INTERVIEW: Super Troopers Star & Director Jay Chandrasekhar on Getting High & Writing Jokes

When Jay Chandrasekhar first helmed Broken Lizard, one of America’s most beloved comedy groups, in the original Super Troopers film, a cult following from every corner of the globe soon amassed. From real highway patrol officers who saw them in the street, telling them that their movie was far closer to real life than they expected, to graduating to successful Hollywood careers for their members, Super Troopers was the hit that launched the outfit to fame.

What then proceeded was sixteen long years, waiting for a sequel. While several ideas were bounced around, it was none other than crowdfunding that finally got the much anticipated project off the ground. As expected, it has been an instant hit.

Super Troopers, both one and two, are in a rare category of film: one where critics’ opinions don’t make much difference at all. Not to over-tar with the “stoner comedy” brush, die-hard fans embrace the humour, which is as self-deprecating as it is potty mouthed. Sure, there are fart jokes, but there’s also Brian Cox, one of the greatest Shakespearean thespians to have ever trod the boards, as the avuncular Chief, who jumps around spraying as much profanity as the rest of the cast.

Speaking to us from his home in New York, Jay, who is as highly accomplished a director outside of Broken Lizard as he is a legend in the comedy industry for his work within the troupe of funsters, told us all about how their return to Super Troopers happened, and that there may even be a third film on the way.

Firstly, congratulations. The film’s been out for a few months now and the reaction, in my eyes, has been very similar to the first. Is that what you expected?

When we started to make the second film, we thought, “Well, we know how to make this movie now. We’ve already made this movie. All we have to do now is make another one.” ‘Cause we’ve already figured out the characters, we know what they look like, basically what their general philosophy is. We’re also much better writers, and film makers and joke writers, we figured we could write and shoot another funny movie about the highway patrol.

But there was something magical about the moment when that first film came out that really caught a wave you can’t really recreate necessarily. How do you do that?

The first movie just behaved in a way nobody saw coming. When we were doing it the next time we were like, “I don’t know … I don’t know if people will react that way.” But, amazingly, so far, the reaction has been very, very similar.

I think it’s because all I did was say to everybody the only way we’re rolling the camera is everybody weighs exactly the same as they did for the first film. A lot of people, when they watch the [new] movie, they go, “Okay, they look a little bit older but they don’t look fatter.” I wanted them to have this soft landing from one movie to the other. Just another story with these guys. I’m happy with the reaction though.

You’ve obviously done a lot of directing since you did the first one, do you think you have to revert back to a previous style for this, or did you find that experience helped?

Well, I went back and looked at the first film before I shot the second one. I wanted it to be a close relative, or a close cousin, because it needs to feel similar, right? It needs to feel almost the same, but then comedy has changed since we made that movie and we have to keep up. So, it’s meant to be a blend of what it was back then when we made that first film and now, it’s a mix of styles.

But, yeah, I wanted the sights to feel real, feel like that they were from the 70’s, 80’s era, I wanted the action to feel real. We used so more modern tools to help to get that look a little easier.

You mentioned 70’s and 80’s there. I remember reading somewhere once that there was an original plot line for the second one which was a prequel? Then I’ve heard other stories since, about how this developed. The first film, I think I also read, was about … basically the idea came when you were getting pulled over whilst high on long, boring stretches of road, right? This one has a very different plot line. It’s a bit zanier, it’s a bit wackier; how did you put your finger on this plot line and say, “This is what we’re going with, this is what we’re gonna film”?

What we did was, I was reading the New York Times and it was describing the months after 9/11, how the USA and Canada reassessed their border. There are markers along the border of the US and Canada, some of the markers were literally there in the wrong place.

Wait, this is real?

It’s real. It was not by a whole town, but there were little land spots that were made to clarify where the border was. We thought that could be funny. We approached these stories like, “What are the issues on the northern border of America with Canada?” That’s how we came to this…

We were looking for a simple premise that could actually happen on the northern border and this felt like a good idea. Because in the United States we — just as you guys make fun of New Zealand and how they have sex with sheep and all that — we make fun of Canadians for being really polite and really friendly and unable to make a decision. And, they’re kind of British in a way, they still have the Queen on their money. We make fun them for it.

Characters [from Canada] that exist in US films are always really friendly, really nice, “Oh, sorry”, “Oh, Gosh.”

The reality of Canada is they’ve got a very tough hockey culture. These people are living in really cold weather and they play a lot of ice hockey and they fight. There’s a Canada after dark thing that hasn’t really been shown. If you go to Vancouver and you go out, up until midnight everyone’s really friendly, but once they get a little hammered there’s some real fights out there on the street. And we wanted to show that side of Canada, we wanted to have our mounties be really tough and brawling.

I thought it was hilarious, it was honestly not quite what I was expecting. Well, I didn’t know what to expect when I first watched it. I just got high and put it on.

That’s good. That’s good. We’re trying to give you something that feels really right, but that you don’t see coming.

You’ve got Rob Lowe as the mayor. I think he does weird characters very well, but this is a ridiculous character for him to play. How did you get him to sign on?

He and I worked together on a show he did called The Grinder. It was on Fox for about, I think, two seasons. He and Chris Savage. I said to Rob, “Is there any world where you would be in the sequel to Super Troopers?” And he said, “Yes. Any part, I don’t care, I’m in no matter what.”

And I was like, “Yeah, okay. Great. We kinda want you to play this Canadian mayor.” And he goes, “Oh, I played a Canadian in the movie Young Blood,” he played a hockey player before. And he goes, “I have all these opinions about Canadians that I want to get across. Like this whole indecisiveness,” and he told me the story of the Halifax explosion to illustrate how Canadians can’t make decisions.

I don’t know if you know that story, but it’s basically a big ship of dynamite was coming into Halifax Harbour, and another ship went out to meet it. And his joke is the dynamite ship was like, “We should go left,” and then the other ship is like, “We should go right.” And each captain is like, “If we go left and they go right,” they’re gonna hit, or whatever.

This exacted to Canadians can’t make decisions, that was his premise was.

So we wrote this whole Halifax explosion into the movie. After he told me the story I’m like, “Okay, we’re gonna make you a Halifax explosion and you’re gonna tell the story.” Was just had a good collaboration.

If you really listen to these actors, they’re really good actors. Not us. I mean like Rob Lowe, and everybody else. They do a lot of preparation and they really come focused. And if you really listen to them you can get a lot of great gems.

To stay on that topic, I want to talk a little bit about Brian Cox as well. He’s a huge name, and a very strange one for the original Super Troopers, being a Shakespearean actor. But he came back and did another. Were you surprised at how cool he is? Or how cool he seems to be?

You know … In order for movies to have depth, you need to … If you look at all of us, we’re five guys, we’re all the same age, and the movie’s just hit us and we made ourselves. So you need a guy who is legit. Brian cox is a legitimate actor who’s got gravitas, and when people see that he’s in the movie they’re like, “Okay, I’ll take this movie a little more seriously now.” So when you put him into scenes, you look at him and you’re like, “Oh, that’s acting. Okay.” And he teaches you all sorts of stuff.

On the flip side, he told me … I keep on running into him every now and then in LA or in New York, and he goes, “No matter what I’ve done … I’ve done King Lear in St. Petersburg., I’ve done all sorts of movies, with Mel Gibson and whatever. And the movie I get most recognised for is fucking Super Troopers.”

And he goes, “You’re goddamn right I’ll be back.” He’s in. He’s already told me he wants to do the third one.

That’s awesome. Is there talk of a third one?

Super Troopers 3: Winter Soldiers.

Is that all you’re gonna say?

We’ll see. We’ll see if it’s in winter. We’ve actually started writing. We’re gonna have a first draft in about two weeks.

I’ll come back to a question about what else is coming up in a second. We’re an Australian publication obviously, so I want to talk a little bit about your press trip when you did the first film. Because I’ve only heard patches of stories, but apparently you guys earned quite the reputation, and there was something with Russell Crowe?

First of all, we’re legitimately big fans of Russell Crowe.

It’s okay, he’s a New Zealander anyways.

Legitimately fans. But what happened was our publicity department, were these two Australian women, and they were taking us around to all sorts of places. Anything where people were gathered, they were taking us. They took us to a mall during the afternoon and we went and stood on a little one inch stage, and there was a guy … it was so bizarre … this guy’s wearing a tuxedo and he has the microphone, and all these moms and children were at the mall during the day. He says, “Ladies and children, welcome the Super Troopers from America.” And they’re all clapping. And we’re dressed like cops, and are like, “Okay, that’s weird.”

Then we went to a tyre store opening. Finally our publicist was like, “There’s a beer garden on the way home to the hotel. Why don’t we stop there. Your fans will probably be there. Those kind of people will like your movie.” So we go into this beer garden and we’re dressed like cops. And your country was famously created out of a penal colony, right? It’s sort of anti-authority, we’re dressed like cops walking in this place.

And everyone’s looking at us and whatever, and our publicists are like, “You can’t just drink beer. You gotta go up on stage, tell them about the movie, and tell them to go see the movie.” We’re like, “Come on, okay. Fine.” So we go up on stage and we’re standing there. I’m like, “Hey, everybody, we made a movie. It’s called Super Troopers.” And some guy yells, “Fuck you, copper!”

And everyone’s laughing at that, they’re laughing at us, and they’re like, “Who the fuck are these guys?” And one of the guys grabs the mic from me and he just, for whatever reason, he yelled, “Russell Crowe sucks kangaroo dick!”

The whole place explodes in this fake rage, and then he challenges he top five guys in the room to a drinking game.

So all of a sudden now five guys are up on stage, I’m on stage, and we’re doing a boat race, which is where you take two full pints of beer, and we’re chugging amazingly, kicking ass. But we have one slow guy, and that guy, he loses our lead, and we ultimately ended up losing by half a cup, but whatever.

Then we challenge these guys to an arm wrestling contest. Cause we’re gonna play low. And then the same guy says, “Crocodile Dundee fucks koala bears.” And then, again, a couple literally started throwing shit at us, and it got a little out of hand. Our publicists were like, “We need to get the fuck out of here.”

So then she leads us out the back door and we get in the van and just fucking screech out of there. And after that, I remember on the way out, Kevin Heffernan said, “That would be a good idea for a movie.”

So that’s when we started the idea for writing Beerfest. Out of that beer garden.

You promised at the end of Beerfest we’d soon get Potfest. Since seeing that last title card, we’ve been waiting about 12 years. Is it still in the works?

Well I told Warner Brothers after Super Troopers did well … “Can we get it back?” And they’re like, “No.” And they just got bought by the phone company. AT&T had just bought Warner Brothers. And I’m like, “Yeah, okay.”

We’re basically in the process of attempting to get the rights to it, so that we can go make it on our own. Maybe we can do this, and we maybe won’t, but I think we’re gonna make that movie. I have a pretty good feeling that that movie’s gonna get made.

I just want to touch really quickly on the crowdfunding element, cause I know that Zach Braff got this weird backlash when he did it. But it kind of worked for Super Troopers 2. How did you approach that?

I think Zach, part of what happened was … I think he thought it would be funny to record a video updating the crowdfunding people from a jetski, suggesting that he had spent their money on a jetski. And he was kidding, obviously, but something happened. I don’t know. I think that plus the fact that he was on a sitcom for nine years and people know the economics for that, and they thought, “What the fuck?! Why don’t you just pay for your own goddamn movie.” I think that’s what happened to him.

We watched that and said, “Okay, what can we do to neutralise all those things?” First of all none of us were picked up for that year, so we were okay there. And we just shot 30 videos all in character, and just tried to make people nostalgic for the first movie. And we also took the artwork very seriously. And we took the posters very seriously.

We really tried to make it clear to the audience, “If you want to see the movie, unfortunately, we’re in a situation where you’ll have to put up some funding to get it started. And we’re going to take care of you and we’re going to treat you with respect and we’re going to everything we can to avoid that tsunami nightmare of an internet backlash, and we weren’t able to do that. I mean, it took a lot of fucking effort and we got lucky, but it worked out. I mean, 50 something thousand people invest 4.68 million dollars. That’s a lot of money.

I’ve heard rumours as well that up next you might be doing something with Marvel. Is this true?

It’s funny … when you talk to press sometimes and you think … I don’t even know what. You think it’s not going to get out there.

We had a meeting with Marvel that was totally a generic, general meeting. And they said, “You know what, guys? We loved Super Troopers 2, and we think we could, if you look at the movie Deadpool obviously that’s an R-rated, edgy comedy and you know, this is actually in an animation space. We think we’d like to work with you, but let’s try to come up with something together. So, that’s the extent of it.

Literally, nothing. It’s nothing. You know, if we come up with something and they agree with it, then we’ll do something. But right now it’s just, you know.

Nothing real is happening.

I understand. I remember when I first watched the original Super Troopers. I feel like Stoner Comedy still had this bit of a stigma, because you know. Weed was still in the shadows. And know, you’ve got a country; well in your country at least, it’s legal in a lot of places. Not just for medicinal, but for recreational. Do you think that Stoner Comedy has kind of come out of the shadows?

I think what’s gonna happen is, I’ve seen in Colorado, they’re really embracing comedy, and embracing music in a different way than they were. And I think there’s going to be a massive wave of creativity that comes out of all of these people smoking grass. I think we’re going to get another wave of funny, stoner comedies.

And I think that a lot of people who are now taking edibles that didn’t used to, because it was illegal or they thought there was this stigma, people are coming out of the woodwork and really embracing marijuana in a way, that I imagine is someday is gonna feel a lot more like the alcohol industry. You know?

You go out in Denver, you can just smoke a joint in a bar. I did it in California, I smoked a joint in a bar. And I’m like, “Okay, I could go outside…”

I’m looking forward to it. We’re very behind here in Australia, but we’ll get there.

[laughter] Yeah, I mean look. The best comedians are pot smokers, because they go to a place that your mind goes to when you smoke a joint. That’s just a fact. Whether society eventually realises it or not, that’s what takes time. They like to insult us in the beginning, “Oh that’s just sort of stoner comedy” but you’re like, “well that’s a great comedy, that was made by people who smoke pot.”

But you know, there are certain jokes that probably can only fully be truly appreciated if you’re a little bit high. But if you’re not, it still works. It still works well.

Well you’ll be pleased to know I was high when I saw Super Troopers 2.

Good! I was gonna say, we were high when we wrote a lot of jokes. I mean, not all of them. We organised, structurally some sober. And we do a lot work sober. But when we’re writing certain jokes and we’re high, stuff will come up that you just don’t see coming.

I think it comes through as well. I’ve only got one last question for you. You’ve directed some pretty wacky casts. Super Troopers is sort of a motley crew of people. Dukes of Hazzard you got Willie Nelson and Jessica Simpson in the same cast. And you did a few episodes of Arrested Development, which is an all-star cast of really, really funny people. Based on all of that, you’ve mentioned Super Troopers 3, do you have a bit of a dream cameo, or one or two people that you’d really, really love to get on board for a third?

I mean, we’d really love to work with Bill Murray, you know. I’m a big fan of John Hamm. I love Kristen Wiig.

Yeah. She’s great.

I love Kate McKinnon. Chappelle. Dave Chappelle, I’m a big fan of. So I don’t know. To some degree, you’ve got to be careful not overloading the next movie with big stars. You’ve just got to surgically choose the best people, and then kind of fill up the rest with discoveries. Because I think some comedies, I won’t name them, they over-cameo. And you’re like, “You just did that because you could. I don’t blame you, but it’s over-weighted in a weird way. It doesn’t work as well”; When somebody is really famous that’s playing the bell boy who has just two lines. You’re like, “eh”. [laughter]

But yeah, there are a lot of people that we like. Basically, we’ll write a story and go, “Let’s try for that guy.”

And hopefully Brian Cox comes back on board as well.

Well, he says he wants to. And we’ve got some good jokes for him. So, hopefully.

There’s just something about hearing him swear. It’s so satisfying.

[laughter]

Yep, yep, yep.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us Jay, and we look forward to the third installment.

Great! Thank you very much.

Super Troopers 2 is out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 29th of August.

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