Welcome to World Builders, our ongoing series of conversations with the industry’s most productive and thoughtful behind-the-scenes craftspeople. In this entry, we chat with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe about Quasi, their new Medieval comedy.
When you’re talking to Broken Lizard over Zoom, you want to grab them toward the end of their day when they’re exhausted, loose, and slightly agitated from having to answer the same questions a few hundred times. They’d been at this for hours, promoting Quasi to every YouTube channel, public access show, and basement-published blog. The press gauntlet can be a monster, but when the subjects near its conclusion, they will likely give an interview like no other.
From the jump, Paul Soter cautioned, “It’s good to see you again. You look fantastic” – uh, we’d never met before – “but I’m warning you. We’re in steamroller mode, just free-forming. We’re fully wired and jacked up on coffee, and this is going to go sideways. I’m telling you right now.”
Was that a threat or a promise? I assured them that this was exactly where I wanted them, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t placed immediately on edge. They’ve faced bright-eyed enthusiasts like myself for decades now. Super Troopers transformed their lives, propelling them into iconic status amongst a certain stoner set (“littering and…littering and…”). For them, when positioned across a monitor from bozos like myself, it’s probably better, and a lot saner, to lean into their fictional personas, making these q and a’s more bearable.
Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan tend to flip the director’s chair between each other. On Quasi, Heffernan has the wheel. Asking the group how their sets differ, a flurry of answers spews from the group. Mostly desert based.
“Kevin,” says Soter, “the banana pudding on your set was delicious.”
Steve Lemme concurs, yes and-ing the bit. “Paul can make a great Bananas Foster, too,” he says. “That’s how we came up with his name Foster in Super Troopers.”
Quasi is the Broken Lizard spin on Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Life of Brian. They’re tackling Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo and jamming him into a lottery plot that puts him into close contact with Soter’s Pope and Chandrasekhar King Guy. The two rulers hate each other and see an opportunity to dispatch one another using the hunchback as their blade. The comedy also offers Broken Lizard a chance for each actor to portray multiple characters.
Attempting to understand the casting process is as successful as differentiating Chandrasekhar and Heffernan’s sets.
“Kevin’s a big casting couch guy,” says Lemme.
“Oh my god,” groans Soter, “my aching asshole.”
“I’m going to be the serious guy,” Heffernan says, jumping in. “We wait very late in the game to cast a movie. In the early days, we found that if you knew a part you were playing, you’d be writing to that part instead of writing to the script. So, we make sure that everyone focuses on that script in total, and then, late in the game, we cast.”
Quasi was slightly different than their other productions, however. The title character is a Steve Lemme creation, and they knew he’d be playing Quasi before the script was completed. That being said, for the longest time, the group doubted the film would ever see a green light. When they were finally making the movie, the miracle of doing so was as hilarious as anything else.
“We write these projects,” says Lemme, “we write these characters, we make these jokes, and then, one day, you’re filming it. And particularly with something like this, which we were not sure would ever see the light of day, but it was a script that we loved. That, to me, was the coolest part about it. There’s a scene where [Paul] and I are in the confessional booth, where he’s telling me to assassinate the king. Every time I’d look over at him, and he was in this Pope costume, I got the case of the giggles. Not because it was ludicrous, but just because I couldn’t believe we were shooting this movie.”
Inquiring about their future, Broken Lizard launches into a laundry list of potential projects. Super Troopers 3 is first and foremost on their minds. They have a holiday movie about Santa versus the Easter Bunny, a flick where they all play clones of each other called Cloney, something else named The Professors, and another thing called The Yachtsman.
“Six,” says Chandrasekhar. “We have six.”
When they finished listing everything, I wondered if they were just messing with me.
“That’s the beauty of this Quasi thing,” says Heffernan. “We wrote the script twenty years ago. Over the course of our careers, we’ve written many scripts, and they’re sitting there. Some gain momentum, and some are not shootable. Some nobody is interested in, but it changes as time goes by. Coming out of Super Troopers 2, we had momentum, and we said, ‘This is what we want to do.’ Searchlight Pictures says, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ There are scripts like that sitting on our shelves that hopefully someday we can get them all made.”
The magic for them is how these ideas that start as gags become scripts that may or may not come to fruition. When the lucky few find creation, there’s an added absurdist joy. The group writes a bit about Steve Lemme’s jester character being the first human ever tarred and feathered, and twenty years later, they’re on set, and it’s happening. Chandrasekhar chuckles, reminiscing about the moment, watching Lemme trying to suck Gatorade through a straw while sticky as hell.
“Miserable,” says Lemme. “But that was a fun day because that’s in the script. That was the big scene where the five of us were going to be together. It was these guys seeing each other for the first time. And these guys are their aids. I’m tarred and feathered in the corner, and the queen is there. And it was this big set piece. So, it was a fun scene to shoot, but also miserable because I was in the feathers the whole day. Poor me, poor little actor.”
Super Troopers 3 seems like the most concrete possibility for their next endeavor, but who knows what the movie gods will grant them next? Cloney? Whatever The Yachtsman is? Santa Claus versus the Easter Bunny? Whether they were real before this conversation or not, they could be real tomorrow. It doesn’t really matter as long as they get something made. The something is everything.
Quasi is now streaming on Hulu.