Stand-up comedy has lost its way. Tim Heidecker is coming to Tampa to fix it.
OK, not really.
The producer, writer, actor and musician will appear at the Tampa Theatre Saturday in the form of a character who wears his hair slicked back, dons a leather jacket and tells deliberately hacky jokes. When he spews well-worn witticisms about his marriage or screams at the audience for applause, he’s not serious. To Heidecker, most stand-up is itself a joke.
Heidecker’s stand-up character, who is also named Tim Heidecker, is in keeping with two decades of bizarro silliness that has made him one of the luminaries of modern absurdist comedy.
But that’s only half of what the Tampa audience has in store. Heidecker also plans to serenade the crowd with his songs from his folk rock records. Think Randy Newman or Neil Young. He’s being serious about this part.
It’s a part of a tour he’s dubbed The Two Tims. Musician and character. Satire and storytelling.
The Times interviewed Heidecker recently so audiences might better understand at least one of those Tims. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Times: So I guess I will start with Tampa. Tampa is sort of a fascination among comedians. There’s a lot of Tampa jokes out there. Tim Robinson has made Tampa jokes in his sketches. Tina Fey has made a bunch in her shows. Why do you think Tampa is the butt of so many jokes?
Heidecker: I know it as a death metal destination.
Heidecker: That’s not true. I just learned that from my bass player who’s very excited. We’re trying to get Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel to come to the show. Did you know that Tampa is the home of Death Metal?
Times: I didn’t! I’ve always thought of it as more of like a stadium country town. Like Kenny Chesney kicks off his tours here.
Heidecker: No, I didn’t know that either but I’m gonna try to get them to come to the show.
Tampa seems like it personifies everything about Florida. My dad lives in Florida. He lives on the Atlantic side. I think like everybody, we’ve got mixed feelings about Florida. There’s something beautiful and great about it and then there’s Mar-a-Lago down there.
And obviously the Florida Man trope is not necessarily accurate, but it’s a reflection of the national perception of the state.
Times: So your tour is called “The Two Tims.” You’re going to play songs and you’re going to perform comedy. But there isn’t much comedy in your songs. They’re really kind of sweet and down to earth and even folksy, like sort of Randy Newman-esque. So I was wondering, are you a fan of musical comedy? Like Bo Burnham? The Lonely Island? Do you like songs with jokes?
Heidecker: Yeah, I mean, the good ones. I love that Burnham special.
I think even in my serious songs, there’s irony and there’s humor and there’s some satire, all these big comedy words.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
It’s not like Weird Al (Yankovic), who I love. I wanna make sure the vocals are front and center because I think there’s stories being told. There’s observations about the world. There’s personal stuff about my life.
But the set almost moves too fast to be taken too seriously. There’s definitely a couple of heavier moments that I’m happy about. The goal or the vision for this show is to present an evening of a range of emotions. We want you laughing and then I want you to not be laughing and maybe getting a little choked up.
I don’t suddenly turn into a dour indie rock bummer when I come out to the band. Like, it’s funny too. I joke around between the songs, in more of my own way — not as a character.
Times: Yeah since you mentioned doing comedy as a character: You posted a 12-hour Joe Rogan parody on YouTube. Your 2020 stand-up special, “An evening with Tim Heidecker,” included faux-Andrew Dice Clay call and response bits. What do you find so funny about the idea of the male stand up comedian as bold truth teller?
Heidecker: Well, kind of that. Kind of the arrogance and pomposity of thinking that you have it all figured out and you’ve also distilled it into something that you think is also funny, too. That didactic tone of prancing around on stage trying to seem cool and trying to seem like you’ve got it all figured out just seems a little stupid to me.
I think the audience that I attract is kind of overly media literate, where you just have seen it all and it’s all been done before. So I’m making fun of that and I think when you see me making fun of it, it makes you feel like, OK, I’m not the only one that thinks this is tired or overdone or hacky.
Times: The cancel culture stuff, you mean? Like complaining about cancel culture?
Heidecker: Well that for sure. Also not even politically speaking, just the rhythms and the tone of stand-up comedy. I’m a 47-year-old man. I’ve been seeing it for 40 years.
What I like to do with the show is talk about what was controversial or what was in the news like four months ago. Bring that stuff up. Some of it’s satirical and then some of it’s just fun for me to do a character and really immerse myself in the character and play a kind of a sad, pathetic loser who’s failing. As an audience or as a fan of comedy, those are always my favorite characters. Like Corky Saint Clair in “Waiting for Guffman:” Trying to put on the show and losing and failing and things going wrong. That’s my favorite kind of comedy.
Times: I want to ask about the writer’s strike. I saw you and Eric Wareheim were on the picket lines recently and you were quoted in an Associated Press story. Eric was very excited about the fact that there was an Arby’s nearby. How much longer do you think you’re going to have to be standing on the picket line eating Arby’s?
Heidecker: Eric and I hadn’t been interviewed together in a while and we were laughing about how quickly we just go into our old tropes. It’s so easy for us to immediately start riffing and wasting everyone’s time.
I’m not an expert on this. I just read what everybody else reads and kind of talk to people in the business a little bit. But, it seems like there’s quite a bit of distance between the unions and the studios still.
We’re trying to bring attention to the fact that most of the people that make the stuff that everybody seems to enjoy is made by working class people too. And also creating protections for whatever AI turns out to be.
No one’s going to want to see an AI-generated murder mystery show. Something in your soul is going to suffer at some point.
Times: Your production company, Abso Lutely, has produced some of the most renowned indie comedy TV shows of the last decade from “Nathan For You” to “Review” to “Comedy Bang! Bang!” What do you look for when you try to pick the next project to produce?
Heidecker: We look for in independent, unique voices. All those shows you mentioned are coming from very specific comedy minds. It’s not a show by committee. It’s not like a cookie-cutter, formulaic thing. It’s Nathan Fielder or Eric Andre, somebody that really has a vision and a unique point of view on how they want to do things.
We’re not interested in, or probably very good at, making stuff for the masses.
Heidecker: We’re interested in creating individual passion projects for people.
Times: What “Tim and Eric” bit gets quoted back to you the most?
Times: Oh, “free real estate,” of course. That’s become so ubiquitous I forget that it was “Tim and Eric.”
Heidecker: There’s a lot of our stuff that’s no longer ours. It’s the world’s.
Times: There’s an adage that all comedians want to be musicians and all musicians want to be comedians. Given that you’re both: Do you think that’s true?
Heidecker: Well, I certainly would never say “all.” I think there’s many. I don’t ever see Bill Maher going onstage with a rock group.
I think the truth is a lot of us creative types start just wanting to make stuff and we don’t really know what it is we’re going to make.
Same with musicians, I think we all start from a place of, I don’t have it all figured out. I just want to make stuff — or be the center of attention. Usually that’s the case, too.