If ever there was a bad omen for something, it would be snow in the middle of April. But this being Chicago, it can easily be written off. It’s just one of those things that is bound to happen. The same can be said about many sequels in Hollywood. More often than not, if a movie proves to be popular among audiences, the studio will do everything they can to rush a sequel, whether it works or not. In the case of Super Troopers 2, it has been 16 years since the first one, so they had the time to develop the film fans have long been clamoring for.
Sitting in the basement of the Ace Hotel on Morgan Street, where you literally feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, I’m finally greeted by the familiar (albeit mustacheless) faces of Jay Chandrasekhar and Eric Stolhanske, who make up 2/5ths of the titular “Troopers.” “I like snow,” Jay, a Midwest-grown boy, tells me right off the bat as he makes note of these bizarre weather conditions. “Unfortunately, we were going to throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game today.” Well, so much for that.
With Super Troopers 2 set to release this Friday, all 5 guys who make up the Broken Lizard comedy team can literally be seen everywhere. Jay and Eric, especially, are being whisked from city to city, junket to junket. One night, you’ll see Jay (who also directed the film) playing Shoot the Puck at a Blackhawks game. The next night, he is on The Tonight Show.
“You need studio excitement to release a film properly. The reason we’re everywhere is the studio is excited about it,” Jay explains.
Below is the conversation we had with two of the stars of Super Troopers where we discuss the development, the writing process, the crowd source financing, and all else in between. Plus, Willie Nelson and Danny DeVito are name-dropped, with the former coming out looking better than the latter.
It’s been 16 years. How would you guys say you have evolved since the first movie?
Jay: We have become better filmmakers. And I’m not going to say that means the film is better. I’m just going to say that we were still learning about how to structure films back then. All Hollywood films end up lining up with a 3 act structure. All of them. If you break them all up, you can go “Oh yeah. This is where it is.” And we didn’t really believe in that yet when we made Super Troopers. And maybe that translated into the weird, unique film that it is. And maybe that’s some of the magic of that movie is that we weren’t yet the filmmakers we’ve become. Now we know exactly how to structure a film. The joke writing I think is, we are better joke writers. But really the magic of that first movie is in the magic.
It’s just a fun movie.
Jay: Yeah, that’s right. The second one, the audiences seem to be digging it. They’re laughing at the right places. But it remains to be seen if it will stand the test of time and be able to sit next to the other one and comfortably be the sequel.
Speaking of standing the test of time, there does seem to be a little bit of political undertones, as far as the whole Canada/America plot. Was that something you guys were concerned at all having in the film, for fear of it maybe dating the film?
Jay: No, I mean these are political times and we are political people. I think that ultimately we’re going to put those things into our movies. One thing we tried to do with this film, because half of our audience are stoners and half of them are cops and military. And half of them are Democrats and half of them are Republicans and that’s the reality. And when we really thought about the promotional campaign for this, we thought “What is the purpose of what we do?” What we do is for 2 hours, the country should be able to take their minds off this political mess and not fight about it. So come in and say “Can’t we all agree on this one thing?” Because our audiences, when you look at them, you have a stoner who stinks of pot sitting cheek-by-jowl next to a Secret Service guy. A Secret Service guy came up to me in Minneapolis and said “We’re behind you in the White House.” I was like “Wow.” I asked him several questions. He told me several things that he said he would have to kill me if I ever brought up.
What has the fan reaction for the movie been so far?
Eric: It’s been a relief. We were nervous going into it, but the great thing is I would say the overwhelming majority of people said it’s equal to if not better than the first one, which made us very happy. Because we don’t want to ruin the first film by making a bad sequel. And we want people to enjoy it as much as the first one, and then it will continue on the joy they experienced in the first movie. So far we’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.
One of the highlights of the film for me would be the Danny DeVito discussion.
Jay: Well, actually, we were smoking a joint outside the hotel, and Danny DeVito’s company, Jersey Films was a producer on the first film. And so I write checks to Danny DeVito twice a year, profit for Super Troopers. I ran into him at the Director Guild’s dinner and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to meet him.” And I said “Hey Danny. Jay Chandrasekhar from Super Troopers.” And he goes “I think I’m involved with that film.” And I said, “Yeah, you’re executive producer.” And he said, “That’s on my list of movies to watch.” And I’m like, “What’d you say to me??” So I come back and I tell these guys the story. Our executive producer hasn’t even seen our f*cking film. And I told [the actors who play The Mounties in Super Troopers 2] and we’re laughing and smoking a joint, and one of them, Will Sasso’s like, “It’d be funny if we didn’t know who HE was.” So we start riffing on not knowing who Danny DeVito is, and then it’s like it becomes he does it in his Canadian character not knowing who Danny DeVito is. And then the other guys are like “It’s funny if we keep having this conversation on not knowing who Danny DeVito, and you don’t know who it is, but I know.” It was just a stoned riff, but I was kind of typing and I typed all of these jokes. And then a week later we met again and the conversation found itself to Danny DeVito again. And we started riffing further on it. And I was like “tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.” And it was just funny. It wasn’t going to go in the movie. There’s nowhere to put it in the movie. And then on the way in that day, we were shooting the scene of the fight with the Mounties. So they were watching hockey and I’m like, “Maybe we can put it here.” So on the way in, 6am, I’m just typing. Looking at these notes, typing. I come in, I email it, everyone has a copy and they’re like, “We’re doing this?” And we’re all looking at it like, “Yeah, we’re doing this. Where did you get these notes? I was just typing.” And then they were like, “Well, here’s the deal. This should be here, this guy shouldn’t know about this.” And we kind of worked it out, we wrote another draft. We did four drafts that morning while we were shooting other scenes, and by the afternoon we were like, “This is it. We’re doing this.”
Eric: Still in the editing room it was like, “Is this funny? It is such a random riff.”
Jay: It was designed to make him see the movie.
What is the collaborative writing process for something like this? I imagine it is quite time consuming. Is it kind of like a writers room?
Eric: We have a very collaborative environment, and it’s sort of evolved over the years. So here’s the process: We sit around and we brainstorm an idea that could have 5 guys. We have to have an environment that could have 5 guys. A police station, a fire station, an office…
Jay: A beer drinking team.
Eric: [Laughs] Right. Something that has a team of sorts. And then we brainstorm ideas. We make it an environment where there’s no bad ideas. You start throwing things around and you eventually come up with an idea that strikes a chord, and you kind of brainstorm on that more. And you create a very detailed outline. We spend a long time, like we said about story structure, creating a very detailed outline. And then once we have a very detailed outline, it’s broken down for about 20-25 pages. All 5 of us are writers so we each get a section and we all write 20-25 pages. And then we have a first draft. And then each of us has that section for about 2 or 3 more drafts, until about the 3rd draft when we assign a point person, who is basically like a secretary. And that point person then has to weave all of the sections together. So every section may have a different name for people, but those get woven together. Then when we meet for over the next 30 drafts, that person has to be the secretary to kind of take notes and make sure everything is uniform. Then they hand a draft to each of us and we make notes on it, then they have to take those notes and put them together.
Jay: And the first draft sucks. So does the second, third, fourth, and fifth draft. When that point person takes over, it starts to get unified. The sixth drafts you’re like, “It still sucks, but it’s getting there.” By the time you’re at the 10th draft, you’re like, “It’s pretty good. You can’t shoot it, but it’s pretty good.” There are 15 to 60 major problem areas. And each draft we’re like, “We’ve got to fix that problem. We’ve got to fix that problem. That fix causes ripples, so it causes another 30 problems. We’ve got to fix those problems. Okay we fixed them. Now there are 18 other problems. Okay we fixed those. Now there are 26 problems.” And you just are hitting the spots. And when you get to draft 28, you’re like, “Let’s not f*ck up these good things. Let’s just hit these targets.” And inevitably everything kind of shifts a little bit, but we kind of start to cement some things in that you don’t want to change.
Eric: And that point person has to have that point of view to really clarify everything.
Jay: Yeah, take a joke that we riffed on and they’ve got to set it up, they’ve got to write the things. They have to write the punchlines and put them in. And we read it and we’re like “Close. Flip the set up here, take this ‘of’ and ‘the’ out, and that’s the proper punchline.”
It’s so great that you can do all of that and people will still see the movie and think it is all adlibbed.
Jay: They think we made it up on the spot. It’s a style. It’s a style of performance that is intended to feel like we made it up on the spot. But we did not make it up on the spot.
This is the first film that all of you guys have done in a couple of years. Did it take a while to get back into the rhythm of things?
Jay: Zero seconds. Like we hang out on the road and we go do stand-up shows and we do live events. These guys made a pilot together for TBS. We’re together. We see each other. The friendship is not on ice for nine years. It’s just been going.
How did you get involved with Indiegogo and crowdsource financing the film?
Jay: When we went to Fox and said, “We want to make a sequel,” they went “Great. Why don’t you guys raise the money?” They said “Look, we will release this movie wide, but you’ve got to come in for the money.” The release, by the way, costs more than the making of the movie. They’re putting up some money. The advantage is we’ve made 4 independent films. We’re independent filmmakers. So the idea of raising the money is like, “Okay. We did it before.” This is an independent film. Believe it or not. So we went to this group of investors who invest into independent film. There are like 100 of them. We went to them and said “Super Troopers 2. What do you think?” They were all like, “Yeah, maybe. Maybe. Is there an audience out there?” And we’re like “Yeah. Huge audience. First one did so great.” And they’re like, “Yeah, maybe.” It was like that. It was taking a long time for anybody to say yes. We got a little bit. We got some people who were saying “Maybe. It’s probable.” But nobody had committed. And we said, “What are we going to do?” So we decided to try this crowdfunding. And we called the guy who engineered the whole Veronica Mars crowdfunding which raised $5.8 million. And we said, “What do you think?” And he was not a fan of ours, but he was like, “I’ve done some research, and your fans exist here, here, here, and here.” And he laid out the whole place and regions and the sites they visit and the communities they’ve created. He goes, “I believe that we could do this.” And we said “Alright.” So we created 20 videos and every piece of art and video was curated to feel like there was a bridge from the first film to what would eventually be the second film. So when we did the videos, we did them in character. We got buzz cuts, we grew mustaches, did jokes that could feel like the first movie. So the audience could see us and go, “Okay, they look like that now. Okay. This still feels enough like the first movie, but I’m soft-landing into the second movie.” And I said to these guys, “In the second movie, we’ve got to weigh the same that we did in the first movie,” so that when people look at us they go, “They look older but not fatter and older.” Because you don’t want to have too many things wrong in how they’re connecting the two movies. So it was very orchestrated.
It’s so great that we live in an age where crowdsource financing can happen. That could not have been done 10 years ago.
Jay: No way.
Eric: And for a month we’ve been traveling around meeting the fans, which is amazing. And not only did they get to be in the film in some of the extra scenes, but we’re doing advanced screenings and we hang out with them for hours. You do a screening and then you spend 2 hours hanging out and getting to know them afterwards. It’s an incredible experience.
You both do stand-up now, after having started out doing sketch. What was the transition like going from sketch to stand-up?
Jay: I started doing stand-up when I was 19, before I did sketch. Then I did improv, which in my opinion, was a failure because you couldn’t get improv audiences to laugh because you’re with all of these random players that are starting out, and there’s nothing worse than 8 new improvisers. It’s not entertaining. Eventually they become good together, but I never got there. So when I went back to Colgate [University] and started the group, we started as an improv group and people are like, “It’s not. Let’s become sketch comedians. We’re into Saturday Night Live, we’re into Monty Python, we all know how to write English papers. If you can write history papers, you can write a fucking five minute sketch, right?” So then we did. But stand-up, you can do it alone. There’s no budget. You can think of jokes, you can try the jokes. I can think of a joke now and do it tonight. And then I can go, “Uh… the set up didn’t quite work.” Then for the next show I’ll fix the set up, then I’ll go, “Oh yeah, the f*cking punchline at the end is not working, so I’ll fix that. Now I’ve got a whole bit.” And then you can take one of those bits and you can say, “We have to break it up, but it can fit into our movie.” There’s a joke, “The key to life is happiness in your household.” [Misheard in the film as] “A penis in your assh*le.” Steve Lemme did that joke in his stand-up act, because somebody in Argentina told him that. He was at a dinner, and the guy was like “The key to life is a penis in your assh*le.’ And he was like ‘What???” He went through that all. He used to tell that joke onstage and it killed. And he goes, “I think we should put this in the movie.” And I’m like, “How the hell are we going to put this f*cking stand-up joke in the movie?” But you’re like, “Okay, we found a spot.” We broke off the opening, it wasn’t the Argentinian guy, now we are the ones that are going to do it. And we kind of made it work for that little area.
Eric: I remember I was driving back from Vegas to Los Angeles with Paul Soter, and we stopped at a gas station to put gas in our car. And there was a sign on the gas tank that said. “free hot dog with $10 of gasoline.” And we had gotten to like $9.37 or something like that, and I was like, “should I just dump the gas out and go get a free hot dog? That’s what Farva would do.” So there are things that happen in life that you can adapt to scenes by trying to figure out how it would work and what character it would work for.
Just a few nights ago, you were performing with Willie Nelson. Is that surreal for you guys, that you can just go up onstage and perform with Willie Nelson of all people
Jay: Well, we made the film Dukes of Hazard together and then we made Beerfest. He and I are really good friends. We’ve seen each other a lot. And we hang out. Every time I’m in town or he’s in town, I go see his show, we smoke grass on his bus, and then he goes and does the show. I’ve sung with him 10 times. Sometimes with his sons and daughters. It’s a real amazing gift to get to do that. We just recorded a really funny little video on the bus promoting Super Troopers 2 that’s fantastic. It’s like a Willie Nelson ransom video and Willie is as funny as he ever is.
Eric: I will say, though, seeing the PBS documentary The Highway Men, when Willie is performing with the Highway Men, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be onstage with Willie Nelson. I feel like I could die a happy man right now. If that’s something that would be the highlight of my life, I could die right now.
How many fans come up wanting to smoke with you guys?
Jay: Every day. And sometimes we do.
What do you want the legacy of Broken Lizard to be?
Jay: We want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Monty Python
Eric: It’s a pretty high bar.
Jay: We try to make really smart comedies. We’re trying to be as smart as we can. Our movies are wild and dirty and naughty and they’re called mindless, but they’re anything but mindless. They’re organized, structured, specific. We’re trying to push jokes to places, just to see if you can keep it funny and that far out there.
Super Troopers 2’opens in theaters everywhere on 4/20, fittingly.