A Chat with Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant interview, Reno 911
Matthew Sweet

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Improv-based television shows aren’t necessarily as hard to find as they used to be, thanks to the success of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but setting aside Larry David’s baby, few other series do it quite as well as Comedy Central’s “Reno: 911!” In conjunction with the re-release of the show’s foray into feature film – “Reno: 911! – Miami” in a format described as the More Busted than Ever! Unrated Cut, we had a chance to speak with two of the show’s cast members, who also serve as a significant part of its creative force: Thomas Lennon (Lt. Jim Dangle) and Ben Garant (Deputy Travis Junior). We asked about the intricacies of the filmmaking process, including what’s involved in setting up the so-called “jack-off ballet,” found out just how long the cast has been able to maintain a single scene without losing it, and even got an update on the long-rumored DVD release of “The State.”

Thomas Lennon: Willlllll!

Bullz-Eye: Heyyyyyyyy! Good to talk to you guys.

Ben Garant: Will, we can very, very barely hear you.

BE: I shall speak up, then. (Clears throat and ups volume) How’s that?

TL: That’s fantastic!

BG: That’s perfect!

BE: Excellent. I just finished watching the film, actually. The new version that was just issued, I should say.

TL: The different version? The one with the Bush twins and stuff…? That’s a wonderfully strange cut of the movie.

BE: The so-called “lost version” was described as being 97.7% different. Do you have the stats on how much different the “More Busted than Ever! Unrated Cut” is?

BG: That one’s not that different.

TL: No, that one’s not that different.

BG: That only has maybe two minutes of different shots.

Ben Garant: “For the TV show, last season, we were contracted to do 13 episodes, and we turned in 16, just because it’s improv people, and we end up having a lot more material than we plan. Our first cut of the movie was three hours and seven minutes.”

TL: Yeah, it’s about two more minutes, but there are a couple of wonderful things. I can tell you specifically what the shots are. There’s one where Irina Voronina is laying on the beach, with a wonderful view of her bottom that exists for, really, no reason. It’s just a couple of minutes of bottom, if you’re into bottoms.

BG: And I think there’s Cathy Shim’s panty flash.

TL: Yep. Is Kimball in her underwear, doing something weird? Does Charissa Kimball show up in her underwear, with a sort of a cameltoe thing going on? I believe that happened. So there you go: there’s a lot of good stuff in that one.

BG: But that’s not the “lost version.”

TL: The “lost version” is totally different.

BG: It’s, like, 90% different.

TL: That’s the one with the Bush daughters getting busted…which we were always worried about getting that into the movie, anyway.

BE: And I should mention that the “lost version” is also included on this new DVD release.

Cybill ShepherdTL: Yes, I believe it is.

BG: Yeah, I think for the TV show, last season, we were contracted to do 13 episodes, and we turned in 16, just because it’s improv people, and we end up having a lot more material than we plan. Our first cut of the movie was three hours and seven minutes. And, so, scenes got cut down, but also, like, entire plotlines didn’t make the final cut.

BE: Actually, I was going to ask you if, as you were filming the movie, there were certain scenes that you kinda knew even while you were doing them that they were probably going to end up on the DVD rather than in the theatrical release.

TL: Sometimes that happens.

BG: There were those, but most of those aren’t in any cut of the movie.

TL: Yeah, those actually got cut.

BG: Those are gone. Like, the girl on the beach asking who had the heart attack. There was stuff that we knew at the time, “Eh, there’s no reason to do this,” but…

TL: I always liked the long chase with DeRay Davis.

BG: I did, too.

TL: It was one of those things that, the shorter you make it, it doesn’t get funnier, so we were in a weird place where we were, like, “Well, we could make it shorter,” but there’s nothing funny about a short chase of DeRay Davis. The only thing funny about it is him chasing us, which he actually did, from South Point, in South Beach, all the way to, like, 20th Street. So some of that finally made it, which is nice. Even so, though, it’s abbreviated from the real-time chase that, probably, almost killed all three of us.

BE: Whose idea was it to have a scene where you investigated a noise complaint at Suge Knight’s house, and were you worried about being dangled off a balcony as a result?

TL: Uh, we were certainly curious about how Suge would feel about it. But then, there was something about it, we felt generally that…well, that Suge was probably going to feel like the old Oscar Wilde saying: “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.”

BG: And he’s a huge Oscar Wilde fan.

TL: Yes, and I know that Suge Knight loves Oscar Wilde. So, Suge, if you caught it, and I hope you did, I hope you were okay with it.

Thomas Lennon: "Kerri Kenney did the movie with a lot of weird underpants scenes and one with a watch caught in her pubes, and that was about two months after she had a baby."

BE: There are a lot of great moments that come from the film’s guests, like Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt. Did most of those appearances come about from you just asking friends to swing by the set and have some fun?

TL: Kind of, yeah.

BG: In the case of The Rock, we’d heard that he was a fan of the show, which, when we heard that, we thought somebody was lying to us. But we had a meeting with him, and he said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it!” Everybody in the movie…we paid scale to everybody. Like, everybody got the same paycheck, which is not very much. So everybody was in the movie because they wanted to be, which is great. It makes a really fun attitude on the set. And David Holmes, who wouldn’t let us into the convention, got paid the same as The Rock. So it was really just a great, great vibe from everybody.

BE: When is the all-nude “Reno: 911!” review coming? Because I can’t imagine any other show’s cast is as comfortable with their bodies as ya’ll are.

TL: Yeah, we kinda are, aren’t we? Well, certainly, the fellas are. (Laughs) The fellas seems to be, at least. And Weigel…Kerri Kenney…is very good about it. I mean, Kerri did the movie with a lot of weird underpants scenes and one with a watch caught in her pubes, and that was about two months after she had a baby.

BG: Not a lot of chicks will do that.

TL: No. Not a lot of chicks will do that.

BE: As filmmakers, how difficult is it to execute the so-called “jack-off ballet”?

BG: (Laughs)

TL: Look, if you look at the movie, you can tell that we didn’t rehearse or spend a lot of time working on it. I think that’s abundantly clear…except for the jack-off ballet, which we choreographed within a millimeter and a millisecond of when people were supposed to be jacking off. And another thing about that is that the television that Ben is watching in his room…?

Cybill Shepherd

BG: It’s so creepy.

TL: It’s a monitor that’s watching the whole scene, because he was also directing the scene.

BG: So I’m pretending to jack off while watching that scene, and…it’s just really dark and creepy.

BE: Has there been any further discussion about doing a sequel? Because, obviously, the ending sets up the perfect opportunity for one, with the invitation to the event at Scotland Yard.

BG: Yeah, well, we’re in the middle of Season 6 right now, but it’s done pretty well on DVD, and we have a script for a sequel that people are kicking around, but the same executive who’s doing that is also doing (the Lennon-Garant-scripted film) “Night at the Museum 2,” so they’re kinda busy over there. (Laughs) They’ve got a lot of stuff going on. But I don’t know. We really don’t know. I think we would be up for it, but we haven’t really thought about it too much.

BE: Do you have any idea about what the longest scene in “Reno: 911!” – either the show or the movie – has been, as far as the longest one has gone on without anyone breaking up or ad-libbing it into a direction that’s just too far out?

TL: The longest scene we’ve ever done – and I know this for a fact, because we filled an entire tape – was on the TV series, and I think it was 34 minutes, with no-one breaking. It was called “Guns on the Highway,” and it was just me and Ben. Trudy had been driving a box of guns for a “Turn in Your Guns for Toys” program, but they had fallen off the roof of the car, so it was just us, picking up a couple of hundred guns off the highway. And that was 34 minutes, with no break. There have been some other very, very long scenes, too.

Thomas Lennon: “if you look at the movie, you can tell that we didn’t rehearse or spend a lot of time working on it. I think that’s abundantly clear…except for the jack-off ballet, which we choreographed within a millimeter and a millisecond of when people were supposed to be jacking off.”

BG: There’s a scene in the movie…the tour, with Toby Huss playing a weird kind of German man and giving us a tour of the hotel…that was about 45 minutes.

TL: That was really long.

BG: It was really long.

TL: But that’s a different category, because people were laughing in that constantly.

BG: Constantly.

TL: We had to cut around people just cracking up all the time, because Toby Huss is just an exceptionally funny, weird guy.

BE: Absolutely. I’m a big fan of his work on “King of the Hill.”

BG: Yeah, we love, love, love him.

BE: Is there any pairing of characters on the show that you’ve found just don’t work very well?

TL: Um…none that I can think of yet. I mean, there are some that are easier than others, when you put certain characters together.

BG: Some people are better at police work than others…

TL: Right. Some people are better at nonsense.

BG: Yeah, some people are better at letting the wheels fall off, so it’s always better to have someone there who can kind of keep the wheels on. But as far as any pairing that just totally doesn’t work…? Not really.

BE: Providing that Comedy Central is agreeable, how long do you foresee continuing with the series?

TL: ‘Til we run this fucking thing into the ground.

BG: Which might’ve been last season.

TL: Yeah, it might’ve been Season 5. I think we jumped the shark at least three times last year.

BE: I don’t know. Half the friends of mine who knew about this interview were chomping at the bit to find out who died at the end of Season 5.

TL: You’ll see.

BE: Yeah, I figured that was the only answer I was going to get. I should mention, though, that the question the rest of my friends wanted me to ask was, “When is ‘The State’ coming out on DVD?”

Cybill ShepherdTL: Well, it’s done. The ‘State’ DVD is done, there’s audio commentaries on every episode, there are sketches that never aired…even though some of those sketches are terrible. It is done. Comedy Central is releasing it in conjunction with MTV. I just don’t know exactly when. We also shot our live performance at the UCB West that we did about two months ago, and that will probably be included with some other “State” material that we’re doing this upcoming year.

BE: So I can only presume that you’ll now move on to the bonus material for the “Viva Variety” DVDs.

TL: Wouldn’t that be great?

BE: Yes, it would.

BG: They were talking about releasing it onto the (“Reno: 911!”) Season 5 DVD, but it’s music clearances. We always used to have those bands on “Viva Variety,” and they didn’t have a deal to release that music. So…it is what it is.

BE: So what is the status of your scripts for “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “How to Survive a Robot Uprising”?

TL: “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” Mike Myers is thinking about it.

BG: He’s thinking about it. Has been thinking about it for some time.

TL: For a couple of years. And “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” is, as far as I know, sort of moving forward. But we’ve been working on that movie for somewhere between seven and eight years.

BG: “Shrinking Man,” our first draft was 2003.

TL: Yeah, so five years or so.

BG: You have movies that, in our experience, you write ‘em and they’re made in a year and a half. Like “Reno,” we started talking about that movie, and a year a half later, it was done. Same with “Night at the Museum.” And other movies, they threaten to make ‘em, they hover around ‘em…

TL: …and a decade goes by.

BG: …and a decade quietly goes by.

BE: Now, Ben, you’ve done some work on the online series, “3 Way”?

BG: Oh, yeah! That was a lot of fun. It was a very, very interesting set. I think the budget of each of those episodes was $3,000, so we shot, in two days, four episodes. But there was me and the camera guy, we were heterosexual guys, and the sound person was a heterosexual guy, and everybody else there was a lesbian…and there was a little bit of nervousness the first hour from me, because I thought they were going to kill me, but it was really fun. It was a very good experience. I really enjoyed all of those.

BE: And, Thomas, you’ve done “17 Again” and “I Love You, Man.”

TL: Yeah, those are two pictures, and both of them are coming out at some point over the next year.

BE: “I Love You, Man” looks particularly awesome, given the cast involved.

Cybill ShepherdTL: Oh, that’s a very hilarious movie by our good buddy John Hamburg. He wrote and directed that, and it’s Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, and Rashida Jones. A lot of members of “The State,” too. Joe Lo Truglio, David Wain, and I think all of “Human Giant,” also. So if you’re a comedy fan, it’s a smorgasbord. It’s got all of “Human Giant,” half of “The State,” and Lou Ferrigno. So no matter what you’re into, you’ll probably enjoy that one.

BE: Unrelated note: do you guys have any affiliation with the America Mustache Institute?

TL: They have not contacted us as of yet.

BG: No.

TL: And if they don’t, I think we’ll probably take legal action, because I feel like they should have contacted us by now.

BE: And, lastly, are you comfortable in the knowledge that critics everywhere are waiting for Jimmy Fallon’s talk show to premiere, just so they can break out all of their leftover “Taxi” jokes? (Writer’s note: Lennon and Garant wrote the script for that film.)

TL: Yep.

BG: We’ll get blamed for that.

TL: Yeah, we’ll get blamed for that, too. Shit rolls downhill, and people will blame us for his show. People will post shit on Ain’t It Cool News about how we ruined that, too.

BG: I’m already on IMDb, on the site for his new show, saying that Lennon and Garant suck.

TL: I’ll be honest, I never really understood the casting of that movie, but…

BG: …but the original French movie was great.

TL: Yeah, check out the French “Taxi.” It’s a blast.

BG: Yeah, it’s really, really cool.

BE: Excellent. Okay, it’s been a pleasure talking to you guys. Thanks!

BG: Thanks, man!

TL: Thanks.

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