The best six minutes I saw watching a Sundance offering this year wasn’t in a narrative feature. It wasn’t in a documentary. It wasn’t really even a short, as you might think of a short. It was a partial episode of a hopefully-soon-to-be-picked-up series called Culture Beat, another product of the brilliantly insane mind of Andre Hyland (The Fourth), this time collaborating with Eric André and Kitao Sakurai. It’s a mishmash of hidden camera street cameras featuring several Hyland alter egos, notably Corey Palmer, the host of a cable access-type show called, of course, Culture Beat. The team joined us by Zoom (thanks again, Covid-19) to discuss the project, its origins and future, and even a little bit about why The Righteous Gemstones may have been Eric André’s best experience ever on a set.
Paste Magazine: Andre, you know I’ve been such a fan of everything that I’ve ever seen that you’ve done.
Andre Hyland: Thanks man.
Paste: But collaborating with these guys, I think you took it to the next level. So I guess one of the first things that would probably make sense to sort of talk about is the decision to make something that’s so short. I know it’s a title that’s up for acquisition. Was this intended to be something that eventually has a longer life? Or is it something that you see just as a one-off?
Andre Hyland: The definite plan would be a television series. We made a pilot for a quarter hour to a half hour format. And then basically we whittled this presentation, sort of pitch version of the pilot. It was not the original vision to do a festival with it, but then we thought it would be so silly not to, if there was that opportunity. And then it got in. So we weren’t like, let’s shake things up with a six minute episode. It was just sort of like, well, this is what we plan to present as sort of a taste test of what this would be like.
Eric André: (German psychiatrist voice) A prrrroooooof of concept.
Hyland: There you go, yeah. It’s like a little Costco sample.
Paste: Well, it definitely left me wanting more.
André: Michael, by any chance do you run Netflix?
Paste: I barely run Michaelflix, unfortunately.
Andre Hyland in Culture Beat
Paste: Andre, something like your previous feature film The Fourth seems like such an individual conception. I’m sure it was collaborative with your cast and your team, but this feels different. This feels something that is still completely you, but does have a different juju to it.
Hyland: Yeah, The Fourth really was—I mean, it feels so pompous saying “a singular vision,” but it was from me. Film is inherently a collaborative process, but as far as a feature goes that was about as stripped down as it gets. And everyone in that movie were actors in a fictional story. So with Culture Beat it’s already two different genres. I’d actually been doing hidden camera street stuff prior to The Fourth. It just hadn’t surfaced on a large platform; just small cable stuff and internet. But Eric and Kitao were aware of that, and we come from the same school of kind of how to approach shit, I guess. When I tried this in the past with other television pilots, I was working with other producers who were very talented and good, but didn’t come from this world of hidden camera stuff on the street. And then Eric approached me a little while ago and said, I want to do something with you, something with the street stuff. It was like in Cool Runnings, when they pull John Candy out of that bar, and he’s all drunk and saying “I’m not doing toboggan any more.” I was the John Candy in that scenario. Minus the bar and the drunk part.
Paste: So Eric and Kitao, you have this guy here who has a really strong voice. Like if he ever did something that someone else starred in, I’d be thinking, “This seems like it should be an Andre Hyland thing.” What is it like coming in to work with someone like that and trying to be additive without taking away from what makes it such an Andre thing?
Kitao Sakurai: That’s a great question. Our approach to working with Andre was to hone in on what makes him special, and what’s special about the bits, and just kind of try to punch up and elevate the ideas that were kinda already there. To showcase them in a way that had a really direct kind of access to the audience. To kind of strip away anything that wasn’t super, super true to that. It was like, this is what Andre’s great at. How do we make that pop even harder?
André: Right. It’s like because he has such a distinct and clear vision, that makes it easier for us to tag along. It’s when somebody has a vague or abstract idea that needs a lot of fleshing out, that’s what makes life harder. But Andre had done a pilot for Comedy Central and a pilot with the Lonely Island guys, and Kitao I were watching both of those and kind of like looking at them objectively and seeing what was working and what wasn’t working. And we’ve been friends with Andre for a long time, and he’s helped write for The Eric André Show. And we’ve collaborated in live shows, and we are just such huge fans of what he does. And he’s so creative and brave. Not a lot of people have like the cojones to go out in the streets and do this kind of high stakes pranking, long form pranking that he and Sasha Baron Cohen and Nathan Fielder do. It’s a small group of people that can do it. And Andre does it really, really well. Kitao and I were just excited to use what we learned on The Eric André Show and apply it to what we saw of Andre’s previous body of work, and kind of like hone in on our three favorite characters. To try to like set up a structure and a conceit for those three characters to operate in. And then, yeah, we would love for this to be the jumping off point to get a series order.
Paste: Now I assume you shot at more locations, with more unsuspecting victims, than just these two that are featured, right?
Hyland: Yeah, we also did an interview with a graffiti removal guy for the city that we ended up not using. Not because it was bad. It’s actually in the longer version of the episode we have. But it was me sitting down at kind of a Charlie Rose style table interviewing him about what art is. And then showing, I don’t know, CG animated horse porn to him. That wasn’t in the Sundance cut.
Sakurai: That’s for our own personal records.
André: That’s for our own cut.
Paste: By the way, when you pitch to the networks, you’ve got to tell them the merchandising is awesome. My girlfriend and roommate and I are all ready for Corey Palmer t-shirts.
Hyland: We’ve got to get those, definitely.
Paste: Now, Andre, you’re not originally from the South, right?
Hyland: I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, so I’m literally on the border to the South. I’m not claiming to be from the South, nor am I not. It’s funny because when I say I’m not from the South, it sounds like I’m being derogatory about the South, but if I claim to be from the South, I’d be a poseur. It’s the most Southern part of the North and just above the most Northern part of the South. So whatever that is, that’s what I am. Yeah. Technically Northern.
Paste: Because in The Death of Dick Long and now in Culture Beat, you’ve played two spot-on Southerners.
Hyland: I think there is sort of an urban Appalachian Midwest character that has not been comedically utilized in a really fruitful way yet. I think outside of myself, the only other people I think are really doing it right are the Roughhouse guys, which is more literally on the Southern end of it. But this sort of Midwestern, urban Appalachian, you know, hanging in front of a convenience store kind of dude is just something I don’t see. And to shake my own stick, I feel like I do it well. And I’m surprised it hasn’t been done widely before in a good way, honestly.
Paste: Has the virtual nature of Sundance this year put a dent into your sales efforts?
Hyland: We’ll see. I think more people are seeing it, which is the good news. I personally have seen less this year, unfortunately, just because I think when I’m at a festival I’m there for seven days and I’m like, this is my life for seven days. So I’m digging in hardcore. Whereas I’m here and I just moved into a new place, and I’m doing press stuff and just, you know, life gets in the way more. But from other people I’ve spoken to that are distributors and this and that, they’ve seen a lot more stuff. So, you know, I think, and I’ve seen my piece, you know?
Sakurai: I was just coming off a shoot. So I actually haven’t engaged that much with the festival this year. Unfortunately. I would’ve loved to have seen so much more.
André: Shame, shame, shame. I watched every video, not only that made it in but the ones that were rejected, everything that was submitted I watched!
Sakurai: You watched the raw footage.
André: I watched the raw footage of everything.
Hyland: You saw the dailies of the rejected films.
André: All the dailies. Not even synced to sound.
Paste: Eric, I have to ask you a Righteous Gemstones question. How is it different walking onto somebody else’s show as an actor? I know that’s not the first time you’ve done that, but when you have done that in Gemstones episodes, trying to create a performance that fits into a painting that already is being painted versus painting the entire thing yourself.
André: Well, in some ways it’s easier because I don’t have to produce or write. I just have to rehearse my scenes and show up on time. But those guys are so good at what they do, Danny McBride and Jody Hill and then David Gordon Green and Brandon James, the Roughhouse guys are so smart and talented. And they’re so nice. They make you feel at ease. And I always felt like I was supported and in a nurturing environment and the whole cast was very nice and welcoming. Charleston, South Carolina is such a fun and welcoming and sweet town. I was well fed the whole time. I always felt like I could take as many takes as I wanted. I never felt rushed. And they also have a ton of money at HBO.
André: We could spend like a whole shoot day to just rehearse one scene and then shoot it the next day, which is not a luxury we have in The Eric André Show. So I felt very taken care of and spoiled. And they had such a distinct point of view and I was such a fan of Eastbound and Down and of Vice Principals and of the first season of Righteous Gemstones. It was actually quite easy to understand their POV and tap right into it, versus like something that’s a new project. So it was kind of one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on set.
Paste: Nice. Well guys, I’m, I’m looking forward to having another interview when this show gets picked up to series.
André: Hell yeah.
Sakurai: I’m down for that.
Hyland: Let’s do it.
Michael Dunaway is a writer, a filmmaker and an editor-at-large at Paste Magazine.