As film majors at Temple U., future Abso Lutely Prods. co-founders Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (aka “Tim and Eric”) were already on the fast track to becoming a comic force with which to be reckoned.
“We kind of bonded, started making videos together, and made up these fake funny bands,” recalls Wareheim, biting into a sandwich on lunch break. “On the weekends, Tim and I would get cameras and just fuck around and use the film school as a place to learn how to edit and all that kind of silly stuff. Our school was very serious, but Tim and I didn’t do the normal thing. Everyone else would make these projects on how to be an art director or whatever and Tim and I would make a video making fun of those people. And the professors gave us an A. They loved it.”
The two graduated, came to L.A., “worked a string of shitty jobs,” and then moved back East again to try and earn some cash. “I was a photographer and videographer,” says Wareheim with a faux lugubrious sigh. “I shot bar mitzvahs, wedding videos.” Says Heidecker, “I was an administrative assistant in some generic office building.”
All the while, they would band together and make short movies whenever and wherever they could. “This is before Funny or Die or anything like that,” notes Wareheim.
“We almost didn’t even consider it comedy,” says Heidecker of their little films, shot and edited on a microscopic budget. “We weren’t considering it for television or anything commercial. It was just self-expression and stuff for our friends to see. We started showing it around at rock clubs and film festivals and kept getting a good reaction from people.”
In 2002, the duo launched TimandEric.com to showcase their expanding catalog of zany and subversive videos, punctuated with their trademark scatological and offbeat humor. They took a chance and mailed a DVD of material to actor-producer-writer Bob Odenkirk, who became a fan of Wareheim and Heidecker’s work, and that opened up doors.
“They sent me an envelope with a DVD, and usually I throw those things away, but this envelope also had an itemized bill in it,” says Odenkirk. “There was a charge for postage, a charge for packaging, for shipping — everything. And it made me laugh. It was totally real and it made me want to watch the DVD, which had about five different short films on it, and while all of them were very different in terms of style — there were music videos and one was a cartoon — there was a shared sensibility, this mix of silliness and absurdity and smartness and some aspects of parody. There was a Monty Python-esque sensibility to it. You could tell that these guys had a shared voice, and that’s a very hard thing to develop.”
Odenkirk put Wareheim and Heidecker in touch with executives at Adult Swim, who were on the hunt for fresh talent. Soon after, the duo inked a development deal with the net and in 2004 “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” an animated series in which they both starred and wrote, debuted.
“I was working for Urban Outfitters at the time, shooting their website models and hating life,” says Wareheim. “I was working with these horrible girls every day and when we got that call that we got like three grand or something to move (back to L.A.), I said, ‘Fuck you guys. I quit.’ The next week, Tim and I were on the cover of Philadelphia Weekly. It (was) just a very satisfying feeling to get out of there. We knew we had to connect with someone in Hollywood and Bob was the one to shepherd us through.”
The series earned solid ratings and was picked up for a second season. Not long after, Heidecker and Wareheim decided to form Abso Lutely in order to maintain artistic control over their comic vision. They also wanted to branch out and produce shows for other comedians under their business umbrella.
“We realized that we needed to do stuff on our own and that we needed to be in charge of the choices that were being made,” says Wareheim. “We wanted to stand out in a way that was truer to us.”
Enter Dave Kneebone, a former business manager at McSweeney’s in San Francisco with “zero experience making TV shows,” who became “drawn” to what Heidecker and Wareheim were looking to make happen on the comedy scene. The comics were equally taken, and hired him as a producing partner.
“ ‘Tom Goes to the Mayor’ had wrapped up,” says Kneebone, “and they were about ready to launch (sketch comedy series) ‘Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!’ and I came down to L.A. and put on my best show and I just tried to be really smart.”
The collaboration proved auspicious for Abso Lutely, which has since become a king in the land of low-budget comedy — “We make content that is not mainstream and as a result, we get non-mainstream budgets,” says Kneebone — working with various networks to produce such off-kilter fare as “The Eric Andre Show” (Adult Swim), “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” (featuring Jeff Goldblum and Odenkirk), and Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You,” starring Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder.
“Generally these are shows for younger, college-aged kids,” Heidecker says. “But we’ve found that it really appeals to anybody that’s got a kind of weird sense of humor and likes weird stuff. (Our fans) tend to be artsier folks, a lot of graphic designers, fellow filmmakers and musicians, people like that. That’s how our shows stack up — they’re sort of the alternative to the normal.”
Says Kent Alterman, Comedy Central’s programming chief, “Tim and Eric have a very strong sense of comic sensibility and are able to combine that with an ability to get things done on the fly and in a way that enhances their comedy.”
In many ways, budgetary constraints have worked to Abso Lutely’s advantage, affording the company a measure of creative freedom not usually found in mainstream television with heftier paychecks on the line.
It’s that ingenuity that has attracted the talent of such A-list funnymen as Will Ferrell (“Original Child Clown Outlet”), Zach Galifianakis (“Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories”) and John C. Reilly, who stars as a kooky, wiry-haired physician on Adult Swim’s “Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule.”
“Tim and Eric are ahead of their time,” says Reilly. “There are very few people going this far with their comedy right now. They are not afraid to chase a joke all the way down. It’s like an anarchic playpen.”
“We have a very holistic approach to the comedy,” Heidecker says. “It’s got to ring true from top to bottom. We don’t do anything in front of a studio audience. A lot of times (our comedy) is about television or satires of television.”
With a book on the horizon and a full slate of programming, including freshman Comedy Central series “Review,” Abso Lutely continues to gain professional momentum at a fast pace. The success has prompted Heidecker and Wareheim to consider just how high-profile they hope to become.
“We’re constantly flying at the altitude (at which) we’re comfortable, and on our terms,” says Heidecker. “But I’d like to continue to nurture our endeavor and to form new partnerships. I’d love to do something at HBO. I’d love to do something at FX. There are a lot of people with whom we haven’t yet worked.”
And the word is definitely getting out there. “I was driving down Sunset and right in that shit world of all those Gucci ads and billboards, there’s this huge thing for ‘Review’ and then a block later there’s a huge ad for ‘Steve Brule,’ ” Wareheim says. “It’s our little stamp on Hollywood. We’re the little company that could … and we’re doing it. That’s a really wonderful feeling. In terms of what to do next, we almost can’t catch up with what we have now. We’re just like, ‘Let’s keep doing this.’ ”