Altered State Police: An Oral History of 'Super Troopers'

The Broken Lizard gang remembers the high times and shenanigans involved in making a stoner-comedy classic

Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Kevin Heffernan in 'Super Troopers'
Courtesy Everett Collection
April 18, 2014 12:25 PM ET

With 4/20 coming around this Sunday, we could have easily given you a list of all the reasons that Super Troopers has become one of the greatest "stoner comedies" of all time. Instead, we decided to chat with all five of the Broken Lizard guys to let them tell you all about this little film they made nearly 15 years ago and how it turned into the cult classic it is today. Spark it up, cinephiles! It's oral-history time. 

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The beginning
Steve Lemme ("Mac"): We had made our first movie, Puddle Cruiser, which got into Sundance but didn't get picked up. We were very hopeful and optimistic, and then that didn't sell and it took us five years to raise the money for Super Troopers. We realized that this was probably the last bite at the apple, so there was a lot of pressure.

Paul Soter ("Foster"): Anything that we did, we were hoping that it would break us out. With Puddle Cruiser, we'd shown it at festivals and flirted with real distribution. We'd been right on the brink, and had it snatched away from us. We always knew that, this time, we had to do better.

Kevin Heffernan ("Rod"): After what happened with the first movie, we just wanted to make something our parents could go to a theater and see. 

Jay Chandrasekhar ("Thorny" & Director)One of the interesting things that happened at Sundance involves Harvey Weinstein. He had seen Puddle Cruiser there and had flirted with buying it. He didn't buy it, but he said, "I'll buy your next script." So we wrote Super Troopers and developed it at Miramax.

Erik Stolhanske ("Rabbit"): We were writing something that made us laugh. A lot of the stories that we wove together were funny stories that had happened to us while we were road-tripping to different places, either while performing or going to a wedding. We'd all pile into Jay's car — it was the only car we had because we were living in New York City — and we'd go on these road trips and write down funny jokes or stories that we remembered laughing about. Then we strung them together to form a storyline. So we didn't really have any expectations going into it, but they were always stories that made us laugh.

Soter: We had gotten some good advice when the script was being developed at Miramax and our executive said, "Look, approach this as if you'll never get to make another movie again. Lay everything out as if this is the only chance you're going to get from now on." I think that ended up being the overall philosophy of the whole thing: "Let's make sure everything is the funniest and ballsiest as we could manage it." 

Lemme: We were thinking along the lines of making something like Smokey and the Bandit. Those John Landis films: The Blues Brothers was another big one. We wanted it R-rated and funny. But your budget is too small for big stunts, so it really does become about the station house hijinks. It was also more of a tonal thing. The cops in those movies were tough and funny, but slightly buffoonish. We wanted our guys to be smart. They're good cops with nothing to do.

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Soter: I think I probably grew up on goofier stuff: The Zucker brothers and things like Police Squad. I really liked absurd stuff. I was a latchkey kid so I always watched what was on TV. My comic personality was crafted by the rerun power block of M.A.S.H. and The Bob Newhart Show, because it was on every single day at 3:30 when I got home from school.  

Lemme: I’ll tell you what: Police Academy was not one of the movies. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. 

Chandrasekhar: You know, I have still never seen a Police Academy film. Not even one of them. I know that there was a dude that did sound effects; I've seen a clip of that. He's amazing. But even as a child, I remember feeling like that it was too broad to me: "Nah, I'm not interested." Believe it or not, I felt the same way about National Lampoon's Vacation. I was like, "I'm not going to see a family movie." [Laughs]

Soter: The credit that I will give the other guys (especially Jay) is that they always wanted to make sure it was tethered to reality. Anytime we wrote something that was funny but probably stretched credibility, he'd been really good at holding that boundary. 

Chandrasekhar: Our dream was to become the American Monty Python. But yeah, it was Smokey and the Bandit. That's what we were really going for. A macho, mustache-y, tough, funny kind of movie.

Stolhanske: If this film didn't get picked up, we'd probably have to go on to be lawyers or doctors. So there was that pressure. But it was kind of a nice feeling in the sense that we definitely wanted to make a movie that worked and was a success. At the same time, we didn't ever feel like we were in the studio system trying to create a film that was written for an audience.

Chandrasekhar: Harvey read it and he said, "Eh, I don't know. Maybe I just don't know comedy. I don't know. It's funny, but I don't know." So he let us have it back. I mean, these films aren't cheap. Super Troopers cost $1.2 million, and you're not going to get that kind of money if you don't sell your movies. It would have been the end because I don't know that we would have continued to try to make another. Who knows though?

Heffernan: I finished law school right before Puddle Cruiser and then I took the bar exam before we finished Super Troopers, so I was ok. I had a backup plan. [Laughs

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"It was bush-league all the way around"
Soter: With Puddle Cruiser, we were shooting at our own college campus at Colgate University and it was so contained. We had access to the buildings and  were all staying in the guys' fraternity house. It didn't feel like a hardship because it was always sort of a comfortable space. You were sitting around in a classroom or shooting in a frat house and you could always just chill out. 

On Super Troopers, there was nothing in terms of comforts and luxuries. You shot a scene on the highway and then you stood on the side of the road and waited until there was something for you to do again. Or you wrapped cable. They didn't have anybody to drive the picture cars back to the garage. It was funny (and fun) that we all finished shooting and then got in those cop cars and drove back on the highways. It was completely illegal. The cars weren't marked as picture cars, so we would zip around laughing as we drove our own cop cars back home, but at the same time you're thinking, "Isn't this supposed to be somebody's job?" [Laughs

Chandrasekhar: The opening of Puddle Cruiser is the slowest part of the movie. It's 15 minutes of, I'd say, a really average start to a movie. So when we made Super Troopers we said, "Let's make an opening that really kills." 

Heffernan: We thought it would be funny to pay homage to the First Blood scene with Rambo where he gets hosed down in the police station. Next thing you know I'm in the basement of some police station, covered in powdered sugar and getting hosed down with the entire film crew there. It was one of those "be careful what you write" situations. That was also the day that Jay decided to invite his entire family to the set. Those days where people are naked and stuff, you might have a closed set on another movie. On this one, Jay's grandmother and aunt and sister were there. We didn't know anything about merkins or whatever; I was just full-on full frontal. [Laughs] I think the other folks on set were surprised at how raw we were going.

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