As two-fifths of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard, Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan have co-written and co-starred in such movies as Super Troopers, Beerfest, Club Dread, and Puddle Cruiser, all directed by Chandrasekhar, as well as The Slammin' Salmon, directed by Heffernan. Each on his own has acted in a variety of other comedy projects (such as Strange Wilderness and HBO's VEEP for Heffernan and I Love You, Man for Chandrasekhar), and Chandrasekhar directed four episodes of Arrested Development, among other shows he has helmed (Undeclared, Community, Chuck). The dynamic duo also collaborated on The Dukes of Hazzard, which they co-wrote and in which they both appeared. Now Chandrasekhar directs Heffernan in The Babymakers, a comedy of infertility. We spoke at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Jay Chandrasekhar: How are you? I'm Jay.
Kevin Heffernan: Hey, Kevin. How's it goin'? Good to meet you.
Groucho: Ready to keep on truckin' here?
Kevin Heffernan: Yeah, yeah, let's do it!
Groucho: So The Babymakers addresses "the kid thing"—
Groucho: At some point in every life, you either have a kid—
KH: You address "the kid thing."
KH: Do you have a kid?
G: No, I don't. Do you guys have kids?
JC: I have three kids.
KH: I have three also. (Pause.) So we've been there!
G: I assume it wasn't as problematic as what goes on in the film.
JC: (with mock suavity) No, I have very, very strong sperm.
G: Is that a qualification for getting a directing job?
KH: Yeah, exactly.
JC: It doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt.
G: Now this script came to you, right? I have to admit when I saw the names Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow on the—
KH: You thought they were fake?
G: I thought maybe those are psuedonyms.
KH: That's what people say. No, those guys have a couple of big credits. They wrote, like, Ice Age 2. And they're friends of ours. I was doing a movie with Pete Gaulke, that he wrote and directed; it was called Strange Wilderness. And at the time—so I became friends with him, and he gave me this script, and we read it and thought it was awesome. And from then, we tried to make it. But it was autobiographical for him: he experienced all these kind of difficulties having a baby. He did not rob a sperm bank.
KH: But he went through all that stuff. That's why it had an element of realness to it, that we really liked. And the humor was kind of in our wheelhouse.
G: Yeah. Well, the whole idea of the heist element—
G: The "sperm bank job" is the ultimate low-comedy high concept, I guess.
KH: (Laughs.) It is; it is.
G: Did you actually study any of those heist pictures in order to—
JC: Well, I mean, there's so many of those heist movies made, and we've seen a great deal of them. So, yeah, you almost don't need to study them, because they're—
G: They're in your DNA now.
JC: I mean, I've seen twenty, thirty heist movies, you know? And you want to put your own spin on it, but you also want to reference those—well, I mean—.
G: Yeah. I guess the big theme of the movie would be proving manhood, right?
G: Or feeling a hit to one's manhood, and how do you deal with that?
G: How do you guys define your manhood or prove your manhood?
KH: (Chuckles.) By the number of kids we have!
JC: You know, I have a thing where if I see a taller guy walk into a room, I make a quick calculation as to whether I can take him in a fight.
(G & KH laugh.)
JC: And I think it's like a relic from being in the woods, and this instinctual desire to know "could I beat them?" Usually if they're taller, my answer is "I probably can't." And I would run. But occasionally you get the dweeby guy, you're like, "I might be able to take 'im."
JC: But that's really for me what manhood has become.
G: I guess it's kind of a comedy prerequisite to lay down your manhood for the job, a lot of the time, right?
G: To look ridiculous, to look weak.
KH: Yeah, well, show some vulnerability, which I think people can connect with, you know.
G: And also undress, right?
KH: Yeah, get naked.
G: Yeah, being half-dressed, semi-naked is sort of a comedy—
KH: Yeah, we like to do as much male nudity as we possibly can.
KH: That's how you get your manhood up.
JC: That's right.
G: And it goes back to farce too, I guess.
KH: (Laughs.) Yeah.
G: There's always pants-dropping going on. So who did you task with finding the perfect honeydew?
G: And doing that photo shoot? It seems like a good job to haze someone with.
KH: I know; that's correct.
JC: That was—I sent the script to Johnny Knoxville, 'cause we were working on another script together, and I just wanted to see what he thought of it. And he said, "This would be funny if the guy was finally able to get off because he saw, like, a sexy cover on Bon Appetit Magazine, of, like, two melons. And I was like, "God, this is an amazing joke." And so we put that in. And, you know, the props people came up with the just perfect melons, and photographed them in a way that, you know, you really want to go at 'em a little bit.
G: You also mention in your "Director's Statement" having had a large suite of offices for Broken Lizard at Warner Brothers: is that true?
JC: Oh yeah. We probably had seven or eight rooms.
G: It's hard to picture that. That must've been kind of wild.
JC: Oh, it was—
KH: It was a little frat house. We called it "the Frat House."
JC: It was amazing. I mean, we used to just have a ball in there. (Laughs.) Had our own parking spots with our names on 'em on Warner Brothers. It was amazing.
G: When Steve Lemme and Erik Stolhanske came through here, I asked them what was the most absurd note they'd gotten from an executive.
G: What comes to mind for you guys?
KH: We—I don't know if you're familiar with Beerfest or not—
KH: In Beerfest, my character dies—spoiler alert—and then his brother shows up in the next scene, and it's kind of a little winky joke. And we had always gotten the note from the executives about how, y'know, at the end of your second act in a movie, your characters have to be at their rock bottom so they can rise up and win. And so we were like "We haven't done that yet; let's kill one of us." And so we made that joke, and we thought it was hysterical. And then we went in to the executive—it wasn't at Warner Brothers; it was at a different studio—and he ripped that thing apart. He was like "What the hell is this? And dabba dabba dah." And he was like "You can't do that," and we were like "Ehh." And so we went and made the movie at another studio. And that joke always kills; people love that idea. And that guy came to the screening premiere. And he came up and he said, "Okay, I get it. You guys were right. That's fine." But we always thought that was a funny thing that the guy told us, that that wasn't funny—
JC: He tried to kill that joke.
KH: But we loved it and we kept it.
G: Now Jay, how did you end up being the guy who rose to the top or whatever as director for Broken Lizard—and then I know you [Kevin] also directed—
G: Later on.
JC: I mean, it came down to the origin of the group, which is I started the comedy group at Colgate, and it was called Charred Goosebeak. And I also owned a camera. And so none of us knew what to do. But I'm like "Okay, uhh—"
KH: Yeah, and he took some classes at NYU.
JC: I took some classes. And it just sort of developed that way. Somebody had to direct, and it ended up being me.
G: And then, Kevin, when you stepped up and directed, did you learn empathy for Jay?
KH: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Totally. You know, I don't think I appreciated it as much until you do the number of things that are really swirling around in your mind. And then having to act, which is something he always did, and something I did. And the other thing we laugh about is: part of the fun of making a movie is kind of the grab-assing you do, just the fun, the bullshitting and whatever. And as the director, you can't get really involved in that. And so when we were shooting that movie, I'd see him over there, like, grab-assing the other guys, laughing, do some joke, playing a prank, whatever it is. And you're kind of like "I remember those days. Remember those days."
G: Single tear.
KH: Yeah, single tear goes down your face.
G: Right. So Kevin, you said in February that "come hell or high water, we're making Super Troopers 2—"
G: "By the end of the year."
KH: We're still here; we're still in 2012, right?!
G: Yes! We are, we are.
KH: Okay, good.
G: So what's the progress report?
KH: Well, it's written. It's sitting there. The studio has it, and we're in the negotiation with them right now, and there's a few sticking points. And the negotiation is a sloow, laborious process.
G: Has been for years, I guess, huh?
KH: Yeah, well, I mean—it's been different incarnations. I mean, I think: you know, let's do it, let's not do it, let's make something else instead. And then finally when we wrote it, which I think was—end of last year we finished it, like at the end of the year—it was kind of like "Alright, now let's get serious with it." And so we've been trying to push the ball. I mean, the problem is it's—you know, they're a big company, and they have so many movies they make. And they own the rights to Super Troopers, so it's not like we can go to somebody else and say, "Make it, or else these guys will make it." So you kind of just get into the wheel, and then when it's your turn, then you get there. So that's kind of the process we're in now.
G: Jay, you directed four episodes of Arrested Development. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like—what the atmosphere was like—shootin' that show?
JC: Well, I mean, every actor and every writer, and it was sort of at the top of their game. You know, and it felt very, very cool and awesome, and everything we did felt funny. And it felt like everybody knew it. You know? It was a very, like, "We're doin' something special here." Sadly, couldn't get anybody to watch it.
JC: And we were basically like (indignant tone) "Do you realize what we're doing over here?!" And, uh, nobody cared. And then it died and then, of course, everybody got very excited about it. And now—
G: FOX has a knack for that.
G: FOX has a knack for that, for kinda pulling the plug, and then it becomes really popular.
JC: Yeah, but what can you do?
KH: Are you—they're gonna—are you—?
JC: They're gonna do—
KH: They're doing the Netflix thing, right?
JC: Ten more, then a movie.
KH: Are you going to get involved at all?
JC: I don't know. A friend of mine is working on the staff right now. She's writing on it. And, you know, it's exciting. We'll see what happens.
G: Yeah. Yeah. One more? So—mmmm, let's see.
KH: Pick wiisely.
G: Pick wisely, yes.
KH: Pick wiisely.
G: I guess I'll just ask: you know, the other Broken Lizard guys are executive producers on this, but it's not an official Broken Lizard movie. Do you guys take a meeting quarterly, or how do you develop "When are we going to do something together"?
JC: I think we've decided that we're gonna try to make Super Troopers 2 next. Now, that said, a couple of guys are working on this movie about umpires. A couple of us are working on the movie script for Potfest. So should one of those get to a spot where it's ready to make before Super Troopers 2, and that thing's not resolved, we'll make that.
G: Yeah. Alright. And Freeloaders is out there somewhere too, right?
JC: Freeloaders will come out in January, I believe. We produced it; we have one scene in it. So it's not a Broken Lizard film, but—
KH: We kind of do a cameo in it, yeah.
G: Alright, well, thanks for talking to me, guys.
KH: Thank you.
JC: Thanks, man.