Tim & Eric On Writing The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Buy
The unhinged comedy duo bludgeon life’s big questions in Tim & Er’c's Zone Theory.
If you ask one of their flock, comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are two of the greatest Western thinkers of our time. On their late night Adult Swim series Tim & Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!, the two have mined a strain of self-destructive slapstick so absurdist that it barely scans as television for first-time viewers. It's fitting, then, that after five seasons, a spinoff, and a feature length film, Tim and Eric have spent two years and 400 pages of Google Docs putting their philosophy to paper once and for all.
Tim & Eric's Zone Theory, available today, uses self-help jargon and surrealist imagery to guide readers through optimizing their seven "zones": food, poems, health, love, business, family, and friendship. As followers master these zones, the faux-gurus claim, their lives will immeasurably improve; tasks include regularly weighing your brain, wrestling nude with your friends, and murdering your entire family. It's a send up of Scientology culture so twisted that only they could pull it off. To celebrate the release, I sat with Tim and Eric to question, critique, and ultimately fully accept the Zone Theory into my life and all the lives of the people I love.
What exactly is the Zone Theory?
TIM: The Zone Theory is a seven-step process to change your life, so you can live a perfect life. You can be happier and healthier.
ERIC: You can achieve happiness within seconds.
TIM: As soon as you finish the damn book, you’re done.
Which takes seconds.
TIM: It does take seconds, many seconds.
ERIC: It’s all about getting to Zone Plane 8, which is success, happiness, love.
TIM: Spiritual nirvana.
ERIC: You go through each of these seven zones, and then align those zones. Go through your life and fixing a few things and connect them.
You guys wear many different hats. What made you do a book?
TIM: [Rubs fingers and thumb together indicating money] There’s a big market in this kind of crap. The more we can, I don’t want to say "take advantage" of our audience, but exploit them, and give them the concept that there’s a way to make their life better, give them that false hope, the better.
Did you consult other self-help literature in the writing of the book?
TIM: We went to the Goodwill, which is where a lot of these end up, just to get a sense of length, height, weight of these books, so we could have some benchmarks to try to hit.
ERIC: I actually grew up in a cultish kind of environment. My parents were a part of this weird cult. A lot of stuff with health, a lot of strange food, so this is a play off of my childhood. It was a dark childhood. I put the darkness that happened to me into the book.
I didn’t want to throw out the c-word, but a lot of people might say that the Zone Theory resembles a cult. Is that what this is?
TIM: Cults have gotten a bad rap because of Charles Manson and people like that, but another word for “cult” is “club.” It’s almost the same word.
ERIC: A part of the process is you do need to evangelize. You need to get at least twenty new friends to come into the club. That is a cult-y kind of thing, because you have to abide by these principles for the rest of your life. So we’re not afraid of the c-word, as long as it’s beneficial. There’s no real violence, except there is a human sacrifice, a little murder that you have to do.
TIM: We have an expression we say about cults. “'Cult', thanks for all your time, T, but we’re going to bring in B, and now we have 'club.' Just a little mention to the T, thank you, be on your way, adios. Push him out, bring in that B, move the L, switch the L and the U, and you’re set."
The Zone Theory seems to be explicitly written for and designed for men. As we move toward a more equal, inclusive society, how do you guys expect to promote literacy in women if you write a book explicitly made for men?
TIM: We’re not against women reading in general. We’re very equal rights in that regard. We encourage women to buy the book. We think there’s nothing more valuable for them to do than to own the book. They just can’t read it. Just because it’s not designed for them, it’s designed for men, only. So they should buy the book and give it to their husband, their friends, coworkers, uncles, parents—fathers, nephews.
ERIC: We’re also very close to hitting the New York Times best seller list. Once we do and we receive our bonuses, which are very high, we plan to do Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory for Women.
TIM: Again, not to sound cynical or exploitive, but the idea is to sell two books. Get the male audience to buy the first book and then the female audience will just be ready to go into the Zone Theory for Women. It’s financially more advantageous for us. Between you and me, the Zone Theory does work for women. But for that second book to come, we kind of have to play that it doesn’t. So that we can make that second book for women, and then change the He’s to She’s and then we’re set.
ERIC: It’s a lot of marketing, sales, marketing, sales.
TIM: We’re strategic in that department.
Can we expect to see any of the Zone Theory pop up in TV or film?
TIM: We’re talking with a couple of production companies. We’ve obviously made TV shows, it’s been very exciting to do that. But what we’re looking to do is establish a network, the Zone Network. That will be a 24-hour cable channel that will focus on Zone Principles. Of course, there will be a Zone Mass in the morning, programs that are designed to appeal to Zone Plane 6s and above.
ERIC: Zone Plane 1s come in, they work with us, and by the end, most people can’t tackle the challenges. One person will go to Zone Plane 8, and have to do a human sacrifice. Bravo is very interested.
TIM: The only thing that’ll trouble that deal is if we get the Zone Network, in which case that show would be on ZTV. We’re not going to do a show on Bravo when we could own the content.
Have you heard testimonials from people who’ve gotten a lot out of the program? What are you seeing from your subjects?
TIM: I got a call from Howie Mandel this morning. 6AM. He says, “I just finished the book, I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be healthier. It’s a game changer.” He’s giving up comedy, he’s giving up judging and touring, and he’s strictly focusing on studying Zone Theory and becoming a Zone Minister. I applaud Howie for that.
ERIC: I actually have to call Howie back. His son wants to do a music video and wants Tim & Eric to direct. His son is a big house guy. This may be good for FADER. Maybe you know of him?
I don’t, no. But, branching out, that’s great for you guys. We have hot dog pizzas, iPhones, Nicki Minaj, so many awesome things in the world right now, but people still feel shitty enough to pay you guys to fix their lives. Why do you think people are still so sad?
ERIC: I think people have been searching for help in all different places. They’ll go on the internet: “Why do I have this problem? Why does my stomach hurt every morning?” So now we’ve put it all into one book. It’s a boiling down, no longer will you need to look up anything. It’s just seven zones.
TIM: Life has become complicated. Like all the things you said. What internet service provider should I be involved with?
ERIC: Do I go HBO GO, or HBO Now?
TIM: Do I need unlimited data? Should I run that yellow light?
ERIC: Is Tinder okay for celebrities?
TIM: Should I feed my dogs once or twice a day? What’s the school of thought on that? Should I wash my dishes once or twice in the dishwasher? I didn’t even have a dishwasher at that point. So we’ve distilled it down to just the shit you need to know. The things that matter. So you can throw every other book away, no need to go looking up lifehacks, log offline.
Images courtesy Tim & Eric.