Eric Andre and Lil Rel Howery, stars of Netflix’s Bad Trip, spoke about being Black in a genre Black people don’t usually participate in.
Most of the scenarios peppered throughout comedians Eric Andre and Lil Rel Howery’s road trip stunt comedy Bad Trip sound too real to be fake: an aggressive vacuum cleaner sucks off a worker’s clothes in the middle of a carwash; a concerned crowd gathers around a totaled pink sedan while two best friends argue and tussle like drunk festival goers squabbling over a porta-potty; an impromptu night out at a bar starts out awkward and ends in a drunken birthday song, a puddle of projectile vomit, and a sea of raised eyebrows. This is the brand of elaborately staged and controlled chaos Andre has made his name on for the last decade as the star of Adult Swim’s surrealist nightmare of a talk show The Eric Andre Show. For Rel — a Chicago-born actor who got his big break on scripted comedies like The Carmichael Show and in Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror smash Get Out — it was uncharted territory.
“At first, it was scary, right? The first day we almost got murdered,” Rel said via Zoom. “After a while, what I liked about it most was that, and I truly mean this, was the character work. I liked that we had to dive into whatever this world is.” For all its mayhem, Bad Trip (released on Netflix today, March 26th) isn’t an unwieldy prank-a-thon in the Jackass mold. Its set pieces are tied together with a plot involving best friends Chris (Andre) and Bud (Rel), who travel from Florida to New York City to surprise Chris’ high school crush at her new art gallery. To get there, the duo steals a hot pink sedan belonging to Bud’s convict sister Trina (Tiffany Haddish), who just so happened to break out of jail right before their trip, and angrily follows them to the Big Apple.
The film’s plot aligns it more with a movie like Bad Grandpa, whose action and pranks are driven by more than just masochistic glee and millions in studio money. Bad Trip has better luck than Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass spin-off, though, splitting the difference between the earnest fun of a scripted buddy comedy, and the over-the-top shenanigans of a feature length prank war. Andre and Rel’s relationship, and the ticking clock of Haddish’s revenge mission, adds just the right amount of stakes without diluting the ad hoc feeling of the movie. All three of the main actors face a difficult challenge in an environment where a bad line reading means more than having to strike the set and try again. Candid reactions toward stunts from random bystanders are the big draw here, and there are no second takes in real life. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.
The thrill of tinkering with real life is the driving force behind some of Bad Trip’s best scenes. When asked about their favorite moments while shooting, Andre jumped at the chance to talk about the aftermath of a car wreck that ends the movie’s second act.
“Rel and I were so in the moment and we had tears in our eyes and everyone bought it [laughs],” he explained. “That guy is so invested in these two strangers; he was pinning me up against a truck and begging me to stop and making excuses for my behavior to Rel like, ‘C’mon man, he’s got a concussion.’”
That reality is what pushes Bad Trip over the top: watching Andre be assaulted in an animal enclosure at a zoo, or Haddish prolonging a prison escape by over-thanking and hugging the construction worker who lets her out would be funny on its own, but it’s all about the horrified faces the camera lingers on during the action.
While watching this film it’s hard not to think of the implicit danger associated with harassing strangers on camera, and how Black actors don’t typically get the opportunity to make movies or shows like Bad Trip. (The sole exceptions are sketch comedy shows like Vernon Chatman’s Wonder Showzen and Odd Future’s Loiter Squad, which both faced their fair share of controversy.) Andre, Rel, and Haddish navigate the world differently than, say, Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O do. Black people have been attacked and killed for less in the United States, especially recently. When asked about the added pressures of making hidden camera comedy as Black men, they both take a moment to think about it.
“Aside from our added blood pressure?” Andre said with a laugh, with Rel adding shortly after: “I think that’s why this is a special movie because you haven’t seen people of color jump into this particular genre like that. I think Eric is brilliant because of that.”
His compliment segues into a story involving one of the movie’s most elaborate bits: a segment where Andre and Rel’s penises are stuck inside a Chinese finger trap. The duo frantically runs through the street, the toy stretching from both men’s pants as they flag down anyone within eyesight. They walk into a local barbershop, where one of the barbers immediately chases them out and down the street.
“He was so angry about it,” Rel recalled. “That’s why I love Black people so much; people were watching us walk down the street and talking to themselves like, ‘Yeah, I wish they would say something to me. Walking down here, nasty motherfuckers.’ Black people have a very unique way of reacting to things.”
Creating on the edge also gives an opportunity to see people at their best. The movie’s climax involves Haddish attempting to throw Andre off the roof of a tall building in front of patrons at a food truck. Most people either mind their business or make snide comments and keep walking, but a few try talking her down. While most people will come to Bad Trip because of the star power of its three leads, they’ll stay to gawk and shiver at the regular folks trapped with these maniacal ringmasters. Bad Trip finds the middle ground between comedy and reality and drives a hot pink sedan blasting the Golden Girls theme song straight through it.
Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a freelance writer, host of the Reel Notes podcast, and general geek at large whose writing can be found on Pitchfork, Audiomack, DJBooth, BET, and Complex, among other sites. He believes that Bow Wow walked so that we could all fly. You can follow him @CineMasai_