Tuesday night, a “band of robbers” caused a fracas on the streets of Hollywood. Inside the Fonda Theatre nearby, comedian Eric Andre was making a melee of his own.
The absurdist mock-talk-show host has become a staple of Adult Swim, with his sendups of late-night yuk fests that usually spiral into delirious nonsense before the walk-on music is over. At the Fonda, the crowd scampered across the floor to get out of the way of Andre’s first act -- running around in a white suit while spraying ketchup, throwing food, diving into collapsible furniture and throwing huge bricks of bar straws at his own fans.
The last time I saw him, he got naked backstage, sprayed a path of condiments on the venue floor and baseball-slid his way through a half-rapt, half-terrified audience.
To get away with stuff like this, he’s largely avoided the usual avenues of weirdo comedy in L.A., instead hewing to its underground music scenes by playing rock venues like the Fonda and the Satellite as well as hosting musical guests like Nocando and YACHT.
If comedy is becoming the new rock, the Eric Andre show might be an extra-messy new kind of punk, but specifically that late ‘70s era where a bewildered mainstream media collided with convention-chucking performance art.
For all the poncho-necessitating panic of his intros, nothing really happens at a live Eric Andre taping. The “guests” are usually bad celebrity impersonators (Last night had “Geroge Clooney” spilling grim sex tips, but a genuine Omarosa who looked bemused and terrified in equal measure). Instead of any kind of traditional joke-telling, Andre will stammer beyond-awkward questions or fire up his band at exquisitely random intervals. He loves to hit an echo pedal to loop some surprised shout into three minutes of ear-bleeding noise and rap-mixtape air horns.
Plenty of comedians have done the talk-show sendup before (though none have surpassed the peerless “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”). But Andre might be the first to introduce a genuine threat of getting whacked in the head and covered in restaurant effluvia. In that respect, his act really does have more in common with L.A.'s warehouse noise-punk scenes than UCB or Largo.
That sensibility comes through in the TV and online versions. “The Eric Andre Show” is edited by underground music-video veteran Luke Lynch, and his filmed sketches of creepy pranks like “Touch a Stranger’s Hand Day” have a Spike Jonze-like insouciance. But it’s all the more apparent when he’s onstage at a music venue, making the act playing in a band seem even more staid than a Jay Leno monologue by comparison.
It’s obviously not for everybody, or even most comedy fans who like verbal subtlety and attentive joke-craft. For that, turn to his cohort Hannibal Buress, who opened the show and remains one of the most searingly funny and culturally astute comedians out there (his riff on rappers “popping molly” and getting super emotional has made me unable to listen to Rick Ross again without cracking up).
But I’m hard pressed to think of another night where I’ve gone to a rock club and genuinely feared for the future of my clothes, and for the ability of anyone to match that tension onstage with mere music.