Tim Heidecker is the male Lena Dunham. He’s ridiculously funny and talented, and he’s naked on screen probably more than most viewers would prefer. Heidecker has overshared his body, which has never been the Greco-Roman ideal, numerous times during the five seasons of Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! And in his new movie, The Comedy—which opens in Los Angeles on November 9th, and then in various cities over the next few months—he’s shirtless in almost every scene. In the opening credits, spoiler alert, Heidecker goes full frontal. You may or may not see Mr. Heidecker’s little heidecker, depending on who you believe.
I called Heidecker to talk about The Comedy, which couldn’t be further from an actual comedy, and we talked about self-conscious irony, humorless old men, and the funny side of getting stabbed in the back.
Eric Spitznagel: You’re from Allentown, Pennsylvania, right? My wife is from Easton.
Tim Heidecker: Oh, wow, really? They’re like sister cities.
Do you still have family there?
My grandparents are still there, and some cousins and aunts and stuff.
How’d they do with the hurricane? Sandy gave eastern Pennsylvania quite the pounding.
They’re okay. I guess my grandparents don’t have power, and they won’t for maybe five more days or something. It’s hard to get news. CNN is just so focused on New York, of course. They’re not covering some of the smaller towns.
They’re probably at Wegmans.
Yeah. My wife’s 92-year-old grandmother went there. They didn’t close during the storm. I think all of the East Coast’s grandparents are at Wegmans.
Well, that’s good to know. Wegmans, huh? So I just call Wegmans?
Yeah. Just say, “I’m looking for my grandmother.” They’ll find her.
As an Allentown native, are you proud of the Billy Joel song, or annoyed?
It’s always been slightly annoying to have that be the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths when you tell them where you’re from. Your wife would probably agree that it should have been called “Bethlehem.”
Bethlehem as in the Pennsylvania town?
Yeah. Not the West Bank city. If you listen to the Billy Joel song, it’s more about the people who live in Bethlehem than Allentown. But that doesn’t have the same ring.
“We’re living here in Bethlehem.” Yeah, it sounds less like a blue-collar anthem than a song about the Baby Jesus.
Exactly. It’s like a Christmas carol.
What about the video? Was it an accurate representation of your hometown?
Um… No, not really.
Allentown wasn’t filled with homoerotic steelworkers?
They didn’t look like that from my memory. They were probably a hundred pounds heavier. And more bitter.
So let’s talk about The Comedy.
Specifically the opening credits. You’re… a little naked.
There’s a lot of sharing.
I expected some male nudity. But maybe just not so much in the first sixty seconds.
Was it too much?
I was okay with beer being poured in a male butt crack. But you doing the penis tuck from Silence of the Lambs… I don’t know.
You’re not a fan?
Was that improvised? Or did it say in the script “tucks penis creepily between legs”?
It was written like, “There’s a bunch of guys dancing around naked.” And I wasn’t really comfortable with that. So I said to [director] Rick [Alverson], “Can we find another way to do this?” The tuck seemed a little more appropriate.
It’s not like we were spared the full frontal.
That wasn’t me. The other guy, Jeff [Jensen], flashes his genitals. But the scene is cut in such a way that if you’re not paying close attention, you could think it was me.
You thought it was me?
I was convinced. I was like, “Wow. There’s Tim Heidecker’s junk.”
I’ve been getting e-mails and tweets from all these people who are like, “Hey I saw your dick and balls, man.”
You want to set the record straight?
I do. It wasn’t me. That’s not my penis.
Would you say as much under oath?
I would. It’s just not… It’s not the best representation.
No offense to Jeff, but it’s not exactly a penis you’d want the world to know about.
Which is fine. Harvey Keitel had a great career exploiting his small penis.
You spend a lot of time in this movie shirtless.
I do, yes.
And you have a… What’s the polite term? A generous midsection. Were you ever hesitant to expose so much of yourself?
I don’t have a big hang-up about my body. There are a couple of shots where I’m like, “Oh my god, I’ve got to start jogging again.” But we shot it over the summer, and it was nice out, and it just felt like the right move.
Have you heard from anybody who saw The Comedy and didn’t like it specifically because of your naked or semi-naked body?
There have certainly been some people who are really repulsed by me. But I never understand it when they refer to me as a fat guy. I wouldn’t call myself skinny, but the idea of calling me fat — it’s just wrong. That should be reserved for guys like Dom DeLuise or Chris Farley. There should be some kind of gradation.
And where do you fall on the scale?
Chubby seems appropriate.
Sure, rotund is fine. Flabby around the middle. But fat — I don’t feel like I’m there yet.
The Comedy had a chilly reception at Sundance.
Sure, yeah. A few people walked out.
Did you have a favorite outraged response?
We did a Q&A after one of the screenings, and the first question came from an older gentleman. He looked like he could’ve been a film professor: fleece vest, cropped beard, salt-and-pepper hair.
No pipe, but it wouldn’t have been out of character. He said, “Why did you make this movie? I thought this was the biggest piece of trash I’ve ever seen in my life.” He was so angry.
How do you even respond to that? It’s such over-the-top hostility.
Well, Rick is very serious and severe and intense. He said, very calmly, “It’s interesting. My father asked me this question the other day.” And this guy just flipped out. He said, “Don’t make this about age! This has nothing to do with how old I am!”
Wow. Old-man rage.
But then Rick went on and gave a beautiful treatise about the movie and why he made it and what he thinks it’s about, and the place erupted in applause.
And the film-professor guy? Did he slink away in shame?
Probably. We never saw him again. The problem is, I think, a movie like this takes time to digest. You can’t just watch it and have an instant reaction. It’s not really fair. If you’re going to make up your mind the second the credits roll, you’re not giving it enough thought.
I was most affected by the scenes with you and your friends.
You know when you watch a really filthy porno, and it makes you kind of grossed out by sex for a while?
Watching these guys sit around their terrible Williamsburg apartment, flinging these hostile ironic jokes at each other — it just made irony seem like such a sad, impotent gesture.
Yeah, that’s a good point.
I’m still not comfortable being ironic. The movie was that disturbing for me.
That’s kind of what we were going for. I mean, not stopping you personally from being ironic.
I was going to say.
It’s this feeling of suffocating that can happen when you’re constantly surrounded by insincerity and jokes. It’s not that way for everybody, I don’t think. My friends and I are able to balance it. But for certain cliques of people, it’s the only way they can communicate.
Some of the jokes in The Comedy, which were supposed to be empty jokes indicating the empty emotional lives of these characters, were legitimately funny to me. Like when you and Neil Hamburger were talking about hobo penises.
Yeah. “Their asses are dirty, but their dicks are clean.”
I laughed out loud at that. And that just made me think, Oh my god, does that mean I’m as vapid as these characters?
No, no, I think it’s fine. Somebody like you or me or other people I know — they have a sense of humor about these things. It’s okay to find them funny. I mean, yeah, the scene is about these guys wasting each other’s time. But it doesn’t mean there can’t be an honest laugh in there.
There’s another great scene where you’re arguing in defense of Hitler. Have you ever done anything like that?
Not Hitler specifically. But said or did something horrible just to get a reaction.
Back in high school, there was something fun and dangerous about inhabiting a different personality. We were always making prank phone calls, or we’d meet some girls at an amusement park, and I’d pretend I was from England, but I’d have this terrible British accent. It was just about seeing how far we could go with people until they were like, “Oh, you’re just fucking with me.”
Another part of the movie that was weirdly unsettling was when your character cuts his hand on a knife in the dishwasher.
Why was it unsettling?
Well, you’ve been stabbed in real life, right?
I have, yes. [Heidecker was stabbed twice in the back in 2006 while trying to protect an elderly neighbor from her son, who was high on PCP at the time.]
You don’t think the two things are related?
Well, let me say that being stabbed in the back is far more serious and severe than cutting yourself while washing dishes.
Does that blow your mind when you think about it? Your life is more violent than your movie roles.
That is kind of weird.
In the fictional cinematic world, the worst that can happen is getting cut by some silverware. But in your real world, dudes on PCP stab you repeatedly in the back.
I guess that’s true.
When you cut yourself in the movie, you went on a tirade of cursing. Is that what happened when you got stabbed?
Did I swear?
Yeah. Were you all like, “Motherfucker?!”
Here’s the craziest thing about that. I don’t have a memory of being stabbed. Because I was running for my life. I was in the high animal instinct state of adrenaline. I don’t have a sense memory of that moment. I just don’t. Only after I was safe, and the guy was taken down — that’s when I started feeling pain in my back.
It took that long?
Yeah. Your body kind of shuts down, and your instincts kick in. It keeps you going, keeps you alive.
I’ve never been in a life-threatening situation like that, but I have been in an emotionally stressful one. And my first instinct is always to make an inappropriate joke.
Sure, yeah. I’m the same way. There’s been a common thread in my life. I’m always in situations where you can’t be funny, and yet I want to do it anyway.
Like at a funeral.
Yeah. It’s hard not to wonder, “What would happen if I just started singing ‘New York, New York’ right now?” It would be a disaster, obviously. But that tension is what makes you laugh.
I’m guessing that didn’t happen while you were being stabbed.
No. Not at all, actually.
But afterwards, in the hospital? Was there any impulse to make a joke about what happened to you?
I remember I was getting an MRI done, like at four in the morning, and NPR was on, and I think they were talking about Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico at the time, and they were saying, “He’s been referred to as a real backstabber.” And I just burst into laughter.
They meant it metaphorically, I assume.
Yeah. But for me, that phrase had taken on a whole new meaning. He’s a backstabber? No, no, no. A backstabber is somebody who literally stabs you in the back. Like with a knife.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)