L-R: Paul Soter (“Foster”), Steve Lemme (“Mac”), Erik Stolhanske (“Rabbit”), Jay Chandrasekhar (“Thorny” Writer/Director) and Kevin Heffernan (“Farva”). PHOTO CREDIT: Aram Bogoshian
by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief
I hate to be a bummer, but I’ve been going through a real rough patch lately due to the passing of my mom just before this past Christmas and then April fourth being the ten-year anniversary of my dad passing away. So I’ve been in a pretty dark place for a while now. On the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing I sat down to talk with Kevin Heffernan (Farva), Steve Lemme (Mac), Paul Soter (Foster) and Erik Stolhanske (Rabbit), who comprise four-fifths of the comedy troop Broken Lizard (You were missed, Jay Chandraskhar), about Super Troopers 2 and I came out feeling a lot better than I had thanks to their humorous stories and the fact that (thanks to a local appearance) were in their complete Vermont State Trooper costumes. (They were even kind enough to sign a liter of cola for me) I really couldn’t have asked for more than that.
We covered a lot of ground, from the origins of the iconic meow joke in the original film, to Kevin Heffernan’s beef with comedian Jim Gaffigan (who appears in both films), to how they go about crafting an R-Rated comedy in today’s social climate. It was a great chat and the new film is really funny, so be sure to check it out this weekend!
The following interview has been edited for content and clarity:
So what was it like being on a set together for the first time in a while?
Kevin Heffernan: We’ve known each other for so long and we’ve been doing it for many, many years. So it was kind of old hat. It was just a matter of growing the mustaches and putting the uniforms on and you’re right back into it.
Steve Lemme: We’ve done these characters before so it’s not like trying something new. It was like slipping back into a nice comfortable slipper.
Paul Soter: I think that’s part of what a lot of people like about the films, the easy familiarity 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 B.S., like for instance just now, Paul was talking and Kevin was pouring his water, which you’ll probably hear on the microphones. It reminds me of a funny story. We had our first test screening back in March and Kevin had a great idea to bring his phone (to record audio of the audience) so we could hear where the laughs were during the movie and we could bring that in the editing room to line it up against the movie. I was sitting next to Kevin and I had my Nachos (all four start to laugh) and it takes a while to get through a plate of nachos. So for the first thirty minutes of the tape is just me CRUNCHING. (Laughter)
Soter: And then also you hear Heffernan, “What the fuck are you doing? Eating nachos while I’m recording,” and you (Lemme) were like, “I was hungry.” (Then Heffernan was like) “We just had dinner.” (Lemme) “But they were for free.” Suddenly they’re like this husband and wife bickering. Between that and the sound of the nachos, it was unusable audio.
Lemme: So making movies with your friends, that’s what happens.
When you’re slipping into a comfortable role, you guys have played these characters before, does that facilitate the process versus having to step into completely new characters and completely new roles and archetypes?
Soter: Yeah, because it’s always the hardest part of any movie. Like, coming up with ideas, we could do that all day. Writing jokes (is something) we do all day. Five guys with five different voices, you know? You read it on paper and if you haven’t distinguished those different voices… People read a script and it’s just a bunch of talk. But everybody had that voice established (already).
Heffernan: You’re able to hit the ground running and you don’t have to worry about character so much. You just worry about the bits and the jokes.
Lemme: I think that contributed to the insanity of Farva in Super Troopers 2. Anytime we had an un-PC line or an obnoxious line, we gave it to Farva. And as a result, ALL he says is un-PC, obnoxious shit.
Heffernan: He’s a little bit unhinged.
Erik Stolhanske: Makes you wonder a little if he had a tumor.
Soter: (To Heffernan) Would you consider, if there’s a third one, do you want to push it even farther so that he’s just completely like…
Heffernan: No, we were talking about going in the other direction and I would be the romantic lead.
Soter: Oh, ok.
Heffernan: And I would get the girl.
Soter: You will have survived the tumor operation and it will be like Regarding Henry and you’ll be a quiet, thoughtful soul.
Lemme: By the way, that’s a terrific idea.
Soter: Ok, let’s all agree to sit on that one. You can’t use that.
We’ve got it recorded here if you need to find us.
Soter: It all depends on opening weekend.
You previously said that there were a lot of re-writes and with your improv background and having guys like Tyler Labine and Will Sasso, how much of the script makes it to what is seen on screen?
Heffernan: We definitely like to shoot the script, because we spend a lot of time crafting the jokes. We’ll improv in rehearsals and will put lines in that way, so it will hopefully be fresh. When you bring the new players in, they want to have fun and that’s a good thing. Will Sasso is one of the great improvisers around and you can’t NOT improvise when he’s around.
That kind of lead to that scene, the Danny DeVito scene, which was not in the first thirty drafts of the script. We just put some filler in there for the scene and then we started hanging out with them and we did this Danny Devito riff where we were talking about this topic and after work we’d be riffing about it and they were like, “God, that’s so funny let’s put it in.” So we wrote the scene, like the day before and we shot it and we’re all like, “No way it’s gonna get in the movie.” It’s so weird and esoteric. And why are you spending time with the bad guys? Then we cut it in and were like, “nope that’s not even gonna make it.” Then, the first time we showed it to an audience and they laughed we were like, holy shit this is really funny.
Soter: Usually that’s the kind of riff that’s hilarious to us at the moment, when we’re stoned, and the next day you look at it and you’re like, “Yeeeah ok,” and you chalk it up to being high. In this case there was still that feeling of, was this something that was just funny to us in the moment?
Heffernan: The response has been amazing. People love that scene. I think that’s because it’s just a fun, weird, different kind of conversation. Not that it’s earth shattering in any way.
Lemme: Traditionally in our movies you don’t really get to go behind the curtain of your nemesis and this is just one of those things where you can take a break from us and get to know these guys a little.
Soter: One of the things that really helps is that our intention was always… In the first one the bad guys are just dicks and they really had no business being dicks to us, but in this case these are guys who from their point of view… These guys just show up and are claiming we’re all American now and they’re going to lose their jobs. So it allows to have that balance of, yeah we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys but at the same time, I dunno, maybe we’re the bad guys and they’re the good guys? Canadian jokes can be followed up by American jokes and it keeps things light.
Lemme: Let’s just say we enjoyed taking the piss out of Canadians.
Heffernan: And us. We get as much as we give.
Thirty drafts is SO many. How did it come to thirty drafts?
Heffernan: Part of it was how long it took the movie to get made. Every time there was a chance that we got funding or whatever it was, there would be a flurry of activity and you do five or six drafts. Some of them were just joke drafts and some of them had full plots that ended up being too hard to shoot or (were) too expensive or there were too many characters. For multiple, multiple drafts we had a United States Homeland Security guy.
Lemme: Jim Bigwood.
Heffernan: And we had too many characters and we’d fold them in. A lot of them were just like, “Let’s punch this scene up,” so you’d have a new draft once you punched the scene up.
Lemme: Technical stuff, like the pull-overs for instance, we knew we wanted to do pull-overs but the nature of the pull-overs in the first one was like, we’re bored (and) this is how you meet people. We’re just peppering them throughout the 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 pull-overs? Each draft has a different set of pull-overs and different locations and finally we just realized we were going to put them at the back of the movie (for good reason). Those were like ten drafts just trying to figure out how the pieces go.
Farva’s got an amazing Canadian counterpart in the film. How did that character come about?
Lemme: He’s a funny character. Originally it was just a mention of that character. Then at some point we were like, we should see this guy.
Heffernan: Lonnie Laloush.
Soter: As we have come to find over the years, when we talk to people who love the first one, everyone is like, “I’ve got a Farva in my life.” We thought to make it just a little throwaway that of course in Canada they’re going to have one, too. We found ourselves too intrigued and were like, I gotta know what this guy looks like and what this guy sounds like and then you (motions to Kevin Heffernan) had met Paul Walter Hauser as he started to take off.
Heffernan: Yeah. He’s the bodyguard in I, Tonya, Sean Eckhardt. It was fun. He was a young comic and had some credits and I had done an improv show with him and after it was done I said to these guys that I had found the guy who is going to be Canadian Farva. The guy is fucking great. So we sent him in to our casting director and he did the read for it and he got the part. The same casting director was casting I, Tonya and they needed this character. Because he did Super Troopers 2, they called him in and he got that part. We felt great that we helped get him along into bigger and better things.
Lemme: Also from his audition tape, we were like this guy is so fucking funny, we need to see a little more of him. So we decided that they should run into each other. And that was the evolution from a name on a page, to a scene, to a second scene.
Soter: That was the fun thing about bringing in guys. Everybody wanted to make those contributions, so the exchange between Lonnie Laloush and Farva was quick, but in those ten takes he had a different line and had prepped a different read and we got into the editing room and EVERYTHING was gold. How do you choose one of these ten things? He didn’t prep us, so we were trying not to laugh and he just kept pulling this shit out of his pocket, each thing funnier than the last.
Is there a reason you didn’t focus too much on what the main characters had been up to for the last fifteen years?
Heffernan: Yeah, we just didn’t want to get bogged down narratively. The whole idea was just to get to the laughs. I think we just kind of made a joke about it essentially in the opening scene, this idea that we got fired and went on America’s Got Talent and all of a sudden became a band and it kind of went from there. We talked about that a lot and there was so much time that we didn’t even know if the movie was going to get made, so that we kind of made a conscious effort to gloss over that and get us back where people want to see us, in these uniforms, and go from there.
Soter: For a long time we felt that we needed to establish exactly how many years had passed, exactly what we’d been doing, and went around and around and around because it was like, if we talk about it in real time is that exposing how much longer it’s been? Then if we pick it up right after the first one left off, are we gonna look old and stupid, trying to be young again? At the end of the day I think… do we need to get hung up on it? Does the audience necessarily need to get hung up on the nitty gritty? Let’s just start and make it funny and let’s get everybody along for the ride.
How tough is it to craft an R-rated comedy now compared to when the first film came out? People have become a lot more sensitive, is there ever a concern that you’re going too far?
Heffernan: I think we just use the same bar that we’ve always used and that’s, does it make the other guys laugh? If you can make the other four guys laugh then you’ll probably get it in the movie. We didn’t get too caught up in, I don’t think we did, crossing any boundaries. The funny thing is, when we shot a couple years ago, there was a Stephen Hawking joke in there and now that he’s recently died we look like assholes. But we wrote it and shot it a couple years ago.
Lemme: We wrote… Well really, Rob Lowe came in with the Halifax explosion riff. That was all his idea and his riff. We showed this thing in Toronto on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion. That came up and some of them gasped and we were like, “I guess, fuck it.”
Soter: Certainly there were times where we discussed that we might need some sensitivity to, “What are cops doing to innocent people?” So even something that’s a pull-over, we’d definitely talk about it. We tried to make some call-outs, like when the little kids (in the film) are on drugs or you have them on leashes… This is the kind of thing that could go viral. (We) tried to stay away from anything cruel or unwarranted.
Heffernan: I think our philosophy, in general, is to create a world where you’re likable guys and then people want to hang out with you in that world. So, it’s never like we go into it being mean or controversial or that kind of stuff.
I recently read a tweet in which Patton Oswalt referred to Ted Nugent as a beta and the first response I saw was someone saying it was sexist to refer to him as a beta. It just seems like frequently people are looking for new ways to be offended. It just seems like it could be tougher to make an R-rated comedy now with people finding ways to be offended constantly.
Heffernan: I guess we’ll find out that Monday after opening weekend if we crossed the line. I don’t know.
With this being in development for so long and with so many different storylines, why did you settle on this specific one?
Heffernan: It kind of mutated for a while. When we first came up with the idea, it was kind of a post-9/11 border reassessment type of thing. Then, it kind of shifted over the years to become more of a border war, kind of in the vein of how topical it is to maintain our borders. We were just able to shift it with the times a little bit. Things kind of mutated as time went on. You’d take things out thatn didn’t fit.
Stolhanske: But that main plotline was always involved.
Soter: You do wanna straddle that line on a sequel of familiarity to the first film with some kind of new landscape. It’s like Bad News Bears go to Japan. We’ve got to put them someplace new. In our case it was like, alright these guys are right on the border. So you bump these guys up just fifteen miles and you’re getting the best of both worlds. We’re still more or less in the same landscape and yet you get fish out of water comedy and conflicts. To us it didn’t seem like we were going too far into sequel-itis, but still creates a different dynamic.
I have to ask you guys about my favorite Super Troopers gag. The meow gag. Because when I think of Super Troopers, I’m sure I’m not the only person whose brain goes right to that joke. I’m so curious of the oral history of how you guys came up with that gag.
Lemme: It was late at night.
Lemme: We were in the Travel Lodge on Pico in Santa Monica. The five of us were all jammed into just one room. It was late at night so we were partying a little bit, just hangning out. We were not writing the script and we started riffing on this magical clown-wizard.
Soter: A wizard. Who could turn your tongue into a cat’s tongue. And how funny that would be if your tongue was small and sandpapery and that was the riff for a while. Then somebody was like, “Yeah, yeah and instead of saying ‘now’ you’d say ‘meow.’” That illicited a new round of laughter and we were kind of yelling and screaming meow at each other in this hotel room to the point of getting noise complaints. To me, it just sort of distilled the essence of… our humor is like guys being idiots trying to make each other laugh. We had this construct of… We’ve been on so many road trips and were always in cars together. What if this was our life? What if this was your job? Driving around trying to make your life intersting and trying to make the other guys laugh. It’s so absurd.
Heffernan: The funny part was when we wrote that scene and then we went around to the studios trying to get money to make the movie and inevitably people would point to that scene and be like, “What the fuck is this?” Like, all these movie executives would be on the page and be like, “What the fuck is this?” And we’re like, “It’s this thing, uhhh.” Nobody ever got it and it got us booted out of rooms. But we ended up doing it to the point that people love it. Then we had to figure out in this one how to call it back. We had this idea of the meow game is something people point to and maybe it’s iconic, but in these guys lives, these characters, it was just one game they played many years ago and they have a thousand of them and if they pulled over that same guy and he’s like, “That’s my game,” and they’re like, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” We kind of had a riff like that. It was the funny twist on the meow game.
Soter: Right. That idea that we’ve let out into the cultural atmosphere this bizarre little thing that gets repeated back to us all the time, but when we put ourselves in Mac and Foster’s shoes we were like, would they remember the meow game? The idea that this many years later someone could be like, “I saw you on the job fourteen years ago and you said something”. You might be like, “Why the fuck would I remember what I said fifteen years ago?” It felt like a meta way to re-approach the material.
Heffernan: And bring in Jim Gaffigan again, who is now much larger than he was.
Lemme: When we made the first Super Troopers, Jim Gaffigan was a guy who was doing commercials who came in to audition for the movie. He did a great job with 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 commercial auditions and Gaffigan won the part every single time.
Soter: It always came down to those two.
Lemme: It’s an unspoken rule that we have veto power. If there’s one guy you got beef with, you can be like, “Nah, fuck that guy,” and Heffernan was exercising that. He said, “Nah, nah, not this guy. I hate this fucking guy.” But we were like, this audition is too good, this guy is money. So we put him in the role. On the day we were shooting the scene and we’re having a great time with Gaffigan and he’s telling dirty jokes and all the guys are gathered around. We’re like, this guy is awesome. And there’s Heffernan alone at the craft services table. But then, cut to: we’re making the (new) movie with Gaffigan now and now he shows up in his private jet, he was doing Wilbur Theatre shows (in Boston) so he flew himself on his own dime on a private jet and shot the scene for six hours and then flew out of there.
How hard is it finding that balance to the references you want from the first movie and putting them into the second movie?
Heffernan: I think it homogenated a little bit. I think that’s a criticism of a sequel, that you take the same joke and bring it back. Our philosophy was that if you’re going to bring a joke back, let’s put a little spin on it, a little twist on it, or some other reason to call it back, like the meow thing. Then it will make it funnier, like bringing back Lonnie Laloush to do the “who wants cream?” joke from the first movie to put a little spin on it. That was in our minds, of not going too far.
Soter: And to always have it be something that, if you hadn’t seen the first one, it wouldn’t take you out of the movie.
Stolhanske: A lot of people have asked how we could shoot in Canada and not have a maple syrup chugging scene. But it was that balance where you couldn’t bring back everything. So it was trying to find that fine line.
Was there anything that didn’t make the final cut?
Heffernan: It was more like cutting things back in scenes, like the liter of cola callback scene was like, how far do you go with the liter of cola joke. To pull back a little. People want to see them, they want to see those references so you have to find a way to do them cleverly so you’re not just doing the same joke over and over again.
Lemme: The fans will be like, “You gotta bring back the stoners and the border cops and the meow game and the repeater game and you need Johnny Chimpo, BUT don’t make the same fucking movie this time.”
Super Troopers 2 is out today nationwide, so make sure to incorporate it into your 4/20 plans. You won’t be disappointed.