For almost 10 years now, “The Eric Andre Show” has been the thing to behold for skateboarding teenagers and Four Loko enthusiasts. The surrealist anti-talk show is chaos in a ten-minute bottle, due, in no short part, to its hilariously absurd real-life pranks — which can range all the way from making out with a cop mid-arrest to dressing up as a centaur and dropping cake on New York City subway passengers. So, when Andre came to Jeff Tremaine (“Jackass”) with an idea for his own hidden camera prank movie, the two were a perfect match. Now, after a long journey and a one-year pandemic delay, “Bad Trip” is finally here. And it’s every bit as hysterically psychopathic as fans could hope.
Compared to its television predecessor, “Bad Trip” is a step in a more straightforward direction. With the simplistic road trip movie genre as its guide, the film is certainly the most accessible project to come from Andre’s team. The story follows Chris (Eric Andre) on his journey to find the love of his life, Maria (Michaela Conlin, “Yellowstone”), with the help of his unassertive companion, Bud (Lil Rel Howery, “Get Out”). Tiffany Haddish (“On the Count of Three”) also notably joins the cast as Trina, Bud’s sister, a violent fugitive.
At a Netflix roundtable this month, Andre said that the transition to a more narrative-driven movie was among the most difficult parts about the film’s conception.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, and you need a story to get an audience across 90-minutes of footage, or it just won’t work. The movie will stall out,” Andre said. “So, yeah, I just had to go back to school. I took Robert McKee classes; I had to read ‘Save the Cat’ and Syd Field’s book on story writing, along with my writing partners, cause we were just coming from a joke-writing place. We weren’t coming from a narrative story writing place, so we just had to educate ourselves.”
Don’t be fooled by its simple setup, though: “Bad Trip” is in a league of its very own. With Andre’s relentlessly ironic comedy style, the movie is self-aware of its own genre tropes, and the outcome feels like the endearing hallucination of either a comedic genius or a madman.
With a format not unlike “Borat,” the story operates as a driving force through which pranks can be neatly strung along. In fact, Sacha Baron Cohen was one of the many “comedy forefathers” (as Andre calls them) consulted in the making of “Bad Trip.” Other hidden camera legends included Tremaine, and the prank writers behind “Punk’d.”
With a team of hidden camera greats and a cast of hilarious newcomers, it’s no wonder the movie is able to pull off such juvenile pranks with heartfelt finesse. Pranks in the movie include — but are absolutely not limited to — making out with a priest, jumping into a cage with a horny gorilla and one unforgettable segment that involves the leads’ genitalia and a Chinese finger trap.
For cast members like Lil Rel and Michaela, diving into the world of real-life pranks was no easy feat.
“Lil Rel and Michaela had to be thrown in the fire pit. They went from zero to 100. The first hidden camera prank (Lil Rel) ever did was the Chinese finger trap scene at the barber shop, and the guy pulled out a knife on us, and he almost got murdered his first day,” Andre laughed. “We dragged poor Michaela to a mall for her final audition, and we had her yell and scream and slap around my director in a clothing store in front of a bunch of clerks, just so she could feel what it felt like. … We didn’t even film it. We were just like a bunch of punks hanging out in a mall, watching her beat up my director.”
Luckily, the unorthodox strategies that Andre and his longtime director, Kitao Sakurai (“The Eric Andre Show”), took have paid off. Perhaps what sets the movie apart from its peers, and what makes it so perfect for modern viewers, is that no matter how explicit, ridiculous or even vulgar the pranks may seem, there is always careful attention to stay within ethical lines.
“I think there’s good bad taste and bad bad taste … Morals are always changing exponentially now in this digital age,” Andre said. You always gotta figure out what feels like you’re dancing on the edge in a good way and what feels unethical. Comedy is a game of millimeters, so you’re always checking in with your barometer.”
He continued: “We don’t go into any pranks looking to hurt somebody or emotionally scar anybody. At the end of the day, we’re trying to make everybody — not just the audience at home but the people we’re pranking — laugh.”
Whatever it is, “Bad Trip” gets it. The movie is not only among the best comedies of 2021 so far, but it shimmers as another gem in the trailblazing career of Eric Andre. For the near future, fans can also get excited for a few “Bad Trip” outtakes that had to get cut for story purposes. For the long-term, no one can guess what Eric Andre has in store.
Watch the film on Netflix here.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.