Andre Hyland boasts a substantial online following through his sketch-comedy character Jesse Miller — dude loves Monster Energy drinks and button-up shirts with tribal flame designs — but that’s not what has people buzzing about the Cincinnati native nowadays. Last year, Hyland showed a more grounded comic presence with his Sundance Film Festival selected short film Funnel, about a guy traversing a frozen Midwestern wasteland to find automotive fluid for his broken-down car, and this year he’s back at the world-famous movie fest with a feature titled The 4th. While few comedians ever manage to find ways to evolve, Hyland’s progression and versatility has been accepted with open arms at Sundance. CityBeat sat down with Hyland to discuss Jesse Miller, The 4th and his fond memories of terrible movies.
CityBeat: Your Jesse Miller material seems like it’s from a different universe than The 4th and Funnel. What compels you to tap into two very different kinds of comedy?
Andre Hyland: I feel like every two years I get completely sick of what I’m doing. Not in a bad way. Imagine eating the same thing for two years. You just have to do something different. Like with Funnel, I was afraid it wouldn’t work, that it might be too self-indulgent. But when it worked out I was like, “Oh my god. I can tell all these different stories and I don’t have to wear a damn costume!” I mean, I like costumes and stuff, but it just opened up so many different things.
CB: We interviewed you when Funnel was a Sundance selection, and you mentioned that character-driven films like Boogie Nights and The Big Lebowski sparked an interest in filmmaking. Was there an inspirational piece of comedy at some point that got you thinking specifically about comedy?
AH: I’d say Ghostbusters. Another one, and this is probably really typical, was SNL. Letterman was an influence. But I guess for something more personal than that, I loved bad movies — B-movies and cable access. Dude, Blood Suckers from Outer Space. That one. Wow. What a terrible movie! We rented it from a video store when I was a kid and it ended up getting stuck under the backseat in my mom’s van, so it cost us 40 bucks or something, but it was totally worth it. Then there was another movie that we found in high school called Feeders made by a pair of twins from Pennsylvania. It was so bad. I remember when I got in a car crash in high school my mom let me pick out a video from the rental place, and Feeders was the pick. It was an easy choice. So, mostly, it’s things that I found to be stupid.
CB: Was The 4th shot on a micro-budget?
AH: Oh yeah. Totally shoestring. It was great, too, because I didn’t want to psyche myself out about it. I mean, it’s going to be as good or bad as it is, anyway. And the worst thing that could happen is it sucks. (Laughs) And I’d rather have it suck when it’s on a low budget because if it’s on a big budget, people might say, “Hm, I don’t think we should give this guy money to make stuff again.” But it worked out great. I didn’t have anyone to answer to.
CB: Would you prefer working with no one to answer to as opposed to a bigger budget?
AH: Yeah. Absolutely. Even if the producers I would work with would be nice or great or whatever, it’s just easier not having anyone to run things by. And I’m not trying to sound like I’m on some sort of ego trip, like, “I don’t answer to anybody!” It’s just a matter of, creatively, there can be a lot of disconnect when you’re working with too many people. It’s just less people you have to articulate the vision in your head to before you make it happen. It’s not like I didn’t run things by people for my own good, for the good of The 4th, but I got to edit in my own house. I had the privilege of my producer being as hands-off as possible, and that was the strategy from the beginning. So it’s a much purer expression with no one to answer to. I mean, imagine painting and every once in awhile you look over your shoulder and say, “OK, guys, what do you think? Have any notes?”
CB: Do you see the two halves of your comedy brain — the absurd and the personal — converging at all in The 4th?
AH: Yeah, my character is sort of in Funnel-mode in The 4th. I’m playing a very grounded character — kind of me, but not me — while all the other characters I run across are more or less the annoying characters that I would have portrayed in the past.
CB: So you’re sort of the straight man in The 4th?
AH: That’s probably a good way to put it. It’s my character experiencing the idiots and the goofballs instead of me being the idiot or the goofball. It’s more like the audience is with me, along for the ride, seeing all the idiots. But, I mean, my character is kind of an idiot too, in his own way.
CB: We’re all idiots, right?
AH: Exactly. You know, it’s funny, people are always like, “Ugh, I’m not going to that bar, it’s full of douchebags!” But I bet that the bar we usually hang out at is where all the douchebags go to someone else. We’re all douchebags to somebody.
CB: We haven’t seen The 4th yet, but it seems similar to the Funnel in that it is a sort of anti-epic.
AH: Yeah, similar to Funnel, it’s like this pathetic odyssey. I mean, not for the audience — for the character. In Funnel, you pick up after his car has broken down, and you’re hearing a re-telling of most of his day on the phone, but you only see part of the adventure, whereas with The 4th you get to see the experience that the character would tell someone on the phone later. And the adventure is still stupid and lame. And I mean that in a good way. (Laughs) Go see my movie, it’s stupid and lame! No — the movie is entertaining. The main character is just having a dumb, lame experience.