Andrew Barchilon and Kitao Sakurai, the cofounders of the New York-based production company Naked Faces. got their start in the world of film. Sakurai shot and Barchilon produced Ry Russo-Young’s “You Wont Miss Me,” after which the pair went on to make 2010 festival favorite “Aardvark,” a slow-burning noir about a blind jiu-jitsu student who gets pulled into the shady doings of his friend and instructor (Barchilon served as producer while Sakurai wrote and directed the film).
Their latest project finds them not just venturing into television but breaking it down as well (sometimes literally). “The Eric Andre Show,” currently airing on Adult Swim on Sundays at 12:30am, is technically a talk show with interviews and planned bits. But host Eric Andre and his sidekick Hannibal Buress oversee what’s more a scene of surreal, apocalyptic strangeness taking place on some alternate reality public access channel in which Savion Glover shows up to tap dance with a chicken taped to his face and Andre rushes at his band in order to beat-up the drummer while the other members play on.
As Barchilon and Sakurai explain, the show was conceived of as “a deconstruction of the late-night talk show format. We’re taking all the classic late-night talk show elements (opening monologue, celebrity guests, desk pieces, man-on-the-street segments) and coming at them with a psychotic, low-budget public access mentality.” We asked them to share their thoughts on the tropes they’re taking on and what led them to create what the New York Times has dubbed “the anti-talk show.”
When Eric first came to us with the nascent idea — a half-hour talk show pumped full of amphetamines and LSD and crammed into mere minutes — we were immediately fascinated. The host would be Eric, supported by co-host and rising standup star Hannibal Burress. That pairing alone was well worth anyone’s time, but what hooked us were Eric’s pages upon pages of ideas, which were crazy and funny as hell. The opportunity to take a bulldozer to one of America’s most classic and beloved entertainment institutions — with Eric in the driver’s seat — was completely irresistible.
The late-night talk show is an interesting medium to work with because the format is SO traditional. It’s driven by conventions that haven’t changed in years and years, pioneered by Johnny Carson and continued — with varying degrees of irony — up to today. We all grew up watching David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, but also shows like “Space Ghost” and “The Tom Green Show.” Actually, if you look back at ’80s Letterman, he was consistently doing transgressive and strange bits and actively making fun of the medium from within, so we naturally took a lot of inspiration from that energy. To us, late night comedy and the act of making fun of that genre go hand in hand.
Every now and then even Letterman’s show will stumble. When a bit is going poorly Letterman will often throw a knowing glance at the audience, highlighting the mistake and acknowledging the stupidity of the situation. We love those moments of failure for their spontaneity and humanity. On our show the failures are much bigger and more fundamental, but unlike Letterman, Eric is never aware of them, he just powers though, allowing the failure to escalate to potentially epic levels. Our “wheel of prizes” that never stops spinning is a perfect example of how Eric can throw himself into a classic TV set up and fail in an unexpected way.
No matter how extreme the absurdity or randomness gets, we come at each scene with the intention of clarifying and heightening the risks. We put a lot of energy into fostering a sense of danger, a quality that we feel is especially critical to much of the humor of the show. When Eric destroys the set at the top of every episode, he’s truly using his body to the point of pain and exhaustion, and we wanted the audience to feel that sense of danger. For that reason you’ll rarely see a cut on the action of a stunt. When a guest reaches a place where it seems like they might walk out of an interview, we want to show the visceral tension and discomfort that leads to that moment. We were heavily inspired by “Da Ali G Show” and “Jackass,” as that kind of danger is something we find amazingly funny in the banal setting of our simple late night talk show.
We decided to set the world of the show in a shitty public access channel to justify the ineptitude that permeates every part of what’s happening on screen. To sell the world we utilized the concept of directing “in character.” That is, we took on an “if I were a derelict producer with no professional training or money, what choices would I make?” mentality.
It was incredibly satisfying when our collaborators — from production design to wardrobe and casting — to fully let go of prejudices against things that would ordinarily be considered “bad” or “ugly.” Suddenly all this junk started flowing into the studio, which made the character work of directing so much easier. A lot of credit is due to our original production designer, Ana Cambre, who helped galvanize some of the most iconic elements of the show.
To shoot this show in character also required an authentically shitty look. The ’70s era TV studio cameras we used helped lock in the aesthetic of our world perhaps more than anything. But we took it a step further and encouraged our camera operators to occasionally let the framing drift or subtly bungle the focus. Our DP Aaron Kovalchik did a great job of creating a very dark and unevenly lit talk show set.
We love when a guest briefly dips out of the light, as it makes the moment feel unplanned and spontaneous and makes real the possibility of further mistakes. Ultimately these aesthetic decisions that come from the directing character that we created with Eric keep the show from feeling like neither a traditional talk show nor sketch comedy, and instead feel like the no-budget, insane and inspired world of “The Eric Andre Show.”
When we created the initial presentation in an abandoned bodega in Bushwick three years ago, the idea of getting picked up by Adult Swim and working with Tim & Eric’s company Abso Lutely Productions to produce a full season of the series was beyond a pipe dream. We just wanted to make something funny and crazy and uncompromisingly weird.