An owl with bat-like features sounds like somebody’s nightmare, but it’s a fairly representative resident of the Tim and Eric universe. The B’owl made an early appearance on Awesome Show, the pair’s deadpan-demented sketch series, and helped set the tone for what will likely prove to be this generation’s Monty Python. As much as the B’owl is typical Tim and Eric, though, it also bears the influence of someone else. It was writer and editor Doug Lussenhop who came up with the concept of this wholly unnecessary cross-species creature, and he was instrumental in developing the extended freeze-frame zoom at the end of its ultimate sketch, made uncomfortable by a sinister droning hum. This contribution is just one example of what makes Lussenhop an unsung hero of an aesthetic that’s growing more and more popular as mainstream comedy gets more absurd.
Before he got his start in comedy, Lussenhop dabbled in visual media that was a fair distance from the cutting edge. He transferred private Super 8 films to video, shot weddings, and edited video news releases for PR companies. What probably separated him from others in similar positions, though, is that he would use that footage to remix into his own bizarre videos. It was practice for something, but he didn’t quite know what. He certainly didn’t know that at the same time, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim were experimenting with similar raw materials, but hadn’t yet synthesized a style for presenting the results.
It’s no wonder these three ended up sharing a vision. Tim and Eric had always been fascinated with public access and crappy PR videos, and Wareheim had even filmed weddings professionally for a time after college. Once Lussenhop came aboard the duo’s first TV show, the mostly animated Tom Goes to the Mayor, he got the chance to try out some of the effects he’d been honing—repetitive glitch effects, off-kilter cuts—and these wound their way into the show’s bloodstream. Eventually, all the editors involved with Tim and Eric’s production company, Abso Lutely, would emulate the style Lussenhop and collaborator Jonathan Krisel helped forge.
As the latest episode of Lussenhop’s new web series 2 Wet Crew is released online, the writer and editor talked to Co.Create about how he learned to make scenes funny just through editing, and how his career has evolved rather than remained in freeze-frame.
Back when Tom Goes to the Mayor was first getting off the ground, Lussenhop answered a Craigslist ad about a comedy TV show that needed an intern. He wasn’t familiar with Tim and Eric’s work at that point, but he recognized the opportunity for what it was, and found a way to quickly make an impression.
“My internship wasn’t just making coffee,” Lussenhop says. “I was filming and shooting the whole time, because Tim and Eric wanted some kind of document of the process. I edited together a behind-the-scenes video for Tom Goes to the Mayor, and put some of the techniques I’d been working on in it. They showed it to the network and they loved it, but I was surprised when they actually aired it. I mean, it turned into a real episode of the show [A Look Behind The Scenes, 2005]. If you look at that episode, it’s almost like you can see where Awesome Show [the show Tim and Eric are perhaps most known for] is starting. So it shows what can happen when you just start experimenting with stuff.”
After about four months, Lussenhop got hired. Although Tom Goes to the Mayor was mostly an animated show, it featured live segments with Tim and Eric’s married news team characters, Jan and Wayne Skylar, and Lussenhop did editing and Photoshop work on all of them. It was here that he started getting a more nuanced feel for how editing can shape comedy.
“There’s a million ways to get an extra joke out of something just through editing,” he says. “Comedy is basically all timing and messing with expectations and surprises and stuff. A lot of times, I’ll get something and it’s funny on the page but then it’s not coming across. So you cut part of it short or let something roll for too long, or add the perfect sound effect. There are so many ways to do it, you just have to find a new way each time. If you see a punchline coming a mile away, you either just cut the punchline and put something different in, or freeze frame. In the editing, you can keep polishing a moment until it turns into something unexpected.”
After Tom Goes to the Mayor finished its run, the foundation was in place for Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job. Doug Lussenhop not only maintained his role in the editing bay, though; after contributing ideas as early as the first episode, he quickly earned a credit as a writer and learned how a group of similarly minded creators develop ideas together.
“At the beginning of each season, we would have one big group writing day, which would last maybe four hours,” Lussenhop says. “In the weeks leading up to it, I would just think up stuff and have a big list of ideas. On the writing day, each person would pitch theirs. We’d have categories like fake commercials, Tim and Eric wrap around concepts–like the plot where their families were competing against each other–and then mood pieces, which were things that are not necessarily going to get an obvious laugh but just something that’s weird and sets a nice mood for the show.”
“It started with just writing a bit here and there, which Tim and Eric would always put their own spin on. I came up with the original nugget of B’owl, as like this bat-owl character that would show up, and then Tim and Eric turned it into a toy. It’s always a collaboration, and you just knew it when an idea was finally there. I remember Tim threw his hat across the room when we were talking about B’owl. He liked the idea at first and then once they’d figured out it was gonna be a toy that you just throw away, he loved that idea. That’s what you wanna do, is you wanna get them to throw their hats off.”
While he developed as a writer, Lussenhop’s editing instincts were becoming more and more sophisticated. After he’d proven himself able, he was given leeway to experiment with raw footage and turn it into his own vision.
“Ideas often start off as one thing and morph into something else, sometimes just through editing,” he says. “On an early episode of Awesome Show, there was this real dry sketch where Tim and Eric are drawing penises on an overhead projector in a basement, then their mom walks down there and she disapproves, and by the end, they’re destroying the set, screaming ‘Ooh mama!’ I was trying to use all this footage when they’re drawing penises on the overhead projector or they’re playing tennis or something, but it just wasn’t really hitting. So I decided to take the part where they’re destroying the set and loop a section of it. And then I took that loop and brought it into Garage Band [the digital music program] and made a rhythm over it. It became one this mood piece that makes its own kind of sense.”
Around 2006, Lusssenhop began performing live as DJ Douggpound, which came in handy when Tim and Eric took their show on the road and needed an opening act. The three still do shows together occasionally, including a tour last fall with John C. Reilly, the actor and frequent Tim and Eric-collaborator. Being DJ Douggpound is a chance to bring Lussenhop’s approach to comedy into a whole new medium: the performance space.
“I tried to incorporate the layered feeling of what I do on the show on a stage,” he says. “It’s basically like I’ll tell a joke and sometimes the joke is corny, sort of a groaner. But then I’ll remix the joke and part of it will be a sound effect or a bit of a song or something and that turns the whole thing into more of a conceptual absurd kind of act. When I’m touring with Tim and Eric, I’ll DJ, play beats, get the crowd going to kind of a high energy thing–and then I’ll hard-cut the beat and tell some kind of joke. I’ll do a knock-knock joke thing and the punchlines will be sound bites from commercials or TV shows, familiar things. So it’s basically like remixing a joke as part of the joke.”
Lussenhop is currently a writer and editor on The Eric Andre Show, and he has other projects in development. Whenever he creates now, however, has a new challenge attached to it. After helping to forge such a singular style with his work on Tim and Eric’s shows, he has to make sure not to repeat it.
“By the time Awesome Show ended, I would get people asking me to edit their shows,” Lussenhop says. “I did Portlandia for the first three seasons. I actually edited Fred [Armisen] and Carrie [Brownstein]’s web series before it was called Portlandia, when it was called Thunder Ant. I cut a reel together that they showed to IFC and kind of pitched the show with. If you watch season one, I implement a lot of my earlier techniques once in a while. There’s a lot of repeated lines, really fast-cut kind of stuff. But then I think they sort of rolled that back and now it’s really less relying on the editing as much. Now it’s all on the page a lot more. I think the style we created for Tim and Eric is so known that you have to be careful using it now. I write and edit for The Eric Andre Show too now, and sometimes the note is ‘this is too Tim and Eric.’ That is definitely a note I have received.”