Trippin’ With Eric Andre and Lil Rel Howery

The ‘Bad Trip’ duo talk chemistry, almost dying on set, and the magic of Tiffany Haddish

“First of all, are you safe? It looks like somebody kidnapped you.”

Lil Rel Howery has just beaten me to the punch. Not to be outdone, Eric Andre quickly follows up with, “Blink twice if you’re in a hostage situation.”

We’re about 20 seconds into our conversation and we’re already laughing. I’ve forgotten the questions I’d prepared, let alone their sequence. But the laid-back air and laughter also confirm a suspicion I’ve had since watching the duo’s new film: These two have genuine chemistry.

That chemistry is the driving force behind Bad Trip, which lands on Netflix on March 26. Helmed by The Eric Andre Show director Kitao Sakurai and produced jointly with the team behind 2013’s Bad Grandpa, the film takes Andre’s brand of hidden-camera hijinks into feature-length territory. Much like that earlier project, all the pranks frame a central narrative.

“When the Jackass guys put out Bad Grandpa, it was the first kind of narrative hidden-camera prank movie I saw like that,” Andre says. “So my producer partners at the show linked up with the Jackass producers, and we started writing this idea together. It took a while, but we finally got it on its feet.”

Indeed. Initially delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Bad Trip is making its way to an audience that’s been stuck at home for more than a year, which makes the movie’s absurdist escapism—a throwback to the relatively carefree prank comedy of the early aughts and 2010s—a perfect fit. Andre explicitly points to Jackass and Da Ali G Show as influences. “I just wanted this to be the next level of that,” he says, “and a step up from my show. It’s a bigger and badder version of all the pranks I’ve seen done before, and more in my absurd comedy style.”

While Bad Trip wears its predecessors on its sleeve, the comedy is very much grounded in Andre’s signature style and the Black experience. One set piece sees Andre and Howery enter a space where they are the only two Black people, something every person of color has experienced. Other gags tackle the snitching and conspiracies, with one character attempting to enlist the help of strangers to track down their stolen car. The ensuing reactions are some of the movie’s best.

This diversity helps Bad Trip stand apart from other entries in the genre, something Andre says he’s pleased to accomplish. “I’m excited to have kind of the first Black cast do a hidden-camera prank show, because it’s such a White-dominated genre,” he says. “So it’s cool to have four people of color as the cast for this new prank movie.”

From Haddish ripping off a car door with her bare hands to a random stranger trying to break up a fight between Andre and Howery, ‘Bad Trip’ shines when its cast revels in the gag, riffing off each other and the reactions of bystanders.

Along with Lil Rel Howery, the film also features Tiffany Haddish, who stars as an escaped convict pursuing the top-billed duo along their trip. Fresh off her Grammy win, Haddish continues to command the attention in any scene. Considering the comedic chops of her co-stars and the absurdity that often defines the worlds Andre creates, this is no easy feat.

Similarly, Howery goes all in as the straight man, offering some counterbalance to Andre’s hyperkinetic presence. It’s a role that, according to Andre, was not without its challenges.

“The first day of filming, we almost got Rel killed,” he laughs. “So he called Tiffany Haddish, and he’s like, ‘I’m going to quit this movie because Andre is going to get me murdered.’ Tiffany called me later, and she goes, ‘Wow, you almost got Rel murdered? I want to be in your movie! I live for that shit.’ And that’s how it came together.”

And come together it did. With a solid performance by Michaela Conlin, all the pieces were in place to deliver some genuinely ridiculous pranks. From Haddish ripping off a car door with her bare hands to a random stranger trying to break up a fight between Andre and Howery, Bad Trip shines when its cast revels in the gag, riffing off each other and the reactions of bystanders.

And while the story is relatively bare-bones, Howery is quick to point out how important it is to have that narrative setup for each prank.

“I mean, I fell in love with the character work of it because you had to own those characters,” he says. “That’s the only way these pranks gon’ work.”

What’s most impressive is that the jokes never feel like they’re punching down. For the most part, the bystanders feel like an extension of the comedy. “We had some beautiful, hysterical moments,” Howery says. “Like Eric says, yeah, we in the movie, but the real people we’re pranking are the stars. They were hilarious, they were real, and that’s what makes this movie work.”

Indeed, the honest reactions to even to the actors’ performances are what really solidify Bad Trip as a solid good time. It manages to pick up the torch carried by the Jackass team and carve out its own space.

Miguel is based out of Puerto Rico. When not on an adventure you can find him typing away. https://miguelanthonymachado.wixsite.com/wordsbymiguel

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