Hard ’n’ Phirm: The Phirman Principle of Comedy

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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).

That Other Paper What came of the HBO talks?

Hard We had HBO talks? How’d they go? Are we on there now?

Phirm Chris and I talked it over and we decided to go ahead and get HBO.

TOP Chris, what’s the status of Blood Pudding, the comedy album you were working on with Rob Zombie?

Hard 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. 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.

photo courtesy Hard ’n’ Phirm 

TOP You were in talks with an unnamed feature film to use one of your songs. What’s the status of that?

Phirm 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.

TOP How’s the new album coming along?

Phirm 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.

Hard 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. 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 LA comedy scene, so I’m sure it won’t interfere with Hard ’n’ Phirm’s sophomore songpile. (Maybe that should be the title).

TOP Where can your music be heard?

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.

TOP Chris, tell me about the character you will be voicing in the TV adaptation of Nickelodeon’s Barnyard.

Phirm Yeah, Chris, tell him.

Hard Alright, Mike. I will, then. Well, it’s like the film version of 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.

TOP How would you compare yourself to Otis?

Hard 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.

Phirm 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.

TOP What’s something that you’d like to see anthropomorphized and given its own feature length film?

Hard Corn.

Phirm 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 while reading a discarded copy of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Eight Weeks to Optimum Health.

TOP What do you think of The Secret?

Hard 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!”

Phirm I thought it was all garbage until I watched the DVD while listening to the soundtrack from Lake House. Now I totally get it.

TOP The Secret has a lot in common with Amway. Have you ever had any encounters with Amway?

Hard The Church of Scientology offered to test my personality once. Does that count?

Phirm Unless they now look and act just like us, no.

TOP Ever been the victim of a scam?

Hard Probably.

Phirm 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 Department 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.”

TOP What is your comedy philosophy?

Phirm 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. (From 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.

Hard Midget dressmakers are in short supply.

TOP Do you think bad comedians know that they’re bad?

Phirm 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.”

Hard 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.

TOP Since comedy is so subjective, what are some indications of good and bad comedy?

Phirm 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).

Hard 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.

TOP What do you think of slapstick and physical comedy?

Hard 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!

Phirm 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.)

TOP What’s your opinion on hubris?

Hard I don’t care for it. Not that hubris gives a rat’s ass. (I shall now “boo” myself.)

Phirm 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.

TOP Do you think that comedy, music, or art in general can change the world?

Hard Absolutely. It’s impossible that it wouldn’t. All of those forms of expression are based on emotions, and emotions drive us to act.

Phirm 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…)

TOP Given the opportunity, how would you change the world?

Phirm Make this interview one question shorter.

Hard I’d make it egg-shaped. Like in Howard the Duck.

TOP What should people expect from HnP from the future?

Phirm Well, let’s just say that we’ll be recording more “music” and doing more “shows” for “people.”

Hard 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, if anyone gives a care.

TOP What do you expect from the world in the future, in terms of politics, technology, and entertainment?

Hard President Jokebot!

Phirm Lots of regret. Lots of air conditioners. Good comedy.


More Mess with Texas coverage

Read more interviews with comics appearing at this year’s Mess with Texas party.