Eric André and Lil Rel Howery shuffled into an Atlanta barber shop seeking scissor-cutting help as their characters (best friends Chris and Bud) announced their groins were stuck together in a Chinese finger trap.
In full view of hidden cameras, the unamused barber searched for a weapon and brandished a knife, menacingly chasing the fleeing duo. And it got scary.
Even after a panicked exit, André was partly thrilled knowing this type of visceral reaction from an unsuspecting subject would be just the kind of scene to put “Bad Trip” into the league of unscripted comedy prank predecessors like “Borat” and “Bad Grandpa.”
“Part of my brain was like, ‘Wow, I could die right now.’ Another part of my brain goes, ‘This is going to be great footage,” says André, 37, speaking by Zoom from his Los Angeles home. “I felt the movie needed a couple of death-defying scenes to give it real stakes. To make it feel raw and intense.”
That’s the fun of the unapologetically improper “Bad Trip,” where real pranks are set around a story of two friends on a road trip to New York City.
That opening barber stunt was perhaps too edgy: Howery promptly quit the production. “He walked from the movie, we had to seduce him back,” says André.
But Howery not only returned, he brought his “Carmichael Show” co-star Tiffany Haddish with him. Lured by the prospect of more out-there pranks, she joined “Bad Trip” to play a Bud’s escapee sister in pursuit of the duo.
André, who voiced hyena Azizi in “The Lion King” and has appeared in comedies like 2017’s “Rough Night,” began pulling such raw, sometimes hazardous pranks in the surreal sketch comedy “The Eric Andre Show” on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim back in 2012. Moving up to a feature-length movie with the hijinx, with real budgets, was a major step up.
“I’ve had concussions, I’ve put my hands through glass requiring a bunch of stitches. The trials and tribulations of the ‘Eric Andre Show’ prepared me for this movie,” says André. “But I didn’t know what a stunt coordinator was before ‘Bad Trip,’ I didn’t know you can wear knee pads to fall on concrete.”
To safely pull off gags with an unsuspecting and unpredictable public, director Kitao Sakurai beefed up the security team. Headed by ex-law enforcement officials, the team used professional knowledge to scope out dangerous types and avoid them as marks for the pranks. Stunt coordinator Charles Grisham, a “Jackass” and “Punk’d” veteran, was also never far away from any group stunts and in constant contact with filmmakers watching the antics go down on multiple monitors.
The microphoned André had coded safe words, saying “popcorn” if he felt truly threatened for instant back-up.
“It’s such a stressful process because it’s the real world,” says Sakurai. “The benefits of doing something like this are also the dangers of it. Things are unpredictable. You’re working in a crowd with people that don’t even know they’re on camera. Really anything can happen.”
Even escape plans backfire in the moment. During a provocative incident in a bar, André infuriated one patron with his incessant, faux-drunken prodding.
“The guy did not think that was funny at all,” says André, who retreated when it got too heated. “But instead of saying ‘popcorn!’ I started saying ‘goosebumps, goosebumps!’ My security was like, ‘Are you saying it’s cold in here?’ And then I was like, ‘popcorn, popcorn!’ “
“Bad Trip” has its tough physical stunts as well, such as Haddish hanging André (safely secured with hidden lines) from a roof in front of shocked bystanders.
“I’m afraid of heights and I have a lot of anxieties. That was really scary for me,” says André, who was still thrilled to see the concerned crowd believing in his faux peril. “The people were so on the hook.”
But it was always the real people interaction that brought the most unpredictability and surprise risk. Even during a bizarre musical number in an Atlanta mall, one shopper tried to roundhouse the joyously dancing André. “It’s the most G-rated scene and this guy breaks out a Steven Seagal karate kick. I’m singing about love!” says André.
Surprisingly, he says, it’s the most aggressive marks who were quickest to laugh off the prank and sign the vital release form, allowing the filmmakers to use the scene in “Bad Trip.”
“All those guys, even the guy with the knife, was like, ‘Oh my God, you totally got me, man. When does this come out?’ ” says André. “Then he was like, ‘You’re just lucky I didn’t bring my gun to work.’ “