LOS ANGELES – “The Eric Andre Show” is ostensibly not a series that lends itself to longevity. Its titular star, who plays a version of himself and satirizes talk shows by putting unsuspecting celebrity guests through hellish interviews, has become considerably more famous since the series first aired over a decade ago.
But through a combination of disguises and an artfully deceptive booking team, Andre is gearing up for the premiere of the sixth season this Sunday on Adult Swim, boasting a star-studded list of guests in the episodes to come, including Lil Nas X, Natasha Lyonne and Jon Hamm.
“We used to worry about, like, ‘Oh, am I going to be more recognizable?’” Andre said of his increasing fame, eventually realizing it doesn’t take much to fool people. “I disguised myself a lot this season. I rocked the ponytail and the glasses, and I would wear COVID masks sometimes.”
There is a kind of poetic, albeit sadistic, justice that comes from watching the cult show make the most envied in society the butt of its joke, including high-profile names over the years like Seth Rogen, Demi Lovato, Dennis Rodman and Judy Greer.
A few — including Lauren Conrad and T.I. — have walked off in disgust or indignation. But that number is surprisingly low given that Andre often keeps guests in emotional and physical discomfort for an hour or more, only to edit interviews down to mere minutes.
“I'm in character,” Andre explained. “I'm trying to just be the most absurd and incompetent talk show host of all time.”
Once celebrities are brought on the “talk show,” their egos are subjected to all kinds of abasements, both through Andre’s absurd line of questioning and through physical pranks — some unbeknownst to viewers and only revealed later by former guests.
“It’s a break from the kind of fictitious propaganda of traditional press, I think,” he theorized, mocking actors and the stories they share on actual late-night talk shows. “They’re like, ‘Hey, you know, on set, George Clooney played a prank on me,’ or whatever. They have some anecdote from set. It feels — people can smell it’s a little inauthentic.”
Part of what makes the pranks so impressive is Andre’s ability to pull them off, even when guests become visibly angry and sometimes threatening toward him.
“I’m calculating every next step,” the comedian said of what goes through his mind during the interviews. “I don’t want to laugh. I’ve done so much work and so much prep has gone into bringing that prank into production that I don’t want to be the one that blows it.”
Despite the fact that even he is not particularly comfortable with it, Andre’s antics often at some point involve nudity — either by him or the show’s infamous “naked PA” — a move that frequently pushes guests over the edge.
“You gotta do what it takes,” Andre, ever the showman, explained. “There’s not a lot of things that are like completely jaw-dropping shocking. So, nudity is just kind of like a guaranteed reaction.”
Although he denies outright lying to get people on the show, he concedes he and the bookers frequently “bend the truth,” and then come up with elaborate schemes to prevent publicists from seeing the torturous pranks they unknowingly walked their clients into.
“We don’t let publicists into where the stage is and we’ll show them like fake monitor feeds and stuff,” he explained, adding they are sometimes sent on a “wild goose chase” when they get an inkling of what is going on.
He recalled having actor Robin Givens on the show last season, saying her publicist at one point demanded the interview be stopped. In an effort to buy Andre more time, the show's assistant director allegedly led the publicist down a series of wrong turns throughout the building.
“Outside, back in, pretending he didn’t know where we were,” Andre said, bursting into laughter.
His stunts might lead some to believe that Andre is a simple clown. But the comedian, who studied upright bass at the Berklee College of Music, will often give glimpses into the more learned corners of his brain, inexplicably dropping commentary on things like capitalism or militarism amid the chaos of his interviews.
“What can I say, man? Patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it,” he says abruptly in one interview with NBA player Blake Griffin last season.
The fact that Andre keeps coming back for more has been of late a pleasant surprise for fans, given that he at times seems ready to move on from the show, as well as his recent involvement in other projects.
And in 2021, after years of delays and back and forth with different studios, Netflix finally released “Bad Trip,” a narrative film with pranks on real people that stars Andre, Tiffany Haddish and Lil Rel Howery.
“I was going to end the show after five seasons and then I didn’t make any money on ‘Bad Trip,’” he laughed, though he acknowledged his motivations for coming back to “The Eric Andre Show” were not just financial.
“Why permanently close the door on a show where I have full creative freedom?” he said, hinting that door is still open for more after this season.
Despite Andre’s claim that “Bad Trip” didn’t make him any money, the film’s success once it hit Netflix seems to have engendered future opportunities for the comedian, though he is reluctant to say more about what those projects are.
“It’s not even my corporate overlords. It’s superstition. So, I’ll tell you when the time is right," he teased.