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Tim Heidecker reaches into the depths of his past on new album 'High School'

Tim Heidecker's <em>High School</em> offers a sincere look back to the funnyman's teen years.
Andrew Levy
Tim Heidecker's High School offers a sincere look back to the funnyman's teen years.

Maybe it's the pandemic, or maybe it's just growing up. But comedian and singer Tim Heidecker has been thinking about his teenage school days — pals, classes and all that after school nonsense — for his latest music project, the album High School.

As a comedian, Heidecker is often satirical, biting and a little bit crude, but that combination is not what we hear in his music. In his music there's humor and simple stories, many tinged with sweetness and regret. Heidecker spoke to NPR's Scott Simon about his new album, High School, skewering hacky comic culture and why he feels wistful for the days when you could just waste time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the broadcast version of this conversation, click the audio player at the top of this page.

Scott Simon, Weekend Edition: Why have you been thinking about high school?

Tim Heidecker: I wish I knew. I started writing a song called "Buddy" and I have a 5-year-old son and I call him "buddy." I think it started as a little song to him. You know, nobody wants to hear that.

I beg to differ. I'd like to hear it.

[Laughs] I'm not writing ["Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)"] John Lennon's ode to his son. But no — I had a very close friend from high school pass away. I started thinking about him in high school and how there were kind of signs. He died from years of alcohol abuse and how that kind of direct line from those teenage years kind of leads to who you become and who you are later in life. ... The thing that I kept thinking about was that life is really hard, even if it's easy for you. It's incredible, it's a miracle that you can get through those years in a lot of ways, you know? [Laughs]

There's a bit from another song, "What Did We Do With Our Time?" [that's] been playing over and over in my head. Let me ask you if you've been going through that at moments of great success and challenge, just sort of thinking, "My God, where did the time go?"

In this age of constant distraction and social media and the Internet and mobile devices, I was more thinking, what did we do with our time when we didn't have that? I long for that and I kind of am wistful for those days when wasting time was something you did. You know, you just drove around. Sometimes you go and just drive and listen to music or go to the parking lot and meet up with people. I feel just genuinely wistful and nostalgic for the ability to be able to do that again.

We think of that as wasting time, but was it wasting time or was it just kind of building towards a flame of something?

It's absolutely essential. If I'm creatively stuck I go on a walk and I don't put headphones in. I just walk around the neighborhood and every time something gets loosened up in my brain and the blood flows, so yeah, put it down.

Do you make up songs that you sing just for your children?

All the time. My daughter who's 8, she is very musical and I try to foster that and encourage that. And my son is into the potty words right now that, you know, I don't want to besmirch your show with.

I still enjoy a good potty song.

Oh I have plenty in my back catalog.

You're about to start touring the country as "the two Tims." One of course is the sincere, singer-songwriter ...

That's who you have today on your program.

And the other is kind of a crass comic. Is that fair to say?

He's crass and not "PC" and he's obnoxious and toxic and does not deserve an audience — does not belong on the stage.

How is this a reflection of the sincere Tim?

It came out of a very natural, fun place of seeing this in LA and seeing the open mic world of comedy and the hacky brick wall, stand-up comedian that anybody would bother to listen to what this person has to say. There is a sense that my audience, at least, sees this as being very popular in the world. And it doesn't make them laugh. It's confusing and alienating to them [laughs]. I love comedy, don't get me wrong. I think it's just when it's this kind of guy with a leather jacket prowling onstage, talking about his wife and high gas prices and stuff, where it's just like, are we really still interested in what these people have to say about anything?

How many Tims are there?

The mistake I made years ago — in the spirit of Andy Kaufman — was just never coming up with character names. Just going by myself, my own name. I think I could have done that differently, but here we are.

Is there something in high school that you would like us to keep in our hearts from those years?

In all my work and all the things I do, it's kind of for me. It's great that people like it and everything. It's something I just am compelled to do. But putting this record out, I've gotten such a nice reaction from guys my age saying thank you for this because it felt like you were talking about me and my friends and the shared experiences we had. In this time that we're in, where I think everything is so bifurcated and you can organize your media diet to get exactly what you and only you like, I think it's nice that there are shared experiences in culture — that we can all feel a little less alone.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Michael Radcliffe

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