredibly complicated and horrific. That should technically be considered funny to some people.
EW: Yeah, on the title it says, "Seven Easy Steps" — and once you start reading what you have to do in these zones, it's a nightmare.
One of the things that is kind of key to your comedy is timing. On your TV shows, your shots stay a little bit too long, zooming in on people at awkward moments. How do you take that visual style and bring it to something that is relatively static, like a book?
TH: That is a good question. We worked with our longtime designer that we've had on for a lot of our DVDs, posters and stuff. We also had our guy that would do a lot of our graphic stuff on the shows. So there is this mix of beautiful design in the book that goes way beyond just a self-help parody book. It's kind of meant for the book to be an aesthetically pleasing experience. Then there are images of people's faces, charts or graphs that are meant to be kind of grotesque and unsettling.
EW: I also think the pacing of the actual writing of it is similar to all of our video work. We've been going around the country doing these healing seminars where we read from the book. It is an example of length. Of hitting a joke way too many times and going too far into the darkness where it makes people uncomfortable and the laughter builds until the end.
So is the audience at the reading in character as well?
TH: They're playing along. We do chanting and hymns and things like that.
Ultimately, like any good piece of comedy, there is a certain amount of truth in all of this.
EW: Absolutely. Scientologists have the E-meter and Zone Theorists have a diarrhea dipstick. There is a direct joke on what people are really doing everyday to get better.
How did working on this book actually change the way you looked at future projects? Did it kind of raise some ideas for things that you could do in the future, either as a book, as a skit, video or TV?
EW: I think it taught us that we're going to write a much shorter book next time.
How long were you working on it?
TH: A couple years. Maybe three years since we got the idea. It really was a thing that was hard to get into. With a TV show you're getting immediate results — shooting it, watching it and doing it with other people. This felt like a total mess until it was absolutely finished.
Eric, is this the book you thought you guys were going to end up writing when you started this project so long ago?
EW: Yeah it's way above what we started out to do. I'm pretty proud of it.
TH: Yeah. The book is meant to be enjoyed as a book, make you laugh when go through it, and make you think about some things of course. Ultimately, we're going to have fun distancing ourselves from it immediately. The second [phase] of the book promotion is going, Well, I don't know if you want to do all these things... Then, over the next several months I'll probably introduce my full retraction from the book. Just this joke of throwing everything under the bus.
“Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Easy Steps To Achieve A Perfect Life” is in bookstores now.