Tim Heidecker on why Donald Trump isn't funny anymore

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On Friday night, Tim Heidecker will roll into town with Neil Hamburger. While the two work together on the small screen, playing film critics on Adult Swim’s On Cinema, their performances at the Cedar will be solo standup acts of a much different variety.

Heidecker tends to polarize audiences, whether through the spastic Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! or via his right-wing blowhard character on the web series Decker. He has a comedy style rooted in making fun, by any means necessary. Via a phone call before their two-day trip to Minneapolis and Fargo, City Pages chatted with Heidecker about how standup compares to other mediums, and why Donald Trump isn’t funny anymore.

You do a lot of collaborative comedy. How do you like doing solo work?

Tim Heidecker: It’s nice. First of all, you can really travel light. A lot of the stuff I do with Eric a real production. This is more barebones; me and a mic. I have material, but I can improvise and go off script and really make it a unique performance. Each show is pretty different. It’s a fun thing to really concentrate all that energy into this 40- to 50-minute block of time, and then it’s over.

Is there a different pressure when you’re alone onstage?

I think if I’m doing it on a bill that might not be what I’d call “my audience” it can be a little stressful, because you’re in a bit of a battle with the audience to win them over. In these shows with Neil, a lot of people are onboard already, so they make it very welcoming and friendly, which lets me go even further than I would with a regular crowd.

There’s always a bit of nerves about what’s really going to happen. Once you get up there the adrenaline takes over, and it goes by very quickly and you come off stage thinking, 'That went well most of the time.' 

You do a lot of different media and formats. What do you think plays well to your style in standup versus TV, books, records, and so forth?

It’s a low stakes place for me to express myself. It’s a fun outlet for a certain style of humor that I think is funny that really doesn’t play that well unless you’re in the room with it.

I’m not making fun of standup comedy by doing it, but I certainly am hitting a certain style of standup comedy that I think deserves to be goofed on a little bit. I’m not expecting an HBO comedy special or anything.

While Neil’s crowd gets it, what is the reaction when you perform with different comedians?

That’s been this weird shift. I used to see Neil, and there would be 10 people, including myself, who were doubled over laughing their ass off and then 80 percent of the people staring at him like they were looking at a martian. We’ve had that experience too when we did our stuff.

Eric and I did a show years ago for a benefit that Will Ferrell had put together that was filled with upper-class L.A. fundraiser types, and the mayor was in the audience. We did this performance of the song “Diarrhea,” where we just run around in bodysuits singing about diarrhea. In one sense it’s a funny or a ballsy move to go out and do that, but there was no love coming from them. It was almost fear and disdain.

You don’t walk off the stage feeling good [when that happens]. You don’t want to ruin everyone’s night. It’s fun to antagonize and provoke people but I think it’s also fun to play to people that are really on the same page and see it for what it is and can enjoy it. They’re different experiences.

Does it get harder to provoke people now because they expect it?

This character I did in Chicago, who is this borderline retarded guy who I was sort of playing off the Ricky Gervais character, I did that and I could feel the audience go, 'Whoa, this is making me feel really uncomfortable.' That was cool to feel, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. There’s always the thought that if I have an idea that I know is going to make people feel weird and uncomfortable, then usually I have to try it and see where it goes.

How does Donald Trump’s presidential campaign affected your act?

Because my character is this right winger, I did this whole bit about how I wished Donald Trump would become president, because he would get elected and turn to Obama and say, “You’re fired!” It’s this terrible joke that I spent a long time leading up to. Now I feel like I can’t do it because it’s kind of hack now. It’s hack even talking about it, like everyone has done it.

I was talking to this guy on Twitter that maybe we should start a campaign of 'the joke is over.' It’s not funny anymore. We should just start ignoring this guy to starve him of the attention he is obviously doing this for. It’s running its course. From a guy that likes to watch politics it is fascinating, but he’s becoming less and less of a joke. It’s feeling more and more like the real thing and it’s not quite so funny anymore.

You’re coming into Jesse Venture territory. We’ve been through it.

He’s pretty crazy too. He’s fun to listen to. I don’t know how he was as governor but he says some wacky stuff.

I guess that sort of ties into the final question. Do you have any special memories of Minneapolis?

Last September we had a great show with Eric and Dr. Steve Brule. We had bikes on our bus so my DJ, Dougg Pound, and I biked down to the river. It’s a beautiful city in the warm weather months. I was really pleasantly surprised by it. The previous time I was there it was February or something and you couldn’t go outside and get a good sense of it.


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