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Interview: Rick Alverson & Tim Heidecker Talk 'The Comedy,' Juvenile Criticism, Exploring Middle Class Inertia & More

The Playlist By Christopher Bell | The Playlist November 17, 2012 at 12:09PM

Rick Alverson had been making fantastic films before 2012, but this year thrust him into the conversation with the odd, discomforting “The Comedy.” Starring Tim Heidecker of 'Tim & Eric' (and featuring a whole slew of other interesting people, including James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem) as Swanson, an eternal Brooklynite and juvenile faced with the imminent death of his father. Though a large amount of responsibility (and inheritance) are coming his way, he’d rather spend his time shooting the shit with friends or provoking total strangers with his own brand of confrontational humor. Alverson’s movie assays the numbness that comes with comfort and questions the very nature of comedy; it is both a funny and perturbing portrait of a man who just doesn’t know when to quit (or, even sadder, of a man who quit long ago).
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The Comedy Rick Alverson
Rick Alverson had been making fantastic films before 2012, but this year thrust him into the conversation with the odd, discomforting “The Comedy.” Starring Tim Heidecker of 'Tim & Eric' (and featuring a whole slew of other interesting people, including James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem) as Swanson, an eternal Brooklynite and juvenile faced with the imminent death of his father. Though a large amount of responsibility (and inheritance) are coming his way, he’d rather spend his time shooting the shit with friends or provoking total strangers with his own brand of confrontational humor. Alverson’s movie assays the numbness that comes with comfort and questions the very nature of comedy; it is both a funny and perturbing portrait of a man who just doesn’t know when to quit (or, even sadder, of a man who quit long ago).

“The Comedy” is now available on VOD and hit New York City theaters on Friday (our review here), and in support of its release both Rick and Tim sat with us to discuss a myriad of topics, including its reception at the Sundance Film Festival, expectations that movie audiences have, and what they’re up to next.

The Comedy
The Playlist: What made you two want to work with one another?
Rick Alverson: I was talking with Will Oldham, who was a mutual friend of ours, and he hooked me up with Tim. I knew I wanted him and Eric involved and it sort of evolved from there. I think I saw [the short film] "The Terrys" and I realized there was really something demonic in Tim  that was accessible [laughs]. And seeing his stand-up on YouTube and just realizing that there was something that was really compatible with the character. We all have a similar interest in discomfort. We're also all from Pennsylvania, so... [laughs]

Tim, what made you want to work with Rick? Had you seen his earlier films?
Tim Heidecker: What really made me interested were the conversations we had. I liked his point of view and it was an interesting idea. My reaction to doing anything is kind of like, "Yeah! Sure!" But then I saw "New Jerusalem," and it was really great. It was a movie he had shot, it looked beautiful, I liked the performances, it was a very interesting movie, so I felt comfortable.

The Comedy
When the film premiered at Sundance there were some angry responses. How have the festivals been post-Park City?
Alverson:I think the festival reception has been very much calmer, I suppose. The Sundance thing was a little overplayed. If you round those people up in a room it's probably like 50 out of probably 3000 people that saw it that weekend. But at the same time, you're a little fragile about your movie at first. To have people attack you and insist that you defend what you've done as some kind of social infraction against the world... it's a little startling.

Heidecker: If they had shown "Flight" at Sundance, I would've expected there to be 100-200 walkouts. I just think it's funny that this movie gets this reputation. They expect us to apologize for it or something. But this is the movie we made, this is the way we see the world, and we're pleased with it.

Alverson: There has been a reception in the blogosphere that is similar to that dynamic in Sundance, they list a litany of issues with characters or scenes, and then there's some kind of summation that that equals a bad film, which is the most juvenile thing I've ever heard.

The Comedy
People constantly harp on what films should or shouldn't do, when in fact people should take them on their own terms. Or at least try. Many don't do that.
Alverson: It is about terms. We're conditioned in America, in a mainstream sense, for everything to be on our terms. It's our point of view, in a partisan sense with our television, our news... everything we do, digitally, is on our terms. Art offers a very different thing. Maybe there isn't a tolerance for it anymore, I don't know.

Heidecker: I felt that it was a very well crafted film in the sense that I did feel there was an arc. I felt like I've been taken on a journey, that things do happen in the movie. I keep hearing about all of these things that the movie that "doesn’t have," well, I felt them when I watched it. They weren't this big obvious handed-to-you-on-a-silver-platter, but they were there.

Alverson: It's really bizarre that people wouldn't say,"'maybe this is intentional." Like we just failed because Tim couldn't emote enough, because I couldn't get an emotion out of him and he didn't have one to give. It wasn't something intentional about the subtlety, about tamping it down or being interested in muddy spaces.

Heidecker: There's also a distinction between a family member’s reaction to it and then somebody who defines who they are by writing about film that doesn't have the ability to see outside the box. I can understand my grandmother just not liking it, and that's it. But for someone who watches movies for a living and is interested in cinema and understands the history of the art, they should try to understand where it's coming from. They don’t have to like it, but at least try.

The Comedy
You’ve spoken about Tim’s character having unlimited options, which essentially makes him retreat to and stay in comfort zones, with no desire to really grow or mature. Why do you think our "unlimited options" cause this?
Alverson: Not to sound too lofty, but I think it takes place progressively in the middle class with unlimited access to information, and we flatline very easily as animals. I think we're a little arrogant and a little out of touch with our capacity to just become inert, potentially destructive creatures.

Heidecker: There's a disconnection from survival. The luxury that we have is that we don't have to worry about very much.

Alverson: Even with someone's desire for entertainment or their desire for stimulation... This isn't supposed to be an exploration of the richest 1% or the hipster elite. It has the potential for us to think about our larger culture. I'm not saying all of these options and what we have is bad, but it's fascinating, culturally, in our part of the world how we can pacify ourselves through unlimited access to stimuli and information. It changes us.

This article is related to: R. Alverson, Tim Heidecker, The Comedy, Interview


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