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Back to the High Road: The Unlikely Journey of 'Super Troopers 2'

I still remember sitting in my dorm room in 2001, the air thick with bong smoke, when two of my fellow weed-enthusiast friends burst in the door. “Dude, you have to see this movie. It’s about these cops who fuck with stoners!” Thus, the cult of Super Troopers was born. By no means a box-office juggernaut, the $1.2 million film went on to gross in excess of $70 million on DVD, making it one of the most successful independent films of all time. It’s a shaggy-dog touchstone for Gen Y—a bawdy, gleefully offensive, slobs vs. knobs throwback to the anarchic, early days of National Lampoon. Seventeen years later, the highway cops of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe are back. While the cultural climate has changed, the Super Troopers remain just as un-PC as ever.

Launched via a 2015 Indiegogo campaign by Broken Lizard, the comedians set a $2 million goal to fund Super Troopers 2. In just one day, they reached their quota. Their agreement with original distributor Fox Searchlight was that if they could raise the $2 million themselves, Searchlight would distribute. In one week, they hit $3 million. At the close of the campaign, the group cracked the $4 million mark, proving the power of crowdfunding, nostalgia and strong sativa.

Ahead of the film's April 20 (heh) release,  Playboy spoke with all five members of Broken Lizard—director Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske—and Troopers newcomer Emmanuelle Chriqui, about lewd comedy in the wake of #MeToo, the origin of the famed “meow” joke and the role cannabis plays in the Broken Lizard creative process. 

Comedy and culture has changed dramatically since the first Troopers. Do you have a greater fear of offending people now, or is that an instinct you don’t possess?
Jay Chandrasekhar: On the stand-up stage, and to a lesser degree in movies, the comedian should be able to speak freely. The jokes that may appear offensive in the movie are ones that we are comfortable with. We’ve chosen those jokes specifically, and had the conversation, “Is this too offensive, or is it just offensive enough?” We’re willing to back up those jokes if necessary. If someone says, “You’re a dick for including that joke,” I’d say, “We did it, and I’m happy about it.” We certainly have jokes that are too offensive for us to release into the public. We laugh privately about them, but they’ll never see the light of day.

Once the crowdfunding goal cracked 4 million, did nerves set in? There’s definitely a weighted pressure behind this one.
Kevin Heffernan: Absolutely. When you ask people to give their hard-earned money to pay for your movie, you better deliver. They weren’t just anonymous donors. These people are all huge fans, and have a love for the original movie. We simply could not screw it up. We had to show them that they gave their money for good reason. One of the perks that was offered in the crowdfunding was that if you gave a certain amount, we would screen the movie in their towns. We’ve done about 15 screenings over the last three weeks, and they’ve all played through the roof. It’s a great feeling and a huge relief.

Releasing on 4/20, you’re not shy about knowing your audience. How much does cannabis play into the Lizard creative process?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Cannabis is the great, unlocking agent for us. First, we structure and organize the plot in our scripts, to make it nice and tight. Then, we get high and have joke-writing sessions, where we fill in the colors and details. We definitely have creative sessions where we’re not high, but at least 50 percent of the time, we’ll roll up a joint. If we’re really trying to break a problem, or come up with something special for a spot that’s not working, we’ll always fire up a joint.

What would have happened if you put on the uniforms, were all set to shoot and it just didn’t feel right? Not the pant size, but the characters?
Steve Lemme: I’ve always related to my character because Mac is kind of a wild man. If he wasn’t a cop, he’d be in jail. I think it’s an extension of my normal personality. If I stopped relating to the character, it would have been a much deeper issue. I would have had to see a shrink. Once I grew the mustache, got the crewcut going and stuck a piece of gum in my mouth, it was like mother’s milk.

Did the pant size go up?
Steve Lemme: No, because Jay said, “I’m not rolling camera until we’re all at the exact same weight as we were when we made the first movie.” People can say we look older, but they can’t say we look fatter. We’d spend a few weeks apart before shooting, and everyone had noticeably dropped a ton of weight. We could see each others’ jawlines again. The problem was that once we wrapped, we all slowly put that weight back on.

Can you share the origin of the “meow” joke?
Paul Soter: This goes back to when Broken Lizard was doing live shows. We were in L.A., visiting from New York, trying to get a TV show going. We’d all stay in one hotel room, which was usually the Travelodge on Pico. The combination of all five of us being cagey in one small room, drunk and high, is what led to one of our riffs going way out into left field. It was about a magical wizard that would curse somebody and give them a cat’s tongue. One of the byproducts was that every time this person said, “Now,” they would say, “Meow.” It was just a classically dumb thing that would make us laugh for way too long. 
Cannabis is the great, unlocking agent for us. We definitely have creative sessions where we’re not high, but at least 50 percent of the time, we’ll roll up a joint.
Usually what happens is the next day, it’s forgotten. It’s lost in the fog of us partying. In this case, I reached into my pocket a week later and found, “Now = Meow,” scribbled on a cocktail napkin. I reminded the guys, and it still made us giggle. We were already thinking about Super Troopers as a script, and we were thinking about the dumbest things these guys would do to pass the time. We wrote it as a game they would play, to see how many times they could sneak that word in.

We considered that it was only funny to us. Any time the script went out to studios or producers, "meow" was held up as the example of, “Fellas! Here’s why I’m not going to make your movie. Look at page 37—you have 'meow' written all over these pages, and it doesn’t make any sense!” We realized that one joke was kind of who we are. It’s really the essence of our sense of humor. I think of “meow” and the opening scene in the first Troopers as classic cases of why nobody in Hollywood wanted to make the movie. I think it’s a good object lesson in sticking to what you think is funny, when the conventional wisdom is that you can’t do that, or this doesn’t make sense. Those two scenes really became the hallmarks of the first movie. I was telling the guys today that if I die in a fiery wreck driving home tonight, I guarantee that online headlines would read, “Not so funny meow!” If it’s my ultimate contribution to popular culture, I can live with it.

Was it difficult stepping into the Broken Lizard boys club?
Emmanuelle Chriqui: They are total gentlemen, and the most respectful and funny guys I’ve ever met. We shot in Boston, and I was the only woman. From the second I got there, everyone was so welcoming, inclusive and cool. We had great dinners together, and it was pure fun. I was really sad when it was over. I spent eight years with my Entourage boys, and I literally grew up with them. The Broken Lizard guys are definitely just as cool, and I already feel very bonded to them. I’m a pretty lucky lady to be a part of these two boys clubs. I’ve gotta say … Steve Lemme really cracks me up. He is a crazy storyteller. [Laughs.]

Was it wilder behind the scenes on Troopers 1 or 2?

Steve Lemme: On the first one, we were super young and totally independent. On this one, we were making the movie for Fox Searchlight. Age and inexperience led us to be super wild on the first one. We didn’t have the money to hire teamsters, so we were in charge of driving our own police cars back to the hotel. I remember being on the highway, driving a squad car, and I noticed in the rear-view mirror that everyone was driving behind me at my speed. A woman sped up and got in front of me, and I thought, “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re gonna cut in front of a police car?” I considered flipping on the police lights. Stolhanske actually did switch on the lights. A car pulled over, but he just kept driving. Back at the hotel 20 minutes later, there was a knock on the door, as the local cops had shown up and wanted to haul somebody in. Stolhanske hid under the hotel bed because he was so terrified.

Is comedy and pop culture too safe these days? 
Erik Stolhanske: I think it’s evolving. We're more aware of our actions, and the feelings of others. As comedians, it’s our responsibility to hold up a mirror to society. We truly go with jokes that make all five of us laugh. We’ve been together since we were teenagers, so we have our own sense of humor. If it makes us laugh, we put it out to the universe, and hopefully it connects with other people. 

In the wake of #MeToo, is bawdy, raunchy comedy in danger? 
Emmanuelle Chriqui: I think we’re all very sensitive and cautious at the moment. Ironically, I think that it actually works in our favor with this movie because it’s been one hell of a year on so many levels. We’ve had to travel through the dark to get to the light, but that journey has been super intense. I think a movie like this comes along to remind us to laugh, and to not take shit so seriously. This film is not going to interrupt the movement, or all the progressive things that are happening. It’s an opportunity for everyone to chill the fuck out for a moment, and just laugh. 
Super Troopers 2 hits theaters Friday, April 20.

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