By Stephen Ostrowski | March 24, 2017 | People
We caught up with Jay Chandrasekhar—a.k.a. Arcot "Thorny" Ramathorn from the cult classic comedy Super Troopers—to talk about what went into making the film’s sequel, why he wrote a book, and how Chicago shaped his career.
In the mid-to-early aughts, Jay Chandrasekhar’s Broken Lizard collective commanded the comedy conversation—and, ostensibly, the dorm room poster market—with a sequence of zany cult entries including Super Troopers and Beer Fest. Complemented by directorial credits on television hits like Arrested Development, Community, and New Girl, the Hinsdale native firmly punched his name up on the small screen, too.
The multi-hyphenate—who returned to the director’s chair for this summer’s Super Troopers 2—chronicles his trajectory and more in his forthcoming book, Mustache Shenanigans (Dutton, March 28). Ahead of his AV Club-hosted reading at Volumes Bookcafe on March 28, Chandrasekhar dished on the improbable success of Super Troopers, the risk of spinning off a sequel, and Chicago’s comedy heritage.
JAY CHANDRASEKHAR: [Making Super Troopers] was quite an up and down; it was so fun, it was such a satisfying adventure, that I went back to the beginning and wrote kind of the whole thing, and once you write the story of your whole life, the themes of your life become very apparent to you. It has this sort of psychologically clearing effect on you, whether you can get a book published or not, I kind of recommend to everyone that they sit down and write their story.
JC: The reality of show business—and I suppose a lot of businesses—but specifically show business—is that it is this business of “no’s.” It’s mostly “no’s.” Because the business is filled with really smart, charismatic, attractive, and hard-charging people. And we don’t need new people (of course we need new people), but we have plenty of people who are really good at making movies and television shows and acting them and writing them; we have plenty. And so there’s not like, “Oh god, if I don’t have this new guy, show business is going to collapse.” Nah.
And so as a result, mostly what you hear when you’re coming up is, “Nah, not you. Nah, we don’t need you.” And we heard that, and yet we sort of kept bashing our way through. As you write it down, you’re like, wow it was just this tiny moment of yes in these vast oceans of no’s. And people who eventually make it, they all have the same experience, they were all told no. “No, no, no, not you, no, no, no.” And then they got through.
JC: It was all no’s. It was every major studio, every medium studio, every minor film company, and add in another 150 independent investors. The only one who said yes is the one who made it. He invested $1 million and he made, well, multiples of that. He was not an expert. But all the experts said this was a bad bet, and the guy who had no idea what he was doing really, said “OK, I’ll take the bet.” And it paid off for him. Now obviously things went well and he got lucky.
Mustache Shenanigans by Jay Chandrasekhar.
JC: There are basic reasons why people said no. We weren’t famous enough. That’s the reason—the no’s were understandable. The reality of show business is that it’s a risk business and eventually if you’re lucky you’ll find the person that’ll say “F**k it, I’ll roll the dice with you.”
JC: It’s risky. It’s like, “What happens if it sucks,” right? Then the original will be tarnished in some way and “What was the need to make it,” and in these sort of fairly blood-in-the-water shark public and media, we’ll get eaten alive if the movie’s not good. So that’s the risk.
The reality is—NYPD Blue made I think 200 episodes of cop shows, right? So story-wise we just decided to make another one. We did not make one where we go to space, or go to New York City; we just made another story that takes place on the Vermont-Canadian border with these highway patrolmen. We wrote a great script, I think—we wrote 35 drafts of it, we really worked on all the jokes hard, knowing that we had a bigger hill to climb.
JC: I wasn’t a skilled filmmaker when I made that first one. I had good instinct, but this film is a culmination of a lot of experience. I’ve made seven movies, I think, and over 100 television shows; now the film-making is better for sure. It looks better. Are the jokes going to be better? That’s not for me to decide. If the jokes are almost as good, I think we will have succeeded. So far we’ve showed about 350 people and given them the chance to anonymously comment and the reaction has been very, very, very much what I hoped it would be.
JC: People have named their boats after us; people have named racing teams. We see our meow joke used by baseball players on TV all the time. Like they’re trying to see how many meows they can get into an interview. The movie has really sort of permeated the culture.
JC: A lot of the original people on SNL came through Chicago—and Toronto I’m sure—but Chicago was the center of it all. When I was there, Chris Farley—I knew him, we hung out and stuff—he went off to Saturday Night Live, it was like “It’s possible to be from here and make it.” I think there’s a pedigree that comes with being from Chicago that gives you some cache outside of LA and New York, where frankly most of show business really is.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY COLLEEN E. HAYES (HEADSHOT)