Bad Trip is a new comedy classic from the minds of Eric Andre and Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine. The story follows Chris (Andre) and Bud (Lil Rey Howery) as they travel from Florida to New York to reunite Chris with the love of his life Maria (Michaela Conlin). Tiffany Haddish rounds out the cast as Trina, Chris’ sister, whose car is stolen for the trip. The movie co-stars a number of unwitting bystanders, called “marks” in the prank world, who find themselves appearing in scenes that seem perfectly natural until they become completely absurd. A mark’s response to the chaos created by the film crew is often kind and humane, with a few angry people sprinkled throughout. It’s their gentle reactions that make the movie special. Gone are the stand-alone prank vignettes of Jackass and The Eric Andre Show. Here the jokes land exceptionally well because the actors creatively push the mark’s buttons, moving the story forward in fresh ways.
I spoke with Eric Andre and producer Jeff Tremaine about using pranks to tell a classic buddy story––which Andre says is actually a love story between friends Chris and Bud. Andre and Tremaine explain how their worlds collided to make Bad Trip, including what it’s like to lose good footage when marks won’t sign release forms, Tiffany Haddish being a pro at the hidden camera genre, and if Andre will appear in Jackass 4.
The Film Stage: What brought the two of you together?
Eric Andre: When Bad Grandpa came out in 2013 we were editing the second season of The Eric Andre Show. My agent called me and he goes: “Hey, man, Bad Grandpa‘s about to make a kajillion dollars. You do this hidden camera shit. You should meet up with Jeff Termaine, man!” So me and my producers on the show went to Jeff’s office. And we didn’t know shit about how to write a movie. We just knew how to write pranks. We were like joke writers, prank writers, not story writers. So we started pitching Jeff this off the wall, fucking nonsense that didn’t make for a movie. [Laughs.] Jeff kept being like, “Yeah, but you need a story, you need a story, trust me, you need a story.” He went through and told us the trials and tribulations of Bad Grandpa. They were shooting without a story at first and then they had to shut down. We kept coming back and forth to Jeff with a slew of shitty stories. We didn’t know what to do. We even went out with a bad story, like we even went to market and pitched like, some wackadoo story and then finally had to go back.
Jeff Tremaine: I was trying to always hone it in. The key is it has to be a pretty simple story. Think about it: it’s a complicated movie only in that watching Eric Andre pull pranks on people, but there’s also a plot. Your brain is watching both. So you have to keep the plot simple because your brain… well, hopefully you get into the story enough to forget that it’s a hidden camera movie all together. But you don’t. You always know he’s going to prank someone, so you have to keep the story relatively simple because what your brain is doing is complicated.
Andre: Not just simple but also classic and iconic, archetypal. You want to see the scene where I run on the bus and apologize to Lil Rel because it’s like a When Harry Met Sally kind of romcom scene. There’s like twenty Meg Ryan movies that have that kind of scene and it’s exciting for the audience to watch because they’re familiar with that trope, but they’ve never seen it happen in real life. So we realized story-wise, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, you want a very traditional, recognizable story because it’s a buddy story, which is essentially a love story. Those kind of iconic movie tropes in the hidden camera prank genre work really well because it’s almost exciting. The Honky Tonk bar scene is kind of like the Eddie Murphy scene in 48 Hrs. where Nick Nolte takes him to the rootin, tootin redneck bar. He’s the only Black guy in there. We put that to the test. [Laughs.] When you really do it in real life it makes people get excited.
Tremaine: You have to keep the story a little bit loose to accommodate whatever the real people give you. You also have to have a loose enough story that you can accommodate some of Eric’s crazy ideas and my crazy ideas. Early on he pitched the gorilla scene, which does not fit into this story at all, so we had to shoehorn it in. [Laughs.] But we also know how to do it. As soon as he pitched that idea, my brain was like, “Oh, God damn, that’s a hard one. Alright, let’s figure this out. How are we going to do that?” And it took a lot to pull that one off.
Andre: We had to have the gorilla scene least somehow Maria-centric. If your character’s whole quest is to get this girl, you can’t just go to a zoo and get penetrated by a gorilla out of nowhere. [Everyone laughs.] You’ve gotta at least go, “Maria loves gorillas. She loves animals. Each scene has to be motivated by the character’s desires. Unlike The Eric Andre show, which is an 11-minute, Adult Swim, Dada, absurdist, late night psychedelic fest, where nothing has to be motivated ever. It’s just complete nonsense by design. In fact, a lot of the jokes come out of absurdist non-sequiturs, and things being completely unmotivated.
Tremaine: It’s like the old Jackass style: you only shoot the punch line, you’re not telling the story. You’re just telling this random moment, you just want to create a chaotic moment. I always told Eric, what we learned on Bad Grandpa is that chaotic moment, what you think is the climax of the scene is actually usually just the starting point. The people reacting to the scene is where the best shit comes out. It’s so great when marks spit out your plot for you, because it makes it all real.
If you shoot a great take and the marks responded well, but afterward they’re like, “Oh, hell, I don’t want to be in a movie,” do you have to scrap that footage and shoot it again with other people?
Andre: We have convincing people to sign a release form down to a science. You’ll see some blurred faces in the movie, like when Tiffany is hanging me off the roof, one of the women at the taco truck is blurred. You can’t win them all. We did exceptionally well. We did a hell of a lot better getting releases on the movie that we do on The Eric Andre Show. If you watch our show, like half of everybody we prank is blurred. Every once in a while you get your heart broken. One of the early Chinese finger trap guys would not sign to save his life and we captured him doing some amazing things. You’ll always get your heart broken doing this prank genre but that’s what it’s like everybody in the prank business, it’s par for the course. Jeff’s experienced that for the past 25 years. I’m sure the Impractical Jokers, Jerky Boys, Sacha Baron Cohen, Nathan Fielder, even Candid Camera had to go through the heartache of not getting a release signed and losing what was a killer bit.
Tremaine: We have done quite a bit better at playing the game so we win more than we lose. One of the things about this movie is that at the end of the day, it’s not really mean-spirited. It’s creating a funny, weird, crazy situation but it’s really not making fun of the people. The people are actually being human and actually being good people. Hopefully they’re presented that way because they’re dealing with craziness but it’s not really mean-spirited towards them. That helps when you’re trying to get releases.
Andre: It’s funny, the really angry people, the people who were brandishing weapons and threatening my life, are ironically the most willing to sign the release forms. The guy that pulled a knife out on us at the barber shop for the Chinese penis trap, as soon as we were like, it’s a hidden camera prank and we revealed the prank he was like, “What! Y’all got me good.” He signed with no hesitation and asked when the movie comes out. And then he was like, “You shouldn’t do these pranks around here. You’re gonna get killed.” It’s usually the subtle, silent, seething angry people––the Karens––that don’t sign the release. They’re just like, “I don’t think that’s funny at all. Not my sense of humor.” For my show we have shaking, trembling, 21-year-old interns running around with pieces of paper asking, ”can you sign this please?” after we threw a live sewer rat on somebody’s lap in the subway.
Jeff, when did you realize you could use pranks to tell stories?
Tremaine: On Jackass, we would do little vignettes that do tell little, tiny stories, but we didn’t really care about the story. We only cared about creating a chaotic situation. So it was Bad Grandpa when we decided to commit to doing a whole feature. At first I was thinking, “Let’s just write the craziest shit and we’ll just vignette it all together like Jackass.” And that wouldn’t work really. The story became more and more important as we were developing that idea, but we still weren’t throwing away any of the funniest, craziest scenarios we’d come up with. We just figured out how to work them into the simple plot. Once we came up with the story, like Eric said, it’s a very familiar plotline that doesn’t take a genius to keep up with, then you could go a little off track and still keep it going. It was really Bad Grandpa where we figured out how important the story was to it and that you can actually do pranks in a story. We got obsessed and decided any story point has to have a real person that doesn’t know what’s going on in it. We didn’t want to do any acting without marks in it.
Will you talk about my favorite mark in the movie: the Black man at the bus stop who gives Eric great advice that makes him break into song and dance?
Andre: Oh yeah, he was the best! We were fishing for that kind of advice for a while. We went through a few people. A couple of women just walked away. One guy was rambling on and on. We pulled that specific part of the prank like four times before we got it right. But I was also talking to him for a while before we got that advice out of him, because we don’t fake any reaction. All the reactions throughout the movie have to be genuine.
Tremaine: It’s a really important scene. Basically the plot of the movie is in that scene. Eric dumps the plot of the movie onto this stranger and we don’t know how they’re going to respond. We’re always trying to figure out how to do this in the real world. So we set that bench up and just waited and got like this old guy by luck, and he was just so willing. Eric’s really good at digging for it and then dropping a little more story and then just digging. It’s a game. Who can play this game right? Where you just let them talk and let them breathe, but then turn it up a little bit.
How did Tiffany Haddish get involved in the movie?
Andre: She wasn’t in the original cast. Another actress dropped out because she had a schedule conflict while shooting a television show. The next day, we almost got Rel murdered shooting the finger trap scene. He vented to Tiffany because they’ve been friends for years and they worked together. Tiffany called me––I didn’t even go after Tiffany. She called me and offered her services right as that other actress dropped out. So it’s really like casting from heaven.
Tremaine: By the way, Tiffany is great at the game of hidden camera. She knows exactly how to light someone all the way up and then bring them back down just enough to light them up a little further. It’s a whole psychological game and most people aren’t good at it. That’s why I wanted to work with Eric, I watched his show enough to know that he plays the game. He understands the game.
Andre: You’ve got to bring them to the edge and then you calm them down and you bring them back up. You don’t want to bring them over the edge because then you’re gonna get clocked. You don’t want to calm them down too much, because then the scene is gonna be boring. So you got to take them on a journey.
What was your favorite prank that didn’t make it into the movie?
Andre: I think the exorcism prank was probably like the best prank on its own. It just didn’t fit into the body of the movie. We had this prank where we stayed the night in a motel that was haunted. I start getting sick and become possessed by a demon spirit. Rel got this real preacher to come in and perform an exorcism on me. We have all these hidden practical effects. I’m levitating in the bed, the walls start bleeding, lights are flickering. Cockroaches came out of a painting. And this real preacher is trying to get Rel to exercise the demons out of me. Rel keeps cursing and he’s like, “in the name of Jesus Christ get the fuck out of my friend!” The preacher was like “Okay, that’s good, but don’t curse” and the guy was really on the hook.
Will you work together on another movie?
Andre: Hell yeah, homeboy.
Tremaine: Fuck yeah.
Are you going to be in Jackass 4?
Andre: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. That’s why I’m smiling and looking at Jeff.
Tremaine: Maybe Eric’s in it. If he’s not, he’ll be in Jackass 4.5. We are shooting the opening sequence for the movie today.
Andre: You’re going to age five years at the end of this week.
Bad Trip is now on Netflix.