They stunned us with Super Troopers. They delighted us with Club Dread. Then they took the party to whole nother level when they brought us Beerfest. Who are these guys and where did they come from?
Broken Lizard’s members includes: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske. Their movies have had enormous success, forming a colossal cult-like following. It all began in 1996 with their award-winning debut film, Puddle Cruiser. From there, Super Troopers not only earned $20 million at the box office, but it also sold over five million copies on DVD. Club Dread was then released in 2004, and that led to Dukes of Hazzard which was directed by Chandrasekhar in 2005. And then Beerfest came along in 2006, which proved to be another huge hit, earning over $20 million worldwide.
And now, Broken Lizard has decided to tackle a new beast: stand up comedy. Their first special, Broken Lizard Stands Up, aired in 2010 on Comedy Central. At this moment, Steve and Kevin are on a stand up comedy tour together, working on another comedy special to be filmed in San Francisco, and then released on Netflix. After their performance in front of a sold out Improv Comedy Club crowd, Gonzo Fame got up close and personal with the guys whose movies will keep us laughin’ and partyin’ for generations to come.
You guys begin the show with a beer chugging contest…
With the popularity of Super Troopers and Beerfest, does it become more difficult to write a comedy routine outside of your movies?
Kevin: Ehh I dunno, I mean we enjoy doing it! [big smile] But there’s no mistake about it—these people come to our shows because they are fans of our movies, yaknowhattamean? I enjoy telling funny stories about making those movies. But we also make a conscious effort to do a healthy mix of the Super Troopers / Beerfest stuff, as well as pure stand up. That way, if you’re a fan of the movies and you come to the show, you’ll see something you like. And if you’ve never seen the movies before, if you come to the show, you’ll see something you like.
Steve: There’s a balance. It’s like, we still want to appeal to new people. We’re always looking to expand our fanbase.
Kevin: And we have such great fans! I mean they LOVE Super Troopers, they LOVE Beerfest! So if they’re gonna come see you, they wanna see some of that. And I’m happy to do that. I love that shit! [big smile]
How did Broken Lizard get started?
Steve: We met in college at Colgate University, and we started doing sketch comedy. We did a couple shows together my junior year and senior year. And then, everybody graduated—I dropped out of my senior year [shrugs]—and so we brought the show to New York City. But the only place that would have us, was…a gay cabaret club down in the West Village. We did sketch comedy shows for like, two years. And from the sketch shows we’d do short videos. And from there, we got into making film. And from there, we raised the money to make Puddle Cruiser. And from there—
Kevin: —It was more like, we simply decided to go the film route. Alotta comics decide to go different ways. We coulda done TV shows or somethin like that, but we decided we’d do film stuff and we went that direction. Which made it interesting to come back to stand up. We had gotten away from the live stuff, and we had never done stand up so much as sketch comedy. We kinda were able to “cheat” a little bit—in a sense that we could have people come and see our show without having to pay our dues as a stand up. But…we paid our dues as film guys, yaknowhattamean? So its interesting to do stand up now.
Stand up comics begin with five minutes of material, and they slowly build up to an hour or more. Does it work with same way with making films?
Kevin: Well, in college with sketch, we kinda just dove in and did big long sketch shows. And they were like, an hour, an hour and a half long. But then we started shooting stuff. And with that, we’d shoot a three minute video, and then a four minute video. And then we built up to half an hour on film—and that was our first BIG thing. After that, we made Puddle Cruiser, which was our feature film. So we definitely built ourselves up for film.
Have Broken Lizard’s members always been the same?
Steve: The first show we did, we had like—17 members. [laughs]
More like Wu Tang Lizard! [laughs]
[Steve & Kevin don’t laugh]
Steve: Uh…yeah… There were a TON of people backstage, rolling around. And then it just slowly whittled down to the five of us.
Why’d they leave?
Kevin: I think people bailed out because they thought it wasn’t gonna go anywhere. Or they had to get another job or whatever it was—
Steve: But it made sense. We were 22 years old. And we were performing sketch shows for rooms that seat, maybe fifty people. There was one guy who quit because he didn’t like our “mom jokes”. In fact, in his letter of resignation, he said that, “We gave him a headache.”
[moment of laughter]
Steve: But it’s like, when you’re 22 years old…like honestly…maybe the reason we stuck around was because we were stupid or something ? ‘Cause…to say, “Ohh I’m gonna make a movie, and it’s gonna hit. And then I’m gonna have a career off of that!” is such an absurd thing to actually believe. So you go into it with some sort of naïveté. And there are some reasonable people who will drop out along the way. But we had a good time. They’re our friends and we had a blast.
[Kevin starts to speak, but Steve keeps going]
Steve: And I think the five of us all knew that we had something. There was a good chemistry. It’s the same with stand up comedy—you go out there on stage and you don’t even know if what you’re doing is good. Or you know it could be better, but you know that they’re having a positive reaction to you. Either way, something is working. And that encourages you to keep going.
Steve, you dropped out of college to pursue film. How did your parents react?
Steve: When I dropped outta college, ya know, I had fights with my dad. I was living at home. My dad wanted me to get a job—which I didn’t wanna do. [laughs] But when he came to one of our shows and saw that we were actually doing something, and that people responded to it, he backed me up all the way. Which is nice because I don’t think a lot of people have that support system.
Kevin: My dad was a judge, and his [points to Steve] dad was an engineer…so yeah, it was rough for a while. [laughs] But then, your parents start to see what you’re doin and they come to your shows, and it’s funny. And as we started makin’ movies, we started puttin’ our parents in our movies.
Steve: Kevin was smart—he put his parents in Puddle Cruiser and then in Super Troopers—they were the “chicken fuckers”! [Kevin smiles] And that changed everything.
[moment of laughter]
Kevin: So after that, they were excited, yaknowhatImean? They started to see that it was a real thing. They were real supportive.
Supportive as long as you’re making money, right?
[moment of laughter]
Kevin: Oh my dad still asks me that question. I could be like, “Dad! We’re writing a TV show for ABC!” And immediately he’s like, “You’re gettin paid right?!” [laughs]
Do your parents enjoy Broken Lizard’s humor?
Steve: It’s funny ‘cause when we were starting out, my parents came to EVERY SINGLE show we ever did. And now they don’t come as much. But Kevin’s parents still watch us. In fact, me and Kevin’s dad are cool—he’ll come up to me and be like, “[Kevin’s dad’s voice] Steve, do you mind if I uhh, give you a critique on your uhh…your act?”
Steve: And I’m like, “Sure, Judge…let’s have it.”
[Kevin is still laughing]
Steve: “[Kevin’s dad’s voice] OK…uhh…’A’ for delivery, and uh…’F’ for content.”
[Kevin is now laughing hysterically]
Steve: And that’s literally where we’ve left it.
[moment of laugher]
Steve: Every time Kevin’s dad sees us, he’s like, “I love the way you’re delivering, but I HATE the jokes you’re telling.”
[moment of laughter]
They say Super Troopers was geared toward stoners, and Beerfest was geared toward drinkers. But is your work actually targeted for a particular audience?
Kevin: I don’t think we ever target, necessarily, to a specific demographic. We just do what we think is funny.
Steve: In fact, that’s when you get into trouble. Super Troopers we made, just for ourselves. We didn’t know what or who to report to. We could only count on ourselves to know what was funny. And once you try to appeal to a certain ‘stoner group’, it’s not right. It’s not the same. And we certainly get pigeonholed, like as a ‘stoner comedy’ group. But we write jokes for everybody.
Kevin: It’s funny when you try to target everything. Once we tried the studio system, but they ran their own advertisements that THEY wrote, for OUR movies. When Club Dread came out, one of the advertisements for it was like, “Whoaaa dude I’m sooo stonnned, I want some munchies!” And we were like, “Whoa wait a minute…what the fuck is this?!” And they’re like, “It’s an ad for your demographic, ya know, stoners!” And that’s when you get in trouble. That kinda stuff winds up pushing people away. It’s like, “Why don’t you just show some funny scenes from the movie?” If you try too hard like that and categorize everything, people aren’t going to think it’s funny. You end up limiting yourself.
What’s the transition like from film to stand up?
Kevin: At times we get a little bitterness from other comics who are like, “Hey! I’ve paid my dues!” Yaknowhattamean? But we’ve paid our dues in other places, yaknowhattamean? It’s not like we just came around outta nowhere. [laughs] But we enjoy it. There’s a certain love and appreciation for stand up. And in fact, we enjoy it more, because of the stuff that we do. You spend ALOTTA time tryin to get a movie made, and it takes a LONG time to do that. But stand up, you can walk up there and tell a joke, and get people to laugh immediately. And that’s the fun thing about it.
Steve: I’d say the difference for us—the thing we’ve missed out on—is that, starting out as a comic, you hafta win people’s trust—because they don’t know who you are. And we don’t hafta do that. For us, it’s like giving a toast at a wedding. We’re given the benefit of the doubt. Like personally, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be able to kill it in JUST five minutes. Like when I see clips of Louis C.K., Norm MacDonald, or Mitch Hedberg, they’re absolutely killing it in such a short space of time! And to me, just to say, “Hello,” honestly takes me more than a minute.
[moment of laughter]
Steve: And as long as you put on a good show, people respect that.
Has Broken Lizard ever bombed on stage? If so, how did it feel?
Steve: [takes a deep breath] If we tell a joke that doesn’t work, and people don’t like it or we get heckled, it fucking DESTROYS us! We are NOT used to bombing! [moment of laughter]
What is the difference between writing for film and writing for the stage?
Steve: There is nothing like doing live shows—it’s fucking great! [big smile] You don’t have to always stick to the script. If something funny is happening in the audience, you can just go for it. When you make movies, you don’t get the kind of gratification that you get when you do live shows. Writing for movies is hard. The stakes are SO high. You fight and argue all the way from the writing process, into the editing room. And once it’s made, it’s put in front of a test audience—and that’s the closest thing you have to testing it out. So if they laugh at some things, that’s great. And if they don’t, then you hafta cut it out.
So what happens if the test audience doesn’t like it, considering all the hard work that is put into making a film?
Steve: That’s tough. That happened to us with Club Dread. We went to Mexico, and we were there for ten weeks. The problem was, it opened up with Passion of the Christ—which killed EVERYTHING at the box office. And so the movie technically bombed. And many people didn’t like the movie. But we LOVED the movie, and we still love the movie. But then the critics canned the movie. And critics are competing with each other, so they all come up with very creative ways to fuckin’ SLAM us. And that’s kinda hard, ya know? We still have feelings.
Kevin: But you can’t take the criticism personally. I mean, if you come out with a movie called ‘Beerfest’, and you’re a respected critic, you might not wanna say you loved ‘Beerfest’ ? But then again, who knows? Comedy’s very subjective. Some people end up liking something, and some people don’t, ya know? The night before Beerfest came out, we went to Camp Pendleton and we did a screening for the Marines. And the movie fuckin killed! They were rippin the seats out! They LOVED Beerfest. But when it came out in the movie theater the next night, the critics’ reviews were like, “This movie’s not funny…” And it’s like, “Well I was just in a room with 800 Marines, and they thought it was fuckin funny!” Yaknowhattamean?
Being on tour, do you notice any differences between the types of crowds throughout the different parts of the country?
Steve: I do have a theory: I believe that southern crowds are better than northern crowds. And I think because, Southerners…like…it’s hotter out there… And they’re used to, just…lettin it alll flyyy. And like, they enjoy getting fucked up, and like, havin their shirts off…and their…ya know… [says quietly as he leans in] twats out.
[moment of laughter]
Kevin: [turns to Steve] THIS is your theory?
Steve: [smiling] This is my theory…Southerners have their twats out. And that’s what makes live comedy so much better in the South.
[moment of laughter]
How do you balance career life with personal life?
Kevin: Ya know, I’ve been married to my wife since college. I’ve been with her a long time. [points to Steve] YOU have not. [laughs]
Steve: Kevin’s like the anchor of ALL. [laughs] He’s the RIGHTEOUS man of our group.
Steve: [nods his head] You are…you are. He’s been with one woman for twenty years. Like…now that I’m married, like now, it’s REAL!
[Kevin lets out a sinister laugh]
Steve: And makin’ movies is a tough thing—I understand why so many relationships fail—when you’re making movies. Like, you go down to Mexico for ten weeks…and your, you know, person…isn’t around you… For men AND women, it’s gonna be challenging, ya know?
[Kevin laughs a second time]
Steve: [continues] There’s tequila flowing…
[Kevin laughs a third time]
Advice for anyone trying to make a career in entertainment?
Steve: Stick with it. Work as hard as you can.
Kevin: Create…stuff. You spend alotta time sittin around talkin about doing things. We were lucky because we had a group of guys motivating each other to write…to get up on stage…to shoot that sketch. I think that’s the best thing, just to do it. Yaknowhattamean?
Click Here for the official website of Broken Lizard!
Interviewed & Written by: David Gavri