On their tour to promote Super Troopers 2, the Broken Lizard crew stopped in Boston and made time for a few interviews among other activities. Speaking with them (minus Jay Chandrasekhar), I got to find out a few things about their newly released comedy while also touching on their previous picture that earned them a passionate fanbase hoping for the follow-up that’s seventeen years in the making. During that time, I got a chance to talk to them about the film, the journey to getting it made and much more.
CINEMATIC ESSENTIAL: What was it like being together on a movie set for the first time in years?
Steve Lemme: We’ve known each other for so long that it’s like we’ve been doing it for many, many years. So it was kind of old hat.
Kevin Heffernan: It was just a matter of growing mustaches and putting the uniforms on and you’re right back into it.
Lemme: We’ve done these characters before, so it wasn’t like we were trying something different. It was like slipping a foot back into a nice comfortable slipper.
Paul Soter: I think that’s what a lot of people like about the film: Is the easy familiarity. And that’s from the fact that we’ve been buddies for almost thirty years, so for us it’s just hanging out with the buddies again.
Lemme: There’s a lot of BS, like just now, Paul was talking and Kevin was pouring his water and you’ll probably hear it on the microphone. We were reminded of a great story when he had our first test screenings back in March. Kevin had the great idea to bring his phone, so we could hear where the laughs were, so we could bring that into the editing room and line it up against the movie. Because people would have different interpretations of certain jokes. But I was sitting next to Kevin and I had my nachos. And it takes a while to get through a plate of nachos and the first thirty minutes of the tape is just me crunching nachos.
Soter: And then you hear Kevin and you’re like “What the f*ck are you doing eating nachos?” And he’s like “I was hungry!” So between that and the nachos, you couldn’t hear anything.
Does the fact that you’ve played these roles before make it easier?
Soter: Yeah, because it’s always the hardest thing in any movie. Coming up with ideas is something we can do al day. Writing jokes, we can do it all day, but always with us that trick is five guys with five different voices. If you read it on paper and you haven’t really distinguished different voices, people read the script and it’s just a bunch of talk. In this case, everybody had that voice established. That’s the hardest part.
Heffernan: Then you hit the ground running and just worry about the bits and the jokes and stuff.
Lemme: Although I think that contributed to the insanity of Farva (Heffernan) in Super Troopers 2, because anytime we had like an un-pc line or an obnoxious line, we just give it to Farva. And as a result, all he says is un-pc and obnoxious sh*t. He’s a little more unhinged in this movie.
I know there were a lot of rewrites. How much of the script actually made it into the film?
Heffernan: We like to shoot the script definitely. We spend a lot of time cracking jokes and we’ll improv in rehearsal and put lines in that way, but when you bring the new players in, they want to have fun and that’s a good thing too. So Will Sasso is one of the great improvisers around and you can’t not improvise with him. And that kind of led to that Danny DeVito scene which was not into the thirty drafts of the script. We wrote that scene the day before, and as we’re shooting it we’re like, “There’s no way it will be in the movie.” Then the first time we showed it to an audience, they laughed.
Lemme: Usually that’s the kind of riff where it’s hilarious to us at the moment when we’re stoned and the you chalk it up to being high. In this case, there was still that feeling of ‘Was this just something that was funny to us?’ And what’s been really cool has been the response.
How did you end up with thirty drafts?
Heffernan: A part of it was just how long it took the movie to get made, right? Every time there was a chance we got funding, there would be a flurry of activity and we would do five or six drafts. And some of them were just joke drafts, but some of them had full plots that ended up being too hard to shoot or too expensive or there would be too many characters. For multiple drafts, we had a United States Homeland Security guy who was on our side. And we ended up realizing we had too many characters like that and we would fold them in.
Lemme: And technical stuff, just like the pullovers for instance. We knew we wanted to do pullovers, but the nature of the pullovers from the first movie was like “We’re bored. This is how we’re going to meet these guys.” We’re doing a pullover and we’re just peppering them throughout that movie. In this one, we couldn’t really do that because essentially we have to be on our best behavior. So the challenge is where are we going to put these pullovers? Each draft had a different set of pullovers in different locations, and eventually we realized where we were going to put them and how we were going to use them. So those were like ten drafts popping these things off just trying to figure out where the pieces go.
In this movie, you have direct counterpart to Farva’s character.
Lemme: So he’s a funny character. Originally, it was just a mention of that character. As we found over the years, everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a Farva in my life.’ If they’re in the army, they have a Farva in their unit. If they work at a bottling company, there’s a Farva out on the floor. So, you know it was just making this a little throwaway that in Canada there would have to be one too. But yeah, we found ourselves too intrigued and we had to know what this guy looked like and what this guy sounded like. And then you (Heffernan) Paul Walter Hauser.
Heffernan: Yeah, he plays the bodyguard in I, Tonya. It was fun because he was a young comic and had some credits and I did an improv show with him. After the show, I told these guys I found the guy who’s going to be the Canadian Farva. So we sent him into out casting director and he did a read for it. He got the part and the same casting director was casting I, Tonya. And because he did Super Troopers 2, they called him in and he got that part, so we felt great that we kind helped him get to bigger and better things.
Is there a reason you stayed away from what these characters were doing for the last fifteen years?
Heffernan: We didn’t want to get bogged down into it narratively. The whole idea was to get to the laughs. And I think we just kind of made a joke about it essentially. In that opening scene, this idea that we got fired and wound up on America’s Got Talent and all of a sudden we’re a band. It was kind of like “Let’s just do something like that.” We talked about that a lot and there was so much time where we didn’t know if the movie was going to get made, so we didn’t know the time span. So we kind of made a conscious decision to gloss over that and get us back to these uniforms and just kind of go on from there.
Soter: For a long time we felt it needed to establish how many years had passed and exactly what we had been doing. We went around and around and around, because it was like if we talk about it in real time, is that sort of exposing how much longer, but if we kind of pick up where the first one left off, are we gonna look old and stupid trying to be young again? And at the end of the day, I think we just kind of decided we didn’t need to get too hung up on the nitty-gritty. Let’s just start, make it funny and bring everybody along for the ride.
How tough is it crafting a comedy like this these days with people being a lot more sensitive to things?
Heffernan: I think we just used the same bar we’ve always used: do we make the other guys laugh? If you can make the other four guys laugh, you’ll probably get it in the movie. We didn’t get too caught up in crossing any boundaries. We shot it a couple of years ago and there’s a Stephen Hawking joke in there. Now Stephen Hawking died in the last month or whatever it was and now we look like a*sholes.
Lemme: That’s bound to happen. Really, Rob Lowe came in with the Halifax Explosion riff. That’s all his idea and his riff. We show this thing in Toronto and it’s the hundredth anniversary of the Halifax Explosion and they would like gasp at that.
Soter: There were certain times where we discussed where we do have to have some sensitivity to what are cops doing to innocent people. So even something that’s a pullover, we definitely would talk about there being some “third rails” and we tried to make some call outs like when the kids are on drugs and we’ve got them on leashes talking about “This is the kind of thing that can go viral.” We at least just tip are hats and are like nowadays, any kind of bad behavior is gonna get out there that if we just acknowledged it once and then tried to stay away from anything the looked cruel or unwarranted.
Heffernan: Our philosophy anyway is to create a world where you’re likable guys and people want to hang out with you in that world. So it’s never like we go into it to be mean or controversial.
With this being in development for so long, there had to be a bunch of different storylines. Why did you settle on this one?
Heffernan: It kind of mutated for a while. When we first came up with the idea, it was kind of like a post-9/11 border reassessment type of thing. Then it kind of shifted over the years to become more of a border war in the vein of how topical maintaining our borders has become. We kind of were able to shift it with the times. Things kind of mutated as time went on and you would take things out that didn’t fit.
Erik Stolhanske: The main plotline was always involved.
Soter: I think it’s helpful in that you do want to straddle that line on a sequel of familiarity to the first with some new landscape which is why you get Bad News Bears Go to Japan. We gotta put them someplace new. In our case, it was like these guys are right on the border so you bump these guys up fifteen miles, you’re kind of getting the best of both worlds. We’re still more or less in the same landscape yet you get the “fish out of water” comedy.
Stolhanske: And the conflicts.
Soter: So that’s like not going too far into “sequelitis,” but still creating a different dynamic.
How did you come up with the “meow” gag?
Lemme: It was late at night. Were at the Travelodge at Pico (Boulevard) in Santa Monica. Five of us were all jammed in a hotel room. You know, we were partying a little bit. We were not writing a script. We started riffing on this magical clown wizard.
Soter: A wizard who could turn your tongue into a cat’s tongue. How funny that would be if your tongue was small and like sandpaper. That was the riff for a while. And instead of saying “now” you would say “meow” and elicit a new round of laughter and we were screaming meow to each other in this hotel room to the point of getting noise complaints. To me, it really distilled the essence of our humor, which is guys being idiots trying to make each other laugh. We had this construct of we’ve been on so many road trips and are always in cars together so it was always like “Imagine if this was your life or if this was your job.” Driving around, trying to make your life interesting and trying to make the other guys laugh. So it’s like it’s so absurd, let’s see if it transplants to that idea of guys just trying to keep their jobs.
Heffernan: When we wrote that scene, we went around through the studio system to get money for the movie. Inevitably, people would point to that scene and be like, ‘What the f*ck is this?’ And nobody ever got it and got us booted out of the rooms, but it ended up doing it to the point where people love it. Then we had to figure out in this one how to kind of call it back. And we had this idea that the “meow game” is kind of like a thing that people point to. And for these guys as characters, that’s just one game they play and they have a thousand of them. And if they pull over that same guy and was like, “That’s my game,” they’re like, “I don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about.”
Soter: The idea that we’ve somehow let out something into the closer atmosphere this bizarre dumb little thing that gets repeated to us all the time that we are putting ourselves in Mac (Lemme) and Foster’s (Soter) shoes and being like would they remember the “meow game” a month later? Certainly this many years later, this idea like, “I saw you on your job seventeen years ago and you said something.” You’d be like, “Why in the f*ck would anybody remember what I said as an off-hand stupid thing at my job fifteen years ago?” It felt like a meta way to reapproach that.
Heffernan: And bring in Jim Gaffigan who is much larger than he was at the time.
Lemme: When we made the first Super Troopers, Jim Gaffigan was the guy who was doing commercials who came in to audition for the movie. He did a great job in the audition, and four of us wanted to cast him in the role, but Kevin had a personal rivalry with him because they would always see each other at the commercial additions and Gaffigan won the part every single time.
Heffernan: Every time.
Lemme: So it’s like an unspoken rule that we have like veto power. There’s one guy that you have beef with you can be like, “No, f*ck that guy.” And Heffernan was exercising that. He said “No, not this guy. I hate this f*cking guy.” But we were like “This auditions to good. This guy’s money.” So we put him in the role and on the day we were shooting the scene we’re having a great time and Gaffigan is telling dirty jokes and all the guy’s were like “This guy’s awesome!” and Heffernan is only at the craft service table, down the highway picking up things. Cut to we’re making the movie with Gaffigan now and he shows up on his private jet. He was doing Wilbur Theater shows. He flew himself in his private jet and shot the scene for six hours and flew out of there.