Eric Andre has a well-established reputation as a man unafraid of putting his body on the line for laughs. The intensely physical comedian has crashed through walls, gotten flung into violently into the air, stripped down in public countless times and ingested just about anything his team puts in front of him over the course of five completely insane seasons of The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim.
So of course the only way to up the ante on his antics was to film the just-released full-length hidden camera movie Bad Trip, in which Chris Carey (Andre) and his sidekick, Bud (Get Out‘s Lil Rel Howery) prank their way from Florida to New York in search of Chris’ ultimate high school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin). The only problem is that they’re doing it in Bud’s sister Trina’s pink custom sedan, and she happens to be a crazy-eyed con (played by none other than Tiffany Haddish).
That’s all the plot needed for the eye-popping, hilarious homage to Borat and Bad Grandpa that Andre first dreamed up nearly seven years ago, and which took more than three years to reach our partially shielded eyeballs after production delays and a global pandemic that nobody saw coming. Now, though, Andre is having the last laugh thanks to Netflix saving the project and releasing it last week, at which point it promptly flew to No. 1 all over the world.
“It’s undeniable that calling it a sliver lining doesn’t even cut it,” Andre tells Billboard about what felt like a tortuous wait to share his big screen debut, in which he gets stripped naked by a car wash vacuum hose and is nearly stabbed by a barber after he and Howery shuffle into his shop with their privates in a… finger trap. “There have been more eyeballs on the movie in the past 48 hours than I could ever imagine.”
Billboard spoke to Andre about having his mind blown when Borat mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen offered to give him pro bono notes, pulling off a full musical number in a packed mall, and which rappers are on his wish list for the next round of his Adult Swim show’s tortuous “Rapper Ninja Warrior” segment.
You’ve been doing stand-up forever, and the Eric Andre Show for five seasons. Why jump to movies now?
The escalation… [it’s] the next step up in the evolution of my career. There’s something more epic and heightened about a feature-length film. Also, it was an evolution of the Eric Andre Show and the pranks we did on the show.
Naturally, that manifested as your average three-way-priest-kiss-peeing-in-a-redneck bar road trip love story. Why did this project take eight years?
The weekend Bad Grandpa came out, in October 2013, I was finishing editing season two of the Eric Andre Show and my director, Kitao Sakurai, and my agent called me and said, “Bad Grandpa is going to make millions of dollars and it’s super funny and you should meet with [Jackass co-creator/director] Jeff Tremaine about a feature-length version of the pranks you do.” That’s where it began.
I was still doing the show then, but it was a few years of trying to crack the storyline… and then finally in 2016 we had a story and premise we could go with and we sold it to MGM, filmed it in 2017, finished editing it in 2019 and then a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic hit!
Road trips are a classic framing device for comedies. You must have some favorites.
My influences are pretty blatant: Dumb & Dumber, Tommy Boy, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Borat, of course and Bad Grandpa… You want it to be a road trip because it allows for tangential scenes… it’s the perfect frame for pranks.
How hard was it to wait a year to get this out into the world? Were you worried that it might not land during this lockdown? Or did it actually work to your advantage since we’re all so bored?
It was a nightmare! It was the most depressing… it was like the movie was no small feat to make, and we knew we needed reshoots to tie everything up and make the connective tissue scenes. Then Rel’s show (Rel) got picked up by Fox and we had to wait almost a year because we couldn’t pull him away from a show called Rel! Then it was going to come out in 2019 and the studio pushed it to February, then we said, “let’s push it to April so it can premiere at South by Southwest.” We had a prime time slot and it was the perfect audience for this movie.
I was a week away from flying to Austin and we had a stunt planned for the red carpet… and then a global pandemic happened. It was like the Twilight Zone… SXSW got canceled. We had weapons brandished [on us] and we almost died making the movie, it was a f–king mess!… But it worked to our advantage because everyone is on global house arrest because of the virus and Netflix has doubled its subscribers since the pandemic started and with that reach we’re now the No. 1 movie in the U.S. and the world.
Tell me how The Golden Girls theme “Thank You For Being a Friend” became a centerpiece for the film.
It’s a buddy story, we we were literally typing in “friend” on Spotify and seeing what artists came up. With every single music cue me and Jeff and Kitao would play 500 different songs that the music supervisor sent out or a track list I put together. Picking music is so hard, but so important.
You studied double bass at Berklee College of Music and played in jazz and rock bands, so I’m wondering if all that helped with your improv skills while filming the movie? Especially when things go sideways?
There’s some connection there. Music and comedy are all about timing and jazz is about being able to improvise, pulling from that same creative spot in your mind. All comedians want to be musicians and all musicians want to be comedians.
What’s it take to pull off a full musical number like you did on that wedding cake in the mall?
You get one chance, one shot and our huge thing about prank producing is establishing normalcy. There was nothing suspicious going on in the mall that day until I entered and busted out into song. You don’t want the people you’re pranking to be wise to it. That one was the easiest… Okay, nothing was easy, but it was way easier because I knew nobody would try to murder me.
Was the finger trap bit really the first thing you and Rel filmed? Weren’t you worried about scaring him off on day one?
We weren’t really thinking, “Oh I’m going to scare Rel off.” I member Jeff wanted to do more hardcore pranks first, like the gorilla scene and the penis trap scene were the first things we shot. I kind of liked getting that scary stuff out of the way first so it’s not looming over you. We do that on the Eric Andre Show, too.
You said having a story line was important, like Sacha Baron Cohen does in his Borat movies. And then he volunteered to watch a cut, so between working with Jeff and consulting with Nathan Fielder (Nathan For You) you basically worked with the Mt. Rushmore of TV and movie pranksters on this movie.
Sacha is super generous, he’s a lovely human being. We had an early rough cut of the movie with some stuff working, some not and we needed to troubleshoot. He said, “Oh yeah, come over to my house and we’ll watch the movie.” We didn’t pay him and his notes were like, “You know how to make pranks and you know when pranks aren’t working,” so it was more story structure. It was the highest compliment we could get.
What’s it take to convince rappers like Lil Yachty, Freddie Gibbs and Danny Brown to get tased and squirted with goo while rapping during the “Rapper Warrior Ninja” sections on the TV show?
The first time we did that for season four with Danny Brown and ASAP Rocky, it was pretty hard convincing them. But it was the benefit of the fourth season, not the first, so they were coming in as fans. The people on the couch I’m pranking, but the musicians come on at the end to do a stunt, they’re in on it. We’re not pranking them, we’re torturing them, electrocuting them. They knew the premise and the show, but Danny Brown kept being like, “You can’t hurt me, you can’t break my legs. I’m flying to China tomorrow to start my tour.” And then we we did the bit they got weirdly competitive with each other.
By the time Open Mike Eagle did it and season five started, it was way easier to get Yachty and Trippie Redd, because they hold ASAP Rocky and Danny Brown in high regard.
No! Send me that! Chance we got on the show right before he blew up. That’s a Hannibal [Buress] connection. He knew him from Chicago and he was like, “He’s a rapper who’s about to blow up!” and he said, “Let me know if you want him on the show.” It’s the only time Hannibal was responsible for a booking on the show. Normally he would just drift in and out of sleep on the set.
With Lizzo, Kitao and I knew her before she was famous. We were friends and it was probably the easiest booking because we knew her before her rocket ship took off. We texted her, it was literally a text message to get her on the show. She was like, “I have one day off in the next 30 days,” so we got her in the studio, put her in the Bird Up outfit and got her in and out within an hour. Musicians love the show.
Who’s on your Ninja wishlist to tase and torture who you haven’t landed yet?
Oh my God, there are so many. Where do I begin? Pusha T, Snoop would be amazing. Future, Gucci Mane would be amazing. Any dirty South rapper… Three 6 Mafia. I would also love Travis Scott, that would be super fun. Kendrick [Lamar]. You’ve gotta swing for the fences, so it would be really fun to get a really bitter Gen X rapper, like… The Game. Someone with no sense of humor about himself. Like, “what the f–k is going on?”