Imagine publicly pranking random strangers while a film crew—equipped with hidden cameras—captures all of your interactions with unsuspecting citizens. But wait, you’re also a pretty recognizable figure, particularly with the younger generations, and the risk of being outed as your true persona is held in balance with every exchange. One more thing—all pranks must help convey the overall beats and structure to a major motion picture. That was the challenge faced by comedian Eric Andre and his creative team in crafting the highly anticipated Netflix comedy, “Bad Trip,” for the past seven years. Over the course of our Zoom chat, Eric shares insights into the filmmaking process, his thoughts on legalization, and the idea that a movie utilizing hidden camera pranks to tell a narrative driven story might just be what the world needs right now. But nothing quite captures the carefree essence and gregarious nature of Eric Andre more than Eric asking the first question to his own interview.
Eric Andre: So you a Sativa or Indica guy?
Sativa. If I smoke Indica, I’m done.
Eric Andre: That’s why I like Indicas. I only smoke a little bit at the end of the night for sleep. Weed inherently makes me antisocial. If I’m at my house with a few people, that’s fine, but I can’t smoke weed and go to the supermarket. It doesn’t hit me right. I smoke in isolation, I take a little puff, and I go to bed.
I think a lot of the modern weed growers try to crank up the THC so that the experience is all about knocking your socks off. There are a lot of other psychoactive chemicals in weed other than THC, and my favorite weed—710 Labs—has a much more well-rounded, naturally grown bud. The high is like a slow, mellow release, and I don’t get paranoid when I smoke it. Like the natural wine movement that’s happening, I think 710 is leading the natural weed movement. More growers can learn from those guys, and I think what they’re doing is really cutting-edge.
They’re not juicing up their buds with weed steroids.
Eric Andre: Yeah, it’s like we’re getting back to what weed was thousands of years ago.
With all of your stunts, do you find weed also helps you manage body pain?
Eric Andre: If I injure myself doing a stunt, that’s an ice and ibuprofen situation. I just tried kratom, a plant similar to an opiate but legal. There’s one that’s like a Sativa that gives you energy and there’s one that’s like an Indica that soothes you to sleep. [The experience] wasn’t like, “Eureka, my new favorite drug!”, but it is a pain killer.
I think all natural drugs should be decriminalized. The fact that vegetables are illegal is insane. It’s propaganda. I saw a meme the other day that said, “I love the war on drugs because drugs won.” People have had a natural want and desire for altered states since the dawn of human history. Cavemen ate mushrooms and various other psychoactive vegetables. We’re talking about vegetables. The fact that peyote, salvia, toad venom, and marijuana are illegal—it doesn’t work. Don’t get me riled up.
One need only watch your special “Legalize Everything” which says it all there.
Eric Andre: Let’s monitor Oregon. They just decriminalized all drugs, so we’ll monitor Oregon and see the stats coming out, but if it’s anything like Portugal—which decriminalized all drugs like 10-20 years ago—we saw the rate of drug addiction go down and the rate of crime go down.
Have you been to Portugal since the decriminalization?
Eric Andre: I haven’t gotten to Portugal in my life, but I want to go.
Well, now you can just go to Oregon.
Eric Andre: Right, Oregon is the Portugal of The United States.
While shooting “Bad Trip”—and because you’re now a more elevated figure—were you getting recognized a lot?
Eric Andre: Yeah, you’d get busted sometimes but it wasn’t too bad. We just made sure we pranked people over forty since my fan demographic skews young. A soccer mom who’s forty-nine years old—she’s not going to recognize me.
I was wearing a hidden lav mic in every scene, so we’d use code words like “Phyllis” for when a looky-loo was coming. I’d say, “Phyllis is coming in the green shirt,” and a PA would step in, intercept the kid in the green shirt who looked like he would recognize me, and calmly get him out of the location or remove him from the scene. Then, I might look at [the kid in the green shirt] and give him a nod or a wink, just so he wouldn’t feel like, “Fuck you!”, and to let him know, “Hey, we’re doing a covert operation here.”
It was stealth.
Eric Andre: You want everything to be calm until the prank happens. The prank set-up requires normalcy. You don’t need anything fishy happening before the prank happens. You want everything to be mellow and normal so that when the prank begins, it’s a really “holy shit” moment. It’s all about the element of surprise.
It’s really like being in a school of magicians. Having Jeff Tremaine mentor us throughout the process, having Nathan Fielder come into our writers room to help us out, talking with the “Punk’d” writers, and even getting advice from Sacha Baron Cohen—it’s like being in a group of magicians. You’re doing practical effects in real time like a magician does, and it’s all based on this element of surprise and deception, where you’re metaphorically distracting people with one hand, and then surprising them with the magic trick in the other hand. You kind of feel like you’re Penn & Teller sometimes more than anything else.
The movie took seven years to make. Was there ever a point at which you felt like you were just spinning wheels?
Eric Andre: It was a long and winding road. This was no small feat. There were a lot of trials and tribulations—as with any movie—but with the hidden camera genre, it’s particularly difficult. Especially weaving a narrative story through the hidden camera pranks.
Was that one of the film’s biggest challenges—weaving in the story throughout the pranks—rather than just executing the pranks themselves?
Eric Andre: It was ten times harder than “The Eric Andre Show” in that regard. Even if you’re just doing a scripted movie with no hidden camera pranks, getting a story to work across 90 minutes of footage is very difficult. That goes for indie movies, big budget movies—getting the story to behave is always a challenge—so getting a story to behave through hidden camera pranks—as the first movie I made and helped write and produce—was hard.
What’s the difference between getting the intended reaction from a well executed prank versus getting a laugh from a joke in stand-up?
Eric Andre: It’s instant gratification versus delayed gratification. Sometimes you do a prank and you’re like, “Does that even fucking work? Is any of this working?” It won’t be until months later when you’re in the editing bay seeing the first cut and you go, “Holy shit, that worked way better than I thought.” The opposite also happens where you’re like, “Yeah, that prank ruled,” but then you see all the reactions and nobody bought it. You’re really putting the pieces together in the edit. Versus with stand-up, it’s instant gratification. You know exactly where you stand with a joke once you say it.
So the process of figuring out if a prank works is sort of like working out a stand-up bit, but on a longer scale.
Eric Andre: Yeah, on a longer timetable. Neither is easy though. Stand-up is equally as hard—if not harder and more frustrating—than hidden-camera work. I’m in a place now where I’d much rather do hidden camera work than stand-up.
Are you planning to go back to stand-up once things open back up?
Eric Andre: Nah, I’m sick of it. I did my special, I’m done. It’s enough. It’s the medium that got me on my feet and helped me find my point of view comedically, but it’s a medium that takes a tremendous amount of work and late nights and a lot of hanging out. I’d rather work on television and film. And I like my beauty sleep.
And smoking that Indica at the end of the day.
Eric Andre: Smoke that Indica—shout out 710 Labs—booyakasha!
While shooting “Bad Trip,” did cannabis play a role behind the scenes?
Eric Andre: I think it weaves in and out of all of our lives, yeah, though my favorite drug of all time—and I’ve done them all—is coffee by far. Caffeine is the best drug. There’s a Michael Pollan book on caffeine, where he talks about the effects and how it’s the most commonly used psychoactive drug. I owe my career to coffee. Every single line of dialogue or any kind of comedic writing – my coffee [holds up cup] is right by my side. There’s no hangover, no crash, and I heard coffee has so many antioxidants that coffee drinkers actually live longer and are happier. Thank God the DEA hasn’t made caffeine a schedule one drug.
How many cups per day?
Eric Andre: Because of my insomnia, I try and cap it at two. If I drink too many or too late in the day, I’m toast.
I ate an edible last night, so I’m doing a little bit of extra coffee today because…I guess it’s a weed hangover, but to me, a hangover has a negative connotation because a hangover from alcohol feels like shit. With a weed “hangover,” I still feel well-rested, just more in a foggy daze. So the coffee coming off a weed gummy night – that coffee is perfect.
Right, a weed “hangover” is more of a weed “fog.”
Eric Andre: The fog I like, and then the coffee with the fog is the perfect combination. There’s a yin-yang to coffee and weed. My friend Rob Cantrell—a very funny comedian—had a joke about this that went, “I smoke weed all day and I drink coffee all day. It’s the poor man’s speedball.” There’s no greater drug than caffeine. It’s the least controversial, too.
I say “decriminalize all drugs” and people are like, “What do you mean?! You want everyone to go out and smoke crystal meth?” The truth is, if all drugs were decriminalized, I wouldn’t smoke crack or shoot a ton of heroin the next day—I would never smoke crack or shoot heroin—but [I could, just as] I could go to Rite Aid right now, buy 50 bottles of Jack Daniels, drink them all in one sitting and die. But I’m not going to. I could die skiing or riding a motorcycle, but I’m not going to ski or ride a motorcycle, and if I ever did ride a motorcycle, I’d be responsible and safe and wear a helmet. But I’m getting on my high horse over here. Coffee is the best drug in the world.
Coffee and booze are the most accessible, too.
Eric Andre: I just watched the Ken Burns documentary about alcohol prohibition. Alcohol prohibition is a microcosm of drug prohibition, where the only two groups the war on drugs help are the DEA and drug cartels, two of the most violent and dangerous groups in the Western Hemisphere. Alcohol prohibition gave rise to the violent mafias and mob bosses because the pre-prohibition small time crimes guys were able to turn to bigger crime by bootlegging booze and made a fortune doing it, all because people rejected prohibition.
When you ban something, you cause people to make it illegally at home. When you make it illegally at home, it’s cut with things like poison and paint thinners for these witch-brew concoctions, and thus the war on drugs can be a lot more dangerous than the drug itself because people have a natural desire for altered states.
The only true sober person I know – a person who doesn’t consume caffeine, tea, cigars, nicotine, or booze—is the guy who taught me meditation. He drinks caffeine free herbal tea and that’s it. But he is rare. The majority of human beings on earth—with the exception of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine—ingest drugs.
Is meditation something you still practice?
Eric Andre: I do Transcendental Meditation® twice a day, once when I wake up and once in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. It gives me a little pep of energy, so I don’t like to do it before bed because it will keep me up. It’s comparable to a nap, and if I’m sleep deprived, I’ll fall asleep during that second meditation.
How religious are you with the twice-a-day schedule?
Eric Andre: I’ve been doing it twice a day—almost every day—for nine years. I rarely skip.
So when shooting a movie like “Bad Trip,” do you meditate in your trailer?
Eric Andre: Meditate in the trailer or meditate in a passenger van, yeah. And that’s stressful with Jeff Tremaine lurking on set. He comes from “Jackass,” where if there’s any opportunity to prank somebody behind the scenes, they take it. He was like, “I won’t prank you. I’ll never start the war. But if you fuck with me, you’re opening pandora’s box.” Finally, toward the end of editing, I knew I could fuck with him.
We were a week away from wrapping and Jeff was on the phone when I nailed him in the back of the leg with a cattle prod. Five minutes later, I wasn’t paying attention in the editing bay and he came up and tazed me right in the shoulder. He was like, “You’re lucky I didn’t get your neck. Your neck was wide open. I gave it to you easy.”
Did you source the cattle prod specifically to get him?
Eric Andre: I had the prod leftover from a segment we do on “The Eric Andre Show” called
‘Rapper Warrior Ninja,’ where I torture rappers. So I have a couple of cattle prods, a stun gun, a taser, axe, and a machete. I have an arsenal of weapons by my bed. I just watched that Richard Ramirez “Night Stalker” documentary, and the next Richard Ramirez that comes through my window is gonna get fucked up.
You referred to Jeff as the “Mr. Miyagi” on set. How did he help bring the film to fruition?
Eric Andre: He has over two decades of experience shooting hidden camera pranks, and also—on a movie level—made “Bad Grandpa,” which had a narrative function to it. He’s been through all of the trials and tribulations, and we still went through all of the trials and tribulations, so he was really our mentor on set.
What do you feel most proud of with the film?
Eric Andre: I’m proud that the movie isn’t cynical. It shows the good samaritan nature in people and that we’re not as polarized and divided as a lot of media outlets would have us think. It felt like there was a humanitarian nature in everybody we pranked, which is hard to pull off in a prank movie. I’m hoping this movie will heal America.
Follow @ericfuckingandre and check out his new movie “Bad Trip” now streaming on Netflix