In a lot of ways, comedian Eric André and rapper Vince Staples are opposites. The 33-year-old André has disheveled Sideshow Bob hair and a feral disposition that make his eponymous Adult Swim show a must-watch spectacle unlike anything else on cable TV, equal parts parody and acid trip. While most late night entertainment panders and indulges celebrities, The Eric Andre Show, which just finished its fourth season, has a passive-aggressive relationship with its guests. In one memorable 2014 episode, reality TV star Lauren Conrad walked off set in the middle of an interview after André vomited on his desk and vacuumed up the mess with his mouth.
Staples, on the other hand, comes across as calculated and composed, both in person and on record. The 23-year-old Los Angeles rapper’s biting, acerbic style made his debut studio album, Summertime ’06, one of the most heralded and thought-provoking projects of 2015. His latest release, the Prima Donna EP, earned similar acclaim. But Staples makes as many headlines for his hilarious observations in interviews and on social media as he does for his music. Likewise, André is a comedian, but he graduated from the Berklee College of Music before his stand-up career took off. And both Staples and André will never shy away from making anyone—whether a fan or critic—uncomfortable.
Together, on an afternoon in Los Angeles, these two brought the best of both worlds to a candid conversation on performance, the future, and the 2016 election.
Complex: Music and stand-up comedy force both of you to regularly take the stage. Is performing fun for you, or is it more of a chore?
Staples: Define fun.
Are you personally fulfilled by performing?
Staples: I don’t think I’ve ever been personally fulfilled performing. It’s kind of a challenging thing; it’s more of a sacrifice for the people that I love, the people that pay for the tickets that buy the nice things. So, we’re doing it for them. It’s not about me.
André: I think it’s show by show. If the crowd is full of assholes, it’s no fun. If the crowd is cool, it’s great.
Staples: What’s your favorite concert that you’ve been to?
André: I saw the Roots play at Florida Atlantic University when I was 16. It was literally, like, in a backyard. It was a $10 show, and there were free chicken wings and subs and I was so high, wolfing them down. No one knew who the Roots were at the time, and Questlove was doing drum solos—everybody was doing fucking solos—and it was me and 10 people. I also saw Beastie Boys at Madison Square Garden and I had floor seats and they were fucking phenomenal. Method Man and Redman—they were great. I saw Wu-Tang and Rage Against the Machine in 1997.
Staples: Did anybody smoke crack onstage?
André: No, I wish. I will smoke crack before I die. I want to see what all the hubbub is about.
Staples: Smoke it with RZA. He has amazing crack stories.
Staples: The most amazing crack stories—and I’ve heard a lot of crack stories. I heard a RZA crack story, up close and personal, over a platter of 100 chicken wings that only him and his friend ate. It was a good day.
"All the rhinos are dead, for the most part. I think that’s really sad. We Need New Animals." —Vince Staples
Celebrity subjects the both of you to your fair share of criticism. How do you deal with people attacking you online?
Staples: I do not care. Why does it matter what somebody else has to say? Do you care? What if you told the dude at Target, “You bag my groceries horribly.” Do you think he’ll be like, “Fuck, my life is over”? They don’t care; it’s just a job, it’s not that serious. It’s just the Internet.
André: I care a lot; I’m very sensitive. I’m an Aries. I need everybody to like me. I’m insecure, and I need the validation of strangers to feel whole. So, I need every single racist 12-year-old on the Internet to like me, or I don’t feel complete.
Staples: How many “niggers” do you get a day?
André: [Laughs.] Several. I’d say several. How many n-bombs are dropped? It depends on what I post.
Staples: But, see, there are different types of n-bombs. You have the nuclear n-bomb, which is like, “Nigger, go back to Africa.” You have the n-car bomb, which is like, “Yo, wassup, nigga? When are you comin’ to Iowa?”
André: [Laughs.] It’s a spectrum. I think I get the entire spectrum.
Staples: I also saw The Revenant, and they were calling Native Americans “tree niggers,” and that is not cool. I’ve been wanting to say that on-camera for a minute. Motherfuckers are mad at Quentin Tarantino, but you can call someone a “tree nigger” when you’ve murdered almost all of their people? That’s not cool. Let’s not pick on Quentin Tarantino when you’re calling someone a “tree nigger,” because I don’t know if that’s actually a term. I definitely feel like that’s something they made up for that movie. Quentin Tarantino shot a fucking movie with cowboys in Wyoming and they’re saying “nigger” over there, and at this very second, someone just said “nigger” inside of a liquor store or inside of a Cracker Barrel. That just happened right now. I’m not sure they were calling Native Americans “tree niggers.” That sounds like some new shit.
André: They were freestyling pejoratives.
Eric, you’ve been known to respond to criticism on Instagram and Twitter.
André: Yeah, I go in.
Do you read the comments?
André: Yeah, I do.
Staples: Everybody reads the comments.
André: You do because you’re like a kid with a sore tooth—you have got to touch it. You can’t get too mad; it’s just lunatics. A lot of them are overwhelmingly positive. Nobody that’s talking shit about you on the Internet would say it to your face.
Staples: When you respond to most people who have something negative to say, they just want you to say something to them: “Oh shit, bruh, I didn’t think you’d reply, I fucking love you!”
André: Yeah, I get that all the fucking time. I go in on them, and then, “I was just joking man, I love your stuff!”
Staples: People have an overbearing need to project their inward doubt and hatred and emotions onto the outside world. I’ve had a lot of people online say they’re going to kill me at my shows. A lot of people say they’re going to punch me in the face—never happened. It’s just people being sad because their life sucks. I feel bad for those people; everybody deserves a right to be happy. But people just look at the wrong thing. We’ve made it so that you have to be special or a celebrity or some shit like that [to be happy]. It’s awful. A shitload of people feel like there’s no value in being an actual human being or a regular person. We’re all alive and doing okay and could be worse, but we make it seem like if you’re not an entertainer or an actor or someone with a high social profile on the Internet that your life is fucking worthless. So, you can’t really get mad at them. They’re going through something.
"I think we give human beings too much credit. We’re primates, you know." —Eric André
When you think about the future, how do you see things playing out? Any predictions?
Staples: All the rhinos are dead, for the most part. I think that’s really sad. At this point I’m holding onto the pandas. I’m trying to see what the penguin numbers are, what the elephant numbers are, because they’re all dead. Shit’s crazy. They’re all dead. We need new animals. It’s like Pokémon.
André: Going through animal withdrawal.
Staples: We need to make new animals. [We’re] running out of water. Earth is melting. We all want to kill each other for no apparent reason. We’re all arguing over money, even though we just print it. The world sucks, man. But Tesla does have a mid-size sedan now, and that’s very important to the future.
Speaking of the world ending, let’s talk about the election. How do you guys imagine Donald Trump’s America compared to Hillary Clinton’s America?
André: I think that Donald Trump is a fucking nightmare. If Donald Trump becomes president I’m gonna join fucking ISIS. I’m gonna be the first Jew in ISIS. I think that we put too much weight on who the president is. The president is the country’s scapegoat more than the country’s leader; the president has as much power as we think the president has. Whoever has the most money is the puppet master.
Staples: I don’t care at all. I don’t know the difference from one president to the next. I know when we get a new black police chief. I know when the prison laws change. I know when they change the sentence you can get from gun charges. I know when [juvenile sentencing bill] SB-260 and [drone regulation bill] SB-262 pass. I don’t fucking care who the president is. We can pretend that we’ve all been drastically affected by these things, but unless we’re talking money, I don’t really know what the fuck is different. It’s first-world problems. “Oh, Donald Trump is stupid!”
What issues are important to you guys this election?
Staples: The ones that actually affect people who don’t have enough money to change them—which is almost everybody. But that has nothing to do with the president. For the most part, it’s state law getting motherfuckers killed, not the president. We have bad things happen, but it’s not like Syria, which we ignore and pretend doesn’t happen. We’ve got it pretty good, no matter who the president is, to be honest.
André: Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel like we put all the weight on the president, rather than distributing the weight to all of the elected officials. You can’t really feel the direct change from one president to another versus people closer to you in local elections.
Staples: Exactly. All my friends and family are either in prison or don’t make enough money. I don’t know what the president really does. I haven’t been able to experience that kind of shift yet.
André: I think it’s a combination of both. There’s two sides to the coin. I think I’m much happier that Obama won over John McCain or Mitt Romney, because I think Obama did something culturally for the country. But I also know Barack Obama is drone-bombing Pakistan, [and] two percent of drone attack victims are militants, while the other 98 percent are just Pakistani civilians. Little kids and shit.
Do you fear the future?
Staples: I wouldn’t say I fear the future. You can fear the future, but when has the world not been fucked up? I think the world is just fucked up. I don’t see anything that’s happening that’s new. If anything, it’s getting better. We should focus on the things that are bad that we can immediately control, because people are always going to be people.
André: I can’t tell if the world is worse now or if we just have more cameras. There are cameras everywhere, so now the world knows how bad the world is. I think we give human beings too much credit. We’re primates, you know.
Staples: We give people way too much credit. People just get crazy. People been killing each other since forever and hurting each other since forever and taking advantage of each other since forever.
André: Do you think we’re going to hit a tipping point and the world’s going to end?
Staples: Well, everything’s going to end eventually. I don’t know if we’re rushing it or making it faster.
André: Yeah, it’s not looking good. I think if nuclear weapons got in the wrong hands, we’d be fucked. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in my lifetime. It’s hard to say. I didn’t really anticipate such a deep conversation for Complex magazine, I’m gonna be honest with you. I’m trying to answer these questions like I’m Noam fucking Chomsky. I have a fucking useless music degree and I’m on an 11-minute show that comes on at four in the morning during boner commercials. So, yes. The world is gonna end. Watch The Eric Andre Show, Fridays on Adult Swim, and buy Vince’s music. Or stream it! We’re fucking nihilists. Do you like us more? Are we doing a good job at promoting our shit? We’re fucking misanthropes and we think the world’s gonna end.