Talking Beerfest with Broken Lizard

Broken Lizard may not be Monty Python, or even Kids in the Hall, but they prove they’re darned funny in their own right with the release of Beerfest.

I had the chance to meet Broken Lizard members Steve Lemme and Erik Stolhanske earlier this month when they came through Boston on a special screening/drinking tour. In Beerfest, Stolhanske plays one of the two Wolfhouse brothers (the drunker one!) who discovers the hidden world where drinking games have become an underground Olympics in a German warehouse. Lemme plays the lab tech who the Wolfhouse brothers recruit for their American squad to reclaim the family’s (and with it, the nation’s) honor. Enough with the plot. What matters is that the film really gets going at this point, with madcap antics getting more madcappy until the finale (and even then, to a potential sequel sequence during the end credits). Mo’Nique and Cloris Leachman both turn in funny supporting performances, and it’s by far the funniest Will Forte (SNL) has ever been. It’s silly. It’s sophomoric. But it works on a beer-gut-busting level.

While other troupes put silly characters in everyday situations, Broken Lizard tends to go the other route, with its members portraying regular guys who wind up in over-the-top scenarios.

Erik: "Our style is more playing in the natural world, it seems."
Steve: "We like to have sort of ridiculous situations but play it straight. As though it could really happen. We try not to make it unreasonable. Granted, Beerfest. Well, you know, there is a beer Olympics. It’s not so far-fetched…"
Erik: "I think we’re also pretty grounded in Everyman characters. Like, I’m from Minnesota, Jay is from Chicago. Paul is from Colorado. I sort of play Everyman Joe kind of characters."
Steve: "Certainly with Beerfest, we just wanted it to be, these are the beer lovers. As simple as that."

Is that the Broken Lizard staple then, or do they want to create stronger characters like Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen did earlier this summer (and before then, too)?
Erik: "That’s a good question, because the movie we want to make is called The Greek Road. In it, three of us play Greek Gods. So when we make that, it’ll probably go more in that direction."
Steve: "And the other two are Socrates and Plato."
Erik: "Yeah, those are larger than life characters. You know, it’s just our style, I think. I don’t know if it was ever drafted that way….that’s how it evolved over time."

They also have lots of hockey players as friends. Why not enlist them for a hockey-themed flick?    Steve: "I’m reading a book called ‘Zamboni Radio,’ which was submitted to our production company, to see if there’s anything we could do with it. I haven’t finished the book yet. There are people who are jonesing to actually remake Slapshot, which I think is a bad idea. Because I hate when they try to go after the classics."
That led to a discussion of the Caddyshack and Blues Brothers sequels.
Erik: "I think there was a rumor around town that somebody was actually going to remake Caddyshack."
Steve: "In fact, didn’t they ask us? I think somebody asked us if we would consider, if we wanted to do a take on that. There are a bunch of them. They’re remaking Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School. They’re
doing that."
Erik: "They wanted us to pitch an idea for that, too."

But enough about that. Broken Lizard grew out of a Colgate University troupe. They cited a few predecessors who gave them hope that they could make it out of college. Members Jay Chandrasekhar and Heffernan had moved down to NYC first. The rest followed.

The name story? Erik: "It was a night gone wrong in Tijuana."
Influences? Easy.
Steve: "Python and SNL. When we were growing up, I think one of the first adult movies I saw was the Holy Grail. And then Saturday Night Live was…"
Erik: "Those guys coming out and making movies. Like Belushi and Aykroyd going out and making Blues Brothers. Probably more sub-consciously than consciously…I don’t know if we ever thought about it."
Steve also cited Eddie Murphy movies. "It wasn’t like we were plotting, oh, I’m going to be a sketch artist." Erik said a few of them also performed stand-up comedy, but together, they found more fun
writing sketches. Steve said they also made videos of fake commercials, more out of necessity for those college shows. "That was the only time we could change costumes, so we had to do it so we could
change out of the mermaid costume and into the gorilla suit." At one of the New York shows, an NYU film student liked what he saw. "He asked if we wanted to write his senior thesis film which he would
direct and produce, so he flew us down to Florida to make this half-hour film…and from there, we knew this is what we wanted to do, to make movies."
Erik said this also was the era of Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater.
Steve: "Miramax bought Swingers when we were trying to sell Puddle Cruiser."
Erik and Steve said they’re finally starting to see profits from Puddle Cruiser, which just came out on DVD last Christmas, 10 years later.

Any advice for aspiring comedians or troupes?
Erik: "No one’s going to do it for you. The only way I know is the way we did it. And we, no one wanted to ever make our films. Like, we shopped Super Troopers, the script around for a year, and everyone
wanted to put a big actor in it. They said, ‘OK, we’ll make it if you put Ben Affleck in this part.’ No, we want to make it. Jay wants to direct it. We want to star in it, and edit it."
Steve: "There was even a point in time where George Clooney had signed on to be the executive producer of the movie, and we were going around town, asking for a $5 million budget. And every studio we went to asked us, ‘Is George going to be in this movie?’ We would shake our heads no, and be like, ‘Well, we are, and Jay is going to direct it.’ And they’re like, ‘All right, cool, well, we’ll get back to you on that one.’"
Erik: "So I guess the only advice is, you’ve got to go out and make a product and sell it yourself."
Steve: "You can work your ass off and you may still never get the break that you’re looking for. We’ve gotten some lucky breaks. But the thing is, if you’re not prepared for it, when it happens, if you
haven’t done the work, it’ll never happen."
Erik: "We even made Puddle Cruiser, and nothing happened. We got into Sundance, but it didn’t get bought. So, our cruise could’ve ended there. But we went and wrote Super Troopers and raised the money for that, by ourselves, again."
Steve: "And it took us five years."
Erik: "It took five years. But we had preserved and did it ourselves."

Not many groups will stick together that long, though, before someone branches out on their own. Three years after that, Club Dread, which went up against The Passion of the Christ. Christ won. Going away.
"The most depressed I’ve ever been was opening weekend of Club Dread," Steve said. "Our third movie, and we’re right back where we started from. And to these guys credit, I know I could not have done it alone. We pulled together and said, OK, let’s make a plan for how to bounce back. Let’s write a low-budget script that we can shoot for $2 million, do a middle-of-the-range script for $8 million, which turned out to be Beerfest, and then we had a higher-range script that we knew would never get made. But you have to keep going, keep working…just never give up."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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