TelevisionInside The Eric Andre Show with producer Joshua Cohen
Hopes&Fears talks to Joshua Cohen, supervising producer of "The Eric Andre Show" about set destruction, pissed pants and kissing cops.
The Eric Andre Show is the acid trip of the late night circuit. With surreal clips of Andre lighting himself on fire, egging on Buddha and Jesus to beat one another, and chainsawing his penis off, one must wonder: how does he do it?
Between scaring make-up counter girls and scarring celebrities, there seems to be a zen art to Cohen and Andre's practice. Cohen gave us the inside scoop about impersonating cops, the cost and patience required to destroy Andre's set, and that one time Andre (literally) pissed himself in front of Jimmy Kimmel.
Supervising producer, The Eric Andre Show
Los Angeles based producer, writer, and assistant director, known for The Eric Andre Show, Jon Benjamin has a Van, and the 2014 Sundance film "I'm a Mitzvah."
The Eric Andre Show
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Hopes&Fears: How did you first get involved with the show?
Joshua Cohen: I’ve been with the show since the pilot. I originally AD'ed the show and then I took over AD'ing and producing it. Last season, I told myself, "I should probably not do both jobs at the same time." It was eliminating years off of my life every season.
After three seasons, people are like "Holy shit, what is this?" Usually, it takes a couple seasons for shows to make their way into the lexicon of culture. Last season, the show was the #1 rated basic cable show in its time slot.
JC: That's a pretty significant achievement. A couple years ago, Chris Rock didn't know who Eric Andre was and now he's calling Eric. He wants to do the show.
H&F: That's amazing.
JC: Yeah, because it's such a punk rock show. They used to shoot in this little bodega in Brooklyn, back in early 2000. It's nice to see it coming from some grassroots place to where it's at now.
It's such a punk rock show. They used to shoot in this little bodega in Brooklyn, back in early 2000. It's nice to see it coming from some grassroots place to where it's at now.
H&F: Do you think the growing popularity of the show is going to affect the man-on-the-street bits?
JC: There's still a good amount of people out in the world who don't know who he is, so when we go into the subway and we go to a street in Harlem, we can still get away with a lot of the stuff that we do. There's ads for his show in the New York City subway, and we originally thought, "We can't shoot in the subway anymore," but there's 8 million people riding the subway everyday. There's a 50-year-old woman in Harlem; she doesn't know what the show is. Those are our targets, basically. We always strategically end up going to areas of the city where people don't know the show. We wouldn't go to Williamsburg and go do a bit on the street.
H&F: How much do you spend destroying the set every episode? Is it all done at once? I’m curious if there are any numbers associated with it, like, how much do you budget for having Santa Claus chainsaw Eric Andre in half?
JC: Typically, we take about $10,000 and we all go to the Commerce Casino. Me, Eric, Kitao and Andrew, we go there and we bet. We play big hands, like $5,000 or $10,000 hands, we see how much money we walk away with at the casino and that's typically how much we'll put into one season's worth of set destruction... There's really no number to it. It's more of a, "Well, let's just fucking roll the dice and see what happens," and then Eric kind of prefers it that way. I feel like the specifics of set destruction isn’t the story. The story is that Eric commits to these perilous hazards for a number of days while we shoot and he hurts himself. He really does. We have insurance.
H&F: How many days do you spend shooting these set destructions?
JC: It usually takes us four to five days or so. The rebuilding process is probably the hardest part for all of us and especially the art department. Johnny Red, who is our art director, he's the brains behind getting all that shit up and down and making materials that are safe for Eric to jump through and also materials that aren't too expensive..
Season two we had an entire set destruction episode. We shot that over a week. It takes up a significant amount of time because there is numerous stunts and lots of special effects and every season it gets bigger and bigger. Eric cumming in the globe, that might take us 15 minutes to shoot, whereas Eric on fire might take a couple of hours. It's a fine balance.
H&F: What bit took the longest to film?
JC: If you're talking set destructions specifically, I would say the season two set rebuilds. We had to put everything up on pulleys. We had five or six art department people manning individual pulleys and then dropping the posts, dropping the curtains, rolling in the desk.
After four hours, I went up to Johnny Red, I was like, "How long is this going to take?" He was like, "an hour," meanwhile four hours go by. We knew that it was going to be fucking amazing, so it was like, "Alright, let's keep going, we'll get this." We did, and when it hit, it was beautiful.
Eric cumming in the globe, that might take us 15 minutes to shoot, whereas Eric on fire might take a couple of hours. It's a fine balance.
H&F: It was totally worth it. It's surreal.
JC: When we would go out and do our man on the street bits, that stuff takes a long time. You have to go into every location and it's like Ocean’s Eleven, you have to set up spy cameras everywhere and scout your marks. That stuff takes time.
We went to a Los Angeles mall in season two. I don't think this bit ever made it to air but we found this makeup counter and the bit was Eric going up to this little makeup kiosk and getting a makeover. The makeover takes an hour, the bit is that he gets his makeover and then this cop walks in, and the cop shows the woman who's doing Eric's makeup a picture of Eric and asks, "Have you seen this person?" And there's Eric sitting there, made up like a woman and he leans over to the makeup lady and he says, "Don't you say a fucking word." It's a great bit, but her reaction wasn't so great. When you're only playing a prank on one person, you run the risk of the bit not working. That's something that we've become sensitive to, through the years of making the show. How do we maximize the number of marks? Those are the things I worry about a lot. I'm super sensitive to that stuff. Time is money.
↓ Eric Andre portraying a drunken cop's last day on the force.
H&F: You must have to get the people to sign a waiver to be on TV after everything goes down.
JC: We try not to tell anyone anything. The show really walks a fine line with that.
When Jimmy Kimmel came in last season, his son was a PA on the show and the guys wanted to put a PA under Jimmel's chair and tickle his taint. They didn't want to tell him. I was like, "We can't do that, man." I'm all for not telling people what's coming at them but what happens if this PA touches Kimmel's junk and Kimmel gets pissed off and walks out. There's some people we don't mind pissing off, there are others that we do not want to piss off. Jimmy Kimmel is one of them. Then we found a solution, "well, his son is here.” We did the bit with his son and in the middle of the bit Kimmel's like, "It feels like my chair's alive." That moment made it to air, what didn't make it to air was his son coming up from the couch in the middle of the interview. It was great because you could tell that Kimmel was like, "these fucking assholes, do they really have the audacity to do what they're doing right now." Then he’s like, "Oh, it's my son doing it." It kind of made it all better for us.
Eric got into a bunch of shit last season with a couple of people and all that stuff that made it to air. There was a really angry guy on the subway when Eric did the Fruit Loops bit; he was pouring milk into this dog collar on the subway and spilling milk and cereal all over. There's this one screaming, angry guy. Our PA's chased him down ten blocks and got him to sign a release and gave him like 50 bucks or something. Then there was this fucking junkie outside this pizza shop and Eric was fucking with his girlfriend and he threw a slice of pizza at Eric's face, he was really fucking pissed off. We got his release after the fact, gave him 50 bucks and a slice of pizza.
It was great because you could tell that Jimmy Kimmel was like, These fucking assholes, do they really have the audacity to do what they're doing right now. Then he’s like, Oh, it's my son doing it.
H&F: What about the cop sketches? Do you guys ever run into any problems with impersonating police officers?
JC: We have one of the best entertainment lawyers working, he did Ali G's HBO show. What we can't do, dressed as a cop, is try and hold someone. We can't come across and make people believe that they are being held by a police officer. We blend in really well and then we'll have Hannibal dressed as a cop handing out cheese and giving people massages.
There was a bit last year when Eric was just hanging out in Harlem, he's got a severed dick in a bag and he's walking around Harlem, pissing on fences and hitting on chicks. We ran into a group of undercover cops, doing that bit. They were like, "You got to be careful around here, man." They were basically telling us that we were going to get fucked up by the public. They were saying, "You got to be careful, man, people be dropping shit out the window on you."
Our day to day doing production is so sensitive. Honestly, cops don't care once they know you're doing the bit. They recognize Eric or Hannibal and they're like, "Oh man, you're the funniest." Then we come in with our slate, saying, "We’re shooting the show," or "We're shooting a student project," and usually we just leave and then they leave.
We blend in really well and then we'll have Hannibal dressed as a cop handing out cheese and giving people massages.
H&F: What's the worst anybody's ever gotten hurt making an episode?
JC: In the first season, we were fucking gung-ho about everything. We didn’t figure out that there should be pads under the carpets so when Eric fucking hits the ground, he's not fucking ramming his backbone into fucking concrete. It took us a bruised up Eric Andre to figure that out.
Then there are moments where Eric would do something that no one was expecting and hurt himself. He does all of his stunts. All of that shit, him crashing through everything, is real. Season one, he tried swinging on a piece of the curtain that was ripped and he landed behind the set and he literally just fell straight on his back on the concrete. He was pretty well banged up after that, I remember.
Then he did a bit with Vivica Fox where he sat on the desk and went through it and really hurt himself then, too. That was early on in the season and he was not doing so well. At some point, we had to say to him, "Dude, don't do this stunt because you have to stay healthy, you've got to finish the show." We bring in really good stunt coordinators, some of the fucking top guys in the business, to help us see our way through some of these stunts and make sure Eric is as protected as he feels comfortable being.
At the end of the Kimmel interview he does this bit, where he pretends he's Jackson Pollock and he throws paint everywhere. This never made it to air. He was like throwing paint all over the set, rolling around in the paint, just going crazy. At the end of it, he stands up and he just starts pissing himself. He's covered in paint and he's pissing himself and Jimmy Kimmel's just like, "Holy fuck, what did I just get myself into here?" It was brilliant.
H&F: Who do you think the most revolted guest has been, thus far?
JC: I would say Lauren Conrad was the most revolted. She walked off the set. I had to go and talk to her publicist and I said to Lauren, “Come back to set, take what you have now, all this anger and how you feel about this and bring it back to the set.”
Afterwards me and Eric apologized to her and her team profusely. She had a whole fucking crew in there, all these fucking ding dongs, giving us dirty eyes, dirty looks, stink eyes. Then after we went in there and we apologized and we were like, “Oh, that was amazing. This is the kind of stuff we’re trying to do. We’re sorry to make you sick.” Her team and her just stormed out of there. We got a call from her agent and her publicist and they are like, “You guys are going to be blacklisted. No one’s going to fucking do your show.”
Our booking producer was really upset about the whole incident, but the silver lining of it all is that she signed all of her paperwork before she went on stage, so there was no way she could say, "You can't use footage.” She got upset because Eric threw up some fake vomit?
At the end of it, he stands up and he just starts pissing himself.
Another silver lining was that the same publicist works for this huge publicist company out here. I don't remember their name, specifically, but Jimmy Kimmel is their client. So three weeks later, after they were like, "You guys are never going to fucking see another guest on that show ever again," I'm looking at emails from Jimmy Kimmel and he's CC'ing his publicist, who is the head of that publicity company. Then I'm talking to this guy and he's like, "Yeah, Jimmy's available," and we're like, what poetic fucking justice.
H&F: Pauly D’s interview was pretty brutal. How did he take it?
JC: He was actually a good sport. He had no fucking idea what was going on. We had Andy Samberg dressed as Eric, and I don't think he even knew it was Andy Samberg. That guy is like a fucking caricature of himself. He was uncomfortable. It gets hot in our studio and he was fucking sweating bullets. We don't do it intentionally, it just kind of gets hot in the studio, but we work with it, we're like, "yeah, this is great, all right, it's hot, everyone's fucking sweating while they're on the show."
These guests come on the show, no one knows what's going to happen to them and no one is used to being in that space, where there is a completely inept person talking to you. You're not quite sure if he's acting or he's performing and it's a really uncomfortable space.
Cohen and Andre begin filming the fourth season of The Eric Andre Show this summer.
↑ Jimmy Kimmel gets his taint tickled.
COVER IMAGE via pressroom.turner.com