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Scary, Good, Scary Good Comedy: Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!

April 1, 2010

There are often-told stories in the music industry of a producer or radio guy hearing a sound, an artist for the first time and realizing he’s never heard anything like it before. You’ve heard those stories too. Buddy Holly. The Doors. Jimi Hendrix. This phenomenon likely goes all the way back to what classical music did for baroque music and what romantic music did for classical music. There are simply some things in an artistic landscape which come along, from time to time, to startle, surprise and herald something altogether new.

Comedy has these moments too, you know. Lenny Bruce shocked audiences with his brash takes on taboo subjects; Richard Pryor not only opened the door to a host of African-American comics but cemented himself as perhaps the greatest stand-up comic of all time; Ricky Gervais honed the art of awkwardness with The Office (U.K.) and now the uncomfortable joke is a staple of American television.

You might be surprised to know that, for eleven minutes at a time at 12:30 am on Monday mornings, a further step of comedy evolution is occurring. Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! is now in its fifth season, and it very well may be some of the most mindblowingly abstract comedy to come along in several years.

I know what you’re thinking: “yes, yes, I’ve seen “edgy” comedy before. Move along.” Very well, but have you ever seen comedy that scared you? How about a sketch selling fake, mannequin-esque children to parents to replace their deceased children? How about a creepy, crudely-rendered CGI character named Grum — who could be a refugee from one of those late night infomercials advertising video game programming degrees — who sings songs about “crackers and snacks?” How about a daytime television show for women which features disturbed mimes grunting in otherworldly ways, old men playing drums and blissed-out people chanting eerily in unison?

If none of this strikes you as particularly funny, don’t worry. Some of it’s not. But yet, it is. As it is, whenever you tune into Tim and Eric you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. The first few episodes of season five alone have been set around such centerpieces as a faux Saturday Night Live-esque program, the two hosts comparing giant mounds of pubic hair in a treehouse and crows who gruesomely peck eyeballs out. Each program uses a loose framework to veer off into bizarre flights featuring old men watching each other sleep or an outlet that provides child clowns (kept in cages). You’ll never know quite what you’re looking at, or where it’s going, and that’s really the thing that makes Tim and Eric so special.

Using green screen technology in the strangest ways possible, going into disturbing close-up on horrific facial expressions, and completely going off the grid with nary a conventional comedy cliche in sight, the duo (discovered by Mr. Show mastermind Bob Odenkirk) continues to be some of the most gloriously creepy, unnerving, hilarious comedy content in a very, very long time. In many ways, it’s almost like comedy jazz — dangerous, weird, threatening, but completely fresh and brand new. Perhaps that’s why Wired magazine has hailed that the two have very nearly successfully deconstructed comedy itself.  That’s pretty high praise.

Do yourself a favor. You have eleven spare minutes. Fill your mind with something you can’t unsee. Freak out your more mainstream, vanilla loved ones. Because whether you love it or hate it, get it or don’t get it, you can’t deny that Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! isn’t going places you’ve never seen (nor possibly ever wished to see). If this is where comedy’s headed, we’re all in for a lot of strange days ahead.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim at 12:30 am Monday mornings (Sunday evenings). Check out the Adult Swim online library of Tim and Eric clips and episodes here.

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