This interview first appeared online on Austin’s That Other Paper on March 16th, 2007
Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman are Hard N Phirm a comedy musical duo from Los Angeles known for “Rodeohead,” a bluegrass-style medley of Radiohead covers. They’ll be in Austin this weekend to perform at the Mess with Texas party, a two-day live comedy and music mini-festival (March 16–17).
What came of the HBO talks?
H: We had HBO talks? How’d they go? Are we on there now?
P: Chris and I talked it over and we decided to go ahead and get HBO.
Chris, what’s the status of Blood Pudding, the comedy album you were working on with Rob Zombie?
H: I’ve been working so much on Hard ‘N Phirm stuff that I’ve been unable to develop my own stand-up to the point where I’d want to put it on an album and drag Rob Zombie’s name into the dirt. I outgrew all of the stuff that I was working on originally. That Mike Phirman has gotten me so preoccupied with having fun and doing well with HnP that there’s no time for me to focus entirely on myself. What a douche.
You were in talks with an unnamed feature film to use one of your songs. What’s the status of that?
P: It sounds like they want to use it, but the movie keeps getting pushed back, so not yet. I don’t think we can say what movie it is, but I can tell you that it will have fewer racing scenes than all of the “Fast and Furious” movies combined.
How’s the new album coming along?
P: The status is orange. Or elevated. Or whichever would convey that most of the songs are ready to be recorded. This one’s going to have a little bit of live stuff, though we’re not sure which songs. Either way, the recording process should be pretty fast, however the thinking up of a title could take years.
H: I think we’re hoping to have it out later this year, though we are going to release an album of rarities from “Comedy Death Ray” performances through AST Records, (aspecialthing.com). The latter album (I don’t know why I use the word ‘album’ anymore; even ‘CD’ is almost passé. How about ‘songpile’? ) will most likely only appeal to about thirty people who are familiar with the L.A. comedy scene, so I’m sure it won’t interfere with Hard ‘N Phirm’s sophomore songpile (maybe that should be the title).
What are some places that your music can be heard now?
Phirm The album is on iTunes, and there’s our Myspace music-only page. And we did the theme for a show on Comedy Central’s Motherload called Guacamole.
Hard It’s also on our regular MySpace page and our personal MySpace pages. MySpace really has us by the nards.
Chris, tell me about the character you will be playing in Barnyard the animated TV show.
P: Yeah, Chris, tell him.
H: Alright, Mike, I will then. Well, it’s like the film version of “The Barnyard” that came out not too long ago, except on the television. I play “Otis.” Kevin James played him in the film. It turns out that I am a low rent Kevin James, something I had long posited.
Please compare and contrast yourself and Otis.
H: We are both male yet I do not have udders. By the way, some people really have a cob in their ass about that one. When people tell me that there’s no such thing as a male cow with udders I remind them that animals don’t really talk either.
P: Well, I’m a thing that I’m familiar with, and Otis is probably something from Barnyard. Unless you’re talking about Otis the elevator company, in which case I’d say that they’re a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer, installer and maintainer of elevators, escalators, and other people-moving systems, while I’m just some dude.
What’s something that you’d like to see anthropomorphized and given its own feature length film?
P: I’ll have to go with a fish called the Sign Eviota: the vertebrate with the shortest lifespan (8 weeks). Not only is it time someone told their story, not only would it come in under budget, but every Sign Eviota would go to see it (and their time is precious — that’s like me watching a movie that’s like 1,000 hours long (e.g. “Pirates of the Carribbean II”)). It could be a coming-of-age story where one special little Sign Eviota achieves enlightenment from reading a discarded copy of Dr. Andrew Weil’s “8 Weeks to Optimum Health.”
What do you think of The Secret?
H: I had never heard of it until one day it came up, and not by me, in literally ten different conversations. I definitely will watch it because I’m not really in a position to make fun of it until I do. And if instead I get special ancient powers out of it, then I say, “Excelsior!”
P: I thought it was all garbage until I watched the DVD while listening to the soundtrack from “Lake House.” Now I totally get it.
The Secret has a lot in common with Amway. Have you ever had any experiences or encounters with Amway?
H: The Church of Scientology offered to test my personality once. Does that count?
P: Unless they now look and act just like us, no.
Ever been the victim of a scam?
P: You mean aside from paying for health insurance? Well, a few years ago, I donated money to some random children’s fund that cold-called me. I made the check out to something like “Future Children of America’s United States.” Immediately, I started getting calls from that same number asking me for more money and for different causes. Finally, when they called claiming to be the Los Angeles Fire Dept. asking for money to “oh boy, put out all these fires, you know,” I knew I’d been had — that there were no “Future Children”.
What is your comedy philosophy?
P: Years ago, Chris and I came up with a very nerdy equation that we called The Phirman Principle of comedy. It was: “A. B. *C. I’m kidding. ~B”. It means you assert thing A, then thing B, then an absurd thing C, say “I’m kidding” and negate thing B. (Example: Today I went to the market, ate a cheeseburger, and had sex with a chicken. No, I’m just kidding — I stopped eating cheeseburgers years ago.) We were unstoppable. We used it to get out of parking tickets, make girls laugh, even fend off angry dogs. Then one night we added the Hardwick Addendum: rather than negate B, end with an even wackier C. (In the above example, “I’m just kidding — it was an emu!”) With that, we immediately turned into light and have since remained on earth completely by choice.
H: Midget dressmakers are in short supply.
Do you think bad comedians know that they’re bad?
P: Oh god, I don’t know. Depends on what makes them bad and how critical of themselves they are. I’m sure some are bad because their jokes are beneath them or not from their personal point-of-view; I would guess they probably know it. But if they’re new to it and their friends all tell them they’re hilarious, they probably believe it–especially if they want to. I’d also say that no matter how bad someone is, there’s a person or small group who will think they’re funny, probably because of how absurdly bad they are. Ultimately, they’ll know if they can’t keep doing it for long. If they do make a living at it, it could be that they’re not funny, but they’re good “comedians”.
H: I’m afraid to answer that because I’m always worried I’m one of them and I haven’t admitted to myself yet. Do you mean “bad” like hacky and pandering? There are a lot of different kinds of comedy that evolve as a by-product of the environment of the comedian. I saw a guy recently at the Improv in LA do a bunch of jokes about taking a shit. Nothing interesting or conceptual, just “You know when you’re taking a big shit…” Now, wherever he came from that must’ve been killing because he was very polished. I thought it was terrible, but the crowd loved it so why would he think to do anything differently? It’s sort of Galapagan, if I can make up a ridiculous adjective. It takes a special kind of comic to do whatever he or she wants to do despite the audience. My favorite comics working today don’t necessarily destroy in front of every audience.
Since comedy is so subjective, what are some indications of good and bad comedy?
P: For me, good comedy comes from a place that you can identify with and ends up going somewhere really weird. I lose interest when it starts from some place too esoteric (inside) or ends at a point that’s expected (hacky).
H: For me, bad comics try too hard to relate themselves to the audience and good comics are able to force the audience to relate to them.
What do you think of slapstick and physical comedy?
H: The same thing that I think about one-man shows. There’s a wide crap-margin and very few people can do it right…but when it is done right—Shazam!
P: I love it. I love hearing funny sounds, watching silly dances, or reading a comic strip that doesn’t use words. I can’t explain why it’s funny; I just react. And if I had to have a reason, it’s probably that there’s too much serious and heavy business going on and I like the break. (Disclaimer: I do think “Scary Movie 4″ had too many whacked-in-the-ballses.)
What’s your opinion on hubris?
H: I don’t care for it. Not that hubris gives a rat’s ass. (I shall now ‘boo’ myself)
P: I’d say that in comedy, it’s potential energy. It’s the great wind-up for the comedic fall. Like when Indiana Jones shoots the guy with the swords. A confident laugh heading into defeat is funny, to me anyway.
Do you think that comedy, music, or art in general can change the world?
H: Absolutely. It’s impossible that it wouldn’t. All of those forms of expression are based on emotions and emotions drive us to act.
P: I guess as much as a mirror can change your bathroom. Like, spread and influence attitudes of people? Sure. Drive public policy? Maybe a little. Senator Chappelle? Sadly, unlikely. (However, Senator the Cable Guy…)
Given the opportunity, how would you change the world?
P: Make this interview one question shorter.
H: I’d make it egg-shaped. Like in “Howard the Duck.”
What should people expect from HnP from the future?
P: Well, let’s just say that we’ll be recording more “music” and doing more “shows” for “people.”
H: We’re writing and producing a bunch of short films for a few different companies. We’re also producing a little animated pilot based on one of our songs, “American Dinosaurs.” Also, we just finished a song for Doug Benson’s upcoming pot-umentary film, “Super High Me.” And of course, more touring—colleges, music clubs and the like. We’re pretty good about updating our website with news and upcoming shows (hardnphirm.com) if anyone gives a care.
What do you expect from the world in the future, in terms of politics, technology, and entertainment?
H: President Jokebot!
P: Lots of regret. Lots of air conditioners. Good comedy.