Eric André’s televised and live shows start out the same way: He destroys his desk.
“The Eric André Show,” an absurdist talk-show parody on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, rarely fails to deliver shock and strangeness. The comedian’s interviews with special guests – some real celebrities and some purposefully awful celeb impersonators (think a bearded man in a blond wig playing Reese Witherspoon) – are at the forefront.
But unlike most talk shows, the host’s questions come from far beyond left field, and are geared more to perplex or agitate than enlighten. “Let’s discuss the implications of the falling price of gold on the global economy,” André says to Steve-O of “Jackass.” Meanwhile, André’s stuffing doughnuts into his mouth, a musician in the show’s band is urinating, and André’s sidekick has donned a mask.
André, 30, orchestrated those circumstances for the show’s second season, which started in October. His interview process can be psychological, and even physical, torture for the celebrities. Their discomfort is part of André’s punchline, and the show often takes a subversive turn toward pop-culture critique.
On Sunday, “The Eric André Show Live!” comes to Assembly in midtown. On television, André is constantly throwing his body across the set, smashing props and setting things on fire. But with his live show, there’s no screen separating viewers from André, and audience participation can get messy.
“When you’re watching the TV show at home, you won’t be drenched in liquids and food,” he said. “And you won’t be assaulted by me.”
Not to worry – ponchos crafted to withstand sprayed milk will be available Sunday for $5.
“I was ruining outfits,” André said as to why the show provides jackets.
He promises at least one “celebrity” for his Sacramento appearance, but for now, the guests remain a mystery. On his show this season, he and his deadpan co-host, Hannibal Buress (“Saturday Night Live”), have chatted up stars such as Dominic Monaghan (“Lord of the Rings”), Krysten Ritter (“Breaking Bad”) and T-Pain.
But few interviews have been as memorable as the one André conducted with James Van Der Beek (“Dawson’s Creek”). The actor clearly had no clue that a James Van Der Beek double would waltz out, squeeze into the same seat and repeat everything he said. The stunned look on the real Van Der Beek’s face is priceless.
According to André, few of the celebrities are prepared for the weirdness that ensues. “Some of them don’t even know the name of the show when they come on,” he explained.
And apparently, his team works hard to make celebrity guests uncomfortable beyond what audiences might notice.
“We’ll put old, rotten clams under their seat before they come out,” he said. “Or heat ducts in their seats so they’re just sweltering.”
In between segments, the cameras hit the streets, where André’s street theater disrupts everyday activity. A random passer-by is accosted by a mob of fake journalists demanding “the truth.” KKK hoods are passed around a tea party convention.
“The Eric André Show” isn’t just a late-night cult favorite. Critics are on the bandwagon.
The AV Club’s Brandon Norwalk says it’s “hilarious, whether in rib-tickling absurdism, head-scratching surrender to its antics, or good, old-fashioned condescension to André’s character.” Meanwhile Indiewire’s Celluloid Liberation Front calls it postmodern, anarchic and intellectual: “an astute orgy of mass-mediated artifacts where every reference is decoded and turned on its head.”
Perhaps surprising to some, André, a Florida native, played the upright bass and attended the Berklee College of Music, but he discovered standup in Boston and switched at age 22. He scraped by with earnings from comedy clubs and commercials for years.
When he started filming a demo reel for “The Eric André Show,” he taught himself editing software because he couldn’t afford to pay anyone. Luckily for him, Adult Swim loved it.
As for the future, the comedian wouldn’t confirm nor deny a third season of “The Eric André Show,” but added that he wasn’t worried that celebrities would wise up and refuse to come on his program.
But if they do, “we’ll just interview really elderly, out-of-touch guests,” he said.