Eric Andre got his start in standup but rose to fame-slash-notoriety with Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, a psychedelic sendup of late-night talk shows where celebrity guests and everyday people on the street are at the mercy of Andre’s frenetic whims. From trolling the Republican National Convention to eating his own vomit in front of reality-TV star Lauren Conrad, Andre revels in pushing the unexpected on the unsuspecting.
“When you are interacting with real people in a hidden-camera prank scenario, it’s impossible for your performance to be stale, because you’re using every part of your brain to improvise within the situation and mine the most comedy,” Andre says in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “It forces you to be spontaneous. It’s also like a high-wire act. It’s the highest-stakes version of comedy, because you’re putting yourself in danger.”
It’s hard to tell sometimes, but beneath all the chaos of Andre’s physical comedy and pranks, there’s a craft he’s honed for five seasons of his show and that he’s applied to his new Netflix film Bad Trip.
Bad Trip follows Chris (Andre) and Bud (Lil Rel Howery), two best friends who quit their dead-end jobs in Florida and take a road trip to New York City to reunite Chris with the woman of his dreams. Hot on their trail is Trina (Tiffany Haddish), Bud’s hard-scrabble sister who’s out for blood when she finds out they “borrowed” her beloved car. However, Bad Trip flips the typical buddy comedy format by putting real people—and their real reactions—at the center of the action.
For Andre, working on Bad Trip forced him to think beyond isolated skits and pranks to build a full narrative. Luckily for him, he had the help of Jeff Tremaine, director of the Jackass movies and Bad Grandpa, who served as a producer on Bad Trip. In fact, because Andre started developing and filming Bad Trip after season four of The Eric Andre Show, Tremaine’s guidance in the process led to season five being what Andre considers the best season to date.
“When we started doing pranks on The Eric Andre Show, I would jump out of a trashcan and go ‘boo’ and scare somebody or do some big public stunt and just have people as jaw-dropped observers,” Andre says. “But Jeff started stressing the importance of the people you’re pranking; [they] are the real stars of the segment, and they get the biggest laughs. So the more they’re on the hook and the more verbal they are and the more they believe the premise and are responding to it, the bigger laughs you’ll get.”
Check out some of the highlights of the conversation below, and be sure to listen to the full episode wherever you enjoy your podcasts.
On moving on with season five without his friend and collaborator Hannibal Buress
“I was going to retire the show. I was like, ‘Five seasons—that’s good. That feels like a good amount of Eric Andre Show. It should be done.’ And even Hannibal was like, ‘I’m down to keep collaborating, but let’s do something else.’ But then I got to the end of season five and my crew was so dialed in and my editors were so dialed in and it was so smooth. It just felt so comfortable, this group of creative people I’ve been working with since the beginning of the show. And I was like, ‘If I’m enjoying this so much, why would I put an end to it?’ It’s sad that Hannibal’s gone, but we have such a family. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever done that I have pure creative freedom. So I was like, ‘I don’t want to let this go.'”
On the creative and technical challenges of Bad Trip
“I’d say about like 80% to 90% of the stuff we filmed never made it to the final cut. Filming is part of the writing process in a roundabout, very expensive way, because you’re dealing with so much unknown. You don’t know how people are going to react to each prank. You don’t know if the prank is going to fit in the body of the movie. We did each prank two or three times, and we would pick the best person or group of people at each time. Then on top of that, thinking about how much the editors are burning. A normal movie has one, two, maybe three cameras rolling max on a scene? We had like 19 cameras rolling for every scene.”
On Chris Rock talking him off the ledge
“Every time I go out on stage or every time I film something, there’s some failure, big or small. Dude, one time I opened for Chris Rock in New Orleans and I bombed so hard, like booed off the stage—gut wrenching. I know bombing is part of life, but man did that audience hate me. And it never ended. I got booed and heckled off stage. I wanted to kill myself. And it’s Chris Rock, so celebrities come to see his show. My agent called me the next week, and he goes, ‘Hey man, Anthony Mackie said you suck!’ Chris is very sweet. Right when I got offstage, he gave me a big hug. He goes, ‘Don’t worry! Ask me what happened when Prince opened up for The Rolling Stones? It was an arena full of people going, “Boo! You suck!” They were throwing bottles at him and shit. And he did pretty fine for his career.’ So he talked me off the ledge instantly, which was very sweet of him.”