The objective of a really good show that takes place in a work environment is to be so convincing that it has you thinking “Man, I would love to have a job like that.” You want to create a fictional narrative that people can actually buy into as being a reality. You have a world that you want people to want to be in. And man does Tacoma FD, which is currently in the second half of its second season, do a great job at that. It’s a show that is authentic enough to the point where actual firefighters have said that the show captures things that actually happened to them.
And let’s be honest, being a firefighter is definitely a dangerous job. Without a doubt. But what the show does is it highlights the moments where you’re sitting at the firehouse and waiting for there to be a fire to go put out. That’s where the comedy comes from. And you don’t just have to be a firefighter to be able to relate to the show. What it covers is pretty universal for every work environment. It’s the idea of “What can we do to break up the mundane?” It’s basically just a group of people trying to get through the day’s work while also maintaining a level of fun. Who among us doesn’t aspire to that?
Kevin Herrernan and Steve Lemme, who created and star in the show, naturally had experience with working together. For nearly three decades, they have been part of the Broken Lizards comedy troupe, bringing us cult films such as Super Troopers and Beerfest. And after spending years on the road together, they are no strangers to doing things to amuse themselves and trying to make each other laugh, as well as what makes them tick. [More on that later]. And these are qualities that have found its way into the show, to add an additional level of realism on top of everything else.
We recently spoke to Kevin and Steve over Zoom about the inspiration for the show, having to conduct annoying Zoom editing sessions, their favorite pranks on the show, why they had to have a break in the middle of the season, and what their plans are for the recently announced season three.
So while we wait for Kevin to join the call, I’ll just tell you it’s funny. I interviewed Erik and Jay two years ago for Super Troopers two. So I’m four out of the five broken lizards now.
Steve: So who’s left?
Steve: You know, Paul is on our writing staff right now, which is funny because he will be the first to acknowledge it, we are his bosses now. And it’s funny. I was going to say we can have him on here, but that might dilute things a little bit like, “Nah, I’ll just keep him on the writing staff.”
He is great. I just finished watching last week’s episode. He’s great on it.
Steve: He was in season one. He was in one episode and then in this season, he’s not in any of the first six episodes. We aired the first six and then because of the coronavirus, we had to put them on hold while we edited these back seven. And now in the back seven episodes, he’s in like four. So he was hoping to return to some glory in like April or May, but he’s had to he’s had to twiddle his thumbs until now. But so. So he was in the episode you watched last Thursday. And then he’s in this week’s episode briefly. And then he’s in two more episodes at the end of the season.
Well that’s good you guys were able to include him in this. Is your intention to get the other Broken Lizard guys in there as well? Since you and Kevin went off and did this separately, are you figuring out how to get Jay and Erik in there?
Steve: Yeah, but I mean Jay directs a lot of TV. And Erik lives in Minneapolis. And and Paul is an incredible writer. So we brought him in when we were assembling our writers room. And then that kind of made him like, our go to guy. Because Kevin and I have so many responsibilities with, you know, running the show. And then we’re acting in the show and we also direct episodes of the show. And so, Paul, we kind of entrusted him for when we need a rewrite to happen and when we can’t do it. And so, you know, he would he would handle those duties. He stays on longer than the rest of the writing crew. And so as a result, he’s with us and he’s constantly pitching episodes for the Wolf Boykins character. So his you know, his voice, his voices is strong in the room. And I think ultimately he’s going for a Wolf Boykins spin-off series.
So when you guys were going out to do this show, how did it sort of come together that you guys would go off and do this thing? Was this something you had been talking about doing for a while?
Kevin: Well Lemme and I, we’ve been going around for a bunch of years doing stand-up together, which is something we’ve enjoyed. So we were kind of on the road a lot. And there would be, you know, a lot of ideas and thoughts and stuff. And I think, you know, between the two of us, we’ve sold probably like 10 TV shows over the last few years. And they just never got made.
So we were trying to think of ways that we can get a TV show up and running and Super Troopers 2 was coming out at the time. And so it was kind of gratuitous in the sense that we were like, “Let’s figure out what would work well for us.” And we thought, “What do people like about us?” And it was mustaches. People like mustaches. And so the idea was “Let’s do a mustache show.” And what better than firefighters, you know? So we started putting together the idea of firefighters. And I have family members who are firefighters who were actually pushing us for years doing firefighter comedy stuff because they have a ton of great stories and stuff like that. So it just kind of fell into place. You know, we started putting the idea together. And we just got it up on his feet.
Have you incorporated some of those stories from family members on this show?
Kevin: Oh, yeah, tons. I mean, my cousin, Bill Heffernan, he’s been a firefighter for 27 years and a great storyteller and a great collector of stories and we kind of sat down with him when we started writing and just started picking his brain. And I mean, tons of the stories that are in there are a version of something that, that he went through or some nugget of something that he gave to us and then we kind of put a little comic spin on it. All the true stories are really the kind of fun stories to tell.
And so after season one, where traditionally you’d figure out what the show is going to be and how it works, did you approach this second season any differently?
Steve: Well, you know, we, you know, in season one when we were writing, we didn’t really know the characters. I mean, we knew them on a basic level. But while we were filming all those episodes, getting to know everybody, we kept writing down ideas for episodes, like “This would be a great idea for this guy”. You know, like this week’s episode, for instance, is we have twins. We have Ike Crystal and his twin brother, Mike Crystal. And that came from just hanging out with Gabe, the actor who plays Ike and realizing that he naps every day and every time he wakes up from a nap, he’s super grouchy for like an hour and a half. And, and we just thought it was hysterical. And you could see it in his acting like onscreen. We’ll be watching footage, like “What’s Gabe doing here? He’s so grouchy!” Then we’re like, “Oh, remember, he had just woken up from a nap.” And it’s little things like that. Like Eugene who plays Andy, and he would always do this character where he was drunk. And we’re like, “We’ve got to work that into an episode.” And so we did that.
And then we also wanted to get into the relationship of Kevin and his daughter a little bit more. And, you know, the truth of the firefighting profession is that it’s ninety seven percent male and three percent female. And a lot of these stations only have one female firefighter, if they have a female firefighter at all. And we wanted to get into that and just explore the characters more, explore the relationship between Kevin and me a little bit more and have some fun with that. And I think in season one, the first five episodes are pretty straightforward. And then episodes 6 through 10, we start to get a little bit wilder. And it’s the same in this. And I actually think that the first six episodes of this that were in the first half of the season were, you know, our straighter episodes and these back seven episodes are going to go off the rails a little bit. We’ve got some really good episodes lined up for the summer.
I understand that you were editing the second half of the season throughout the quarantine of it all. So what was that whole experience like?
Kevin: It was kind of more of a process problem. Like we were in a groove where we were editing and we had a schedule and we were going to hit all of our dates. And then everything just kind of just shut down. And people don’t realize the various kind of people who are involved in the editing process, whether it’s the sound people or the visual effects people. And all those people kind of shut down their businesses. So it kind of ground us to a little bit of a halt. And you can watch the episodes as stand alone. So it didn’t really affect the content necessarily. It was just the process of “Okay. Reset, start editing in a different way.” And then just try to pump these things out. Try to get these episodes done so that people can see him. And so, I think it was kind of cool because it gave some time to pause and focus a little on making the episodes better. But I think, you know, it was just matter of, of just cranking them out in this pandemic situation.
How do you edit something over Zoom exactly?
Kevin: It’s weird! I mean, you know, you edit it like this, like we are right now. And it’s a very strange thing where you used to be in the room with the editor and you could fire through things. And then it was a situation where we were like this. And Lemme was at his house at my house and you were the editor and we had a streaming thing up. And sometimes it didn’t work and it crashed. And, you know, I see that take and then I can’t see it. It was a little bit frustrating.
Steve: Maddening. It’s maddening.
Kevin: And also the editorial process. I love it. It is kind of like, you know, you bury your head and you get a room with the people you work with and you work together and you have a good time. And this is obviously a little more isolating, you know. And so, yeah, there are some headaches. But hey, we were happy to have jobs and we were happy to be working. And a lot of people aren’t as fortunate as we are. So we’re lucky
Steve: We’re not complaining. We’re grousing. And there is a difference. But it’s true. A lot of the time when you’re editing, the editors are contracted for twelve hours a day and we’re there with them. And now you can’t get an editor on at 10:00 a.m. and take them all the way to 10:00 p.m.. It just doesn’t work when people have families and you’ve got kids running around and significant others. And it’s hard to stare at this computer screen for twelve hours. And so it’s mind-numbing for sure.
Was the network understanding when you told them that you were going to have to have this break in the season?
Kevin: [Laughs]. Hey, they had their own problems. They had big, bigger, bigger problems. You know, we had a network that was preparing to show March Madness and then our TV show, you know what I mean? And so I think they were focused on some other things and solving some other problems. So, you know, we were able to kind of do our own thing.
Steve: It actually was pretty funny how quickly everything got put into perspective. Because yeah, they had March Madness. They also had baseball and NBA.
Kevin: A lot more lucrative than us.
Steve: And they told us that. [Laughs]. They let us know that in a very matter of fact way. Look, sports are the big business of networks. That’s it. Don’t be confused. And then the TV shows are, you know, the bells and whistles. That was where their minds were. It was the loss of the sports.
But on the plus side, without any sports, that’s less competition for you guys during the first half of the season.
Kevin: That’s true, but the problem was when we aired last week, it was the night that baseball came back. And then in the second week, it’s going to be the night that the NBA comes back. [Laughs].
I wonder what week three is going to be…
Kevin: Football, I guess. I don’t know.
Steve: The NHL, the NHL comes back.
That’s right. So now you’re basically going to have all of the sports at once, just overlapping each other.
Steve: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of a dream in that respect. But, you know, we’ll see. We’ll see what’s going on. The NHL bubble, they’re up in Canada. So they’re you know, they’re poised to succeed, I think.
So do you guys have any plans or ideas for season three? Are there any scenarios running through your heads based on what we’re all going through now?
Steve: We haven’t heard about season three yet. [Editor’s note: It’s been confirmed that season three is happening]. I mean, we’re fairly optimistic because the show has done really well. And that’s a conversation for Kevin I to have, you know. Because a lot of the firefighters, I know a lot of firefighters that we’ve worked with certainly up in Tacoma, you know, some houses were quarantined. And our technical consultant, cousin Bill, they had their issues with Coronavirus. So it’s real. But for us, our job is to provide comedy and an escape from some of this stuff. And we’ve actually heard some funny stories about what fire stations are doing when they are quarantined. And so it’s just a matter of how we’re going to handle it. But I think if we get a Season three order then Kevin and I will sit down and figure that out.
I can imagine there’s some possibilities there with the idea of a firehouse in quarantine. Because the series is based around spending so much time together in one location anyway.
Kevin: Yeah. And we’ve talked to a few firefighters that have been in that situation. It’s a funny dynamic. I mean, not a funny dynamic, but it’s an interesting dynamic. And I guess our task will be to try to find what’s funny about it.
Steve: Yeah. We’ve heard funny stories which I won’t share. And so that kind of sucks for you. [Laughs]. But I just don’t want to give them away if we do this. But you know, firefighters are adaptable. And they know how to have fun and they know how to play games with each other and they know how to deal with boredom and the isolation. So we’ve heard some funny stories already about firefighters getting through this.
Kevin: And every TV show has to figure out how to deal with it, I guess.
Steve: Well, at least we’re not a cop show.
Exactly. Boy, I’m sure you don’t envy being in their shoes right now.
Steve: Yeah. Yeah. This is different. And the nice thing about this show is that we do have real firefighters to lean on and their stories are incredible and endless. And the material just keeps on coming even in this situation. But going back to a point I made earlier, our job is to provide laughter and to provide an escape from all this. So that’s you know, if we get to season three, that’s what our focus will be.
And Kevin you talked about how influential your cousin was as a firefighter. And in the advent of social media, I’ve gotta ask how has it been hearing from other firefighters all over the world? All pretty positive feedback, I hope?
Kevin: Oh, yeah. It’s been amazing. I mean as long as we try to hit the authenticity of the thing, I think that resonates really well with firefighters. And that’s part of why we talk to firefighters and try to make sure that yeah we’re doing a comedy, but there is authenticity. And that’s definitely resonated. Like, we get so much response from firefighters now and guys who are like “That’s happened to me” and “I’ve got that kind of guy” and “We have that situation”. And I think I think that adds to the appeal of it. So I think it’s something that we definitely strive for to try to have that authenticity.
And you guys having toured together and spent so much time together as friends, have elements from your own friendship found its way into the show?
Steve: Oh yeah. And in fact, you could say that our entire friendship is being laid out in this T.V. show. It’s funny because we have actually have a couple of episodes that deal with those things specifically that are coming in a few weeks. The things that bug us about each other. Like Kevin thinks that I chew gum like a horse. And he’s right. I do. And, you know, Kevin is turned off by the fact that I wear my flip flops with socks and I drive the thong and the sock in between my toes. It drives him crazy. It bothers me how I have to see Kevin’s ass crack as much as I do. [Kevin nods]. It really bothers me. And, you know, and it bothers me that 35 years after the invention of the Sony Walkman and personal headphones, that when Kevin has the headphones in his ears, he still screams at the top of his lungs. He hasn’t figured it out. That bothers me. So, you know, these things are heavily dealt with in a couple of episodes this season.
It almost feels like this is an incredibly expensive therapy session for you guys.
Kevin: Yes. And for America.
I love that. And previously talk was coming out about work on Super Troopers 3. So where does that stand? Are you guys still working on that? And do you think that might change a bit given everything that is going on?
Kevin: We are. We’re still working on the script now, actually. It’s been pretty fun to get the guys together. And we’ve been doing these Zoom writing rooms for Broken Lizard. You know, I think it depends on the time. We’ll see. I’m not sure when we’d shoot it. Probably sometime next year. And then who knows what the world is like then. But, you know, what we do is what we’ve always done and that’s that we just write these jokes based on what we think is funny among each other. And, you know, we’re good natured guys. The characters we play are good natured people, and I think we portray it that way. So I don’t know. I think we would just move forward and keep writing it and just see where we are when the time happens.
Right. Nothing is set in stone anymore. But it is funny that it took almost 20 years to get a sequel, and then immediately people started asking “Where’s the third one??” It’s funny how those things happen.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s never good enough, man. They always want to get another one.
Steve: It’s never good enough. And then they’re like, “How about Potfest?” I mean, we can only do one at a time anyway.
Is Potfest still in the cards?
Steve: Yes, it’s in the cards, I think. But, you know, we we have two movies set up over at Fox Searchlight, which is the home of Super Troopers. And so those two will come first for sure.
And once you started transitioning from the film side of things to television, were there certain things that you found that you might not have been able to do in a movie?
Steve: Yeah. I mean, you get to tell so many stories. And when you make a movie, you’ve got 90 pages and you’ve got one bite at the apple and you know, you’re telling… You’re telling the main story and then a couple of other side plots and you have to track those. With TV, whatever thing you’re looking at, you can just say, like, “That’d be a fun story to tell.” And they’re smaller bites. And each episode has two or three plots. But then you’re doing that 13 times, you know. So I think we calculated it’s like 13 episodes of the season is equal to three movies worth of material. And now we’ve done that twice. And so I think from a writing standpoint, it’s incredibly fun. And then from an acting standpoint and a directing standpoint, it’s fun because every week is just something new and fresh.
Something I love about the TV is that back end thing, which is that when a movie comes out, it’s all about that opening weekend. And then once that opening weekend happens, your movie is on its way out the door, basically. And with T.V., we have 13 weeks to watch this thing and see what happens. And I think that’s a blast.
And with T.V., you also get a little more time to prove yourself. A show like Seinfeld didn’t start taking off until season 3 or 4.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, it’s a short leash these days. You know, as long as they let you keep going. You know, I think that ours is a show that people are discovering as they go along. And once we get them hooked in they love it.
Steve: And, you know, Super Troopers was like that. It was the DVD world. We came out in the theater and did fine. And then it came out on cable and was on DVD and then the movie would be passed around between friends. And it took probably like three years for us certainly to feel that it was becoming something. And now with streaming, you can have that. Season one for us just started streaming on HBO Max. And so, you know, hopefully that’ll be helpful. But, you know, the show’s doing well now. And, yeah, I mean, fingers crossed that it just keeps picking up steam.
I definitely hope it does as well. Last thing I want to ask is if you guys have a favorite prank that you got to do on the show?
Steve: You know I really like the one from Episode 6, the miles per gallon prank, where we kept adding gas to Chief Terri McConkey’s new gas guzzling car. To the point where he thought he had eighty five miles per gallon. And then once he bought the truck, then we started siphoning it out. So he started thinking it was a lemon. You know, that’s a true firefighter story. I like all the pranks that are based on true stories.
Kevin: Yeah. There’s the shrimp in the chair that’s a great one, too. That was season one. I liked that one.
Yeah, that was the pilot.
Steve: Yeah, there’s shrimp in the chair. And then there’s the tattoo, also based on a real firefighter [story]. Some firefighters in Austin told us about how they had a rookie show up for their first shift and all the firefighters had the same stupid looking temporary tattoo on their arm. And they told this rookie that this was the shift tattoo and he had to go get it. And so he went to a real tattoo parlor and actually got the tattoo for real. And then came back to the station and all of the firefighters rubbed their temporary tattoos off like “Haha. It’s fake!” and we heard that story. We’re like, “Oh, shit, dude. That’s like that’s a hardcore prank.”
Kevin: A permanent prank. That’s a forever prank.
Steve: That’s for life.
Season two of Tacoma FD is airing on TruTV now.