Though this may come as a surprise to the passerbys and celebrity guests that appear on “The Eric Andre Show,” there is a plan behind Andre’s cult hit parody of talk show television.
Yes, it’s a show where Andre has dragged a mattress labeled “BED BUGS!!” through crowded city streets, and it’s also a show where Andre has ripped his desk apart, stripped naked, and jumped in a cold bathtub during an interview with Public Enemy co-founder Flavor Flav. “The Eric Andre Show” is constantly teetering on the edge of madness, and five seasons in, Andre couldn’t be happier about keeping everyone who participates in the show guessing.
The latest season of “The Eric Andre Show” premiered on Adult Swim earlier this month. Four years have passed since the show’s fourth season — the lengthy gap between seasons was due to Andre dedicating time for his “Bad Trip” hidden camera comedy film — but longtime viewers will feel immediately at home with the new season, where a shitting rat is brought onto a subway and Andre masquerades as a security guard at a clothing store and spoons lo mein into enraged customers’ bags, among other things. In other words, it’s the same show that fans know and love (and possibly fear).
What has changed are the visuals. This is the biggest, brightest, and most garish season of “The Eric Andre Show” yet. Andre previously described his character as a talk show host who hates his job — he grew out his fingernails and quit showering for Season 4 to further sell the idea — and that sentiment extends to the show’s aesthetic. Though every season’s set has looked different, they’ve historically been designed to look dilapidated, dingy, and otherwise disgusting.
For Season 5, Andre decided to go in the polar opposite direction.
“In Season 4 the set looked like a North Korean prison, so for Season 5 I wanted it to look like Liberace’s Las Vegas mansion,” Andre said. “In Season 4 I lost weight, so in Season 5 I gained weight. Last season I got really pale and hairy, so this season I got rid of all my body hair except my eyebrows. I waxed my pubic hair, shaved my head bald and got rid of my facial hair. It was almost like a conceptual aesthetic choice. I didn’t know what it would all look like together and it ended up looking like Vin Diesel died and then hosted a talk show at Liberace’s….I went the opposite direction with the odor as well: This season I doused myself with cologne and Axe Body Spray. I got the cheapest, Kmart colognes and put them all over myself and around the desk to affect the guests. Honestly, it was more a prank on me after a while.”
While intentionally drenching oneself in Axe Body Spray is no easy feat (though Andre’s myriad physical changes helped him stay incognito while performing man on the street bits), that bit seems quaint compared to most of the pranks that Andre pulls on the job. Five seasons in, Andre is confident that he has pranking down to a science, but when the stunts are this outlandish, it’s impossible to nullify all the risks. Andre has been jostled by angry crowds during an Alex Jones rally at the 2016 Republican National Convention, had a knife pulled on him while filming “Bad Trip,” and has been arrested for at least one man on the street bit.
The focus of Andre’s man on the street segments is to relentlessly confuse his subjects, rather than antagonize them. “It’s never about being mean or rude, it’s about being absurd and warping people’s reality to the point of psychosis,” Andre said. “You want to continue to be likable or it’s not fun or funny to watch. While I’m filming pranks I have a security guy off to the side and will always have an eye on them so if the situation escalates I can say a safe word and cut out of there.”
The same holds true for the in-studio interviews, the other key segments of “The Eric Andre Show.” Andre has interviewed an eclectic array of talents over the years (Season 5 guests range from Hollywood talents such as Judy Greer and Levar Burton to R&B musician Omarion and reality TV personality/self-described psychic Tyler Henry), and has gone to considerable lengths to unsettle his celebrity guests. Interviews are taped on a sweltering set without air conditioning and Andre has previously placed rotted clams under interviewee’s seats or surprised them with cockroaches and rats.
Andre said that aside from having camera operators stimulate sex and defecation in front of guests, he decided to shift away from some of the off-camera pranks for Season 5 to dedicate more resources for on-camera bits. While guest interviews in prior seasons typically boasted three to five pranks, Andre upped it to around 20 for Season 5. The chaos is constantly front and center.
One of the biggest mysterious surrounding “The Eric Andre Show” is how many guests have been in on the bit over the years. Some guests, such as Lauren Conrad and T.I. walked off set in visible disgust, while others have rolled with the punches and appeared amused by Andre’s antics. Andre said that he endeavors to keep his guests as in the dark as possible — ideally, the guests are entirely unaware of the show’s reputation —and pushes his interviewees even harder if he knows they’ll be on guard.
The sole exception to the rule, according to Andre, was Lance Reddick, who appeared on the show’s sophomore season. Reddick discussed the interview after his episode’s premiere and noted that he workshopped several bits with Andre prior to taping. “Lance Reddick came on in Season 2; since then we realized that every single guest has to be in the dark and pranked or you compromise and jeopardize the stakes and reality of all the other guests,” Andre said. “You’re going to such great strides to make sure it reads like what it is, so even if you let one guest here or there kind of have fun with you, it compromises all of the other ones.”
Though most of the guests on “The Eric Andre Show” are outside the Hollywood mainstream, the show has booked a handful of high-profile names and several guests were fans of the show prior to coming on. Neither kind of interviewee poses a problem for Andre.
“I knew Jack Black, Seth Rogen, and Tyler the Creator watched the show, but we were kind of like, ‘They’re such big names and will be so satisfying to watch on the show and they’re gonna allow us to get other big guests of their stature that even though they watch the show, they won’t know all the gags coming,’” Andre said. “Whether the guest knows the show or not it doesn’t matter because when cockroaches are flying from the sky, its 200 degrees and there are explosions going off, their reactions are going to be genuine.”
Another enduring “The Eric Andre Show” mystery is what happens during the parts of each celebrity interview that don’t make it into the final episode. Andre typically interviews his guests for an hour before editing the conversation down to several minutes. A common question on fan forums and social media is if the show’s full, unedited interviews will ever be made available. The answer is no, though there was almost one exception for an extended Season 5 interview before tragic circumstances caused Andre to hold off.
“Releasing full interviews would get rid of the magic,” Andre said. “They’re not as exciting as one would think but we almost did put an extended interview up this year. We had an extended interview with Naya Rivera because she had so many funny gags in her interview that we couldn’t cram in the episode’s time. We were gonna put it out but then she passed away and we didn’t want it to feel like we were exploiting her death or anything dark or weird for marketing. If we did it for every guest it’d be one thing, but it was pure coincidence where her interview had so many funny things.”
When Andre spoke to IndieWire in 2016 ahead of his show’s Season 4 premiere he stated that five seasons would “be a nice number.” Andre felt confident about ending the show while filming Season 5, especially after the departure of Hannibal Buress, Andre’s longtime co-host and relative straight man. That said, Andre’s outlook changed as he was putting the finishing touches on the season. It might take some time, but fans of “The Eric Andre Show” have reason to be optimistic about the series’ future.
“As I was going through the editing and finishing post production, I was like, ‘This is the funnest show to make and I’m so blessed to have this opportunity that this is my job. I have full, complete creative freedom,’” Andre said. “I was sitting at home thinking about how much I enjoy the process of the show and how we have it down to a science and our team is a tight, cohesive family and was like, ‘Why would I close the door on this?’ I’m gonna keep the door open. I don’t know if I’ll do it every single year, other projects will come and go and I’ll have to adjust, but I love the show too much to retire it and this is the best season yet and we’re so in our groove. It doesn’t feel right to end the show. It’s just getting started.”
“The Eric Andre Show” releases new episodes every Sunday at midnight on Adult Swim.