Recently, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske, and Paul Soter — the comedy team better known as Broken Lizard — spent the majority of two days doing the same task over and over again: signing autographs. More specifically, they had to sign 7,000 Super Troopers 2 posters to send to the backers who helped support the making of the long-awaited sequel to their surprise 2001 hit. It was a tedious way to spend roughly 22 hours, but a small price to pay in return for the support from those fans who helped give them an opportunity to do something that, over the 17 years between Super Troopers and its sequel, sometimes felt impossible. After getting $4.6 million in crowdfunding, Broken Lizard was able to shoot and release Super Troopers 2, which made nearly triple its opening weekend projection to pull in $14.7 million in its first three days.
With that success, they know that they have a small window of time in which to capitalize on the performance of the movie and convince studios to let them do another one. It’s a window that closed quickly on them following the original Super Troopers, as Club Dread and Beerfest fell short of box office expectations, leading to a limited release for The Slammin’ Salmon, and resulting in the crowdfunding campaign necessary for Fox Searchlight to get behind them on Super Troopers 2.
But now, both a Super Troopers 3 and a sequel to Beerfest don’t seem as farfetched as they once did. We caught up with the troupe after Super Troopers 2’s breakout success to talk about their admitted failures, their most memorable on-set moments — and what’s next.
Do you feel like every Broken Lizard movie has been a better, more well-made movie than the one before it? Does it work that way?
Jay Chandrasekhar: I think it absolutely works that way. I think the later movies are better, but the audience has this emotional attachment to them that you can’t really buy. They love it for whatever reasons they love it. Each movie has gotten progressively tighter and better and it becomes more exactly what we wanted. Super Troopers is also what we wanted, but we didn’t know what it would turn into.
Paul Soter: Hopefully our movies would get bigger [more] in terms of their reach than in terms of their production value. Beerfest represented an opportunity to have what felt like a big studio comedy that tons of people would go see at a multiplex. The hope is that each one expanded our audience so we get to that point of being a legitimately viable studio comedy movie entity.
Making movies in the 2000s, you got to work with some really great actors, like Brian Cox in Super Troopers, Bill Paxton in Club Dread, and Monique in Beerfest. What’s it like to bring in actors of this caliber to a Broken Lizard movie set?
Erik Stolhanske: I remember being on Super Troopers with Brian Cox, and he had been in Braveheart, and he was going to come to our set on this script that we wrote, and act in our movie, and I was intimidated having that first scene with him. I thought the night before, “I can’t believe I’m acting with an actor with such heft.” He loves comedy, and the fact that he got to be in a comedy — he was a delight to have on set because he was having fun. Same thing with Paxton — he was a method actor so he would come down on set as Coconut Pete and he never left character.
Steve Lemme: My favorite Paxton moment was dragging him through the ocean. There was one day that he brought me sailing and tried to teach me how to sail, and the moment he gained control of the sail, I lost control and the whole boat rocked and dropped into the ocean, and he was holding on by one rope as the boat cruised 30 miles per hour. He was so pissed, shouting obscenities at me while I sat on the boat and had no idea what to do.
Kevin Heffernan: Michael Clarke Duncan in Slammin’ Salmon, we had never worked with him before, and we didn’t have that rapport yet. The first scene we shot with him he went on a riff and just improvised, and we didn’t want to yell “cut” because we were afraid that he would hurt us. We didn’t know the guy, and he just went for it, and we didn’t know how funny of a guy that he was.
After the slow-burn success of the original Super Troopers on home video, you had an opportunity to make a movie that you hoped would solidify Broken Lizard as something studios could bank on for hit comedies. How did you land on Club Dread as the follow-up?
Steve: I think in retrospect it was probably a mistake for us to shift the tone so strongly while we were just kind of coming out of the gate. I think the fans of Super Troopers were also a little bit confused by the change in tone.
Kevin: I don’t think it entered our minds for many, many years to come back and do Super Troopers. We wanted to make Beerfest and Club Dread. There was a time where we could come back and say, “Let’s start thinking about Super Troopers 2,” just because the groundswell happened in a sense that there’s such a great fanbase that discovered that movie. In those other years we didn’t really think sequel, and then when we did it went into the normal kind of problems of momentum, and business, and pitches and that kinda stuff.
Paul: [Club Dread] was our first big disappointment. It was like, “Okay, this is the first movie we’ve done with a studio,” and to have it tank so spectacularly was just devastating. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it went from being the greatest experience of shooting to the worst experience that we’ve ever had in terms of having a movie fail performance-wise.
Jay: It’s nice to finally have a movie at a level that the studio is excited about [with Super Troopers 2]. We loved making Club Dread more than any other movie we’ve ever done, but it was painful when it came out. There’s something special when the studio goes all in behind you and the fans come through and show up. The future is exciting — we finally got our fans to get high in the parking lot instead of getting high in their house and saying, “Nah, we’ll wait until video.”
Did you feel a sense of “I told you so” when Super Troopers 2 did so much better at the box office than the projections had anticipated?
Jay: Making a movie is so hard as it is, and executives are hoping for wins too. We’re all, in the end, wanting the same thing, but what we’re really doing is already angling for the next one. Filmmakers, when we get a success on opening weekend, we’re saying to our agents, “Okay, let’s get up the next one. We wanna do it again.”
Steve: If it doesn’t perform then we’re pretty much done. On [opening day] we were still nervous. We still didn’t know if it was going to do well or not. That night we found out okay, we won Friday, that’s a great thing. You have to look to the future, and I’d say you have a couple of weeks tops where you can automatically sell something. If we go in tomorrow to some places, we’re almost guaranteed a sale, but the more time you let go by, the door starts to shut.
Jay, you’ve built this really successful career as a TV director outside of Broken Lizard, but if studios had said, “No more Broken Lizard movies,” after, say, Club Dread, would you be able to get the same creative satisfaction?
Jay: To be really honest, directing TV shows is fun and it’s practice and it’s interesting, but it’s not the same kind of creative joke-making that making these movies is. And because of the Broken Lizard existence, where we get to write, act, direct, and edit, I’m able to go step into a TV show and say, “Whatever you want. Whatever the showrunner wants, I’ll give you the very best version of that.” But at the end of the day if I’m like, ‘I don’t love the joke,’ but they do, all right, I’ll shoot their joke. My creative itch is scratched with Broken Lizard, but if I didn’t have that, I don’t know, I think I’d be sad. Even with all the success I’ve had in television, it wouldn’t quite be satisfying enough.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment or success between the two Super Troopers movies?
Steve: The crowdfunding campaign was the great unknown for us. We kind of had to be pushed in that direction, then we were scared because we’d been told by the studio that they didn’t think the audience was out there anymore. So we worked hard to put this thing together, and the night before it’s almost like a movie opening — you don’t know what will happen. What if we ask for $2 million and nobody shows up? That means that everybody else was right, the fans were not there, and we should definitely hang it up. So we worked hard on it, and on the first day we raised $2 million bucks in 24 hours and it was such a relief.
Jay: If it meant nothing, if it meant that fans were going to wait until home video, it very well could have meant the end of Broken Lizard. We discussed it: “If they don’t come, we should break this damn thing up.” And when we won Friday, I realized, “We might get another five to ten out of this thing.”
Paul: The accomplishment was that fans stepped up and we did get it made. We had an office at Warner Bros. and Mark McKinney from Kids in the Hall was working in this writing room above us and said, “Oh you guys are Broken Lizard. You guys are the most successful sketch comedy group ever!” And we’re like, “What are you talking about? Every day is a fucking struggle.” He says, “You’ve been doing this for 30 years and you made a bunch of movies. We couldn’t do that. We destroyed ourselves before we could do that.” I have to remind myself of the accomplishments we’ve had. It’s so hard to believe.
If hindsight tells you that Club Dread was perhaps not the right movie to make directly after Super Troopers, then certainly you’ve got that hyper awareness of the importance of what to do after Super Troopers 2. So how does that factor into what’s next?
Paul: We had a conversation today about what we’re doing next. It’s interesting that there’s a whole other audience in the Beerfest community that aren’t necessarily Super Troopers fans. As we think about, “Do we do a Beerfest sequel?” — whether it’s Potfest or something with those characters — I think we have a potential to tap into an audience in the way that we tapped into the audience that was anticipating Super Troopers by revisiting those guys.
Jay: I think we’re gonna try to make Super Troopers 3: Winter Soldier and we’re talking to Fox pretty soon.
Erik: Looking back, making a sequel closer to the first one was probably a better decision, so that is certainly weighing into our decision right now about making a third. First of all, we loved playing those characters again, we loved growing the mustaches and putting on the Ray-Bans, and the interactions of the characters together. We have certainly talked about going right into Super Troopers 3. Sometimes people want the ball down the middle of the plate — they just want red meat, and Super Troopers 3, I think, would be red meat to our fans and we would love to do it.
Kevin: Let’s make a musical!
Kevin: That’s Super Troopers 7.