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.
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.
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]
"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.
Stolhanske: The powdered-sugar moment! That was part of the fun of it. Writing that joke and then going on set to watch it come to life.
Heffernan: The scene where I pull a car over and I call the people chickenfuckers? Those are my parents in the car. They said, "Can we be in the movie?" I said, "Yeah, you do this part." I didn't tell them what it was and we did like 25 takes with me calling my parents chickenfuckers, which was a fun day.
Soter: We still laugh about what a good sport Brian Cox ("Captain O'Hagan") was but, at the same time, he was sleeping in a van during night shoots. Somebody walked in on him in the shitter once because there were no locks on the doors.
Heffernan: There were plenty of other days where you would look over and see Brian Cox and you would catch him gazing off into the distance with that,"What the fuck am I doing?" look on his face.
Soter: He saw the spirit of what we were up to and he saw that it was just a bunch of buddies doing this thing together and the family aspect of it. I like to think that was charming enough to satisfy him. It's a miracle that he didn't snap the way that he deserved to have snapped. It was bush league all the way around.
Stolhanske: Part of the fun we like to have is that we write jokes for each other. For example, having Kevin jump over the burger counter. We always thought, "Ah, that'd be funny," and Kevin would roll his eyes. It's our way of being comfortable in the fact that we've known each other for so long that we can make fun of each other without hurting anyone's feelings.
Soter: Anything that has any sincerity or any kind of romantic notions to it is the part that we're like, "I hope people don't barf during this part of the movie."
"I'm coming back! It's killing!"
Chandrasekhar: At the 2001 Sundance festival, I ran into Harvey in a bar about 45 minutes before the Super Troopers premiere. I said, "Come on. You developed this movie. You've got to come see it. It turned out great." He said, "I would love to, but I've got a meeting at midnight. If I come to your movie and people see me walk out, you're not selling the damn thing." I said, "Well, I don't care. Harvey, I want you to buy the thing. Watch what you can. We'll put you in the back and you can sneak out." He said, "In Sundance, there's no sneaking out for me." I said, "Come on!" So he comes to the movie and everybody sees him there and they're all looking around. When Harvey Weinstein comes to your movie at Sundance, it's a big deal. It could be huge.
We screen the movie at 11:30 at night and that crowd was high and they were drunk. It was a very friendly crowd. You could tell there was excitement in the air. So I thought, "We’ll get through the opening and see what happens." Very quickly the laughs started to come and by the middle of that opening, it was like people were going to rip the seats out. It was just this explosion of laughter and energy that you couldn’t deny. It was fantastic.
Sure enough, at five-to-midnight, Harvey walks out and sees me loitering around in the lobby. He goes, "I'm coming back! It's killing!" And he leaves. The guy did us the biggest favor. With 15 minutes left to go in the film, he comes back in, slides back into his seat, and at the end of the screening there's this excitement. He comes up to me and says, "I'm going to do you a favor. Come meet me at the bar." We met up at the bar for last call and had a drink with him. When people saw us hanging around with Harvey after that movie, the other studios were like, "Oh, shit. We'd better fucking get on this." He created a market for the film basically by shadow play. He didn't even see the middle of the movie. He said, "When you hang out with me, you'll sell your movie." It went as well as it could possibly go.
Lemme: At Sundance, a bunch of Utah State Police heard about the movie and they came to the second screening. Afterwards, they were like, "Oh my God. You captured it." Usually in movies, either cops are portrayed as dicks or they're just idiots. They said, "You actually captured what it's like to be a police officer. We play all those games when we're bored."
Heffernan: I don't ever think there was a moment where we were like, "Holy shit!" It was such a slow burn for that movie. We were super excited when we sold it and super excited at how widely Fox Searchlight distributed it, but we never expected any of what happened later.
Soter: Its initial run was okay by the standards of the size of that movie and the fact that there was nobody in it. Everybody was more or less pleased, but at the same time there was some disappointment that it wasn't this breakout hit. So then we kind of settled into what do we do next? It was probably a year and a half until we started going out into the world and having people approach us in pretty considerable numbers.
Heffernan: It's pretty awesome because we definitely didn't expect it. I think until we started going out and touring and doing live comedy, I don't even know if we appreciated how far the reach was of how many people love Super Troopers, until you go and you meet the people. We made this little movie for a million bucks, and we scratched and clawed to get it made — and now it's in the cult-classic pantheon of comedy movies. It's exciting to know that, at least when you get your obituary, you'll have something there that people will recognize.
Lemme: It was really the DVD thing. It caught on and, all of a sudden, years after the film came out people were starting to recognize us and talk about the movie a lot. That’s when it really blew up.
Heffernan: It did good in theaters, but it was definitely a DVD/home video type of movie and hit at just the right moment in time. That was when it became a huge hit for Fox Searchlight. On DVD, it was making the equivalent of their biggest blockbusters. They were pretty happy.
Lemme: I think it's that way with comedy in general. People need to watch it many times. It's one of those things where it's just in the DVD player and going in the background while they party. And then, one day, they're like, "I've seen this movie 50 times. Let's take it out of the DVD player." Or it's the thing they keep watching throughout their high school or college years.
Heffernan: You realize that it's also being passed down. It makes me feel a little old, but we'll go and do shows and there will be a ton of college kids at the shows that discovered the movies. It's really cool to see.
Stolhanske: I've heard a lot of people say, "If those guys can do it, then we can do it!" I think our film has an accessibility that shows that a group of friends can get together and make a film.
Soter: In reality, the movie was written over a process of us just spending years together smoking grass and drinking beers and trying to crack each other up. We've come to realize that, somehow through some sort of osmosis, the sense of a bunch of guys hanging out really ended up on the screen — and really became the way that it should be consumed. If you talk to anyone now, when they describe watching the movie, it's always some sort of communal party-like situation, which is great.
Heffernan: We went on to win a Stony Award, man. High Times magazine gave us a Stony.
"Do you have any idea how fast you were…Super Troopers!"
Chandrasekhar: There's all this stuff that's done with computers and trying to figure out what people like and what type of people like what kind of thing. You can predict who, in different environments, is going to be one of our fans. If you go to Whole Foods, the only people that will stop you are the checkout counter people or butcher group. At sporting events, like Dodgers games, it's like we're Brad Pitt. People who drink love us. As you get into anybody over 40 or 45, they really just don't have a clue. It's just a generational thing.
Lemme: Kevin and I do a live standup comedy tour and our shows are sold out with these Broken Lizard fans. A lot of them come dressed in costumes. Routinely we have police officers and people dressed as police officers in our crowd.
Chandrasekhar: We were on the road doing live shows and I think we were in Ohio. I stayed in the van. The other guys went into a Burger King and, as there often is, there was a bit of excitement. At this time, one woman hadn't seen Super Troopers but all her co-workers had. So she approaches the guys and says, "You guys did that movie. That cop movie. Oh wow. That's cool. I'm such a big fan. We're all big fans." And then she says, "So where's the black guy who makes all those noises?" [Laughs] Again with the Police Academy! They all said, "Oh, he's in the van."
Lemme: People come up to us and tell us about the Super Troopers drinking game or they would challenge you to chug maple syrup against them. You're in an IHOP and some stoners come up to you with the maple syrup containers and they want to chug against you. You're like, "Please, no." [Laughs]
Chandrasekhar: Bouncers and bartenders are our best friends. There's no line in the country where they're not like, "Oh, you? Yeah, absolutely." The drinks are so often free. Owners will show up and keep bars open for us. We're dragged into freezers with joints. It's like a real hard-partying fanbase. It's been kind of fun to be part of that, honestly.
Lemme: Once, I got pulled over doing 120 miles per hour and the cop looked in. He walks up to my window, really pissed, and says, "Do you have any idea how fast you were…Super Troopers?" [Laughs] I said, "You got me," and he said, "Oh my God. We play all those games you guys play. We play the repeater. We play the meow game." I said, "Bulletproof jockstrap?" And he goes, "Oh, we're not that crazy."
Long story short, he said, "So I got you doing 120, but I'm gonna let you out of this with a warning, and it's not because Super Troopers is my favorite movie of all time. And it's not because I'm nicknamed ‘Mac' after your character. It's because I don't feel like filling out any paperwork tonight." And then he said, "Are you in a hurry? Is that why you're driving like such an asshole?" So I said, "Nah, I just got this new car," and he said, "Well, can I trouble you for a photo and an autograph." So I got out of the car and we wound up taking selfies by the side of the road. A police car with its rollers on and my sports car. We have our arms around each other taking selfies and people are driving by like, "What the fuck?" And then he let me go. That's happened to all of us many times since then.
Heffernan: Except in Vermont. We heard that in Vermont, the cops don't like us. The Vermont State Police. [Laughs]
Lemme: I was at a rock concert with the girl who is now my wife. Her favorite band was playing out here and we had pretty good seats. Halfway through the show, the lead singer stopped the concert. It was like that Bugle Boy jeans commercial back in the 90's. He stopped it and he's looking in my direction. My wife goes, "I think he's looking at you," and I said, "No."
Then he says, "Is that you?" Nobody knows what he's saying, so he says it again and I point to myself and say, "Me?" I'm like 100 feet away from him and he's like, "Holy shit! The Eye of the Jew! This guy made Super Troopers!" The whole place goes nuts. We had a little more of a dialogue, shouting across this rock club, and then they start the concert again. Next thing we know, the manager came out and said, "The guys want you backstage." Now this is my girlfriend's favorite band. We went backstage and partied with them after the concert and became friends with them. She was impressed, to say the least.
Chandrasekhar: Judd Apatow had seen Super Troopers and this pilot I'd made, so he called me in and asked me to do an episode of the show he was running, which just happened to be Undeclared. Mitch Hurwitz had seen the movie as well and he felt like I knew my way around a joke, so I got to direct several episodes of Arrested Development. I got to write my own show [Really], which I'm down in New Orleans right now directing the pilot for. Cheech & Chong's manager said, "Why don't we put their movie together with you guys?" So Kevin, Steve, and I are writing the next Cheech & Chong movie, and then I'll direct it. There's a nice intergenerational stoner marriage there. All that happened because people saw Super Troopers.
Super Troopers 2 Is Go!
Lemme: Yeah, the sequel is going to happen. We closed the deal with Fox and the script is written; pre-production will be when we get the money. It's a strange situation because the studio has given us the green light, but they're not financing the film. We're aware of all the bad press that came from Zach Braff's Kickstarter campaign, but then there's also Rob Thomas and the Veronica Mars situation. We are going to find the money for this. We've been approached by a number of people. It's a matter of figuring out the terms that are best for everybody.
Stolhanske: There was a time, right after the film came out, where we were asked to put on the uniforms and go promote the film. [Laughs] We got sent down to malls and tire stores in Australia, so there was a moment where we were like, "We are never putting these uniforms on again." And now we couldn't be more excited to put it back on. It was fun to write the screenplay because you know what the voices are. It's been fun to get back into character.
Chandrasekhar: I'm excited to shoot that movie knowing what I know now. Even making Super Troopers, it turned out that I knew how to make that movie, but at the time I didn't know that I knew how to make that movie. I was under a lot of intense, artistic tension. I had anxiety about, "Is this the right shot?" Super Troopers I lost 10 pounds. By the time I did The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), I gained 20 pounds because, by then, my mind was like, "You know what you're doing now."
I'm a student of sequels and I know what they did wrong when you see them. Usually what they try to do is make them glitzier and broader and all that stuff. Our approach is not going to be that. If anything, the mustaches will be a little bigger, it'll be a little tougher maybe, but we're just going to make a second one. We're not going to dye our hair blond and spike it up or anything. This is going to be just another cop story.
Heffernan: I think it's going to be very fun to grow that mustache back again and go be an asshole.