Eric Andre: “People scream at me on stage to get naked – so I give them what they want”

TV's premier punk prankster on shock comedy, Donald Trump and smoking weed with his mum

With a plane ticket to Paris in his hand, Eric Andre was a man on a mission. In 2016, the comedian headed off to the French capital in search of one of the city’s more infamous residents, cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, known for his brilliantly batshit and deeply disturbing psychedelic masterpieces El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), but also for his intimate tarot reading sessions – secretive mystical divinations attended by everyone from Kayne West to Marilyn Manson. A longstanding fan of the acclaimed auteur, Andre wanted to be next.

“I didn’t go to Paris just to jerk off the Eiffel Tower”

“We were going to make an entire documentary called Finding Jodorowsky,” explains Andre. “I thought, that’s what’s gonna do it, that’s what’s gonna entice him – and then he can read my tarot.” However, it turns out that Jodorowsky – then in his late 80s – isn’t a very entice-able man. After a barrage of emails, Jodorowsky’s wife finally got back to Andre the day before they were set to leave and told him that an audience with Jodorowsky would be granted, but that he refused to be filmed. This was great for Andre, who was able to lock in his tarot reading – “It was an incredible experience. He gave me a psychomagic prescription, but I’m not supposed to say what it is or it’ll lose it’s magic” – but not so good for Adult Swim, the late-night US network he had promised the documentary to.

Instead, Andre and his team cobbled together a last-minute Parisian version of his anarchic The Eric Andre Show, called Eric Andre Does Paris, which is now being aired on All4. “That was thrown together!” he says with a chuckle. “It’s a giant Hail Mary pass because I was like, ‘Well, we can’t have our star!’” Writing bits as they walked around the city, Andre donned the iconic white suit and wide-brimmed hat worn in The Holy Mountain by Jodorowsky himself, terrorising the locals with hidden camera pranks and doing something extremely lewd to a beloved tourist hotspot. “I didn’t go there just to jerk off the Eiffel Tower,” he explains matter of factly, after regaling us with the Jodorowsky story.

Eric Andre Does Paris
Eric Andre in the iconic white suit and wide-brimmed hat worn in Alejandro Jodorwosky’s ‘The Holy Mountain’, during ‘Eric Andre Does Paris’. Credit: Channel 4

It’s 9.30am in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and Eric Andre hasn’t yet had his morning coffee, but he has done his first daily dose of Transcendental Meditation, a practice he started in 2012, the same year The Eric Andre Show first aired. Pretty much the opposite of such a zen pastime, the nihilistic talk show has been making viewers wince for almost a decade with its mixture of slapstick violence, gonzo gross-out comedy, hidden camera wrongness and baffled celebrity guests. As television goes, it’s the most punk rock show around, making something of a comedy rockstar out of the music loving Andre. With fellow comedian Hannibal Buress as Andre’s unenthusiastic sidekick, victims – willing or otherwise – have included Seth Rogen, adult movie star Asa Akira, basketball player Dennis Rodman and Tyler, The Creator, as well as stunned Spice Girl Mel B, who a smirking Andre asked if Margaret Thatcher “effectively utilised girl power by funnelling money to illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland?” – a moment which has since been immortalised in meme form.

Eric Andre Does Paris aside, the last season of The Eric Andre Show aired in 2016, but just before lockdown Andre finished up the fifth instalment in which you can expect more of the same unhinged mayhem, but somewhat less of Hannibal Buress. “He wanted to quit and I didn’t want to force him to do the show, so I asked him if he could just do it a little bit – I didn’t want people to think we had a falling out!” explains Andre. What was his excuse for wanting to quit? “He’s just like, ‘I’m almost 40 man, I don’t want to watch you take a poop on your desk anymore’.”

“Director Alejandro Jodorowsky gave me a psychomagic prescription”

A few years ago, Andre insisted that the fifth season would be the last, but talking today he backpedals slightly. “I thought that a while ago, but why close the door on something good?” he reasons. “This is our best season yet – we really have the show down to a science. It’s also the only thing where I have complete and utter creative carte blanche.”

In practice, this means that as well as including all the messy, ranch dressing-splattered nudity he likes, avid music fan Andre also gets to invite artists he loves onto the show. So far, Action Bronson, Killer Mike, Henry Rollins and Mac DeMarco have all taken the bait, as has Chance the Rapper, who looked bemused while sitting topless in a giant cup of coffee.

Eric Andre
Eric Andre is attacked by a dog while his arm is on fire during an episode of ‘The Eric Andre Show’. Credit: Channel 4

Rewind to the early 2000s and music was always 37-year-old Andre’s first plan of action. Born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida (which he often calls “the worst place on earth”) to a Haitian father and Jewish mother, Andre attended fancy music college Berklee to study double bass. While there he took up an internship at iconic indie label Matador Records. “I literally was looking on the back of albums I liked and seeing which ones had New York addresses,” he says of his method for nailing down the perfect spot to get work experience. “I got to meet Stephen Malkmus in the elevator, but as a teenager you think that at a record label the artists are constantly there and hanging out and smoking weed. That’s not the case. I was just making copies and getting coffee and going to the mailbox.”

“I interned at Matador Records and met Stephen Malkmus in the elevator”

Quickly, the idea of a career as a musician fell by the wayside. “I was kind of quitting music as I was entering it, I was like, ‘This seems like more trouble than it’s worth’.” Instead, comedy beckoned. In-between sporadic stand-up sets and bit parts for film, television and commercials, Andre and Buress filmed a pilot for The Eric Andre Show in an abandoned New York corner shop during 2009. Over the course of a year, Andre taught himself how to edit it and then sent it to a bunch of networks. Adult Swim snapped it up. Since then, Andre’s slowly but surely carved out a space for himself with his chaotic brand of comedy, eventually leading to his very first stand-up special, Legalize Everything, which debuted in June on Netflix.

Eric Andre
Credit: Channel 4

Filmed last year in New Orleans, it opens with Andre dressed as a policeman and stumbling through the French Quarter while offering members of the public hits on a bong, pills and a bag of shrooms which he says he stole from the evidence room. An avid fan of psychedelics – he tells us he did mushrooms over the weekend by some mountains and it was “invigorating” – Andre’s set hinges on not just dick jokes, of which there are plenty, but the outdated hypocrisy of the US government and the grim, puritanical roots of modern Christian values. In it, he calls for the legalisation of everything from sex work to drugs and also discusses how he finally got his 77-year-old mum to smoke weed with him. So, will it be shrooms next for Mrs Andre? “She was not great on weed, so I wouldn’t want to take it any further!” he says.

Ever the exhibitionist, Andre ends the show by getting naked, which has long been a mainstay of his comedy. “Now it’s by request,” he explains of his current approach to nudity for laughs. “I was on the fence, but people of all genders are screaming at me when I’m on stage to get naked, so I kinda got to give the people what they want. I’m just a humble servant.”

“We can’t have four more years of Trump… it’ll be a disaster”

As well as his partial pivot to politics in Legalize Everything, Andre has recently been using his sizable platform – 2.1 million Instagram followers and counting – to spread the word about Black Lives Matter. “Images of violence are just gonna help get Trump re-elected,” he wrote, calling for peaceful protest. “You have to show the humanity in our side and the barbarian nature of any fascist, racist policeman or policewoman and the evil of the authoritarian regime.”

Andre has been attending BLM protests in Los Angeles, joining demos in Mariachi Square and outside the Mayor’s house. “People there were able to articulate their goals,” he says, impressed by what he witnessed. “It wasn’t abstract and people were kind to one another – they were acting mature and peacefully and I was proud of my generation. It was like, ‘wow, I’m getting to experience a little of what my mum experienced in the ’60s.”

Eric Andre
During his Netflix special ‘Legalize Everything’. Credit: Netflix

Andre has also used Instagram to air his grievances at LA’s unpopular Chief of Police, Michel Moore, who recently faced a backlash after saying looters in Los Angeles were responsible for the death of George Floyd. Andre has other reasons for disliking Moore. “There’s something like 703 deaths that his gang of cops have caused with no repercussions,” he states. “You can’t have 700 people murdered. There’s footage of this cop going into an unarmed homeless guy’s tent and the guy was just getting off of his stomach because someone was entering his tent and the cop took a gun like he was Clint Eastwood and he shot him in the head and killed him. It’s pretty dark.”

A vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders and his socialist-leaning policies, does Andre feel the same amount of enthusiasm for the eventual Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden? “Absolutely not!” he says. “But what can I do? I mean, we’re in a state of emergency, so we’ve just got to push Old Man Biden through the door of the White House. We can’t have four more years of Trump. If this is the halfway point at the end of eight years, it’ll be a disaster.”

“‘The Simpsons’ was subversive, punk rock and rebellious. I had a connection with Bart”

After his memorable spot as the voice of Azizi the hyena in last year’s live action version of The Lion King, 2020 looked set to be the year Andre went truly kicked into mainstream. Not only was there his stand-up special, but Bad Trip – the road movie he stars in alongside Tiffany Haddish and wrote and produced with The Eric Andre Show director Kitao Sakurai – was supposed to receive its big world premiere at the cancelled SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. But that hasn’t stopped Andre from keeping busy, spending recent months getting stuck into “quarantine-proof” work; guesting on podcasts and providing voices for animated shows, including season three of Matt Groening’s cartoon fantasy Disenchantment – think Game of Thrones meets Futurama – in which he plays a demon called Luci.

A huge fan of The Simpsons since he was a kid, the show has undoubtedly gone on to inspire Andre’s own humour. “It was subversive and punk rock and rebellious,” he explains. “I had a connection with Bart Simpson.” When asked what he feels about white actors recently standing down from voicing Black and Brown people in the show, Andre is in two minds. “I think it’s a noble gesture and is definitely an opportunity for them to now hire Black people and encourage more diversity in the workplace – but of all the issues, none of us are stressed about Dr Hibbert,” he says with his trademark guffaw. “I think of all the problems that Black Americans are facing, none of my Black friends are like, ‘Man, I’m so sick of Hank Azaria getting all the roles I’ve waited for!’ Like, that’s low in the crisis that Black America has been going through for the past 400 years.”

Eric Andre
‘Eric Andre Does Paris’ is streaming on All4 now. Credit: Channel 4

Andre’s also been using lockdown time to get stuck into his music side again, providing a video voiceover for ‘Pigs Want Me Dead’, the latest single from LA hardcore duo Ho99o9. Just like his comedy, Andre likes his music loud, experimental and utterly brutal. Last month, he tweeted a YouTube clip of punk pioneers Bad Brains playing a rowdy set at CBGBs in 1982 with the simple caption: “If you missed my Netflix special here it is.”

Earlier this year Andre got to live out a boyhood fantasy with another group of heavy metal heroes when he introduced Mr Bungle – Mike Patton’s pre-Faith No More band – on stage at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. “I buddied up with Mike Patton! I found out he was a fan. I grew up listening to his music, so I was totally beside myself. That was a bucket list moment.”

Wu-Tang Clan are another of Andre’s obsessions – so much so that he was beside himself when he took a tai chi class and found out that his teacher’s sensei had also taught founding member RZA. And then there’s the mysterious Blarf, a one-man project signed to LA’s super cool Stone’s Throw label, who, despite a cunning Ronald McDonald disguise, looks a hell of a lot like Andre. That Blarf shares his name with Andre’s college band is something of a giveaway, but Andre regularly denies any connection. Today is no different. When we ask who Blarf is, a tittering Andre says: “It’s hard to say, you’d have to ask him.”

Last year, Blarf released his debut album, ‘Cease & Desist’, a frenetic Death Grips meets avant-garde jazz record which opens with the freak funk of ‘Badass Bullshit Benjamin Buttons Butthole Assassin’ and closes with a track that Pitchfork accused of sounding “like an Oasis song that’s been beaten to death and thrown into a quarry.” There was also a live show at LA’s Lodge Room, headed up by a man in a Ronald McDonald suit who looked just like Andre and with a guest appearance from Flying Lotus collaborator and former guest on The Eric Andre Show Thundercat. We try again. So you definitely don’t know Blarf? “No, but I’m gonna come at him with my legal team, guns blazing!” says Andre. Deny it all he likes, but the proof’s all there, from the protest to the punk rock credentials, Eric Andre is the most rock’n’roll comedian around.

‘Eric Andre Does Paris’ is available to stream on All4 now

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