Stage & Dance

Duo from Broken Lizard troupe are sampling new comedy

In Beerfest, Philippe Brenninkmeyer played Herr Referee, and Team USA included, from left, Kevin Heffernan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske and Steve Lemme.
In Beerfest, Philippe Brenninkmeyer played Herr Referee, and Team USA included, from left, Kevin Heffernan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske and Steve Lemme. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Most comedians get laughs. Some of them get heckled or booed. Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan get challenged to drinking competitions.

"They always end up wanting to chug against Kevin," Lemme said.

"I still hold my own," Heffernan says.

This is a regular occurrence when Lemme and Heffernan hit the road — and it's a result of the characters they've portrayed.

The two — writers, actors and comedians — are founding members of Broken Lizard, the band of comic misfits responsible for producing the films Super Troopers and Beerfest. These raucous and raunchy cult comedies have practically become required viewing on many college campuses. Heffernan played rotund, obnoxious lawman Rodney Farva in Super Troopers, and beer-chugging specialist Landfill in Beerfest, and Lemme played Troopers' resident prankster Mac. The pair have become heroes to Broken Lizard enthusiasts, frat houses and comedy fans.

Lemme and Heffernan's latest outing finds them touring the country and returning to the stage — the place that helped kick-start their careers.

The two were aspiring comedians and Beth Theta Pi fraternity brothers at Colgate University. They, along with Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske, became the core members of Broken Lizard in 1990.

Broken Lizard got its start performing live shows in New York City before branching into film, first with its award-winning short film Puddle Cruiser and then with its feature-length debut Super Troopers, a film that found modest box-office success in 2001 but later reached cult status on DVD.

"We weren't really sure what to expect," Heffernan said. "It did all right in theaters, but when it went to DVD, that's when it really spread."

Broken Lizard made several more films under its banner, including the 2004 slasher parody Club Dread, the 2006 beer-drinking-as-sport comedy Beerfest and the 2009 food-service industry romp The Slammin' Salmon. The troupe's brand of comedy got wider exposure in 2005 with the release of the remake of The Dukes of Hazzard, which Chandrasekhar directed and the Lizard crew co-wrote.

Lemme knows that Broken Lizard films are primarily associated with physical comedy and sophomoric humor centered on sex, booze and drugs, but he said the comedy is far from one-dimensional upon repeat viewing.

"We have smart jokes. We have dumb jokes. We have wordplay," Lemme said. "Anything that we think is funny, we put it in there."

The entire Broken Lizard crew hit the road in 2009, trying out stand-up routines and telling behind-the-scenes stories to audiences in comedy clubs, college campuses and theaters.

Lemme and Heffernan decided to do that again. It's on the road where they get to see firsthand how their work is appreciated. One time, they managed to cause the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee to run out of PBR before showtime. Another time, a woman showed up intent on becoming Mrs. Rodney Farva.

"When you make the movies, you don't get the live stage atmosphere," Lemme said.

"It can be pretty overwhelming at times," Heffernan said.

Those who plan to go to one of Lemme and Heffernan's performances — like the ones at Comedy Off Broadway through Saturday night — will get the chance to hear some memorable Broken Lizard stories and get to see Lemme and Heffernan as stand-up comedians. Lemme called that experience "a muscle that we never really flexed before." Add a bit of crowd interaction (and possible participation) and Lemme said there's usually something different and special at every stop.

"There are these accidents that can happen on stage that can be the best part of what the show is," Lemme said. "That's the challenge: just seeing how great we can make it."