Steve Lemme Interview
Broken Lizard’s Steve Lemme ventured away from the famed comedy troupe (they did Super Troopers and Club Dread) to star in a family film written and directed by an old friend. Lemme and Chris Neumer go out to lunch and touch on the shock of having a dog being more professional than you, what ‘funny’ is and how Lemme keeps interviews from ever getting boring.
STEVE LEMME: My knee is in so much pain.
CHRIS NEUMER: I had a time earlier this year—I turned thirty-six in February, so I know you’ve got just a smidge of years on me. It was one of those things where it was right around my birthday and people were asking me, “You feeling old?” I wasn’t. I was feeling good. Then I was making out with a woman and sprained my knee. There was this loud crack, and she got worried and asked, “What’s that?” I was like, “I think I sprained my knee.” That’s age. Your body parts just start going.
STEVE LEMME; That’s actually a great story. The other day I was walking down the street and my shoulder just started getting sore. Then after a few more feet I was like “It’s actually injured now.” I have hurt my shoulder doing nothing with it.
CHRIS NEUMER: I think I hurt my wrist running the other day. I was like; can you hurt your wrist running? This is a question I would pose on Facebook if I didn’t know the first twenty responses that I would get in that situation.
STEVE LEMME: People don’t understand.
CHRIS NEUMER: No, and it’s funny though, especially when you can sort of laugh at your own misfortune.
STEVE LEMME: This one is not an age injury, this is just a stupidity injury; this is real. My wife is twelve years younger, she’s thirty-one and she’s not in this stage yet. She has no idea what I’m talking about and I remember being thirty-one. I feel like when I was thirty-one I was already accumulating these walking injuries like the random cracking joints. But she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. I’m like, “Wait until you’re my age.” Because the other thing, she’s tells me, “When I’m your age, no matter what happens, you’ll still be twelve years older than me.”
CHRIS NEUMER: (laughs) You guys can catch up when you’re dead. I love lunch interviews. I did a story on Nat Faxon, this was before he was ‘Oscar winning Nat Faxon’, two years ago. I remember we were someplace in Culver City and he’s like, “What did you want to talk to me about?” I told him, “I don’t think there’s anybody out there that plays more characters that you don’t want to bring home to your dad then you.” And he said, “Dude, you could not have put that better.” So we just talked about that. He’s such a sweet guy and he just kept playing all these characters that you would never want your daughter to date, and I thought that was hysterical.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah, Faxon is hilarious. I wish I had known that you had interviewed Faxon because I have a rare picture of him from—I don’t know if you remember the Geico cavemen, but there was a TV show they came out with.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. They had three episodes or something.
STEVE LEMME: Exactly! And he wasn’t one of them but he did screen tests for it. I’ve got a photo of Nat in full caveman make-up, like they put everything on him and the only way you know it’s him is because he’s got lousy teeth, and he’s smiling and his lousy teeth are showing through.
CHRIS NEUMER: I would assume that might help him as an actor in the fake-caveman world.
STEVE LEMME: You know what? I actually do have the photo. It’ll just take me a second to dig because I had tweeted it. Nat is actually blowing up right now. He’s in a Fox TV show that’s going to be airing this fall, he won the Oscar, he’s now directing a movie.
CHRIS NEUMER: I want to say I talked to him eighteen months ago or so. He was like, “Why do I keep doing this?”
STEVE LEMME: Oh really?
CHRIS NEUMER: It was kind of interesting.
STEVE LEMME: Here’s what I can tell you about this restaurant, when we shot the movie, we shot a lot of the movie here. Even if we were shooting elsewhere, I would come back here and nobody would invite me anywhere, and I was literally here for like a month and a half. So I’ve been in this restaurant like a million times. I don’t know if you know this, but they grow all their fruits and vegetables out in the garden there, so it’s going to be delicious.
CHRIS NEUMER: Oh absolutely, we’re not half a block from a major interstate.
STEVE LEMME: That’s how cities get started. [searching for photo on phone] All right this is futile, I’m going to get it though.
CHRIS NEUMER: Is it on your Twitter feed?
STEVE LEMME: It is but there are so many and I sent it a while ago.
CHRIS NEUMER: I have interns, are you something simple like at Steve Lemme?
STEVE LEMME: I’m at Steve Lemme. Kevin Heffernan and I do a two-man show so we also have a two man feed at LemmeHeffernan. It was funny because that was our original Twitter feed. When I started my personal one and broke it to Kevin, it was like I was cheating on him. He still doesn’t like to talk about it. We were doing a radio interview because he and I tour around the country doing two man shows. They asked, “What’s your Twitter feed?” Kevin said, “At LemmeHeffernan.” I leaned forward and said, “Actually I’ve been meaning to tell Kevin this, but I started my own Twitter feed and it’s at Steve Lemme.” The look on his face was like in Braveheart when Mel Gibson realizes he has been betrayed by Robert the Bruce on the battlefield. It’s the pure look of deep sorrow and betrayal and hurt feelings. I don’t feel badly about it. He’s okay with it now. He’s finally allowed @LemmeHeffernan to follow Steve Lemme.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s funny.
STEVE LEMME: [Still searching for photo] Okay well this is not going to happen, but I will email it to you.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s fair; I can look forward to that. You know I saw I Heart Shakey recently. I wasn’t at the premiere. I guess you weren’t either. I realized it was not made for me. That said, I thought you had something going on in this that was somewhat unique. Your job was not to distract. I mean this in the best possible way, but John Corbett was excellent in this. He is fantastic at being on screen, having a presence, but not needing dialog. As I was watching the movie where you’re there with a precocious kid and a dog I thought, “Wow, I notice him, but he’s not doing anything.” It’s like you were doing something by not doing something… which is in fact doing something. I don’t see that often. Sometimes people just blend into the background. You just have this very good screen presence even though you weren’t doing something.
STEVE LEMME: That’s a great compliment, thank you. You know they say don’t act with a child or…
CHRIS NEUMER: A dog?
STEVE LEMME: Yeah and I had both going.
CHRIS NEUMER: Or Steven Seagal.
STEVE LEMME: Is that right? Do they say that?
CHRIS NEUMER: They actually do say that.
STEVE LEMME: I’ve actually heard that. I girl I dated actually had dinner with Steven Seagal. [She] was like, “It was the weirdest thing in my life.” … She was brought there by a girlfriend of hers and it was a private [dinner]; he didn’t want to be recognized. So the table they had was set up in the back of this restaurant and it was the three of them. Her, her girlfriend, and Steven Seagal and she said he didn’t talk. They just ate the meal and [it] was like, “Goodnight ladies!” [He] didn’t even try to hit on them or anything like that. He was in, like, his kimono or whatever it was he was wearing. So I would love to act with Steven Seagal frankly. I’d do it. But I couldn’t understand why they put him in Machete because if I were making a film now, I wouldn’t cast Steven Seagal. Have you ever met Steven Seagal?
CHRIS NEUMER: No and believe me it is not for lack of trying.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah I’m sure you’re going after him.
CHRIS NEUMER: I have, however, met Nick Nolte and let me tell you, that was that an experience. At one point in time I asked him about preparing to play a blind character. He stood up, pointed at me and said, “I’m from Iowa, go ahead.” It was also a little unusual because we were doing the interview in this hotel suite in New York. When he sat down the first time, he did that thing that you kind of do with your brother or something where your ass cheek hits the top of the other person’s thigh and then slides down except he did that with me and I’d never met him before.
STEVE LEMME: He just wanted to put his ass on you.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well, I can’t deny him the pleasure of that.
STEVE LEMME: Naturally. Did you wash your leg for while or just let it sit?
CHRIS NEUMER: I still sniff it once and while.
STEVE LEMME: I bet you do and is it stinky? So you’ve had Nick Nolte’s ass cheek on you leg. Did it start with the crack of his ass on your leg and then slide off or did he just graze you with his cheek?
CHRIS NEUMER: I felt whatever that bone is back there.
STEVE LEMME: Coccyx.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yes, I had Nick Nolte’s coccyx all over me. Oh, that sounds good! (laughs) But back to your screen presence. So you’re going into this project and you’re thinking, “Okay I’m working with a kid, I’m working with a dog.” Did you have any specific thoughts in mind about that?
STEVE LEMME: Nope, none. The two best acting experiences of my life in terms of learning things were Club Dread and this movie. With Club Dread, I was doing an accent and I prepared so well for it; I had the entire script down pat. A lot of actors don’t like to do this, they don’t want to know the script because they want to be free. For me it was knowing it so cold and then allowing myself on a daily basis to spend hours a day in that character just totally fucking around, saying crass things and smooth things in that accent like, “I want to make love to you and for years you will have orgasms thinking about me in inexplicable places. You will be in a desk one day at work and just cum and it was because of me.” I would think those things and I’d say them and we’d be on set, I knew my lines cold so I knew exactly where I was and I could go off and do whatever I wanted in that character and come back and still be like, “And, by the way, there is a killer on the loose.”
When I was coming here to shoot this movie I had forgotten that I hadn’t played the lead in a movie since Puddle Cruiser, [Broken Lizard’s] first movie, and that learning the lines would take a lot longer than a week because I had ninety pages of dialog as opposed to forty. So when I got here, Coop [director Kevin Cooper]was like, “You are the pillar here. We have a little girl, she’s awesome, but we don’t know anything about her and the dog is not very well trained, so just relax.” It was funny because we got to the first rehearsal and I didn’t know my lines and Riley [the little girl] knew all her lines and the dog was hitting his marks and I was the fucking worst one in the room. And I was like, “This is fantastic. There are three of us, I’m the pillar, and I’m terrible.” I remember thinking to myself like how unprofessional that was.
CHRIS NEUMER: I’m glad I didn’t have to bring it up.
STEVE LEMME: (chuckles) Yeah, I know and I appreciate that. You’re very tactful. But I started working and I would have personal assistants come to my room and run lines with me.
CHRIS NEUMER: Do you have a set thing on how you memorize dialog? Is there any kind of thing that you do?
STEVE LEMME: For me it’s repetition, I’m terrible with it. For years now, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m stupid, like I can’t do two things at the same time. Multi-tasking is something that I’m not good at. I used to work with a friend and we’d play video games with each other and he’d be on the phone and still doing well. I’d try it and Ford Fairlane it’s either I’m talking or I’m getting scored on left and right. So for me, to do my lines and hit my mark, I have to be extremely well prepared.
CHRIS NEUMER: And then also factor in the technical aspects of acting.
STEVE LEMME: When I was driving the Lamborghini in Shakey, they were getting so annoyed with me. I did a lot of takes. At least ten. They wanted me to come in super fast in the Lamborghini, going right at the camera, and then stop on a dime and look just left of camera and be like, “Hello ladies!” People take that for granted, but the fact is that’s actually a really hard thing to do.
CHRIS NEUMER: The opening shot of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, the entire Fairlane comes driving in to the frame and it has to stop, and there’s half an inch on either side of the word Fairlane on the side of the car, and it was perfect. I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea how many times they did it to get that shot. Who was the stunt driver? It’s unreal what you say about stopping on a dime.
STEVE LEMME: You love film don’t you?
CHRIS NEUMER: I do.
STEVE LEMME: I know the shot you’re talking about. I’ve seen. I’ve also seen Andrew Dice Clay in a local restaurant by my house, I’ve only seen Ford Fairlane once though. I actually didn’t think it was so bad. I like Andrew Dice Clay. He was great on Entourage. But to remember that shot, and to speak of it the way you do, and to have the thoughts that you are describing to me means that you are a film geek. And I mean that as a compliment. You should come to my house in California. Every few weeks I do what we call the dive in movie. I have a pool outside and we set up a projector and we show movies out there and it’s just that. Last one we showed was Grease and it was me and all my friends and everyone was just singing. I think this weekend we are going to do double dose of dirty. It’s going to be Dirty Dancing and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Ultimately this movie proved to be one of the best acting experiences of my life because it was another moment in time where I really had to start to focus. After Club Dread, I really had to focus. I played Finkelstein in Beerfest and that was another situation but somehow it was easier than doing Juan Castillo. This was probably the biggest acting challenge I’ve ever had.
CHRIS NEUMER: The thing that struck me about this is it seems like your role in Shakey would be closer to your real life than the other roles you mentioned. You’ve never been in a Costa Rican prison; you’re not doing anything strange to frogs.
STEVE LEMME: You don’t know that.
CHRIS NEUMER: I’m going out on a limb here.
STEVE LEMME: I have done strange things to frogs. If you remember now, I told you I took Tara Lipinski’s virginity. So you can look into my eyes and try to guess whether or not I’m being serious about these things.
CHRIS NEUMER: I’ve stopped caring; it’s going to be the lead now.
STEVE LEMME: Okay, she was terrific by the way, not really.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well sixteen you know?
STEVE LEMME: Hey man, at that age. It’s funny because Finkelstein came about because one of my friends—he’s a Korean Jew—was working in a lab. This guy was a super genius and he was working at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. I was like, “What are you doing over there?” He told me, “I actually masturbate frogs for a living.” I was like, “Get the fuck out of here!” He was into cloning and said, “We have to get the frog zygote out of the frog to use it and start to clone things. We set mood, we put on pheromones and get the noises of the rainforest going and dim the lights.” I thought that was awesome.
So we’re writing Beerfest and we were trying to figure out what to do with this science geek who knows the scientific stuff about beer drinking. I said, “Okay I got it! I know this guy who masturbates frogs for a living!” I explained the whole thing and we went with it. For a DVD extra, I went to interview my friend—he was still working at the Rockefeller Institute—I thought it would be fun to get the real guy and show people this actually exists. It turns out that he was just bullshitting me. He did extract zygotes, but there was no jerking off of the frogs and there was no mood music and lighting. It was actually very scientific. He just squeezed them, It wasn’t a male frog either, it was a female and the eggs would just squeeze right out of them. God why am I telling you these stories? Now I’m losing my focus.
CHRIS NEUMER: Because it’s entertaining. I always like there to be a topic when I interview people if only so that we can get off the topic.
STEVE LEMME: You’re a tangential person. The guys in Broken Lizard think that I’m a little bit insane, and we all are to a certain extent except that there are certain times, like the Tara Lipinski thing, and that’s mild considering some of the things that come out of my mouth.
CHRIS NEUMER: Did you ever go back and think, “That’s actually kind of funny? I didn’t remember that but that’s kind of funny.”
STEVE LEMME: My favorite one was somebody sent me an article when we were in Australia promoting Super Troopers. We were out of our minds happy and Fox sent us around the United States for eight weeks and then sent us to Australia for two weeks. None of us had ever been to Australia before, we had never flown first class and we had never made a movie that would have been in theaters. We were like, “This is the big time!” So we were partying literally every second of Australia and they had five really good looking woman, Fox did, publicity women who were there to take us around and pay for everything and never let us out of their sights. By the end of the two weeks these women were…
CHRIS NEUMER: Disgusted with you?
STEVE LEMME: No not disgusted, just a physical wreck because they were trying to keep up with us.
CHRIS NEUMER: And you guys were like what thirty-two, thirty-three back then?
STEVE LEMME: Thirty I think, maybe thirty-one, maybe thirty-two. I don’t know. One morning we hadn’t slept, we were wasted from the night before and it was right when Russell Crowe had gone nuts and had already hit one of his assistants with a phone. He was talking about how he was way better than Shakespeare or something like that. He had gone on some rant and I went off on some tangent in this interview about Russell Crowe digging up—exhuming—Shakespeare’s body and licking his pussy and deciding, “I’ve got ten times the pussy Shakespeare has got.”
And somebody brought this to my attention and I did remember it but I had forgotten. I was like, “Fucking A! Can’t somebody just put a cork in my mouth and shut me up sometimes?” So the Tara Lipinski thing, I have no memory of it but it doesn’t surprise me. So what is it about Club Dread that makes it your favorite movie of all time?
CHRIS NEUMER: This is the closest that I can come to explaining it. You know how you’ll be flipping through stations on cable and you come across Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? You think, “I’m just going to wait until the scene where they go to the restaurant and the waiter keeps turning the wrong way every time he exits frame?” Every scene of Club Dread is that scene for me. Every single scene in Club Dread is one I will wait for that. I also think the creation of Machete Phil is one of the best comedy inventions ever. I explain it to people and they’re like, “Well it should be Machete Colletti!” And I’m like, “That’s the joke.”
STEVE LEMME: That’s the point yeah.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s why it’s funny.
STEVE LEMME: When I met my wife, she told me, “Out of all your movies, Club Dread is my favorite.” When people say that Club Dread is their favorite of our movies—I’ve actually never met anyone that says Club Dread is their favorite movie of all time—I respect them so much more because I actually think Club Dread might be our best movie. One of the reasons why, aside from the fact that the lord smoteth down that weekend, I think people didn’t understand the movie very well. The Machete Phil thing is one of the things that, when we were writing it, we were like, “Holy shit this is going to be hilarious! We’re going to keep saying ‘machete’ and calling him Colletti, and then we’re going to say he was forever known as Machete Phil. Everyone is going to think ‘Machete Colletti’ and we’re going to say Machete Phil.” We thought that was going to be the best joke ever. Nobody liked it.
We were writing the speech about how Juan Castillo has fucked the goat and Heffernan threw out that line, “We were just a couple of stupid kids,” and I laughed my ass off. I thanked him right then and there because that was the best line I ever get to say. I still believe it is my favorite line that I ever had to say. Turns out not many people know that a baby goat is a kid. I can’t believe that because I thought everyone knew that a baby goat was a kid. But nobody got that joke and I still maintain it was maybe one of the best jokes we’ve ever written.
CHRIS NEUMER: I am especially partial to the line when Erik is talking to the two Mexican police officers. He’s going through what he knows about the killer and he says, “He knows how to operate a machete.” I love that. I don’t know how you guys did it, but you winked at the audience and you were never out of character. That to me is the sheer genius. When Jay goes to steal Britney’s underwear it works. I don’t know why it works. There’s a killer on the loose, why is this guy going to steal this chick’s underwear? But you’re like, “Of course he would, that’s what he would do, he likes her!” But there’s a killer on the loose, this is the genius.
STEVE LEMME: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think there are so many great jokes. Like the asshole joke. It’s one of my favorite throw away lines, “You have got to clench your butt cheeks otherwise the water is going to shoot up your asshole and pulverize your intestines.” And we all jump in the water, we’re on the run and she comes up and she’s like, “Oww my asshole!” I fucking love that joke. We were sitting there in the movie theater at test screens and no one would laugh at that and I was like, “How is nobody laughing at that joke? It’s hilarious.” It is what it is you know?
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah when Kevin kills the killer for, I think it was the first time, possibly the second time, and “He’s like the fun is done, what the hell happened to the hot tub?” I laugh every time I see that joke. Every time that line comes I’m like that is funny. I think the whole movie is just sheer genius.
STEVE LEMME: Thank you.
CHRIS NEUMER: Jay told me the last time I talked to him that he was going to see if he could get the three-hour long first cut and I swear to god this would make me happier than a pig in the shit.
STEVE LEMME: I feel like they did release the directors cut. There’s a chunk of the movie that we had to cut out literally for time. The original cut of the movie was like two hours and forty minutes. The movie cuts away from the island and goes to the mainland of Costa Rica and it’s these two cops and they found the body of one of the girls from the opening scene. They’re like, “What’s her name?” And they think it’s Sandy Cook. She’s in a chef’s outfit, and she’s on the beach, they observe she is a sandy cook, but they all think her name is Sandy Cook. I fucking love that whole segment. The cops, their names were Gordo and Piggy Bank, which I believe actually does exist in the final cut of the movie. There was a whole segment of those cops. We did like a Tarantino thing where we cut away from the action, go to the mainland, and meet the cops discovering this body and deciding they are going to the island. That was another one of my favorite things that had to be cut out of the movie. We had a great time making the movie.
CHRIS NEUMER: I know I met Larry Sher, the director of photography, back when he was doing Kissing Jessica Stein, so I stayed in touch with him. He called me up and told me I was going to love that movie.
STEVE LEMME: That opening scene was fun to shoot. Larry was awesome. It’s funny because I was just in San Francisco with Kevin Heffernan and we went on a show with the DJ No Name. He was telling us that he had Bill Paxton in the studio with James Cameron when they were coming out with the documentary about exploring the Titanic wreck. One of this guy’s top three movies was Club Dread and all he wanted to talk to Bill Paxton about was Coconut Pete. Cameron and Paxton just wanted to talk about the Into the Deep project and the deejay wouldn’t stop talking about Coconut Pete. He actually approached us and had gotten all the Coconut Pete songs. For some reason Fox Searchlight wouldn’t release them on the soundtrack, a curious decision, but he said Paxton was getting extremely annoyed with him because he wouldn’t stop talking about Club Dread.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well when it hits a nerve, it hits a nerve.
STEVE LEMME: It’s like when you speak about music, some people just have certain voices that just hit them. For me it’s Mick Jagger. I don’t know what it is, ever since I heard his voice as a kid, Mick Jagger has always spoken to me. For some people, it’s Bob Dylan. It doesn’t matter, it’s your personal opinion. Sometimes, you don’t choose it, it chooses you somehow and you just like it.
CHRIS NEUMER: I think every bit of discernment I was given went straight to my eyes and not my ears.
STEVE LEMME: So you’re primarily a visual…
CHRIS NEUMER: I just have really bad musical taste and I just don’t understand the terminology no matter how hard I try. My brother has tried so many times to explain to me what a bridge is in a song and I still don’t have a clue.
STEVE LEMME: I was listening to “Whenever I call you Friend” by Kenny Loggins and there are so many different parts of that song. What’s the chorus? What’s the bridge? What’s the refrain? There’s so many terms and I just don’t fucking get it. But I agree with you.
CHRIS NEUMER: For some reason when it comes to music I can just sit there and say, “Okay, I like it! I’m just going to sit here and drool.” As opposed to film where I think about it.
STEVE LEMME: Okay so after Club Dread what’s your second favorite movie? Do you have a top five?
CHRIS NEUMER: Last of the Mohicans is on there. I’d probably throw Irreversible, that’s the French, anal rape movie. Good filmmaking.
STEVE LEMME: Is that what they call it, like the tagline is French anal rape?
CHRIS NEUMER: I think that’s the way people know it. I think it’s twelve scenes and they’re all about nine to ten minutes long. No cuts, one take. Except it’s not the standard, it’s not Rope, because they actually go out. They go on the subway, they get in cars and it’s done so well. They have a scene in a dance club, and when they move the camera, like they go up a staircase that’s like this wide and it looks beautiful. Monica Bellucci is in it and when she goes out on the dance floor the camera follows her out there and the people are getting out of the way of it, but they’re not doing it in that Fresh Prince of Bel-Air kind of way. They just melt out of the screen. It just looks gorgeous the way they do it. There is one of the scenes where she gets raped in an underpass and I think the director just put the camera on the ground and she’s just reaching at it.
STEVE LEMME: That’s heavy duty.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah so I’d put that up there. Fellowship of the Ring, maybe Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, I mean it’s a diverse.
STEVE LEMME: That’s okay. Like I said sometimes they just find you.
CHRIS NEUMER: What about you?
STEVE LEMME: My favorite movie of all time is Jaws. My Dad is from Argentina and I guess he didn’t understand the rating system. He brought me into the theater to see it back in 1975, I was six years old. It scared the fucking dick out of me. He bought me a movie poster of it. I had a bathroom in my bedroom and we put it up on the wall. I shut the door and didn’t open it again for two years because I was convinced that when I opened the door the shark and the ocean water were going to come spilling out on me and eat me.
CHRIS NEUMER: How did you get into the bathroom?
STEVE LEMME: I used the family bathroom. Of all the movies that have ever had an emotional impact on me that one is the greatest one. As an adult you watch it and you realize it’s actually a perfect film. Everything about it is perfect from the scene where Chief Brody is on the beach and he’s first learning about the attack and he’s trying to look but Spielberg has bodies walking across the screen and he’s using those as cuts. So a body walks across the screen and he cuts to the ocean. He does that a few times then he turns it on Brody and bodies are fucking crossing the scene and it’s perfect filmmaking. Obviously the accident of the film is they couldn’t use the shark so they had to use the barrels to demonstrate where the shark was and it works perfectly.
Also there’s never been a theme song that inspired so much terror. It’s the one movie where—and I’ve thought about this—when the shark is not around and somebody is in the water and they would go duh dun, duh duh, you’re instantly like, “Holy fucking shit!” When I was watching it in the theater, that music would start and I’d be like, “Oh my god, oh my god,” and then nothing would happen. That meant the shark was in the area and somebody was going to get eaten. In that respect the movie to me was perfect.
Number two is Braveheart. Number three is The Matrix, which I saw twice on opening day. I saw the first screening of the day in Santa Monica, then later that night I convinced a number of my friends to go see it. Number four is Grease, which came out in 1978. I would walk down east 86th street in New York, pay my five bucks, sit through it twice, and I’d get a popcorn and jumbo soda. Second screening I’d wait until beauty school dropout and that’s when I’d go take my piss because I didn’t want to do it between the screenings. Then number five is The Sting. It’s a tie between The Sting and The Natural, two Redford movies.
CHRIS NEUMER: In The Natural, when the lights start shattering that is just a fantastic moment. Do you think there is any way to, I don’t want to say capture, but you’ve named some pretty iconic films in there but is there a way to get that? If you’re aiming for it, can you capture that? Or is it something you have to hit by doing something good, believing in it, and putting it out there?
STEVE LEMME: I think it’s the latter. You can certainly try. I think if you think you’re going to do something awesome, it probably won’t work. I use the opening scene of Super Troopers as the example of this… only because that’s probably the closest thing we’ve done where people come up to us and say, “That’s the best scene of the movie!” And, you look at it and it’s pretty solid.
What we wanted to do with that scene was we wanted you to meet the super troopers—it was the only time you weren’t going to know that these were your heroes. We wanted to put you in the position where you were getting pulled over by them and getting fucked with. We developed the film with Miramax and the people developing it were like, “This is a terrible way to open the movie because you don’t know who you’re rooting for.” We wanted the audience to experience what it’s like to be pulled over by these guys and it’s the only time we’ll have mystery in the movie so that’s what we did.
We also wanted to show how these guys fuck around with each other. That’s when I drive by and they follow that speeder and it turns out that’s one of the guys. We wanted to introduce every character. The chase speeds by and Foster is fishing, he’s got the dummy in there and then they’re going to call in and speak to Farva and you realize he’s an asshole. Then they catch me, I’m in the bar doing shots and I’m like, “Hey! What’s up suckers?!” And then we go out and fuck with the kids who got pulled over.
Whatever it was, people really liked the way it worked. We got a standing ovation, but that’s not what we were going for. In our minds, it was this was a good way to introduce everyone objectively and people talk about that. I don’t think we were thinking to ourselves, “We want to make the best scene of the film the first one.” That wasn’t our intention at all. I think we were just trying to introduce characters and it worked. Not being in the heads of the people who made The Natural, I’m sure they wanted that to be a fantastic scene with the lights exploding and everything but I don’t think they realized that it would inspire chills every time you saw it. You look at the number of films that are made and the number of films that are actually good out of those and you realize that it probably is an accident of some kind [when they’re good]. I mean everybody has good intentions. I’m sure the people that made Ford Fairlane are like, “It’s going to be the best comedy of all time!” [pauses] Maybe not, maybe they just wanted to make a comedy.
CHRIS NEUMER: It’s funny that that movie has such a bad reputation and it really is not that bad. I find it entertaining. But I’ve long since stopped trying to understand what it is I find funny because I’m a big fan of funny because it’s wrong but I’m also a big fan of funny because it’s not funny.
STEVE LEMME: We have a thing in our group where we always write jokes that are intentionally not funny. In Super Troopers, there’s a joke where they discover the identity of the drug smuggler and she’s from Kentucky. The chief, Daniel Von Bargen, tries out a couple of jokes so we call it the Kentucky dubie, the Louisville smuggler, and they were supposed to be intentionally bad jokes and he would lay them on the audience and the audience would just look at him kind of awkwardly. Then he would try the other joke. We tried that in every movie. They don’t go over well. And we learned the hard way. We tried it a few times, we test screened it and people don’t laugh. It’s a crazy process; you put it up in front of an audience. When they’re not laughing, those are the parts you start editing out. You compress it and it makes quite the difference. Then you have a hysterical movie as opposed to a movie with dead spots.
CHRIS NEUMER: You’re going to have to tell two hour Apatow about that one.
STEVE LEMME: I appreciate that. I really like Apatow’s movies. Like Funny People, I loved it. I saw it after I started doing stand up comedy and that’s one of the things that drew me to it. But it’s more than that, it’s not just a cancer movie. The issue with the movie is in some ways, it’s kind of two different movies. The third act is long and it’s not like the first two acts.
CHRIS NEUMER: You don’t want to make a Million Dollar Baby.
STEVE LEMME: [laughs] Oh, don’t even fucking bring that up! I hate that movie because of the third act. I was so pissed off because I was like, “You know what? I could do that. I can tell you a compelling story and then fucking ninety minutes break the lead character’s neck and make them bite off their tongue and get bedsores. I can do that; I’ll do that if you want me to. Clint Eastwood is phenomenal, but I thought that was cheap shit. Reviewers are tough people because, first of all, frankly, they’re lazy.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yes.
STEVE LEMME: They say things and do things to be sensational. The reason why a lot of actors or filmmakers say, “I don’t read the reviews,” is because you feel like at the beginning of your career if your feelings get hurt, you tried. For the most part, you tried. So you’re excited to read the reviews when you are just starting out and you open it up and they fuck you up. They’re trying to compete with each other by saying the most outrageous things they can. It’s not just like, “Hey I didn’t like this movie and here’s why.” It’s like, “These people are like fucking dry cardboard on a summer day in the desert.”
You see that and think, ”Fuck you. You know what? You fucking try it! Because frankly your review sucks.” We all respect people’s opinions, I sat next to a lady on an airplane and she was like, “What do you do for a living,” and I told her. She asked, “What films have you been in?” She didn’t know Super Troopers but she knew Club Dread. She said. “I think we actually have that in my time-share in the Hamptons.” And then she asked, “Is that kind of like a horror movie but a comedy?” I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly the one.” And she tells me, “I hated that movie.” I was like, “I did tell you I made it, right?” She says, “No, I don’t mean to be rude but, I don’t know if this is the right word, but I didn’t understand the tone of it.” I told her, “That’s the perfect word to use because that’s an industry word.” She laughed and said, “Okay, because I didn’t know if I was supposed to be scared or if I was supposed to laugh at it.” I said, “I don’t mind you telling me to my face that you didn’t like the movie because you’re telling me something that I do appreciate. That is a legitimate thing.” Reading the reviews of it, people clearly didn’t give a shit.
CHRIS NEUMER: I have completely and totally stopped writing about any and all reviews. It’s now just telling the stories, actually writing, interviewing, and doing interesting things. To me, that is so much more interesting than sitting in a dark room where you can’t talk to people. The other thing is I think when some people see the critics in person they wouldn’t ever listen to them about anything. One pretty well known critic in Chicago doesn’t flush the toilet after he uses it. Have you had a lot of responses from I Heart Shakey in terms of good, bad, coming up to you?
STEVE LEMME: I haven’t. Test screenings with the press, which can sometimes be at eight in the morning, that’s not a way to see a movie. The audience is the way to go. Sit with them and experience it. Kevin Heffernan saw Shakey with his daughters and that’s who the movie is for. You can give your opinion on it, but I’ll say, “Look, I’m a forty-year old dude and this movie is not for me.” [Kevin] was like, “My kids loved it, but….” Heffernan’s a different story because he’s critical in a creative way. So he’s like, “These are the flaws in it from my position, but my daughters fucking loved it.”
I guess that’s the thing with reviewers, you know? Don’t send A.O. Scott to see Beerfest. Send a younger person, someone who it’s meant for. He’s clearly a guy who’s not going to enjoy it and I don’t mind saying his name because he’s a dick. … Frankly, I expect more from the New York Times. Here’s a guy who’s going to skewer a movie but he’s missed the point completely. He’s saying things [about] the movie which show he didn’t make it through the movie. You can be as creative as you want and we want everyone to like the movie but we didn’t make it for you.
CHRIS NEUMER: I always find it funny when people assume that I don’t want to like movies. I mean, what possible reason would I have to go into a theater and watch something I would not want to enjoy? My life would be so much better if I enjoyed everything, it’s just I don’t like crap.
STEVE LEMME: That’s the things that is so disappointing about reviewers too is that, when you see the things they do review, certainly as a filmmaker you are like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Million Dollar Baby, you don’t think that is the cheapest, shit, third act ever in the history of film? I don’t like to skewer movies because I know how it is. I don’t know why Million Dollar Baby has become the scapegoat here… [pauses] probably because we can do that. If you want to make Shakey an Oscar winning movie, in the third act lets have the dog break his neck and we have to put it down. Now it’s a tearjerker, now we’ve got something on our hands. But there are times when I read reviews of movies after I’ve seen them and I’m like, “How is this the best movie of the year?” How is it the critics are skewering some amazing films and this is the one where they are like this is a must see. This is the best film of the year. That film is so color by numbers, it’s so easy in its sorrow or whatever it is.
CHRIS NEUMER: Oh, I know. Like last year, I saw Fast Five opening day in a neighborhood that was very young. I had such a great time watching that movie. It’s probably the most fun I can remember having in a movie theater in ten years. I had a shit-eating grin on my face the whole time and I loved it. I loved the experience of that movie. I would take it over Citizen Kane any day. I see some of the reviews and it seemed like they could barely take off their monocles to write about it.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah, just go and have a good time. That’s what I thought about Paranormal Activity. My wife and I saw it in a packed house at a midnight type screening and people were screaming, us included. Like when the fucking thing lifts her foot up and pulls her out of the bed. The place was going bananas and that’s the way to see a movie. See it the way it was intended, with a lot of people who are into it.
CHRIS NEUMER: I guess that means if I wanted to see Brokeback Mountain I’d have to go to the critics screening.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah.
CHRIS NEUMER: Now let me ask you this: obviously Shakey is a change of pace for you, so why this project and why now?
STEVE LEMME: I don’t know if you know my history with Kevin Cooper, the director.
CHRIS NEUMER: I don’t.
STEVE LEMME: When Broken Lizard was starting out in New York City, we were doing sketch comedy at a gay cabaret club called The Duplex. It was like Saturday Night Live. We had sketches and we would do videos in between and we would go change our costumes and come out and do our thing. Coop was a film student at NYU and he was like, “I can help you guys make better quality videos.” We actually wound up shooting our first film with him, it was a two-minute film. I was the lead actor and it was called Stuff the Stocking. It’s about a dude who’s got a daughter and he’s been laid off from the factory. I play the dad. The daughter comes up to him and asks, “Why didn’t I get anything for Christmas this year?” I think about it and you see me walking down the streets of New York City, then I’m in the suburbs and then I’m in a more rural area and then I’m just in the country. Then I’m in a snow covered ground. The whole thing is just me marching with purpose and eventually you see Santa shoveling his snow or something. I tap him on the shoulder and he turns around and I knock him out. That was it. It was a two-minute film. So that was the first time we shot on film.
Then we wrote and acted in Kevin’s senior thesis at NYU, which is where we got the bug to make movies. So we raised money for our first movie Puddle Cruiser. Coop then went on to work in Hollywood with Michael Bay; he worked with James Cameron’s company and then moved back to Chicago to become a professor. We’ve always been good friends and back in the day before we made any of his films he and I always had a bond. He was like, “I want you to be the lead actor in all my movies,” and I was like, “Dude! I’ll do it.”
CHRIS NEUMER: Do you feel like you have leading man presence? Like you were the lead in Puddle Cruiser, you are here again. Twice, that can’t be a mistake.
STEVE LEMME: Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. If I do, it’s lucky. I’m much more of a storyteller; the acting thing for me is not my priority, I like writing the most, I’d like to direct some day. I like the whole process of telling a story. With Puddle Cruiser and this thing I’m flattered.
CHRIS NEUMER: The reason I was asking is because it’s fascinating to me to think that certain people are like leading men. If you put a leading man as the best friend it detracts from the film. It’s like, “Who’s this guy over here?” Or if you put the fat guy as the lead. I was just thinking that you’ve got the stink of the leading man on you and I’m guessing it’s something you have not in any way cultivated. It was just thrust on you.
STEVE LEMME: I guess when we made, whatever it was (Stuff the Stocking), Coop was like, “Hey man, you could be the guy!” So when we were making Puddle Cruiser we all talked about stuff and at the time, I don’t know if it was cockiness or arrogance, but I was like, “I think I should be the lead in this movie.” They asked why and I said, “Frankly, I just think I should be the one to be the lead.” I didn’t have another reason for it. I hadn’t acted in a film before and I had regretted saying that because I realized I was taking a pretty big bite there to carry a movie. Something I discovered immediately was that I didn’t like watching myself on screen. So to watch a movie where I’m on screen the entire time, I didn’t like it. It’s like listening to your outgoing voicemail and you’re like, “Do I really sound like that?” Only in this case, it’s a million times worse because it’s lasting ninety minutes and you’re seeing yourself up there as well. It takes me like twenty screenings to get used to seeing myself.
CHRIS NEUMER: Is there a, “Do I look like that?” sense of it for you too?
STEVE LEMME: Absolutely. Do I look like that? Do I move like that? Do I sound like that? Is that how well I act? Because it’s not very good. Those are the things that you think. Puddle Cruiser was our first movie. Some critics panned it and took shots at me. I remember—I’ve now forgotten the guy’s name—but there was a reviewer who was like, “His performance was strained and uptight,” and it hurt my feelings. That was my first movie and I was like, “Fuck!” I wanted everyone to love me. Then I didn’t enjoy the process so much because I put myself out there and I wanted to do a good job. But I’m still learning and fuck all of us for trying. So Coop was like, “Hey man, I’ve got this movie, I kind of see it as an extension of a character in Puddle Cruiser but now he’s grown up and it’s just you.”
By the way I enjoyed Club Dread and Beerfest because I got to play a character as opposed to Puddle Cruiser and Shakey where I basically played myself.
CHRIS NEUMER: Where does the Slammin’ Salmon fit in there?
STEVE LEMME: That was the first time I was playing it straight since Puddle Cruiser. In Super Troopers I was playing a character and then I got to play Juan and Finkelstein. I went back to the straight guy there but I wasn’t the lead in that. But I didn’t like watching that one either. I didn’t watch Shakey yesterday in front of the audience either. I’m not doing that to myself; I just can’t do it.
When Coop asked me he was like, “You’re going to be lead and it’s you, fifteen years later now you’re all grown up. You’ve got a daughter and a dog, you’re a family man.” I told him, “Okay lets see the script.” And I actually really liked the script. It was funny; there was a nice story. On first read, I wasn’t thinking family values or anything like that, I wasn’t looking for the message but I liked it and I wanted to work with Coop.
CHRIS NEUMER: Somebody told me you wanted to do something the kids could see, whether it was your kids, which I didn’t know you had, or other people’s kids.
STEVE LEMME: That’s probably a party line. I wasn’t thinking that way at the time. I was thinking that I’d like to make a movie. I don’t generally even like to think about challenging myself. It turned out to be a challenge and in that way it’s a worthwhile learning experience. I wanted to work with Coop, I wanted to make a movie, and I liked the script, and that was it.
CHRIS NEUMER: And it was a job.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah, it was a job. The nice thing was I wasn’t getting paid for it. It was a return to where I had started. I remembered being in the Lamborghini and that 3-D camera weighed over a hundred pounds. It was like old time filmmaking where suddenly again you’re a slave to the camera; when that thing decides it’s ready to go then that’s when you shoot. So I was sitting in the Lamborghini before we were going to go out on the highway and shoot those scenes and I’m having a good time, parked. They kept coming over to me and were like, “We’re so sorry about this, Mr. Lemme. We’re so sorry about this delay.” I’m like, “Don’t worry about it. In my mind it reminds me of when we were making short videos and it reminds me of when we were making Puddle Cruiser and even Super Troopers. I’m not finicky.” I mean if we get it then it’s a success, but I’m expecting everything to be failing around me. It wasn’t until Beerfest that we had money to make a movie. That’s what I liked about making a movie, it’s sort of held together by rubber bands and gum. That is something that appealed to me too.
CHRIS NEUMER: I was thinking about the kids who see Shakey and are the decide to check out the other movies you’ve done. It seems like the cross section of viewership is non-existent.
STEVE LEMME: No, there isn’t one. And it’s funny because Coop is like, “This is for your fans who have kids and they want to see this!” I said, “No, I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to work out.”
Yesterday we had the premiere and there was a big autograph line and kids, they don’t know anything about Broken Lizard, they just want to meet the guy who played the dad. They don’t know if I’m George Clooney or Corey Feldman or Kathy Griffin, they don’t know, they don’t care. They just know they saw a movie and they want to meet the guy who played the dad and get his autograph. They didn’t give a shit, they really want to meet Riley and the dog. I’m sitting there writing “you’re cool” or “you rock” and “shoot for the stars” and then somebody came up with a Club Dread DVD and they were like, “I snuck this in because I heard you were going to be here, can you autograph this for me,” and I wrote “eat a dick”. I slid that off to the side and was like, “Thanks for letting me get that out of system.”
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s fantastic. I wish I were into autographs so that I could have you sign something that was like eat a dick. That should be the signature on your email.
STEVE LEMME: Eat a dick at aol.com.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yes.
STEVE LEMME: It’s funny because Heffernan and I do these two man shows and if we have a Broken Lizard function, people will come up to us. We taped our show for DVD this weekend and afterwards somebody came up and asked for an autograph and it was a dude and he was like, “Write the dirtiest thing you can think of.” I was like, “Honestly?” and he said, “Yeah!” So I wrote, “Lets fuck in a pile of shit.” I was so pleased with that autograph that I’m going to make that my go to now.
CHRIS NEUMER: I would have worked the person’s mother in somehow.
STEVE LEMME: Oh, I’ve done that. “Good enough to fuck your mother!” is a line from Super Troopers that I’ll sometimes write down.
CHRIS NEUMER: It’s got to be comforting that if there’s ever any type of scandal involving you that everything horrible will already be public knowledge.
STEVE LEMME: I don’t over think things or I try not to. I don’t give a shit. I have a kid now, he’s nine months old, and that is what really matters to me. That is freeing. There are guys in the Broken Lizard group who are like, “What if your parents see what you’re saying about Tara Lipinski?” And I’m like, “My parents know me, they love me, and frankly I don’t give a shit what they think.” I don’t want to upset them, I don’t want to embarrass them, but, by now, they understand who they raised and they know what I say. I’ve been saying it my entire life and I’m not going to say something hateful. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. That’s the last thing I want to do. That’s the way I was raised.
CHRIS NEUMER: Except the fans of Million Dollar Baby.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah, I want to hurt Clint Eastwood’s feelings. Fans of Million Dollar Baby can suck my dick. I have such a violent reaction to that movie because of that third act. When that happened, I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I was into this movie, I was following the story and you go and do that. But you know what, some people would say that is brilliant filmmaking.
CHRIS NEUMER: Not me. I mean listen some people like the band Korn; this is how we know to judge them.
STEVE LEMME: Yeah, you’re right.
CHRIS NEUMER: Whenever people or writers ask what the guidelines are for the magazine, I just tell them just make it funny. If it’s funny it’s never offensive. If it’s not funny then you have a real problem on your hands. That seems like a pretty good rule of thumb on a lot of things.
STEVE LEMME: I have my rules. Like I don’t like shit jokes. [pauses] Um, I think that’s it.
CHRIS NEUMER: Okay, you have your rule.
STEVE LEMME: I have my rule.
CHRIS NEUMER: Okay.
STEVE LEMME: No I don’t like shit jokes. But I guess my rule is there really are no rules. If I like it I like it; if I don’t I don’t.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well that’s really all you can do like if it tickles me. I’ll bet you a solid thirty-five percent of the jokes I tell are not for other people; they are spoken because I find them entertaining. I could tell them to get a better sense of humor but really I’m just thinking, “What’s the worst thing I could say right now?” Then I start giggling. I’ll ask you this, just to cue on you again, anything else you want to throw out?
STEVE LEMME: Anything I want to throw out? Not really… For a second there I was going to try to talk Tara Lipinski, or maybe talk about licking Shakespeare’s pussy. No use. If it comes up it comes up.
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