“I know you think we’re young, cool pranksters,” shared Eric Wareheim on stage Saturday night, before going on to explain how him and his partner Tim Heidecker are actually quite sensitive about how their work is received. It was all part of a bit – the duo proceeded to blindfold themselves and wear noise-canceling headphones before sharing a clip of their new anthology series, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories – but it also had a ring of truth.
Because Tim & Eric’s comedy hinges on an unwavering devotion to all that is uncool. All four of the duo’s Adult Swim programs (Tom Goes to the Mayor, Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, Check It Out and Bedtime Stories) have been obsessed with outdated technology, unflattering clothes, public access talent, dads, and mispronounced words. After a decade on TV, these strange, often uncomfortably creepy fixations have congealed into a language all their own, to the point where a fan can see a t-shirt with John C. Reilly’s face and the word “Bringo” on it, and freak out with joy.
Yet over the course of its two and a half-hour set at Berklee Performance Center, the duo, along with Reilly in character as Dr. Steve Brule, refused to coast on their back catalog. Other than the presence of Brule and his long-running “Channel 5 News” partners Jan & Wayne Skylar, the only Awesome Show-related sketch was a revival of the Cinco Brothers, a forgettable late-season send-up of d-bag corporate shills.
After a delightfully corny opening set by DJ Douggpound – which included the greatest mash up of Lil Jon and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor you’re ever bound to hear – Tim & Eric took the stage in khakis and hideous velour button-downs, thanking us for our support through song while cheap stock imagery of handshakes rotated behind them. The ridiculous, singsong celebration had the feel of a children’s concert, a sensibility that really never subsided. After pretending that they planned to improvise the whole show, and then pretending to botch these improvisations, the duo then sang a triumphant little ditty about how they tricked us all. Despite all the f-bombs and diarrhea sound effects, this sequence was both entrancingly preposterous and kinda sweet.
The set was long, but never felt that way, thanks in part to the Bedtime Stories sneak peek that broke up the proceedings during set changes. While still clearly a Tim & Eric creation, this show has a noticeably bigger budget than anything they’ve done, and the higher production values that make the weird stuff feel all the weirder. The Jason Schwartzman-starring episode they screened had a really disturbing ending, almost as disturbing as an earlier one where Bob Odenkirk plays a doctor who cuts off people toes.
A bigger reason that the show never lagged: Act Two was all Dr. Steve Brule. From the second he ran up the aisle from the back of the venue, out of breath and carrying a backpack of VHS tapes, Reilly completely inhabited his character – a very dumb, very lovable local health reporter in a shiny brown suit and unruly curls. On Awesome Show, Brule was basically there to deliver timeless one-liners (e.g. “If you’re raking the leaves and it gets all over your driveway, just hose it off, dummy!”). But over the course of three seasons of his spin-off, Check it Out, Reilly has evolved the character into somebody we root for, a guy who will never stop throwing himself out into the world, no matter how many times it makes him throw up.
Our emotional connection to Brule was solidified with his opening “slideshow,” entitled “Who Is Me?” We learned that he had a sister who died in a ferris wheel accident, that his mom made him wear a wig to high school, that he was “brullied” a lot. It was all delivered matter of factly, Reilly adding that defensive-yet-transparent “so what” tone to Brule’s voice that is both very funny, and more than a bit tender.
After an extended bit of crowd participation, where Brule had some folks do a “Human Treasure Hunt” in the audience and proceeded to beautifully mispronounce all their names, Tim & Eric returned to the stage in the guise of Jan and Wayne Skylar, whose ongoing love-triangle drama with Brule reached a hysterical climax. People broke into song; the sick walked again; Tim wore an amazing wedding dress that let his lower body breathe.
By the end, it looked like Dr. Steve Brule had found a bit of love. And as we laughed, we realized that we also cared.