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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tim Heidecker deconstructs the worst comedy sets you’ve ever seen in his first stand-up special

Illustration for article titled Tim Heidecker deconstructs the worst comedy sets you’ve ever seen in his first stand-up special
Screenshot: An Evening With Tim Heidecker
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Tim Heidecker’s early work as a master of scatalogical short-form comedy has since blossomed into a number of corners: film, podcasting, music, and parody (Decker is probably comedy’s best indirect skewering of Donald Trump). With his first official stand-up special, An Evening With Tim Heidecker, the comedian draws upon his myriad personae without recycling his greatest hits. Instead, he tells a dizzying array of jokes that were made to be booed, their dunderheaded simplicity—what’s next after Lady Gaga, he asks, “Lord Goo-Goo?”—serving to satirize lazy comics of all stripes. Mr. Show fans will see shades of Tom Kenny’s Kedzie Matthews in the special’s early going.

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But Heidecker is spoofing more than mere hacks. An extended bit in which he takes tofu down a peg gives way to a rant about his disdain for “head meds,” which he then reveals his wife is on. “I call her the nag,” he cracks in one of his many appeals to the audience’s dudes. Throughout, Heidecker’s jokes, constructed to appear poorly constructed, reveal the innate darkness of a character who conflates personal grievance and insensitivity with comedy. Later, he segues into a “bit” that doubles as an ad for E-Trade, hilariously emphasizing the hollowness at the core of his multi-pronged onstage persona.

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He indulges in a number of other stand-up staples as well—chants, crowd work, punchlines repeated in increasingly shrill voices—positioning the special as a low-key deconstruction of the worst comedy sets you’ve ever seen. A bit in which he forces an audience member to propose to his girlfriend onstage doesn’t land, but his general antagonism toward the crowd produces some gems, such as when he defends his “slow burn” storytelling as “Cosby comedy.” On Cinema devotees will recognize that series’ Heidecker here, both in terms of his quick-hit rage and regrettable choice in mentors.

It’s all in keeping with several themes Heidecker’s explored over the years, specifically the hubris of oblivious people devoting themselves to things they are incredibly bad at. His repeated attempts, for example, to perfect his telling of a joke about preferring Coke to Pepsi are funny because the joke itself is so objectively shitty. But Heidecker’s subversion of form is never as funny as when he’s transitioning. An elegant transition is one of the most impressive feats a comic can achieve, the best of them unfolding without the crowd even realizing it’s being shepherded in a new direction. Heidecker’s, however, are impossible to ignore, serving as jokes in and of themselves. A digression about the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds careens into a bit about “pet peeves.” An upsetting story about running over a dog, meanwhile, abruptly pivots to Heidecker—the persona, not the man, to be clear—attacking Obamacare, praising Trump, and impersonating a baby Mike Huckabee. The blunt-force momentum of it all is purposely jarring, funny for its blatant disregard of the challenges every comedian faces.

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Heidecker closes out the show with his guitar, cycling through songs from both his catalog of Trump parody tunes and his work with the Yellow River Boys, a band that writes primarily about drinking piss. Fans of that extremely niche project will be pleased to know that he’s got a brand-new song about drinking piss called “Piss Club Reunion.” It’s a profane nod to Heidecker’s bodily fluid-soaked roots, sure, but it’s also an oddly soothing coda, a spell of communion that serves to distinguish the person from the persona. When you cycle through as many as Heidecker does, that’s important.

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