For their newest film, 'The Slammin' Salmon', Heffernan decided to sit in the director's chair for the first time. While that seat is warmed by Chandrasekhar, the result is the same high-energy comedy Broken Lizard fans have come to expect -- and love. Fans will be amazed when Michael Clarke Duncan steals the whole film from these comedy veterans. We caught up with Heffernan at the City Crab in New York to talk about the film, the group's latest tour and their upcoming films. Broken Lizard is a true Hollywood oddity. Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske, Paul Soter, and Kevin Heffernan formed as a sketch comedy group at Colgate University in 1990. Five years later, they racked up a ton of debt while shooting their first feature film, 'Puddle Cruiser.' The gamble paid off ... seven years later when their second film 'Super Troopers' became a cult hit. Twenty years after forming, they don't hate each other. They have continued to work successfully as a group in a system that often tears friends apart.
For their newest film, 'The Slammin' Salmon', Heffernan decided to sit in the director's chair for the first time. While that seat is warmed by Chandrasekhar, the result is the same high-energy comedy Broken Lizard fans have come to expect -- and love. Fans will be amazed when Michael Clarke Duncan steals the whole film from these comedy veterans. We caught up with Heffernan at the City Crab in New York to talk about the film, the group's latest tour and their upcoming films.
It's impressive that the entire film takes place in such a small space.
One night, one room.
Was that always the intention?
Yes, it was a budget thing. After 'Club Dread,' we were brainstorming new movie pitches, and came up with 'Beerfest.' Then we wanted a lower budget option, so we came up with this. 'Beerfest' was bigger in scope, and this was based on Steve Lemme's experience working here [City Crab] for six years. It was an interesting way to write it, keeping it in one place, like a stage play.
There are a lot of very specific service industry jokes in the film. Did you ever work in a restaurant?
I worked one night as a dishwasher and quit. But Jay, Steve and Eric all worked together at a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Busby's. We tried not to get too esoteric with lingo, but we wanted it to feel real if you've worked in a restaurant, which most people have at some point.
When you wrote the script, who did you have in mind for Cleon 'Slammin' Salmon?
We wrote it with Mike Tyson in our minds. That's why his dialogue is very fanciful. We'd sit around a table and speak in his high lispy voice. It's funny, when you watch the movie knowing that, you'll see how many "S"s are in the Champ's dialogue. But then you have to get someone to actually play the part. We didn't want someone doing Mike Tyson, because then it becomes a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch.
At what point did Michael Clarke Duncan come on board?
Late in the game, actually. Everything happened so quickly with the movie. The money came in, and we were shooting a month and a half later. So, two weeks before we started shooting, we got the script to him. He would get exactly what we needed him to and then just start improvising. Like there's this one line in the movie where he says, "How do you say 'mother f*cker' in Spanish?" to a Japanese translator. That was all him.
I was really surprised how hilarious he is in it.
Right, I know. You wouldn't think it from 'The Green Mile.' But he had done 'Talladega Nights,' so Jay emailed Adam McKay and asked him about Mike's comedy stuff. In the meantime, Mike was checking up on us. He had called Mo'Nique because she was in 'Beerfest' and asked how we were. Luckily it came together, because I was terrified no one would be able to do it. You could try to get Mike Tyson, but he'd come for one day and the acting wouldn't be very strong. So it was very hard to find that person. But he came in the first day and nailed it. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, then just began improvising. I was so afraid to yell cut because I didn't know him, he was terrifying, and he was into it. I knew right there, we were fine. During our schedule, he had tickets to the Super Bowl so we were shooting around it. The Monday afterward he had this huge scene to do. When he showed up, he told me that he had been so worried about the scene he didn't make it to the Super Bowl. He stayed in his hotel room with the script spread on the bed going over his lines.
What led you to direct?
Jay was committed to another movie at Warner Brothers, so I offered to direct it. And we work collaboratively on the films and edit them together, so it wasn't that much of a change.
Was there a moment where you made a decision and Jay said, "Uhhhhh"?
[Laughs] There's definitely that stuff. There always is. It's great to have that standing off to the side, offering suggestions. It's actually a good thing.
Why did Broken Lizard decide to start performing live again?
When we took this movie to South by Southwest, we did a little comedy thing beforehand to get the audience laughing. Afterward, we said, "You know, we should do more of this stuff." We found out there is an appetite for it. We could go out and do theaters.
Are there things audiences laugh at now that they didn't 15 years ago?
The interesting, and "cheap," thing is that people know us from the movies, so we don't have to win them over. They've come to see us because they're fans. I remember a few years ago seeing the Kids in the Hall perform live and when they would walk out on stage, before they would even open their mouths, the place is going crazy. It's a great gig when you don't have to win the audience over.
Is there are particular quote fans yell at you the most often?
It's all Farva stuff from 'Super Troopers.' It's weird because usually when stand-up comics get hecklers, they're yelling something negative like, "You suck!" We get heckled nonstop, but it's quotes from our movies, so we don't really know how to respond to positive heckling.
Do people recognize you on the street as the guy from 'Super Troopers'?
They do now more often. It happens the most when the five of us travel around in a pack. It clicks a little more for people. It's a weird phenomenon because all of our films are DVD successes, so it's not like everyone starts recognizing me the weekend it comes out in theaters. It's a slow burn.
Can you tell us anything about 'Super Troopers 2'?
It's definitely happening. We're writing it and we're a couple drafts in. We were a little hesitant to do it before because we wanted to make a few other movies before we went back to it. We want to make sure we don't screw it up, so we've been slowly going through the drafts. It's definitely going to come together.
What about 'Potfest'?
It will be a little different than 'Potfest.' We're definitely doing a pot movie, but within the studio so it will probably be something like 'Pot Quest'.
Will it still be a sequel to 'Beerfest'?
It probably won't be the same characters, but it will be a similar concept. 'Potfest' was originally just a joke at the end of the movie. Suddenly we started getting all these calls from people like 50 Cent, Willie Nelson, Cheech & Chong, Snoop Dogg ... asking if we were really doing the movie.
The Pot Brigade jumped on it?
Yeah! All the famous pot guys wanted to be in it. So we figure that we may as well make 'The Cannonball Run' of pot movies and get all these people to be in it.
How does Broken Lizard stay so independent within the studio system?
Part of it is because our budgets our low. When we made 'Beerfest' at Warner Brothers, they were making 'Superman' and the remake of 'Poseidon,' these $200M movies, and we were making a $13M movie. That's the amount they usually spend on catering. So we kind of fly under the radar and they just see us as an experiment. The other part is because there are five of us. When you're sitting in a meeting with a studio executive, it's hard for him to look five guys in the face and say, "That's not funny." We intimidate them a little. It still happens; we've been stopped from making things. But overall we've been lucky.
Final question, how do you keep it real?
I think it's the fact we've been together for so long. The five of us went to college together. After being together 20 years, if someone is not keeping it real, you make fun of them.