Eric Andre, Off the Air
“One time, I fucking bashed my goddamn head into a fire hose glass case,” recalls Eric Andre over the phone. “I head-butted it as a joke and my head went through it and my hands went through it,” the 33-year-old, Florida-born comedian continues. “I was bleeding out of my forehead and the center of my hand. This was right outside of my English class at eight in the morning. I turned to my friend Brooke and I went, ‘Stigmata! I am the second coming of Jesus!'”
A graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Andre has helmed in his own Adult Swim show since 2012. Titled The Eric Andre Show, the series is perhaps best described as a deconstruction of the typical talk show, with Andre playing a delusional, crazed host intent on exasperating his guests alongside his friend and fellow comedian Hannibal Buress. The result is high-energy and chaotic: Unsuspecting guests like T.I., Wiz Khalifa, Lauren Conrad, and Jimmy Kimmel are invited on the show, only to be terrorized with awkwardness.
While sometimes it seems as though the line between Andre’s onscreen and real-life personalities is thin at best, Andre assures us that he is a much more “normal” than he might seem. “I meditate and exercise and do all this healthy shit,” he says. “I have some fans that really believe in the mythology of the show. They find out I’m a grounded human being and they couldn’t be more bored.”
When we spoke with Andre last month, he had just wrapped up his standup tour and was hungover from the previous night’s celebrations. We discussed his initial foray into comedy, the physical toll of the show, and his recent trip to the RNC.
ETHAN SAPIENZA: How are you doing?
ERIC ANDRE: I’m fucking hungover as shit. Everybody was buying me shots last night that I didn’t want to drink. I’m in Toronto, Canada. This country is founded by alcoholics.
SAPIENZA: I read you were a troublemaker as a kid.
ANDRE: Yeah. Always getting into fucking hijinks! [laughs] You know what I mean, kiddo? Always getting into mischief!
SAPIENZA: Do you remember anything specific?
ANDRE: I got suspended from school for mooning my friends. I got suspended from school for not wearing shoes. I was a wild child. I felt terrible for my mom because my sister was so docile. She came first and my mom was like, “I think I got the hang of this.” Then I came and I was fucking hell spawn.
SAPIENZA: What does your family think of your comedy? I watch the show occasionally with my dad, who isn’t really your target audience. He’s horrified but entranced by it.
ANDRE: It’s case by case. I think my mom understands it the most. My sister, when she sees me live she’s cracking up, but I think she’s scared to watch my show. She’s said to me, “You have to stop getting naked so often.” That’s pretty reasonable. My dad doesn’t understand the show whatsofuckingever. They’re overall very supportive [though] because I’m living my dream, right?
SAPIENZA: You first started out in music. How did you transition over to comedy?
ANDRE: I was playing the upright bass in college—I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Boston is a very comedy rich town. I was in a shitty band and in all the venues my band was playing at [there were] signs for open mic comedy. I was 19 or 20 years old. I was like, “Why don’t I take a hack at it?” There was something in my gut telling me to give it a shot. I was a very nervous, anxious person back in those days. I had to get over my stage fright, but I did it on a whim and I loved it.
Also it was better than lugging my stupid upright bass everywhere. It was more out of laziness and convenience. But I knew comedy was a little more special than music. I knew a million people in bands and I knew literally nobody that did comedy. I felt like there’s less people doing comedy, there’s less competition; versus music there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You can be the best songwriter in the world and still working the graveyard shift at Arby’s.
SAPIENZA: When people interview you are you afraid they’re going to mess with you?
ANDRE: No, I say bring it on. Every once in a while I get someone who tries and then they chicken out immediately. You know what I’m saying there, Cat Stevens? Do you mind if I call you Cat Stevens for the rest of the interview?
SAPIENZA: Go ahead. What’s the most physical someone has gotten with you during one of your bits? I remember there was that guy who threw your mic at a cop car after you touched his pizza.
ANDRE: Yeah, that was guy intense. We actually had to cut it out but he took out his penis. He flung it in my face. That was pretty rough. I got manhandled when I was trying to feed people Chinese food on the subway. I went on the subway with a hidden camera and I went, “Ladies and gentlemen, pardon the interruption. I’m selling Chinese food for my basketball team. If everybody could help out and make a donation that would be much appreciated.” Then I was shoving noodles in people’s faces and they were kind of upset with me. You know what I’m saying, Cat?
SAPIENZA: Yeah, people aren’t too cheery on the subway. You’ve been arrested doing the show, right?
ANDRE: Yeah. I almost got arrested this season but I’ve been legally advised not to discuss the details. Season One I went to a town hall meeting in Rancho Cucamonga [in California]—the town’s not important but I just like saying Rancho Cucamonga. The mayor was speaking and in the middle of the meeting I ran up to the podium dressed like a frat boy. I went, “Vote for me for class president and I’ll put beer in the water fountains and cameras in the girl’s locker rooms! Whoa! Go Bobcats!” There were 20 sheriffs there and they were like, “What the fuck are you doing?” They escorted me out and I was like, “Don’t tase me, bro!” I also told a cop my name was John Coltrane. It was so funny to see white sheriffs furiously look up John Coltrane in their database. They were like, “You’re not coming up in the system Coltrane.”
SAPIENZA: How did you first come up with the idea for the show and your host persona?
ANDRE: I was working crappy day jobs in New York City, temping. I had this recurring idea of this uninterested host who brought the same apathy to a talk show as I brought to my shitty day job, clerical work bullshit. I thought it would be funny to have this low status character being forced by this unknown entity to have a talk show—someone who is clearly the least capable person to run a talk show.
Also I wanted to be really high energy and crazy. I knew I wanted to have a counter co-host who’s opposite in energy. Hannibal [Buress] and I met when we were only 24 doing comedy in New York. Me, Hannibal, and my now director Kitao [Sakuri] went to this flea shop for a couple of days in this abandoned bodega in Bushwick [Brooklyn]. Now it’s like a hidden bar, but this place was a total rat-fest. We just shot this thing.
I also wanted to have a black comedy duo that didn’t talk about race that much. It wasn’t so over-the-head intentional, but I wanted to see on TV a black comedy show that didn’t make jokes about being black every five seconds, which is kind of the norm. And with Hannibal it’s the perfect odd couple dynamic. I like how we balance each other out, because the best part about Hannibal is he’s the straight man during the monologues—he’s the voice of reason—and then during the interviews he can go from being the straight man to being a total weirdo, sociopath too. The guest is stuck dealing with me, they tire of me and they turn to Hannibal for comfort and he says something bizarre and fucked up. He’s the perfect man for the job.
SAPIENZA: What’s your writing process like for the show?
ANDRE: I jot down ideas year round, but really we have a writer’s room two weeks out of the year where we invite all our comedian friends in and brainstorm ideas for the show. Then me and my writing partner Dan Curry take all the stuff from the writer’s room and whittle it down—[with] my director, too. Dan and I take turns fleshing out an outline for the scripts. Dan and I riff and write all through prep and all through shooting. We’re constantly writing and writing and rewriting and riffing. Booking the guests is very last minute too, so Dan is really great thinking on his toes and coming up with super funny questions. Some of the funniest segments on the show come from Dan. He’s one of the funniest people on earth.
SAPIENZA: How do you decide who comes on the show then?
ANDRE: We just tell our talent that we want somebody who knows little to nothing about the show. We don’t want some hip, cool guest who’s in on it. We want very square, vey outside of Adult Swim guests. We’ll make an exception with a guest if it’s a really big name, but normally we want reality people, athletes, people on procedural dramas—people on the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re pretty much sitting ducks for pranks.
SAPIENZA: You don’t plan specific pranks for each guest?
ANDRE: We have a bunch of pranks that we can assign to any guest. We’ll come up with about 200 gags for the season, and then when guests start booking up, we assign certain gags for certain guests. We’ll also write new ones specifically for booked guests. Guests are coming in and out very last minute, so we prepare for everybody.
SAPIENZA: How do you keep up your crazed energy during your interviews? They’re actually an hour or so despite being only a few minutes each episode, right?
ANDRE: Yeah. I don’t know, coffee. Taking care of myself. I meditate twice a day. I exercise. I sleep. I eat.
SAPIENZA: Yet you so often sacrifice your body for your comedy.
ANDRE: Yep. Unfortunately.
SAPIENZA: Have you every hurt yourself?
ANDRE: Yeah. I put my hand through a car window while shooting a prank this year. I had to get stitches. It was the first week of production and really shitty. I really hurt my back doing a Fox interview. I jumped up on the desk and tailbone first went through the desk right onto the ground. It sent a shockwave up my spine. I was walking around like the hunchback of Notre Dame for the rest of the year. My body was asymmetrical for like six months. It was rough. It sucked balls, as they say.
SAPIENZA: What’s the craziest thing you’ve wanted to do on the show but haven’t been allowed to?
ANDRE: We wanted to have this bit where a transgender man and a transgender woman are posing as PAs off to the side of the camera during an interview, and they slowly strip, get naked and start fucking each other. [laughs] We actually just pulled it off recently. My wish has been fulfilled. I also wanted to drive a car into a marching band during a parade, but that’s illegal, obviously.
SAPIENZA: Can you talk a little about going to the RNC? What made you want to do that?
ANDRE: That came from Dan. He thought it was this very special moment in history: “It’s going to be such a zoo. We’ve got to go to the RNC.” We pitched it to Adult Swim and they were really stoked. Then everybody got busy and we forgot about it until last minute. Then it was like, “You guys ready to go and do this?” We were like, “Oh shit! We’re still doing this?” We went out and it was intense, man. It was scary.
SAPIENZA: Yeah, you said you thought might die.
ANDRE: It was an open carry state. People really hated me—like old school, white supremacist hatred.
SAPIENZA: For some reason someone shouted at you that you aren’t Martin Luther King.
ANDRE: [laughs] Yeah. I went onstage with Alex Jones. I crashed his rally. I asked him to fuck my wife and, “Why does my pee-pee come out yellow?” Just questions a fucking 12 year old would ask. [laughs] They kicked me off the stage and this guy was like, “You’re not Martin Luther King!” I was like, “Martin Luther King asked why his pee-pee came out yellow? What the goddamn shit are you talking about?”
SAPIENZA: When you meet people on the street do they expect you to be a really crazy guy?
ANDRE: Yeah. I was on line at this Bahn Mi shop ordering a sandwich and it was 11:30 in the morning. This kid came up to me and was like, “Eric Andre? Ah!” He started screaming and slapping me as hard as he could on my back. I was like, “Yeah dude, I’m off the clock. I’m just a dude getting a sandwich.” I don’t live like that. I couldn’t function just screaming. I think he was really disappointed.
SAPIENZA: He wanted you to be a total sociopath.
ANDRE: [My fans] want me to be utterly nuts. The girl I just started dating was like, “When I first started hanging out with you I thought you’d be throwing your feces everywhere. I’m surprised how grounded you are.” I was like, “If I acted like my character on the show I wouldn’t have my own TV show. I wouldn’t be able to function as a human being.”
SEASON FOUR OF THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW AIRS FRIDAY NIGHTS ON ADULT SWIM.