“Mustache Shenanigans: Making ‘Super Troopers’ and Other Adventures in Comedy”
By Jay Chandrasekhar
304 pages, $27
“Super Troopers” is the quintessential cult comedy. Like Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy,” Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats,” and David Wain’s “Wet Hot American Summer,” it’s a film that drew little in the way of critical praise but developed a fierce fan following. Unlike those three, however, 2001’s “Super Troopers” was a box office success upon release.
This makes the story of director/actor Jay Chandrasekhar and his Broken Lizard comedy collective rather fascinating. And it’s why “Mustache Shenanigans,” his wonderfully titled memoir about the creation of “Super Troopers” and other films, qualifies as more than a fans-only read.
Make no mistake, there are Broken Lizard diehards out there. While horror spoof “Club Dread” and the underrated “Beerfest” drew even less praise (and box office) than “Troopers,” they, too, have spawned a devoted cult of followers. (Chandrasekhar’s “Dukes of Hazzard” and mostly ignored “The Babymakers,” less so.)
The best moments in the Broken Lizard oeuvre have a real sense of glee, and it is at these moments when the films succeed in genuinely charming an audience. The word “charming” may be the best way to describe Chandrasekhar, author.
“Mustache Shenanigans” opens with a winning summary of Chandrasekhar’s Chicago youth, culminating in an attempt at stand-up comedy. About 50 pages in, he meets the individuals who would form the Broken Lizard troupe – Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske.
After years of struggle, and thoughts about films such as “Slacker,” “Clerks,” and “The Brothers McMullen” in mind, the crew made a low-budget college flick, “Puddle Cruiser,” that served as an industry calling card. Chandrasekhar tells a great story of a test screening at NYU that turned the moment Harvey Weinstein sat down and was noticed by the audience of film school kids: “Suddenly, everyone in that room was Pauline Kael, trashing ‘Puddle Cruiser’ for not being part of the French New Wave.”
Stories of being pulled over by the police led to the concept of “Super Troopers.” As explained by Chandrasekhar, the premise was simple: the story of “a Vermont highway patrol unit that was so bored they made up games to entertain themselves.”
The backstory of how the film came to be made, however, is anything but simple, with everyone from Weinstein, the Farrelly Brothers and even George Clooney entering and leaving the picture. (Clooney wanted Section Eight, the company he formed with director Steven Soderbergh, to produce the film.)
The result, of course, was a wild tale of cop debauchery. It’s a film with many jokes that hit (chugging maple syrup, the pitch-perfect fast food “supersizing” scene) and some that do not (“Meow”).
What’s undeniable, though, is the film’s anarchic drive. “Super Troopers” moves, so it’s no wonder the film played like gangbusters at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. For Chandrasekhar and his friends, Sundance “was a dream.”
It got even better when Fox Searchlight bought the film, made a solid $20 million and, as Chandrasekhar explains, “came out at the height of the DVD market.”
A cult classic was born, and Chandrasekhar and Broken Lizard parlayed that success into more films and TV work (Chandrasekhar directed episodes of “Arrested Development”).
Whatever one thinks of “Super Troopers” and the Broken Lizard films that followed, Chandrasekhar is endearingly original. His drive to make the film and then successfully sell it resulted in a unique career. The long-awaited “Super Troopers 2” is set for release in 2017 and after reading “Mustache Shenanigans,” it’s hard not to pull for a major success.
The future of the franchise, after all, is in fans’ hands. Chandrasekhar closes his book with a plea to the “Troopers” faithful:
“Please, go to the theaters and watch this movie. ‘Super Troopers 2’ needs to do well, theatrically. … So, all you stoners, get in your car, drive to the theater, smoke your joint (safely) in the parking lot, buy a ticket, and go watch the film. If enough of you do that, I promise the wait for ‘Super Troopers 3: Civil War’ will be much, much shorter. (And yes, we’ll f------ make ‘Potfest’ too.)”
Christopher Schobert is a frequent contributing critic to The News.