Naked
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Naked

Behind The Story: Eric Andre for President

Written by James Rickman. Photography by Millicent Hailes.

This being Playboy, our Eric Andre story started with nudes.

It was late summer 2019. We had closed the last issue of our first year as a quarterly magazine, luxuriating in our bigger trim size, higher page count and nicer paper stock, and we were gradually ramping up the visual component of each story. When Eric Andre’s publicists approached us about potential coverage pegged to his movie Bad Trip, I proposed what I thought was a concept that both Eric and our creative team could get into — a concept inspired in part by a recent story in our Heritage section about the surprisingly rich history of naked men in Playboy magazine.

Here’s how I phrased it in an e-mail:

“Simply put, we’re thinking beautiful nudes of Eric. Needless to say, there’s a whole lot of Andre nudes out there, but I haven’t seen any that were shot in a studio, in B&W, something like the less extreme side of Robert Mapplethorpe.”

This was politely declined. Given the many nude selfies of Eric that exist online and the fact that he’s constantly exposing himself on his Adult Swim series The Eric Andre Show (stripping in front of Flavor Flav, greeting Jimmy Kimmel with his dick hanging out of his suit pants, spreading his bare cheeks while Tyler, the Creator sheds gentle tears), another round of nudes was deemed a little too “on the nose.”

I sent over three more ideas, including this one:

“Back in 2016 we did a mock political campaign w/Andrew W.K.; could discuss a similar approach with Eric, e.g. what he would do/change as President of the U.S.” (True story: Our 2016 announcement of W.K.’s “Party Party” went viral, with a surprising number of Americans believing or at least wanting it to be real.)

The reps passed this along to Eric and forwarded me his response: “I’m running for president 2020 so this is perfect.”

This is the only story I’ve ever put together that began with talent and editor having the same idea. Usually the process starts with weeks of both parties feeling their way toward a concept everyone likes. This one came out fully formed — though the story took several in-depth calls and e-mails, one sweaty Korean barbecue outing and the most insane shoot I’ve ever witnessed.

On the last Saturday of August, I was cramming my stuff into a moving van when I started getting texts from a strange number.

James?

It’s Eric A

Wussup!

I’m gonna run for president in 2020

On a new party

Called The Cool Party

My slogan is: No Policies. Just attitude

We set up a call. The next day, still mid-move, I sat in my car with a notebook pinned against the steering wheel and scribbled notes as we talked. Ideas started forming, helped along by comparisons to the political campaigns of Jello Biafra, Abbie Hoffman and Howard Stern, as well as Andy Kaufman’s stint as a trash-talking pro wrestler.

Later, via text, I pushed the tasteful-nude concept once more.

“I’ll only do nudity if you videotape me taking a shit on my desk in slow motion. 120 fps,” he replied.

Over the next two weeks we shaped the Q&A part of the story. I watched Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes, Firing Line and Megyn Kelly interviewing Trump on Fox. I wrote a slew of questions while attempting to channel Morley Safer.

Eric was in the middle of his Legalize Everything stand-up tour, selling out and adding shows all over the world. He called from a hotel room in Ireland and a busy street in Vancouver, and during a quick stop in L.A. we met face-to-face for a formal interview. Formal may be the wrong word: I met him at a nail salon, where a manicurist had just finished removing fake tanner from his nails — an artifact of The Eric Andre Show’s season four shoot. From there we got in my car and headed to his favorite Korean barbecue restaurant.

On the way, he reclined the passenger seat, his fatigue briefly palpable. We talked about Mr. Show and ska. I asked him about his meditation practice. Otherwise we listened to Fugazi and nosed our way through Hollywood. It was a hot day, and he was dressed for summer. I was wearing jeans and a flannel, which I regretted once we started eating.

“You’re falling to pieces over there,” he told me with a loud, staccato laugh after our mains had arrived. Chunks of eel hissed on the grill embedded in our table. I squinted through the smoke. “You look like you’re being interrogated!”

This is supported by the audio recording. My voice grew weaker as I sipped my way through a searing bowl of curry. Eric, rejuvenated, ran through my questions. He also chatted with some fans sitting at an adjacent table and quizzed our waiter. Favorite exchange:

ERIC: Where do you get the eel from?

WAITER: Uh, I don’t know. From the sea.

A month later, Eric, several members of our creative team and I got on a call to plan the shoot. My notes from that call include the items “Behind a podium.… ‘Vote for me!’ Then podium explodes in slow motion and we see that he’s Winnie the Poohin’ it, i.e. top but no pants,” and Eric’s thoughts on the Cool Party flag: “Maybe the flag has Oakleys. A vape pen. Dreadlocks. The peace sign. Pizza. Coachella tickets. And a ying yang.”

Almost two months after we confirmed the concept, the shoot day arrived. We had enlisted photographer Millicent Hailes, who shot Tim and Eric for our September/October 2017 issue (re-envisioning them as Hall & Oates), and our team had organized the construction of three sets at a studio complex downtown. Eric was to pose and ad-lib in each of them while we captured stills and video in tandem. Time was tight.

Back in town again for a few days in the middle of his ever-expanding tour, Eric joined us mid-morning. He looked exhausted, which made it all the more impressive when he emerged from wardrobe an hour later wearing a jacket and tie and a white button-up tucked into a pair of underpants with a bald eagle on the crotch. He had become the leader of the Cool Party.

The first setup was a podium flanked by flags. (He wrapped himself in one of them while singing Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”) Millicent fed him questions, and Eric kicked his bare legs, jabbed the air with a giant foam finger and jerked off two microphones.

The third setup was the most elaborate: a detailed reconstruction of the Oval Office, including a Styrofoam replica of the Resolute Desk built by the set designer for The Eric Andre Show — whose episodes begin with an empty talk-show set that Eric promptly destroys while getting tased, beating up a leprechaun, re-creating the Flashdance bucket shot, etc. But before he attacked our desk, Eric dumped a mountain of baby powder on its surface and mock snorted it, Scarface-style. A makeup artist stepped in and applied fake blood to his upper lip.

We ran over our allotted time. I had sworn to Eric’s reps that we wouldn’t keep him past three p.m. I am made of weaker stuff than our photo team and assumed Eric would simply walk off set at the top of the hour, leaving a wake of baby powder and fake blood. But he kept going, pushing himself, raving, kicking things over, pausing to pose thoughtfully with a leather-bound book and finally crashing feet-first through the desk, which, covered as it was with all that powder, sent a white, sweet-smelling cloud through the room.

Eric went back on the road. We closed the issue. By the time copies arrived at the office we were grinding away on the next one, barely pausing to look back on what we’d done. Revisiting the whole thing now, I’m amazed at the level of creative investment from Eric’s side and our own. And amazed that I heard a colleague toss out the idea of Eric fellating the Washington Monument and then actually saw that idea come to life. And amazed most of all that, though editors are usually lashed to their desks (which are made of wood and metal and impervious to body slams) and the creative team spends countless hours ensuring that nothing goes wrong, we get to do stuff like this for a living.

And my mom has become a huge fan, though she still calls him “Eric Andres.”

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