Inside the Outrageously Twisted Mind of Eric André

Inside the Outrageously Twisted Mind of Eric André

Eric André is worried that there’s something in his drink, and he can’t stop thinking about it. There’s “some shit” in the bottom of his espresso martini, he says—and no amount of telling him it’s probably just lingering coffee beans will assuage him.

“Maybe this is a boring question,” I say early into our interview Monday afternoon in Austin at the SXSW Festival (which is always a good way to start off a question…) “But I always wonder how pranksters—”

He interrupts me, which is probably smart. “I’m a germophobe,” the comedian, here at the festival to celebrate the recent announcement of The Eric André Show’s upcoming sixth season premiere, explains. “I’m looking at my drink because I want that”—the residue at the bottom of the glass—“to be espresso. But you know what? Those coffee beans were just garnish.”

No longer able to take the specks of brown in his cup, André asks his handler (or manager, or agent, or whoever the nice blond man is) to take the drink back and get him a new one, so we can carry on.

“I’m like, ‘Is that espresso or is that cockroach eggs?’” André says. “That’s where my brain goes.”

I ask if that’s happened to him before, finding bugs or larvae in his alcohol.

“No. Probably. We probably all have.”

Compounded by the fully matching Newport cigarettes-themed sweatsuit André’s wearing as he walks into the hotel conference room, this is exactly as absurd as I expected an interview with Eric André to go. The comedian built a dedicated audience on Adult Swim with his surreal TV series, which is equal parts hidden-camera prank fest as it is celebrity torture chamber.

The appeal of The Eric André Show, which debuted in 2012, is how no-holds-barred it is. Every episode starts with an Ed McMahon-style voice introducing our host, who proceeds to rampage through his set for a full two to three minutes—nearly a third of each 11-minute episode. Sometimes André destroys his desk. Sometimes he ends up covered in blood. All the while, his band and co-host patiently wait for him to settle down and get to work. (That co-host was, for the first four seasons, Hannibal Burress; Buress left in early Season 5, a departure that became a plot point.)

These openings are so hilariously, subversively, remarkably unhinged that the over-the-top prank segments that make up another third of each episode seem tame by comparison. Think Jackass or Da Ali G Show: Every skit is unpredictable, , like when André posed as a Scientologist who believes L. Ron Hubbard was actually Black, who’s soon joined by a man proclaiming he can turn his own poop into wine, or when he walked around a gas station asking people if they can give him a “little squirt” of gas. He also expanded that prank sensibility into the far-out, instant cult classic Bad Trip, which he wrote and starred in, and dropped on Netflix early into the pandemic.

And then there’s the interviews with the celebrity guests, which can be anyone from Wiz Khalifa, Flavor Flav, and Lil Nas X (who appears this season) to Real HousewivesBrandi Glanville, Jennette McCurdy, and James Van Der Beek. André took the Dawson’s Creek star by surprise by bringing out body doubles of Van Der Beek, Buress, and himself to mimic everything they said or did, in a classic sketch; he also terrified 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer by screaming, shouting, and blowing up fireworks in front of him in quick succession.

They’re the unchecked id to the late-night hosts he parodies’ comparative superego: confrontational, bizarre, and always cackle-inducing.

Ahead of Season 6’s long-awaited premiere this June—the first two very good, very strange episodes screened at SXSW—André spoke to The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about how much of those wild interviews are scripted, how he keeps the show exciting after more than 11 years, and what it felt like to watch an Eric André Show alum win an Oscar on Sunday—and immediately become a Twitter thirst object.

It’s been a minute since there was a new season of The Eric André Show. Season 5 aired in late 2020. But you’ve kept busy in the interim with Bad Trip and Jackass Forever. Why did you want to make a new season of the show now?

Matt Groening [who André worked with on Disenchantment] kind of talked me into it. He was like, “Never stop doing your show. It’s too good. Just don’t stop.”

[Also,] I just had more ideas. … In quarantine, all we had time for was to think and drink. I didn’t even overthink it that much. It just felt natural to do some more.

After six seasons of a show this chaotic, you seem to have carte blanche with it by now to do anything you want.

That’s the other thing, and [ex-Adult Swim exec vice president] Mike Lazzo said it too. There’s no project I’ll ever do for the rest of my career where I have this much creative freedom. Because even Bad Trip or something else, that’s narrative. There’s limitations to narrative stuff. [The show] is my only thing where I have total carte blanche, so I should continue to do that as long as I can.

[Lil Nas X] was a great guest, and he reacted really well to a lot of the pranks, and we got a lot of good pranks during his interview.

I watch the show because I love the surrealist talk show aspects, but it’s also very much a prank show. How do you decide how much of an episode to spend on the celebrity guests versus the pranks? Like with someone as big as Lil Nas X, for instance?

[Lil Nas X] was a great guest, and he reacted really well to a lot of the pranks, and we got a lot of good pranks during his interview.

He’s one of the biggest stars we’ve ever gotten, but I would say it’s whatever’s playing the strongest throughout the episode gets the most attention. We did test screenings of everything every weekend to make sure that all the stuff in there was getting big laughs, so we cut whatever didn’t get a big laugh. It’s more about the laugh than the person.

You and former sidekick Hannibal Buress seemed inseparable, but he left early into Season 5. How did that affect the show?

The biggest blow [of him leaving] was the monologues. The monologue [was] set up for his punchline. That was [also] the biggest blow for the interviews—you really just need somebody who’s absurd and unpredictable hovering over the guest, which he did amazingly.

But [comedian and new co-host] Felipe Esparza does that really well as well. … I knew Felipe knew the drill, because he was introduced in Season 4 as Hannibal’s co-host, so it was organic to bring him into the show in a bigger capacity.

How much of the celebrity interviews are improv’d by you and your co-host?

A lot of the stuff is improv. Hannibal was almost all improv, because he wouldn’t read the scripts—and I didn’t really need him to, because—

[At this point, André’s new espresso martini arrives, which he approves of.]

Thank you very much. [He points at the new garnish on it.] Um, I didn’t ask for this lemon in here. [laughs]

You said Hannibal was not reading much of the script.

No, and it was better to throw Hannibal in there without any preparation and have to see what he does. It was like an experiment to see what he does with the right [guest].

You’re playing a heightened version of yourself as your character. How much is just you riffing versus scripting what you’re doing with the guests?

I write aggressively with my writing partner, [Dan Curry, who also plays the character Kraft Punk]. The interview questions and a ton of the gags, we come up with in the writers’ room before the guest gets in. When the interview starts, I can fall back on the gags and the pre-written questions. Once I’m in the thick of it, and I’m seeing certain things are getting a rise of the guest, then I’m leaving it to improv and letting it go, and riffing with the guests. It’s like organized chaos.

Has there ever been a situation where the guest was so thrown off that you had to stop?

There’s guests that have walked out. [That infamously includes T.I. and The Hills star Lauren Conrad, after André “vomited” on her.] That’s a fucking home run [when that happens]. I feel like I’ve landed a touchdown.

Do you find that more of your guests these days recognize your schtick and come prepared?

It’s a spectrum anywhere between they know the show but they don’t know anything [to expect], to knowing absolutely nothing, not knowing who I am, not knowing my name, not knowing the show, not knowing the network. And the majority of the guests are on that end of the spectrum. Yeah.

But Lil Nas X [who is a fan of the show] is so big, we don’t want to pass on him just because he knows the show. But when things are exploding, when locusts and cockroaches are flying out of the desks, somebody’s gonna react with it.

My ideal guests are usually not the hip, young, cool crowd. I want the cast of NCIS or something.

What about with the pranks? How do you keep yourself undercover as both the show and you have become more well-known?

My hair is different this season—hair is big. I would wear a COVID mask a lot of the time, [and] hair, glasses, and avoiding the demographic.

As long as I prank people over 40, I’m pretty safe. Especially on Bad Trip—you won’t notice anybody under the age of 30 in the movie.

We were saying that The Eric André Show is an ideal project, but do you ever want to pursue something bigger? Either your own project or with someone else?

It’s my sandbox, so I get total creative freedom. It’s comforting and comfortable doing that, because when I’m on another set that somebody else is writing or directing, I’m always like, “Is this what you want? Is that good? Was that take good?”

Whereas Eric André… I know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, whether I’m hitting it or not. I don’t feel the pressure of trying to help somebody else with their project. … I try not to think too much about the budget or the scope. If you’re only looking at that, it’s like a bit of a distraction. I think you gotta look at the creative first and just figure out what’s best for the creative.

I feel like that is the dream and the goal.

Right. So [otherwise], I’m just trying to get in that next Daniels movie. Shit, Everything Everywhere [All at Once]!

Your former editor Paul Rogers just won the Oscar for that movie! What was that like to see?

We gave him his first paying job. We’re the first people to pay him. It brought a tear to my eye.

I texted him, like, 50 times this morning. He hasn’t written me back. I’m fucking pissed. You Hollywood motherfucker. You turn on me? I pulled you out of the gutter!” No, I texted him, and he’s very sweet.

There’s all these tweets, like, “Damn, the editor from Everywhere!” Paul’s been married for like a decade, [and] all the tweets are like, “Damn, Paul’s hot.” “Who’s the editor from EEIAOEB? He’s hot!” So I texted [one of the] Daniels this morning, [and] I was like, “Thank you for jeopardizing Paul’s marriage, in the best way.”

You’ve worked with a lot of different people on the show who have gone on to become big in their own right. Paul Rogers won an Oscar. Hannibal took down Bill Cosby.

Hannibal said one time on stage, “The Eric André Show is the only show where the co-host is significantly richer than the host. The Ed McMahon has way more money than the Johnny Carson [does].”

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