If you were to ask someone who the most successful comedy troupe was, at least when it comes to movies, Monty Python or perhaps Cheech & Chong would likely come to mind, depending on their age. But for a younger generation, the answer may very well be the Broken Lizard gang, who have made seven movies together going back to 1996’s indie comedy Puddle Cruiser, though they remain best known for the hilarious 2001 stoner movie Super Troopers, a cult classic that finally received a long-awaited sequel in 2018.
Made up of Jay Chandrashekar (who has directed five of their movies), Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme (who has done four seasons of the TNT series Tacoma FD with Heffernan), Paul Soter, and Eric Stolhanske, the group’s latest movie is Quasi (as in “Quasimodo”), and it was directed by Heffernan.
Quasi is basically Victor Hugo‘s The Hunchback of Notre Dame put through Broken Lizard’s own distinct comic prism. Lemme plays the title character, a deformed medieval torturer who gets caught up in an ongoing feud between the King (Chandrashekar) and the Pope (Soter), while Heffernan plays Quasimodo’s best friend/roommate Duchamp, and Stolhanske plays the Cardinal. Most of the guys also have secondary roles, while Adrianne Palicki, one of the few outside actors in the movie, plays Queen Catherine.
Above the Line had a chance to talk with Broken Lizard about Quasi over Zoom last week. One thing you have to understand is that when you talk to Broken Lizard as a group, it’s almost always going to lead to some sort of mayhem. Often, you might just ask one question, and then off they go. We did our best to capture all the back-and-forth banter between the guys, and for those celebrating 4/20 today, we also asked about the Potfest sequel teased at the end of the group’s 2006 movie Beerfest. Enjoy!
Above the Line: I think we last spoke around the release of The Slammin’ Salmon, so it’s been quite some time…
Eric Stolhanske: You haven’t aged a day.
ATL: I’m sure that’s not true. I know Super Troopers 2 came out in 2018, and since then, Kevin and Steve have been touring and keeping busy with Tacoma FD. At what point do you guys come together and say, “We have to do another movie?” and how do you settle on an idea? Do you just throw out ideas and the best one wins?
Kevin Heffernan: It did well for us, and it did well for the studio, so it gives you a window of opportunity where you can say to them, ‘Let’s move quickly on something else.’ This was a script we had written a long time ago, and it was in a really good place. It was a very different film, obviously, than Super Troopers 2, and it was something that we really wanted to do. We presented it to them, not thinking that they would go for it, because we’ve had the script for a long time, and no one’s ever gone for it. And they went for it. They loved it! They make period pieces at Searchlight Pictures, so they were happy to, to our surprise, [and] because we were in between seasons [on] Tacoma, we were able to put it into production very quickly and get it done very quickly.
ATL: I was wondering how it fit in with the schedule of Tacoma because I know you were really busy with that and then the pandemic started.
Heffernan: We just had a window between Seasons 3 and 4, which we just shot, and also, we were able to roll our crew over, too. We [brought] our Tacoma crew over to the movie set, and we used some of the actors from Tacoma, and we kind of just kept moving. We finished Tacoma, went into a movie, and then went into the next season of Tacoma.
ATL: Steve, you’ve become known as the good-looking guy in the group who always gets the girl. Was that part of the joke, to make Steve look as grotesque as possible, but still let him get the girl while playing Quasimodo?
Steve Lemme: Okay, thank you very much. I like you the most of all the journalists we’ve met.
Stolhanske: Way to butter him up.
Lemme: Yeah, that’s the way to do it. Back when we were in New York City, in the ’90s, right out of college, I worked at the HMV record store, and there was a guy there who spoke out of the corner of his mouth like this. [closes up one side of mouth] He was in the blues department, and he would talk about how he played the saxophone, and it was the loneliest instrument in all creation, and he would sit in the windowsill on a hot, sweaty summer night and play a song for a woman that did not exist. We would riff about this character all the time.
We started to think about the loneliest characters cinematically, and the Hunchback was one of these guys. From there, we created a story about this hunchback being caught in a battle between the Pope and the King, and how he was lovelorn, and eventually, he would rise up and get all the things that he thought he could never have. He’s an antihero, but he is a hero of the people, and he does get the girl.
Stolhanske: An everyman.
Heffernan: And you still look good doing it.
Stolhanske: And you got the girl.
Heffernan: The most sexy hunchback.
Lemme: Thank you very much.
Paul Soter: I think, yeah, you’ll go down as the sexiest hunchback in cinema history.
Lemme: Thank you very much. I love your style.
Soter: Please. More questions about how sexy Steve Lemme is.
ATL: Kevin and Jay, how did you decide who was going to direct this one? Kevin, I know you’ve been busy with the TV show, and Jay, I know you also did Easter Sunday in the past few years, so is it all about who has the most time to do this one? How does it work?
Heffernan: Jay was doing Easter Sunday during that — you had just finished shooting, so he had that film going when this one started really happening.
Jay Chandrasekhar: He’s now directed more than 20 episodes of Tacoma and now two films. I just feel very comfortable in his hands as a director, so it just made a lot of good sense.
Lemme: It really made sense.
Chandrasekhar: It made sense, it worked.
ATL: Most of you are playing dual roles in this, but I’m curious, how do you decide who plays which role? And was this the first movie where you were playing dual roles?
Chandrasekhar: Well, [Kevin] played Landfill One and Two in Beerfest.
Heffernan: But never against each other.
Chandrasekhar: And [Paul] played twin brothers in Slammin’ Salmon.
Soter: We dabbled. For us, that was always… we grew up on Monty Python, and that was a huge part of the charm — watching those guys all over the place populating those movies. We wanted to be able to do that, and this was a thing we wanted to do very early. But it probably makes more sense, [too]. I feel like we’ve kind of earned that ability to populate a movie entirely with ourselves now. I think everything worked out for the best.
ATL: You also have a bit of a rep for getting Oscar winners and nominees to appear in your movies. I was expecting a few cameos here, given how many actors there are who I imagine would want to do a period piece for Searchlight.
Heffernan: That’s the problem — we wanted to play all the characters. Normally, you’d go get that Oscar winner to play the King and the Pope.
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, get Sir Ian McKellen to play the…
Heffernan: But we laid that out to the studio at the beginning and said, ‘We’re gonna play all the parts, so that’s just the way it’s gonna be.’ Except for the Queen, obviously.
Lemme: And we got our friend Brian Cox. He showed up.
ATL: Who is now an Emmy winner! What made you think of Adrianne Palicki to play the Queen? She must have been game for a lot of the crazy things you threw at her, which I assume is the case with most of the outside actors you work with.
Heffernan: The nice thing was, we reached out to her, and she ended up being a fan, and we didn’t realize that, but she was a fan of our movies. She was working on The Orville at the time, so her comedy chops were great, and you knew that she could do it. We reached out to her, and it ended up working great. It was a great fit. She was game for anything, she had great improv skills, great comedy skills, and she looks like a Queen. It just worked out well.
Stolhanske: And [she] does a terrific British accent.
Heffernan: Very good British accent.
Stolhanske: Put us to shame.
ATL: As far as doing a period piece with all the wigs and costumes, does that add even more stress to a shoot?
Lemme: It’s the opposite. It relieves the stress. All four of these guys have these fantastic costumes and crowns and papal hats, and you start to feel very silly when you put those things on.
Soter: The only stress would be [that] you wear something that goes down to your feet, which I’ve never done before. You just trip on shit, like every couple [of] minutes. I’m not used to walking around in a gown, so, [for] something like going up and down stairs, you have to be careful not to break your neck. Yeah, that was the stress. But otherwise, it’s just a blast to get to do something so theatrical and cartoonish.
Stolhanske: It took us back to our roots when we were doing sketch comedy in Greenwich Village.
Lemme: I’ll tell you what’s stressful, and I’m only going to give this answer to you because I like you so much. Putting on fake facial hair! That adds a lot of stress to comedy acting. Ask Jay about that.
Stolhanske: This is a question for Jay.
Lemme: Jay, tell us about putting a prosthetic mustache and beard on your face.
Chandrasekhar: I luckily didn’t have to. I just grew it out.
Lemme: Ohhhhhh… there you go. You see, in improv, there’s something called “Yes, and…” and then there’s something called, “No but…” [and] he just “No, but-ed” me.
Stolhanske: [pointing to Jay] The Chicago Kid!
Soter: All that Chicago improv really paid off.
Chandrasekhar: Aren’t you glad we’re not an improv group now?
Lemme: Yeah, you’re right. We suck at improv.
ATL: Was Jay the only one who grew a beard and mustache? Did anyone else even try?
Heffernan: No, he didn’t grow a… he’s just lying. Everyone had one character that had no facial hair, and a character that had facial hair. So we had to wear a lot of fake wigs and beards.
Chandrasekhar: When you say ‘lying,’ what you mean is, ‘He’s just joking.’
Lemme: When you put on a fake mustache or a fake beard, it’s glued onto your face. If you even start to smile a little bit, you are going to pop something off your face [he demonstrates what he means]. Even if it’s really well glued on there, you still have this fear that it’s gonna pop off, and so it makes you totally wooden.
Stolhanske: And you don’t eat. You’re afraid of eating on set, or cracking your lips.
Soter: And if somebody makes you laugh, you go [gives a stifled laugh].
ATL: How did you get Iggy Pop to do a song for the end credits? Who approached him for that, and who wrote the song?
Heffernan: Our music supervisor had a contact, a woman [who] wrote the song with him. We had a very limited music budget [but] we needed to fill the slot, so our music supervisor says, ‘Hey, I have this contact [close] to Iggy Pop,’ and then reached out. I guess that was a song that he wrote and recorded for True Blood, and it was only ever used for that show. I think they were interested in seeing if there was anybody else out there that wanted it, and we were like, ‘Fuck yeah! An Iggy Pop song in our credits. Let’s do it.’ And so, we put Iggy Pop in the movie.
Chandrashekhar: IGGGGY POOOOOOOP!
Heffernan: Our music supervisor set that up, and it was great.
ATL: Even though the lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with the movie whatsoever.
Heffernan: Nothing to do with it. The lyrics are kind of weird and off, but it’s his voice, and it has that cadence and the sound of an Iggy Pop song. Like, you immediately recognize it. “Oh, an Iggy Pop song.” We were like, ‘Of course, beggars can’t be choosers, man. Let’s take the Iggy Pop song.’
ATL: Before talking to you guys, I was reflecting on all the fun I had on the set of Beerfest and doing the New York pub crawl. Is there any chance of you guys getting the rights back to do the “Potfest” you teased at the end of that movie?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, we’re discussing [it] with Warner Bros. now, so we’re hoping that those conversations will bear fruit.
ATL: I feel like you need to get Willie Nelson fairly quickly. You don’t want to wait too long…
Heffernan: I know it.
Chandrasekhar: He’s 90.
Stolhanske: He’ll go on forever.
Chandrasekhar: He’s doing two birthday shows at the Hollywood Bowl on the 28th and the 29th of April.
Heffernan: He’s still going strong at 90… amazing!
ATL: I’m more than 30 years younger than that, and I don’t think I can do what he does at his age.
Heffernan: No way.
ATL: I know that Tacoma is on HBO Max, as are a couple of other Broken Lizard movies. I’m not sure if Beerfest is on there, but it seems like Warner Bros. Discovery might want to do a follow-up…
Heffernan: Club Dread is on there right now.
ATL: I know that Steve and Kevin have another season of Tacoma on the horizon and that Jay is always directing television and other movies, but what else do you guys do in between Broken Lizard projects?
Chandrasekhar: I’m writing a Scottish golf trip movie that kind of turns into The Hangover. I love golf.
Soter: I would see that.
Lemme: I love Scottish people. [puts on a Scottish accent] That sounds great!
ATL: When you write something like that, are you thinking about whether it’s something for Broken Lizard or not, or do you just write it and go from there?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, we just do our own side things. I’m a golf addict, so I’m trying to merge that golf addiction with my actual professional life.
Stolhanske: You do stand-up and golf — two great tastes that taste great together. That’s right.
ATL: Do all of you generally still do stand-up?
Chandrasekhar: I just did. I’ve been touring a fair bit, but everybody does some, yeah.
ATL: I did see Kevin and Steve when they performed in New York around the time that Tacoma was starting.
Heffernan: Since Tacoma started, we haven’t had time to [tour]. It’s just been that constant wheel. We don’t know what the future of Tacoma is. We finished Season 4, and they’re going to air Season 4 this summer, and then we await their decision about whether they’re gonna make more.
Chandrasekhar: Did they give you an air date?
Heffernan: They did not give us an air date yet, but the summer.
Quasi is now streaming on Hulu, while all three seasons of Tacoma FD are streaming on HBO Max.