Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske — the filmmaking troupe collectively known as Broken Lizard — became cult and stoner comedy legends after their 2001 release Super Troopers, caught on like wild snozzberries on home video.
Super Troopers was Broken Lizard’s second film after the ultra-low budget 1996 comedy Puddle Cruiser, which the performers filmed on the college campus where they all met, Colgate University in central New York.
In an alternate universe, though, their breakout could have been Quasi, the raunchy, R-rated riff on The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which premieres this week (landing on Hulu on Thursday, aka 4/20, natch) more than two decades after it was conceived.
“We wrote this thing about 20 years ago, when we wrote Super Troopers, we wrote them at the same time,” reveals Heffernan, who also handled directing duties on Quasi. When it became clear that it would be far more practical to shoot a contemporary cop comedy than a medieval, French-set parody of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, they shelved Quasi and focused on Troopers.
Now, finally, the gang’s twisted take on Quasimodo is ready for prime time, with Lemme starring as the deformed 13th century torture-device designer who is drawn into a feud between the king of France (Chandrasekhar) and the pope (Soter).
The Lizard take on the story was inspired by one of Lemme’s co-workder during his stint at an HMV record store in New York City. “He was kind of this lonely guy, worked in the blues department, talked out of the side of his mouth,” Heffernan explains. That character became a regular presence in their comedy sketches, and they soon built their own hunchback story around him.
Even after striking gold with Super Troopers, “no one would ever let us make it,” Heffernan says. “Because we didn’t have enough juice, or it was a period piece, or it was too expensive.” It wasn’t until after the long-coming Super Troopers 2 exceeded expectations when it was released on 4/20/18 (natch) that Searchlight Pictures green-lit Quasi. (The production company formerly known as Fox Searchlight before being acquired by Disney has long been in the Lizard biz, having also distributed first Super Troopers and 2004’s Club Dread),
Chandrasekhar, Heffernan, Lemme, Soter and Stohanske all play multiple characters in Quasi, which is already drawing comparisons to the similar costumed comedic stylings of Monty Python (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian). That, of course, is no accident: Broken Lizard’s moniker is, after all, a nod to the troupe’s reptilian-named idols.
“We wouldn’t exist without Python, we were effectively modeled after Python,” says Chandrasekhar, who directed Broken Lizard’s first four films, which also includes 2006’s Beerfest. “But obviously they’re sort of up in the heavens. We made a movie that we knew that would be compared to them, probably not positively. But so what? This is our eighth movie, and we’re going to make a period piece.” (Soter says Braveheart was also a major inspiration.)
As has become Broken Lizard tradition, the troupe invites “one real actor” to join the shenanigans on each film. There was Brian Cox (Super Troopers), Bill Paxton (Club Dread), Cloris Leachman (Beerfest) and Michael Clarke Duncan (2006’s The Slammin’ Salmon). “We’re just goofballs,” says Soter. “You always have to have one real actor in it so you can go, ‘Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to go.’”
And while the red-hot Cox (Succession) returns to narrate Quasi, the new featured performer is Friday Night Lights alum Adrianne Palicki, who plays the queen (and Quasi’s unlikely love interest).
“I was shocked … I love them,” says Palicki, about being recruited for the latest Lizard joint. “I read it and I was blown away at how funny it is, and how it has this ode to Monty Python, and growing up I was a huge Monty Python fan. It was just fun and interesting, and this queen is kinky. So I felt genuinely honored.”
Asked if the Lizard lads do a vibe check with prospective collaborators, Lemme says he knew Palicki would be a good fit minutes into their introductory call. “The first thing I did on that Zoom was I insulted her,” he says. “I said, ‘I really admire your courage. You came to Hollywood and you stuck with that name, Palicki. And good for you.’ And she laughed at that, so that was the vibe check.”
“And I gave him something right back, and he was like, ‘Bring it,’” Palicki responds.
Palicki, whose credits also include John Wick and and The Orville, bore witness to some of the wildest gags Broken Lizard has executed, including one that recalls There’s Something About Mary’s “frank and beans” moment in which Heffernan’s scrotum is stretched out across a chopping block.
“The highlight of this movie was having Kevin direct us with his scrotum hanging all the way between his ankles,” laughs Lemme.
The guys don’t flinch when asked what the prop was made of. “That’s mine,” Heffenan deadpans. “We improvised that. We just stretched it,” Lemme adds. “All real,” Soter insists.
As luck would have it, David Greenbaum and Matthew Greenfield, the co-presidents of Searchlight Pictures (a studio more typically known for prestige Oscar fare like Nomadland, Birdman and The Shape of Water) visited the film’s set the one day Heffernan’s “junk” was in full sight.
“This is an award-winning, very high-end studio,” Heffernan laughs. “And the presidents of the studio showed up on set for the scrotum scene. And I looked over, and they’re posing for pictures with the scrotum. And so I thought that was a good impression we made with the good people at Searchlight Pictures.”
Indeed, Broken Lizard and Searchlight remain tight, and not just because of hilarious scrotum props. Super Troopers 3 is an inevitability.
“We’ve written 10 drafts of it,” Chandrasekhar updates. “And we’re going to have a meeting on it at the end of this press tour.”
“That’s next,” Heffernan says. “It’s in good shape,” adds Stolhanske.
Quasi premieres April 20 on Hulu.
Watch the trailer:
A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.