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The untold truth of The Eric Andre Show

There's nothing on TV quite like Adult Swim's The Eric André Show. This combination of a talk show and a wild, deconstructed parody of a talk show stars its creator, comedian and actor Eric André, as an extreme version of himself. Host Eric André is an unrelenting, never-slowing ball of chaos in human form. After jumping through walls and destroying his desk as a matter of course (while his band and bemused, vaguely alarmed second-in-command Hannibal Buress looks on), André settles in to slowly and mentally upset his famous guests with bizarre stunts, random walk-ons from interesting characters and bad celebrity impersonators, and other surreal flights of fancy that are just barely allowed on television. Interspersed with that madness is another layer of material expanding the definition of what comedy can be: André's mind-boggling, out-on-the-street pre-taped bits. 

When it all comes together, it's a messy and hilarious package of free-form zaniness. It takes a lot of work to put such a unique and original program together, which means there's no shortage of wild behind-the-scenes stories. This is the untold truth of The Eric André Show.

The Eric Andre Show began as an intensely DIY affair

A television show makes it to the air after its creators and producers follow a very specific process: A writer comes up with a script or outline, convinces an agent it's a bankable concept, and then the agent pitches it to a network or production company. If all goes well, executives will ask for a script and then use it as the basis for an introductory, or "pilot" episode. If they like that, more episodes get ordered. This is not how The Eric André Show made it to Adult Swim. 

"I knew it was too crazy and visual and too much like an absurdist stream-of-consciousness show to really sell on paper," André told Spin. So, instead of writing a script and essentially begging someone to pay for him to make a pilot out of it, He skipped some steps and made a proof-of-concept episode on his own — and on the cheap. "We rented out this little semi-abandoned, semi-illegal bodega in the middle of Brooklyn," André said. "We just cleaned it up a little bit, threw up curtains." After compiling the footage, André further cut costs by learning the editing program Final Cut and cutting together the pilot himself. The project took about a year, and after multiple networks "thought it sucked," he found an ally in Adult Swim.

What inspired The Eric Andre Show

The Eric André Show is one of the more original shows to hit TV in recent years, but it didn't emerge in a vacuum, unrelated and unaffected by the world of television into which it entered. Like most other pop culture, it's a synthesis of its creator's influences and favorites, which for Eric André, include sketch comedy, Adult Swim pioneers, and '70s television. "It's basically like Space Ghost as a live-action show," André told The Huffington Post, referring to Space Ghost Coast to Coast, the 1994-2008 talk show in which animated, reimagined superhero Space Ghost interviewed confused celebrities from his galactic lair. André says his show also contains DNA from The Tom Green Show (like bizarre public stunts), Sacha Baron Cohen's reality-blurring Da Ali G Show, and the syndicated, purposely cheap-looking 1970s talk show parody Fernwood 2 Night. Other shows from which André found inspiration include Jackass (for the physical comedy) and Chappelle's Show, for its quick sketch format.

How Eric Andre got Hannibal Buress on board

The Eric André Show is a semi-fake talk show, but a talk show nonetheless, and host Eric André knew he wanted a sidekick, the way Johnny Carson could play off Ed McMahon or Conan O'Brien cracks wise with Andy Richter. "I knew I was so crazy, I needed somebody just as out there comedically, but opposite in energy to be the voice of reason," André told The Huffington Post. So, he turned to someone who ran in the same New York stand-up comedy circles: Hannibal Buress, who had yet to achieve household name status from a growing resume that included stints as a Saturday Night Live writer and a Broad City cast member. André felt that Buress, who exudes a calm, mellow persona, was "just perfect in his sensibility." From "day one," André said, he had Buress in mind, and he was "always in the script."

André also appreciates and is keenly aware of how his show is one of the few on TV with two African-American leads. "I want to prove to America that black people are the most diverse, creative group of people and we can express any way we want," he told The Fader. "We're both very different and we both also somehow connect on a certain level, and we both kind of have our own unique point of view and it's fun to show people new and unique black perspectives."

There's very little The Eric Andre Show isn't allowed to do

As a cable programming block that airs only at night, Adult Swim isn't bound by the same constraints as other television enterprises. Its programming tends to be more edgy, envelope-pushing, or straight-up weird, as evidenced by hits like Rick and Morty, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and The Eric André Show. But while its stable of talent has lots of freedom to make the shows according to their creative vision, Adult Swim is still a television network that can survive only as long as it doesn't alienate advertisers or push away too many viewers. The network's Standard and Practices department placed just a few limitations on André. 

"Suicide and drug use and making fun of specific gods are like the three S&P issues that come up," he told Spin. Still, he tries to skirt those restrictions. "I'll just take out a banana and put it in my mouth and blow my brains out and blood will splatter behind me, but that kind of stuff always gets flagged." Under the heading of religious mockery, André says he was allowed to curse the heavens and challenge the almighty to strike him with lightning, but if he added "Jesus" to the bit, it would get axed.

Some Eric Andre Show stunts just wouldn't or couldn't work out

While his bosses at Adult Swim let Eric André do almost whatever he wants on The Eric André Show, the in-house censors will intervene as they see fit. Sometimes the host will have to get approval for a segment or idea, only to be turned down or offered a suggestion on how to execute it in a more television-friendly manner. "I wanted to s*** so hard that my organs fall out of my anus," André told Spin. Standards and Practices' input? "Their note was, 'He can s*** so hard that organs fall out of his anus, but he can't make it look like he's intentionally doing it.'" The scene proved too difficult to film, so André scrapped it.

On another occasion, network regulators stopped The Eric André Show from producing a highly sexual bit involving fake production assistants. "A transgender woman and a transgender man are posing as PAs next to the camera during an interview and they were going to slowly undress and reveal that they have the opposite genitalia than you'd thought they'd have," André explained to The Fader. And then, he recalled, the two would couple up in a physical way.

Shooting the show's remote segments can be wildly unpredictable

The Eric André Show also incorporates public, guerrilla-style comedy caught on tape, where planning isn't really a possibility and things can go very wrong very quickly. "All the bits where I thought I was definitely going to get assaulted, I didn't, and then the bit that I thought would be the least violent was the most," André told The Huffington Post. That event would be the time he "got beat up at a Mensa convention." André tried to crash a meeting of the organization for the super-intelligent while wearing a suit of armor (and claiming to have an IQ of 400). After being thoroughly manhandled and forced out of the building by a pushy Mensa member, André voluntarily fled before security guards arrived.

The natural reaction to André's antics isn't always violence, derision, and hostility. On one occasion, random strangers felt sorry for him. "I did a bit where I dressed up like a cop and we went up to Harlem and I handcuffed myself around a light post and dropped my pants before anybody showed up. And I was going, 'Ah, could somebody help me?'" André said on Speakeasy. "And all these people gathered, and they're like, 'How did you get in that situation?' I'm like, It's a long story, just please help me out.'" André fondly recalled how "the community came together" to help him get un-cuffed and his pants back on.

One stunt got Eric Andre tossed in jail

If anyone ever thought the pranks pulled on an unknowing and unwitting public throughout the run of The Eric André Show were less than authentic, this story about André facing legal consequences (such as the temporary loss of his personal freedom) should dispel that notion. While filming a bit for the first season of the show, André "crashed a town hall meeting while the mayor was speaking," he told The Fader. While "dressed like a frat boy," as he told Interview, he said "Vote for me for class president and I'll put beer in the water fountains and cameras in the girls' locker rooms! Whoa! Go Bobcats!" 

As it was an official town meeting in the town of Rancho Cucamonga, California, the place was full of law enforcement personnel, who acted quickly. "They escorted me out and I was like, 'Don't tase me, bro!' I also told a cop my name was John Coltrane." They believed him, apparently having never heard of the famous jazz musician whose name André nicked. Nevertheless, the sheriffs eventually took André to the local jail, where he had to spend some time. "Just for the night," he told The Fader. "But I had to go to court and get a lawyer. Very expensive."

Eric Andre wasn't allowed to mention his other TV show

Concurrent with starring on the early seasons on The Eric André Show, Eric André moonlighted with a supporting role on the dark ABC sitcom Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23 as Mark, a lovelorn, sad sack barista. While definitely one of the edgier shows on a broadcast network's schedule (the "B" in the title replaced a bit of mild profanity, and the show's lead character was a drunken narcissist), it was still a sitcom airing in primetime on a channel owned by family-friendly Walt Disney Company. According to an André interview with The Huffington Post, some executives at ABC were at best tentative about his bizarre Adult Swim series, and "not thrilled" at worst. When he tried to include Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23 on press releases for The Eric André Show, the network intervened. "And then like 14 people from ABC flew in on helicopters, were like, 'Don't mention us in the Adult Swim show!'" (He's probably exaggerating about the helicopters part, but probably not about the aggressive nature of the Disney machine.)

Eric Andre suffers for his art

The extreme nature of The Eric André Show means pain and injury is a possibility, if not a probability, for its host. One of the series' most signature bits finds André jumping through walls and destroying his desk at the top of every episode. While the chance of serious bodily damage there is limited — the production makes the furniture out of thin and easily breakable drywall — André has still gotten himself seriously hurt, during both in-studio bits and in out-in-the-world filmed stunts. 

He exacerbated a pre-existing injury (bulging discs in his spine) when he tried to lift co-host Hannibal Buress's chair. "It was way heavier than I anticipated and I tore my back in half," André told Spin. "I had to like marine crawl back to the video monitors and take a 20-minute break." His most painful scrape — long-term knee damage — came as the result of a bit where he hid in a garbage can so as to hop out and scare people who walked by. "I'm in physical therapy for it. My knees are both out of the track." Most notably, however, was the mysterious injury Andre sustained to one of his buttocks. "I took a hole out of my butt cheek," he said. "I don't remember when or how it happened, but I just went home and it looked like someone had held a cigarette against my butt cheek and just kept going until it melted deep, deep into the cheek."

Eric Andre has upset many of his guests

The talk show elements of The Eric André Show only resemble something like The Tonight Show on the surface. There's a desk and chairs, a suited host, a sidekick, and famous guests, but this program doesn't exist to fawn over celebrities and let them promote their latest projects — The Eric André Show sets out to make its guests deeply unsettled. 

"It's fun seeing guests out of their comfort zones," André told Splitsider. "We just figured out different ways to psychologically torture the guests." Among the things that different celebrities endured without knowing about it ahead of time: water slowly dripping on them, mild electric shock, and rotten clams placed under their seats. When Clueless star Stacey Dash guested, a swarm of rats came out to kiss her feet. Seemingly knowing what they might face when booking an appearance on The Eric André Show, most celebrities just roll with it. Others, however, have bailed. After André drew a swastika on his forehead and pretended to eat vomit, The Hills star Lauren Conrad walked right off the set. Rapper T.I. cut off his stint on the program when André produced a prosthetic male organ and brought out a half-nude man.

The Eric Andre Show seasons keep on coming (eventually)

The vast majority of TV shows still air one season per year in successive years, churning out a batch of episodes every fall. The Eric André Show doesn't work on such a mainstream or tight timeframe, and it never has. According to show sidekick Hannibal Buress, the show's pilot came together in 2008 and 2009, while Adult Swim didn't announce it had picked up the show and placed it on its schedule until May 2012, debuting it on air that same month. Fans had to wait nearly a year and a half for season two, which didn't arrive until October 2013. Season three dutifully followed about a year later toward the end of 2014, but then another extremely long wait ensued for season four, finally reaching the airwaves in the summer of 2016. True to form as far as long hiatuses go, The Eric André Show made fans wait for a fifth season. In October 2019, Entertainment Weekly broke the news that André, Buress, and their disintegrating set will come back to television sometime in 2020. But when, exactly? Per the Adult Swim Twitter account, it will be "late" in the year.