Last week I attended the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival at the Independent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. It was a fantastic fantastic four days of entertainment, and had some great panels. On their way out of the venue, I caught up with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, of The State and Reno 911! fame, and asked them about any upcoming projects, and what it felt like being such a significant part of my generation’s comedy upbringing. Here is what they had to say.
I appreciate you two chatting with me here out on the sidewalk. Not a bad place for a quick interview.
Thomas Lennon: It’s a beautiful day.
Robert Ben Garant: No problem. Sorry we couldn’t get to you earlier.
Don’t sweat it. So, apart from Reno 911!, do you have anything upcoming you can share with us?
Lennon: The biggest thing we’ve got going on right now is an NBC pilot, which um…we just finished and has screened a couple of times at the UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater). It seems real funny, so that’s what we’re working on right now.
Garant: It’s all Reno 911! people; it’s the same cast basically.
Good to know. It will be interesting seeing you folks on that network. So, Thomas, I heard that you and Robert have been working on a new script for The Incredible Shrinking Man. Is that closer to becoming a reality, or are still miles away at this point?
Garant: We’ve been working on that script for seven, eight…nine years.
Garant: It keeps coming every, like, every few years. Something pops up, or we work on a new direction.
I hope we get an opportunity to see it someday.
Lennon: Yeah, it pops up again, then goes away again. It’s a really funny script.
Garant: Yeah. It’s great.
So, I know for years you all fought to see The State released on DVD, which was hindered by music rights issues before finally making it into stores, and then there was even forward momentum on a State movie that was sort of waylaid by the writer’s strike a few years ago. What’s the status today? Is there a rough draft for a script, or has everyone simply moved on?
Garant: There, basically…is a script, for a State film.
Lennon: Yeah, it basically exists.
Garant: It’s called This American Movie.
Lennon: Actually, it’s called This American Sandwich. That’s the last title we were using.
Garant: That’s right. We were smoking some pot when we came up with that title.
Ha, interesting. Could you share any details?
Lennon: It’s a history of the United States, basically going from Columbus to the future.
Garant: Yeah, it’s a timeline of American history. Oh! The album might be coming out.
Lennon: Yeah, the album is coming out. Rhino Records.
Garant: Rhino Records, yeah. It’s called Comedy For Gracious Living, our never released comedy record from…1996?
Lennon: Yeah, ’96.
I heard about that forever ago. Great that it’s finally coming out.
Garant: It was with Warner Brothers for a long time, and then Rhino ended up finally picking it up and now it’s coming out, and…like, seventy percent of it’s really funny!
Lennon: Yeah, there is some really great shit on there…and some really weird shit.
Awesome. I like really great and weird shit, coincidentally.
Garant: There you go.
Finally, I was wondering if you ever think about how big a part of comedy culture all of you have been. The State began, what, seventeen years ago?
Lennon: We started doing The State in, um…1992.
Garant: And that was just the show. We were a college comedy troupe since 1988.
Lennon: Right. By the time we started the show, we had been together as a troupe for four years.
When I was growing up, I really had the remnants of my parent’s comedy. Sure we had SNL, but comedy troupes are a different animal. I was living off Monty Python before stuff like The Ben Stiller Show hit about the time you guys did. I mean, I love Monty Python, but they didn’t feel like they were mine.
I think it started with The Kids in the Hall, then went on to you guys, and troupes like The Vacant Lot, who I wish had gotten a fair shake, by the way.
Lennon: I always liked those guys. The Vacant Lot was a really funny show.
Garant: I never really saw The Kids in the Hall until after we started The State.
Neither did I, at least on a consistent basis. The State was really what first grabbed me and held onto me comically. You guys really were a large part of building the foundation for the type of comedy that we see so much of today. It’s a lot of surreal, out there stuff that you have your fingerprints all over. Comedy honestly wouldn’t be the same without your contribution.
Lennon: You know, I’ve got to say…it’s a lot of fun doing what we do, and it’s really great when the guys from The State get together. I mean, there is a tremendous amount of fighting.
Lennon: We have a lot of fun. I mean, a few years ago David (Wain) let Ben and I see Role Models before it came out and asked us what we thought about it.
Garant: We do that with each other. We still sort of act like a collective, which is nice.
Garant: We trust each other.
Well hey, I’ll leave you be. I really appreciate you talking to me.
Lennon: Yeah, my pleasure. This was nice.
Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant were class acts, great during their panel, and exceedingly pleasant to interview on a sunny Southern California day. Definitely keep an eye out for their forthcoming album on Rhino Records, and be looking to see just how hard the folks that brought you characters like Terry the rollerskating, gay prostitute and Cindy the Sex Slave will be pushing the NBC censors if their pilot takes root. I hope they give them fits.