Chris Elliott and Jason Woliner on the set of Eagleheart.
In comedy jargon, if a performer "kills" it means the comedian
succeeds in getting laughs. Eagleheart,
the action-comedy series whose second season premieres tonight on Adult Swim at
midnight, is a show that literally kills -- the laughs are huge, and so is the
body count. PAPERMAG met up with the Eagleheart's
masterminds, comedy-nerd hero Chris Elliott, who stars as Chris Monsanto, a
trigger-happy U.S. Marshal, and Jason Woliner, the show's 31-year-old director
and co-writer, to discuss the upcoming season over coffee on the Upper West
Side. "There's definitely more blood this season," Woliner promises. "We had
doubles of every costume, because they'd just get splattered with blood."
Despite the 20-year age gap between Elliott and Woliner, the
duo shares a similar absurdist comic sensibility. Woliner directed MTV's Human Giant, helping establish the
sketch troupe as the most beloved comedians in dorm rooms of the '00s. And Elliott
achieved comedy-icon status through his years doing bits on Late Night with David Letterman, his
groundbreaking early-'90s Fox sitcom Get
a Life and his endearingly smarmy performances in the Farrelly brothers'
movies, Kingpin and There's Something About Mary. And let's
not forget Elliott's cult classic, 1994's Cabin Boy, a much maligned,
misunderstood goofball comedy that has been embraced by the current generation
of burgeoning comedians.
"When we started writing the first season of Eagleheart, I went back and rewatched Cabin Boy," Woliner says, "and I realized that I know every line in that movie."
"Oh, Jesus," Elliott says, rolling his eyes. "Occasionally, [Cabin Boy] will come on cable, and I'll watch it. It still looks weird to me, and it's definitely a flawed movie. But it's still fun and funny, and it's a completely different kind of movie. I'll give it that much. I mean, that movie was completely vilified when it came out, and it ruined my career for a couple of years, so it's interesting to hear about it from a new perspective."
As Eagleheart fans can attest, the show is the perfect vehicle for Elliott -- the jokes come fast and furious, and dripping with sarcasm. But the original pilot script wasn't written specifically for Elliott. "When we were casting, we met with Christopher McDonald, Tom Sizemore. That was really awkward," Woliner says. "He's a great actor -- he was in Saving Private Ryan! But that was really uncomfortable. Rowdy Roddy Piper. William Forsythe, they came in. A real rogue's gallery. Honestly, if it was one of those guys, I don't know if I'd have stuck with it. But as soon as the opportunity came up to work on a show with Chris Elliott, I was excited."
As soon as Elliott was onboard, the show's tone switched gears from a Walker, Texas Ranger satire, to a 11-minute tour de force that feels like a classic Chris Elliott bit, but one that's experiencing severe 'roid rage. Eagleheart's ensemble cast is rounded out by Maria Thayer (Strangers with Candy) and Brett Gelman (The Other Guys). "We're all sort of like our characters in real life, to a certain degree," Elliott says. "Maria's the pretty, sensible one. Brett is the complete moron. And I'm just this old guy who needs a drink -- he's bitter, surly. Other than the same name, that's what I have in common with him -- surliness, bitterness and alcoholism."
From left to right: Chris Elliott, Brett Gelman and Maria Thayer.
Similar to Elliott's previous work, and to Human Giant, Eagleheart doesn't have any boundaries when it comes to getting a laugh. In both the first and second seasons, Elliott can only remember one instance when he raised a red flag at a gag pitched by Woliner and the show's writers. "In the first season, I set up a politician by putting a dead boy in his bed," Elliott says. "I said, 'Could we at least get an adult instead of a little boy?' That was the only time I objected to a joke. But [Woliner] ended up getting a teenager anyway, and they put a fake mustache on him, to make him look like he was an adult, just to appease me."
Eagleheart's success has been cheered on by a rabid fan following on the Internet, and it's a mysterious fanbase that both Elliott and Woliner have tried to pinpoint. "There's that website OkCupid, the dating site. And I was wondering if there's anyone on there who listed Eagleheart as their favorite show," Woliner says. "It was all fat dudes, and one Asian lady, who I believe was a lesbian. I was just curious if attractive people watch Eagleheart, and the answer is no."
"It's really hard to say who this show is for!" Elliott adds "I mean, I'm the star, and I'm 51 years old. It's on the Cartoon Network. It's incredibly violent. We're all kind of complete idiots in it. We're nasty to each other. There's nothing heartwarming about it. But it makes people laugh, and right out of the gate, people got it."
In addition to more blood and jokes, Eagleheart's second season will also feature cameos from Ben Stiller, Conan O'Brien (who executive produces the show), Dean Norris from Breaking Bad and Bud Cort from Harold and Maude. "It reminds me a little bit of when I was shooting Cabin Boy," Elliott says of Eagleheart. "Some days, I'll have no idea what's going on. I'll just say, 'OK boys, tell me where to stand and what to say.' It's in situations like that where I think I do my best work."
Eagleheart premieres tonight at midnight on Adult Swim.