A disembodied hand appears on screen holding a makeup sponge, and it begins to dab at Eric André’s face as he prepares for our interview over Google Hangouts. He compares it to the hand in The Addams Family movies, only this one is actually attached to a person. He doesn’t flinch as the hand gets the comedian camera ready for what he immediately learns is just a video chat that won’t be posted anywhere online.The dabbing stops since beauty won’t really matter.
Then his dad calls. He answers, putting his dad on speakerphone and informing him he’s in the middle of an interview. Hearing this, Papa André hangs up without a goodbye—and his son cackles. “Peace, bro.”
Remembering he doesn’t have to be on camera, the comedian and actor decides to get more comfortable, taking his laptop—and in effect, me—on an impromptu tour of his house as he relocates so can do the interview laying down. Like a true millennial, there are plants everywhere. “Oh yeah, I’m a bit of a plant head,” he says. He’s been doing press since 3:30 a.m., and had the energy of someone somersaulting to deliriousness—something anyone familiar with André’s work on the beautifully demented sketch series The Eric André Show and his comedy special Eric André: Legalize Everything might assume is a base level for a beloved chaos agent such as he.
In Bad Trip, we are treated to another stroll through the unhinged ferris wheel that is André’s brilliant, weirdo mind. Though it technically meets all the requirements of being a film, calling it a film feels a bit too high brow. This is more of a bonkers longform prank show with a narrative arc that seems intent on having viewers ruin their couches from pissing themselves. But for the sake of explaining the plot, Chris (André) and his best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) embark on a road trip from Florida to New York so Chris can declare his love for his high school crush, Maria (Michaela Conlin).
In the long tradition of road trip movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and Crossroads, getting from point A to point B is not as easy as it might seem: For one, Bud’s sister, a recent prison escapee named Trina (a pitch perfect Tiffany Haddish), is in hot pursuit of the pair, who stole her car—a Pepto Bismol pink Crown Vic emblazoned with a window-sized decal that reads “Bad Bitch”—for their adventure. It’s not the most inconspicuous ride, which becomes especially problematic as Bud and Chris get themselves into trouble at various rest stops along the way. The action of the story plays out in front of civilians unaware they’re being filmed for a movie, which means their reactions to various batshit gags are caught by hidden cameras and make for some of the best laughs but also heartwarming aww’s in the movie.
It’s not unfair to call Bad Trip completely stupid, because that’s the point—and the source of its genius. At a time like this, watching Chris get a face full of gorilla jizz in front of a group of horrified women at the zoo, or spew barf like a fire hydrant at a honky tonk bar, is an ideal off-switch for your brain. André himself loves a road trip and the shenanigans they bring about—and he was kind enough to make a road trip playlist for Noisey, which is linked below.
It’s hard to avoid the thought that pranks like those in Bad Trip may be near-impossible to pull off in a post-COVID world, rendering André’s specific brand of comedy—which relies so much on human interaction and, well, weirding people the fuck out—a more challenging proposition for the future. That’s gotta be tough for someone with his energy.
“It’s been depressing,” said André. “I mean, you can go for a walk or bike ride; I’ll do that sometimes, but it’s been depressing. I’m gregarious. Like a vampire, I feed off the energy of other human beings.”
In fact, our original plan for the interview was to take our own short road trip from the VICE offices in Williamsburg to the Times Square Olive Garden, with a few stops in between. The thought of possibly Lady and the Tramp-ing unlimited breadsticks with Eric André had filled me with excitement for weeks last year—but, you know, global pandemic. As he put it over Hangout, a year after that road trip to the Olive Garden was supposed to happen, “so many things, so many dreams, so many plans, just imploded. What can we do?”
Still, there’s a question looming over our discussion and it’s one I have to ask: Whether he is scared that he may never prank again—at least, not in the same way. “I think we’ll return to some sort of normalcy,” he replies. “I think there’ll be a new world; people will probably wear masks more often. I think, in a weird way, it’s a little bit of a self-reset button for society. It gave us a beat to all reflect—a kind of a forced existential crisis. But no, I’m not too worried. I’m actually looking forward to things opening back up, and I have faith that I will be able to prank again.”
For his part, André says that “reset” has involved, at various points, “a lot of drinking, some camping, some writing, some catching up on serialized dramas from the early aughts that I never got around to watching.” When the coronavirus lockdown hit in March last year, he’d just finished the fifth season of his Adult Swim The Eric André Show, and Bad Trip was already wrapped and edited. At the time, he was “itching to get back to real life,” but then real life changed dramatically for everyone.
So just like the rest of us plebs, André has been deep into The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and Game of Thrones. “I’m just forcing myself through all of them,” he says. “It’s a force-feed: I’m foie gras-ing the serialized dramas down my throat. My liver is gonna taste like a delicious Sopranos pâté.”
Bad Trip is a new entry to the small but mighty canon of narrative prank movies starting with the letter B (think: Borat, Bruno, and Bad Grandpa)—but it’s also the first to do it with an all-Black and POC led cast, a milestone André is excited about. After the success of Bad Grandpa in 2013, which starred Johnny Knoxville as an elderly man on a road trip with his grandson, André’s agent encouraged him to meet with Jackass and Bad Grandpa co-creator and director Jeff Tremaine to see if they could replicate the magic with André. With Tremaine’s guidance, André and his team offered a bunch of wild pitches and “crazy batshit stories that make no sense” until they found a narrative thread. “There were so many different shitty incarnations before we got to one that worked,” said André.
To land on a story that worked for their pranks, André, director Kitao Sakurai, and a writer’s assistant went on a nine-day cross country road trip from LA to New York, which included stops at a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Colorado, where a planned camping trip was cancelled by grizzly bears coming out of hibernation and an acid trip. The crew also drew inspiration from the 90s slapstick road trip comedies Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber, in addition to the rom-coms of Meg Ryan.
“We watched a lot of Meg Ryan movies like When Harry Met Sally and stuff like that,” he said, “because buddy stories are essentially a love story between two friends.”
Partly to keep the main characters sympathetic, André says, Bad Trip stays pretty wholesome, never placing targets in positions where they might embarrass themselves or be ridiculed. Considering that the targets are mostly Black, that’s comforting; it’s really no fun watching people cruelly be made to look like fools, unless that person is Rudy Giuliani. Sure there’s a few gross-out pranks that veer into questionable territory, like when Bud and Chris get their penises stuck in a toy finger trap and run into a Chinese restaurant, crashing into tables and begging for help. But overall, the goal was to ensure everyone has a good time.
“Our pranking had to be sympathetic, so we’re never punching down,” said André. “We’re never making anybody that we prank the butt of the joke. We’re actually showing the humanity of people and showing the Good Samaritan nature in a lot of the people we’re pranking.”
In one scene, following an unfortunate accident with the pink Bad Bitch mobile, one of the non-actor bystanders being pranked in a scene intervenes when Bud and Chris are having a friendship-ending falling out. “He was really invested in keeping our friendship together,” said André. “It’s exciting to pull off a prank movie without it feeling cynical.”
That level of care makes Bad Trip worth the ride, even if the final destination isn’t the Times Square Olive Garden.
Bad Trip is out March 26.
There are a few essentials that are vital to any road trip: a plethora of snacks, some toilet paper should someone need to take a roadside pee, and, of course, a sick playlist. In honor of his new movie Bad Trip, Eric André has graciously created a playlist for Noisey, should a drive across the country—or just to an Italian chain restaurant in a somewhat far location—be in your future.
When it comes to crafting a good playlist, André stressed that the vibe and genres really depend on the final destination. “If it’s entirely cross-country, like [an] LA to New York road trip, I think more country western,” he said. “But if you’re on your way to, like, Bonnaroo or Coachella, and you want to get pumped with your friends you want Girl Talk or Big Freedia.”
For this one, André envisioned his final destination to be El Paso, Texas (though his second idea was “the Olive Garden in the sky”). This meant building a heavy country playlist that veers into rap, then cumbias. “I’ve just been listening to a lot of cumbia playlists on Spotify,” he said.
The resulting playlist, which André cleverly titled “Bad Trip Playlist” and you can listen to below, includes Ennio Morricone, Glen Campbell, and Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia”—not once, but 10 times in a row. (Eventually, André said, “I would kind of start getting sick of country western, and then I would just listen to like Playboi Carti “Magnolia” over and over again.”) Get comfy in your pink Crown Vic, get the snacks ready, and enjoy the ride as soundtracked by one of the weirdest, most brilliant minds in comedy.
- “Galveston” by Glen Campbell
2. “Some Velvet Morning” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
3. “The Strong” by Ennio Morricone, for the soundtrack to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
4. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson
5. “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter
6. “Woke Up Laughing” by Robert Palmer
7. “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti (10 times in a row, but, you know, player’s choice on that.)
8. “Corazón Enamorado” by Super Grupo Colombia
9. “Penguin” by Okay Temiz
10. “Cumbia con Jazz” by Grupo Jejeje
Alex Zaragoz is a senior staff writer at VICE.