Sean K. Cureton

Tim and Eric Comedy Apparitions, Great Job?

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on April 11, 2015 at 9:49 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

The Comedy (2012)
Directed by Rick Alverson
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are perhaps the preeminent hipsters of the alt-comedy scene. Their original sketch comedy series, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, is well known among the late night comedy crowd, its five season run on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block the haven of weird, adult, and perverse humor and satire. While the style of their writing has always been well known, the content of their programming has been simultaneously alienating, the ability to understand and digest what they provide as funny inclusive of only a very small and precocious group of comedy nerds and weirdoes. Heidecker and Wareheim themselves have likewise always appeared as comedy apparitions, their personalities so far outside that of the Hollywood mainstream that their material shines with the translucence of insincere mockery and hipster cache, their show sustained by the underground forces of cultural elitism and hipster tomfoolery. To many, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!’s appeal is largely chimerical, its pervasive influence and social commentary present only within and beyond the ugliness of its surface level veneer of in-authentic snark, its unemotional stance a hard barrier to surpass if you’re not already on board with Heidecker and Wareheim’s peculiar brand of irreverence.

Enter Rick Alverson’s 2012 drama The Comedy, starring the infamous comedy duo among a host of other hipster douche bags and wannabes, all vying for attention within a prototypically affectless sub-culture, life apathetically engaged amid irony and casual acts of cruelty. Much of the narrative impetus in Alverson’s drama comes in the director’s unwavering gaze at the self-defeatism of the type of lifestyle and listless nihilism inherent to the comic sensibility of Heidecker and Wareheim, their post-modern detachment masking an ever-encroaching disease and dissatisfaction with a socially engendered apathy. In Heidecker, Alverson takes the iconography associated with the modern hipster and lets it run amok, his film unfocused yet contemplative, the emptiness of Heidecker’s moneyed post-college existence self-sustained by a fundamental lack of engagement. Throughout the course of Alverson’s film, Heidecker moves from one scene to another, interiority of any kind into his character denied by a lack thereof, his interactions with other individuals and characters lacking in motivation and intrigue due to Heidecker’s larger disengagement with the social community to which they might otherwise belong. If Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! is a comedy, than The Comedy is its dramatic inverse, the narrative beats and movements funny within the former context prove tragic in the latter, Alverson’s film an interesting critique of Heidecker, his fans, and the culture to which they ironically belong, sincerely or not.

Heidecker and Wareheim owe a lot to the countercultural image of themselves promoted through their comedy, even if that image is as personally confining and socially isolating as it seems to be in Alverson’s film. Heidecker’s character in the The Comedy is, for all intents and purposes, a facsimile of Heidecker as he appears on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, his near constant improvised riffing a poor substitute for dialogue within the context of a drama, the characters he creates on the spot in order to get a rise out of his audience incongruous when applied within the context of cinematic realism. Whether Heidecker is casually wooing a co-worker nearly a decade his junior, or pretending to hold conversations and meetings of great import with frequent comic collaborator Gregg Turkington, The Comedy revels in Heidecker’s comic persona as a buffoonery that is thankfully an act. Heidecker plays at being a man in his mid to late thirties who still hasn’t graduated beyond playing at being an adult, snark demarcating his own immaturity more befitting to a twenty year old frat boy whose attendant personal disinterest and dissatisfaction results in an apocalyptic devastation of cultural literacy. The Comedy is thus an indictment as much as it is a celebration of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the iconography of hipster satire and snark culturally pervasive while being aware of its own latent tendency towards social antagonism, Heidecker and Wareheim perhaps more in tune with their audience than their audience is with themselves.

Which goes a long way towards explaining why Rick Alverson’s drama ends up feeling  so unpolished, as The Comedy‘s recursive convolutions of Alverson’s engagement with a subject similarly prone to the art of comic deconstruction proves to be a structural redundancy summarily un-compelling. Like Alverson’s script, Heidecker’s character within the film is engaged in a multi-faceted understanding of himself and his place within the world around him. The Comedy is thus in a constant state of battle with itself and its protagonist, Alverson’s script’s analysis of Heidecker’s persona as averse to being discovered and engaged with as Heidecker’s character is of being analyzed in a likewise, straightforward manner. The sheer impossibility of studying Heidecker’s character becomes problematic, as Alverson’s dramatic engagement becomes hideously malformed by Heidecker’s performance as farce, his inner state of being hidden behind bright blue ray ban sunglasses, reflecting back a cultural cache self-righteously reticent. In Alverson’s engagement with the Tim Heidecker comic persona, The Comedy becomes a study in procrastination, any insights gleaned through Alverson’s script intangibly held just out of reach by his subject’s tendency towards the opaque, Heidecker engaging in self-reference to a self in absentia, nihilism ruling the day in a case study frustratingly inconclusive, albeit appropriately so.

The Comedy is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netflix: Review of the Week.

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