Which town is considered the shenanigans capital of the United States? If you answered “Spurbury, Vermont,” you are correct. Spurbury’s reputation was established in 2001 by a ruthlessly funny group of state troopers who delighted in pranking everyone from their commanding officers to confused drivers pulled over and subjected to epic hijinx.
In reality, Spurbury is fictional and those Vermont state troopers were played by the sketch group Broken Lizard: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske. It’s no fiction that their movie Super Troopers went on to become a comedy classic with its nearly infinite supply of quotable, helpless-laughter-inducing moments.
In 2015, the five comedians gave their fans a surprise gift: the opportunity to crowdfund the long-awaited Super Troopers 2 with perks such as appearing in the film, naming a character, having all five guys stand up at your wedding, or having one of the Broken Lizards father your child.
The campaign broke records. The prospect of more mustachioed mischief inspired fans to contribute 2 million dollars in the first 26 hours. Over the course of a month, nearly 55,000 fans gave $4.6 million. While no fan had $25 million to drop on donated DNA, other perks were snapped up. Naming rights? Listen for “Shotti Fitznuggly.” You’ll also spot a number of supporters as film extras.
Super Troopers 2 was released in theaters this year on 4/20 (no coincidence) and exceeded all box office expectations. The movie roars to life in its first millisecond and continues at a rollicking pace all the way through the credits. (When the credits roll, keep watching!)
While there are clever callbacks to the first movie, Super Troopers 2 is a fresh story. Since we last saw them, the troopers have been fired due to an unfortunate tragedy involving Fred Savage. But now, the U.S. has asserted ownership of a Canadian town. The five are needed back on the job and can redeem themselves if they successfully preside over the turnover. But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are not happy to see the unconventional cops and Canadian-American relations are at an all-time low. The ensuing power struggle threatens to detonate everyone’s career and will leave viewers laughing themselves silly with this very worthy sequel.
Missed it in theaters? No worries. Super Troopers 2 became available on digital download on July 3 and the DVD/Blu-ray is out today.
Jay, the director, co-writer and co-star of the film, was in his hometown Chicago last week visiting family and throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs/Reds game. He kindly spoke with me by phone about what it takes to write a successful follow-up to an iconic film and what’s next for him and Broken Lizard. (Will there be a Super Troopers 3 or Beerfest 2? He’s got news!)
Teme: What was it like to throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game?
Jay: Well, there’s a lot of chatter before as to whether you’re about to publicly embarrass yourself in a way that will never disappear. They say you can practice, but they never actually let you because I think they want you to throw the ball poorly so that they can get more publicity and they can laugh. But I tell you what, I got up on the mound, I threw it hard and I didn’t bounce it. It was a little outside, but the catcher caught it. It was good. And I staved off humiliation.
Teme: Throwing the distance to home plate is impressive.
Jay: Yeah, it’s sixty feet and six inches. It was fun. The Cubs are my team. I’ve been rooting for them since I was a child. To get to stand on the mound was special.
Teme: Super Troopers 2 centers around a border dispute between Canada and the U.S., and Canadians having a dim view of Americans. All of that is more plausible now than ever. How did you know when you were writing the screenplay a few years ago that something very close would come to pass?
Jay: We didn’t. We just thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if the Canadians and the U.S. had a conflict because, of course, we’ll never have a conflict! Who could be conflicted with those friendly people up there?!” We found out who the guy is who could.
Teme: One of the things I marveled at in Super Troopers 2 is the number of jokes per minute. When you’re writing, how do you keep that energy and creativity flowing?
Jay: All jokes need a setup and the payoff. Once you set up a joke, you’re either going to pay it off right away or pay it off later. As we’re writing the story, we come up with the most interesting twists we can come up with. We’re attacking the parts that are either not funny yet or not working yet, and we’re constantly writing jokes and weaving in setups and payoffs.
Teme: Were any of the scenes improvised?
Jay: Not strictly speaking. We wrote about 37 drafts of the script. But I had such great actors. I made sure that when we got on set, we shot the written jokes well. Then once we got that done, I said, “Why don’t you guys do whatever you want?” Inevitably, people came up with some great improvised riffs that I wrote into the script. But for the most part, it’s pretty structured.
We improvised the whole “Danny DeVito” idea while we were smoking grass outside the hotel. We got into a joke about Danny DeVito and I was writing down all these different jokes. A few days later, we were back out there again and started riffing about Danny DeVito again, so I wrote down all those jokes. And then another week later, we were driving to work, and I put all the jokes into a scene. You’ve got to keep your ears open and be ready because when a funny thing comes, you’ve got to make sure you capture it.
Teme: What are your favorite things about Super Troopers 2?
Jay: I really love the rhythm of it. It just lays out really nicely. I love all the actors we hired. They all understood that the rhythm had to be at a high pace. They knew where to fit their jokes in between riffs. I always say it’s like if you get a great bunch of musical players together, you can create really cool songs. And I feel like we accomplished that.
Teme: There’s a disclaimer in the credits about the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. Was that a legal necessity? It was funny to see that!
Jay: Well, the movie was fully done and at the last minute, the Canadian Royal Mounted Police called us and said, “We don’t give our approval!” Fox was like, “But it’s coming out in a few days!” And they were like, “Well, put a disclaimer on it!” So [Fox] took all the prints back and added that disclaimer. It is strange that they felt that was important, but they did.
Teme: One of the Indiegogo perks for Super Troopers 2 fans was to get to be an extra. Which scenes are Indiegogo supporters in?
Jay: One great place to spot them is is the town hall meeting when we first meet the Mounties and appear in front of the whole town while Rob Lowe gives a little speech. There are a bunch of extras in there, up in the balcony in particular. Once the riot starts, you can see them all up there. Also towards the end [of the movie] when we kick the bad guy out and put him in the car, there are some extras hanging around there too.
Teme: They must have had so much fun!
Jay: I think they did. We spent a lot of time with them. We ate lunch with them, we thanked them, and we talked to them about movie-making. We tried to make it worthwhile because without those people there’s no way we could have made that movie.
Teme: What is your favorite mustache in history?
Jay: Burt Reynolds’ mustache in Smokey and the Bandit is my favorite mustache. Sam Elliott had a great mustache in Big Lebowski. Those two are my favorites.
Teme: Yeah, those are great ones. So how do the men of Broken Lizard stay so funny in a world that’s full of sad stories?
Jay: Well, we can sit there and worry about the sad stories, but to some degree I feel like that’s a job that the people in D.C. need to deal with. Our job is to make jokes and comment on society and on whatever we want. Our job is actually to be a distraction from those stories. It doesn’t mean we can’t make political commentary, but the movies we make are meant to have both Democrats and Republicans agree, “That’s funny!” The more we can agree on, the more everyone can say, “Maybe there’s something about us that’s in common.”
Teme: In the nearly thirty years that Broken Lizard has been together, which accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jay: We always wanted to be the American Monty Python. Python made five movies and, of course, had a television show as well. I think this last one was our seventh movie together. I feel like in some form we’ve accomplished that big goal, which is to be mentioned in the same breath. Python is fantastic and wonderful and I’ll always think they’re the best, but it’s nice to just be in the conversation.
Teme: What does Broken Lizard do when you all just hang out together?
Jay: We write and we crack jokes. We tell stories. When we make a movie, we go on a long hangout, like a six week tour where we just hang out and drink and smoke grass and create new stories.
Teme: What are the rules for building enduring friendships like that? How does it happen?
Jay: It helps that we became friends before we had ambition. We weren’t just people going to school together. We were friends because we found each other charming and funny. Eventually, we decided to make a go at it in the business, but we’ve known each other since we were teenagers. We were 18 years-old when we met, so it’s not a relationship that is pure business. Our friendships are deep.
Teme: You do so many interesting things; writing, directing, acting. How do you choose your projects?
Jay: The key is that you figure out what you want to do. To get that creative satisfaction for me, I need to do a lot of different things. One of them is making movies for sure, but making movies takes a very long time. You write many drafts of a script, then you have to go out and try to find the financing, then you have to cast it, then you have to make it, then you have to edit it.
It’s a multi-year job, and if you’re just doing that, you’re spending very little of your time shooting and working. What I like to do is shoot a lot of television in between. I’m constantly directing and I’m meeting new actors and new writers. I’m trying out different shots on these TV shows and it’s a very fun thing. Then I wrote [my memoir] Mustache Shenanigans where there was no budget and I could write whatever the hell I want to. I find that very satisfying. So now I’m writing a novel. I’m six chapters into it.
I also do stand-up because it’s a way, again, not to have to ask permission to tell the jokes. I can write the joke, go up and perform it and there it is. The more things like that the better, because making movies just takes so long. If you can write books and tell jokes on stage, then you’re still able to be a creator all the time.
Teme: What is your novel about?
Jay: Eight to ten years ago, there were four couples that were hanging out together in L.A. We were a very close group. We had a lot of dinner parties, we hung out everywhere, we were constantly playing beer pong, and the women were all friends, too. Then we found out that two people were having an affair. It split the whole thing up. It ruined a phenomenal, great thing, so the book is about that moment. The moment leading up to it, the moment afterward, and I also insert thoughts and jokes and ideas. But that’s what the premise of the novel is about. The betrayal.
Teme: That sounds so good! What else is next for you and Broken Lizard?
Jay: I think it’s going to be either Super Troopers 3 or Beerfest 2: Pot Fest. I have been having meetings with some people about Beerfest 2, so there’s some interest in possibly making that one, too. I’m going to make one of those. I’d like to make them both.
Teme: I’d like to see them both! May I ask for any hints about Super Troopers 3?
Jay: It might be called Super Troopers 3: Winter Soldiers. I’m thinking about setting it in winter. It’s in the outline stage, so as soon as we have one more meeting we’re going to write a first draft. Once that happens, the momentum will be unstoppable.
Super Troopers 2 is available on DVD/Blu-ray and digital download.
Jay’s memoir, Mustache Shenanigans, is one of the funniest, most interesting, informative, absorbing and honest books I’ve ever read. Jay kindly spoke with me last year when it was released.