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The Soothing Chaos of Eric Andre

The Adult Swim star talks about Dave Chappelle, the cancellation of ‘Cops,’ and his brand-new Netflix special, ‘Legalize Everything’

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Eric Andre has created, and is forever in the act of destroying, his own universe: surreal, confrontational, terrifying, and hilarious so long as you find the sensation of being totally overwhelmed hilarious. It’s a refuge that proudly offers no safety whatsoever. His violently gleeful fake-talk-show Adult Swim outpost The Eric Andre Show, costarring Hannibal Buress and set to unveil Season 5 later this year, is pure anarchy: The episode when Andre vomits on his desk—and then laps it back up as his unwitting guest, Lauren Conrad, flees in terror—is a fine place to start, and also a fine place from which to flee in terror.

Legalize Everything, the Florida-born comedian’s first Netflix stand-up special—out Tuesday, and filmed in New Orleans in October—is soothing by comparison, which is to say it’s joyful, bombastic, extra-overwhelming chaos. (There is no vomit, per se, though there is a decent amount of nudity.) He kicks it off with an Eric Andre Show–style street bit where he stumbles from an NOPD cop car in full uniform, confronts various passers-by about various drugs, fellates his nightstick, and drops his pants in search of a glory hole.

Andre’s stand-up technique, not surprisingly, is of the Highest Possible Energy variety: “Every time I drop acid I jerk off to anime,” he announces early on, furiously pantomiming masturbation. But he can pivot instantly to an impassioned denouncement of the War on Drugs (“Legalize all drugs in this country, except for salvia—that shit SUCKKKKS”) or, for that matter, the federal government. (“Both parties are corrupt. They’re not serving us. We should start a new country. I should run for president.”) Also, in a rare instant of the Eric Andre universe intersecting with our own in a ripped-from-the-headlines way, he rips into the semi-fascist reality show Copsfinally canceled in early June in the wake of the international protests sparked by George Floyd’s death—and specifically the incongruity of its reggae theme song.

This bit requires quite a lot of screaming, of course, as the Eric Andre experience inevitably does. Later this year, Netflix will also unveil Bad Trip, a ribald buddy comedy (costarring Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish) that doubles as an extra-extra-overwhelming series of street pranks. In mid-June, Andre and The Ringer chatted on the phone about Legalize Everything, harsh comedy in a time of paralyzing national tragedy, Dave Chappelle, and the bubonic plague. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

The timing of your Cops riff in this special is absolutely amazing.

It’s impeccable.

As a human being, are you 100 percent thrilled that Cops is dead, or is there a part of you that’s a little bummed you don’t have Cops to kick around anymore?

I didn’t even know it was still on TV. I thought it got canceled like 20 years ago.

Me too, actually.

My reaction was like, “Wait, Cops is still on?”

You taped this, obviously, way before even COVID-19 hit America, which at this point feels like ancient history. Does anything about it land differently for you now? Just the sight of you dressed as a police officer is jarring even before you start humping a wall.

Right. Yeah. Yeah. Is it jarring? I don’t know. I haven’t watched it in awhile. You’ve watched it more recently than me.

These last few weeks, does comedy have a role in processing or supporting all this activism, these protests, or is it too early yet to even think like that?

No, I think it always does. I think comedy is always commenting on society and comes out of tragedy. But that’s too much of a theoretical way of thinking about comedy.

You’re one of the most physical stand-up comedians I’ve ever seen: You’re screaming, you’re jumping into the audience, you’re rolling around on stage. It’s like watching someone run a marathon. Do you … train?

Oh, it feels like it, too. I trained in the fact that I did like 87 shows in 49 cities last year, something like that.

Jesus.

Let’s just say 50 cities—100 shows, 50 cities.

Do you hang out much with fans after your shows? Are they still disappointed that you’re a much calmer person offstage, or are people better now at separating Eric Andre the performer from Eric Andre the person?

I think it’s case by case, maybe—fan by fan. After the show, I’m so exhausted and drenched in sweat. I’m like the opposite of Mötley Crüe. Like, this guy gets coke and drugs and has orgies after the show, and I’m like rushing to a shower and a bed after a show. I feel like I got hit by a bus at the end of a show.

Compared with The Eric Andre Show, what strikes me about the special is that you’re among your fans—they love you and they know you and they know what to expect, and they’re eager to be surprised or even shocked. I was trying to imagine the crowd if they all thought they were there to see, like, Jerry Seinfeld, and then you walk out instead.

It was like that for the first—I’ve been doing it 17 years, and it felt like that for the first 12 years before I had a TV show. No one knew who the fuck I was when I walked out onstage. So it was rough. It’s much easier doing shows when I’ve found my audience than before.

So there’s nothing sentimental—it’s not that you’re more comfortable the more uncomfortable your audience is or anything like that.

No, no, I don’t want to bomb. It sucks.

The worse the news gets in general, the more important The Eric Andre Show becomes for me. Has anything in the news this year changed your approach to the new season? How does a chaotic show deal with so much real-world chaos?

I guess effortlessly. What show is better situated, better poised to handle chaos? But I finished filming the show pre-COVID and pre-Cop Apocalypse.

After months of COVID, there’s something weirdly nostalgic about watching your old “Eric on the Street” clips now, even if it’s the super-pissed guy who threw your microphone at a cop car. At this point, are you longing for even your worst or your scariest one-on-one encounters with people?

No, not really, because I finished filming Season 5 right before COVID hit, like top of February, right before quarantine started. I don’t even think I knew the word COVID when we were finishing filming. So I got it out of my system for this year, so it’s not like a ton of time has passed since I filmed my last street bit. It’s like a couple months, and I’m just finishing editing now. So I have satisfied my hunger. And I’ve got a ton of stuff coming out this year.

I read an interview where you talked about the difference in comedy between commenting on society’s flaws versus adding to society’s flaws. Is that a harder line to walk as society gets more flawed, or as more people realize how flawed society is?

I mean, is society more flawed than, like, the medieval times? There used to be hundreds of years called the Dark Ages, you know what I mean? I don’t know if society is worse now than when, like, the slave trade was going on or the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades were going on. I think that civilization has been tormenting humans since the beginning. Like, imagine the bubonic plague. I’ll take COVID over the bubonic plague.

I’m glad you have a healthy perspective.

Everybody now has the ability to take video on their phone. So we have more of a front-row seat to violence, but the world is no more or less violent than it’s always been since the dawn of like, I don’t know, agriculture.

I think back in 2016 you said, “I wanted to see, on TV, a Black comedy show that didn’t just make jokes about being Black every five seconds.” Will the protests and the anger and the conversation spur you to get more topical, or is it that much more important now that you have sort of a surrealist diversion?

I mean, yeah, if the spirit moves me. It’s not like we don’t mention race on The Eric Andre Show. We just aren’t burdened with our own race and having to mention it over and over and over. If it comes up organically, may the best joke win.

I get these questions a lot, but I don’t think about comedy like that, theoretically or academically. That’s not how we write. We just watch goofy videos or read troubling articles, and then the joke comes up organically. Comedy is not intellectual. It’s primal. I’m not like, “OK, now, here’s what’s going on now in the world. These sets of topics are off-limits, and these sets of topics”—I’m not like a math teacher. I’m flattered that you think I’m that smart, but it’s not—I’m not making like a hydrogen bomb over here.

You tweeted about the new Chappelle special. What was your reaction to it? Was it what you expected?

I like that he just spoke from the heart, and he was just raw—it was like an emotional outpour.

You talked recently about the advice Chappelle gave you before you taped this special, I think he said, “Don’t worry about being funny for 60 minutes. You just have to be interesting for 60 minutes.”

Yeah, people kept asking me about that—I hope that that wasn’t the company Dave secret. I apologize to Dave if that was his David Copperfield top-secret advice. But yeah, I was hanging out with him backstage at a Hannibal show, and he just gave me that little piece of advice, and I thought that was such sage wisdom, and I was really appreciative of it.

You haven’t watched it recently, but thinking about Legalize Everything, do you think you succeeded? Did you do what you set out to do with it?

I think so. I hope so. We’ll find out Tuesday. It’s in America’s hands now. It’s in the world’s hands.

And you have a captive audience, still, which is nice.

Yeah. Prisoners in their own homes. Everyone’s on house arrest.

There’s a moment early on when you’re sitting on your stool and you’re speaking softly and you sound relatively serene, and you’re talking about doing molly for the first time. Pretty soon you blow up again, but that moment of calm was really striking to me. Is it important over 60 minutes to vary the dynamics a little bit so you don’t exhaust yourself?

Oh yeah. 100 percent. 100 percent. It’s not even about my own exhaustion. It’s about the audience can’t take just me screaming like Sam Kinison for 60 minutes, wall to wall. Also, the screaming will have less effect if you don’t bring it down. You have to have dynamics. If it’s all “WAHHHHH,” it’s all just white noise to the audience. You gotta go up and down, up and down. Same thing with music.

You’ve talked a lot about therapy, and comedy as a type of therapy. Was this special any more or less therapeutic for you? And is comedy in general more or less therapeutic in a period of time this traumatic?

I think it always kind of provides the same amount of therapy. But really, nothing replaces actual therapy.