Ten years ago, comedy troupe Broken Lizard unleashed Beerfest on a sober, unsuspecting audience of college kids and slackers. Steve Lemme, a member of Broken Lizard from the start – when it was a thing the Beta Theta Pi boys were doing at Colgate – thinks highly about their work a decade later.
“I happen to think Beerfest is the best movie we ever made,” Lemme told Inverse. We spoke to Lemme the day before Broken Lizard began production on Super Troopers 2, a follow-up to its other cult classic about goofball highwaymen. Though Super Troopers is getting a sequel, and maybe even the trilogy treatment, it’s Beerfest that still makes Lemme smile.
“From the moment the brothers walk into Beerfest for the first time to the final competition, I don’t think there’s a weak scene.” Lemme isn’t afraid to pat himself and his comedy mates on the back. “I really think we did a great job. It’s a beer drinking movie, and it’s always going to appeal to college students.”
When you guys show up at the end in Team USA outfits is one of the best moments in the movie. It’s clearly a parody of ‘80s sports movies, but what influenced the Olympic notion?
The whole movie is jingoistic, about American guys who drink American beer and get humiliated by Germans at this international competition, and assemble this all-star team. On one hand, it was very much: Stupid Americans against the world and this ancient tradition where Americans aren’t involved. On the other hand, it’s personal, because it’s about brothers who were part of Beerfest and are the rightful heirs to the brewery. It was an international competition movie, it was the Olympics of beer. Obviously, it could only be Team U.S.A.
Your character, Fink, was modeled after Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way. That’s quite an odd choice. Just, why?
Just the look was based on Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way. Finklestein was the nerd. We decided that, for me, male-pattern baldness would be a good step. Then an afro. Sean Penn was the first photo we looked up. We’re like, “Oh yeah. That’s exactly what we want to go with.”
You want everyone to have a thing. The character played by Jay was the skill guy, the best gamer anybody’s played with. Landfill was your clean-up hitter who could chug in speed and volume. Finklestein was science. He’s the guy who could use mind over matter and figure angles to chug, open the throat and all that stuff. The character itself was based on my friend, Danny Weinstein, who I grew up with, the smartest guy I ever met. He went to work for a place that cloned frogs.
That’s where the frog masturbation came from, right?
When he started working there he said, “Yeah, I jerk off frogs for a living.” That’s how we came up with that character. On the DVD, I interviewed Danny at his laboratory, and it turns out it was much more scientific. He would extract frog zygotes from frogs, so he wasn’t actually jerking them off. He was the inspiration for that character’s work life.
How hard was it getting Donald Sutherland? How quickly did his scene come together?
We shot Donald after filming completed. One of the producers, Billy Gerber, worked with Donald many times. Gerber used to be the head of Warner Bros., so he put in a call to Sutherland.
The cool thing about Donald Sutherland, his character is confined to a hospital bed. He chugs in the opening scene. We rigged it so there would be a tube going down his sleeve and it would suck the beer out of the mugs. Donald Sutherland, being the professional he was, said, “My character is drinking beers. I’m going to drink beers.” We said, “He’s going to have to go to the bathroom. Donald, do you need to take a bathroom break?” He said, “My character is confined to a bed. He can’t go to the bathroom.’ He sat there, all day, chugged beer, and never got up to piss. I can only assume he peed his pants. Who knows what he did?
Were there jokes the studio wasn’t cool with and you had to workshop heavily?
I don’t think they pushed back on anything. The only joke I remember there being an issue was Great Gam Gam. There’s a scene where we’re training and she tells us the key to learning how to chug is to relax the throat so you can let beer flow down. Being a former prostitute, she says she’s going to demonstrate on a summer sausage.
In the script, she was going to deep throat it, to the chagrin of her grandsons and the delight of everybody else. One of the props we created was a telescopic sausage you’d put in your mouth that would fold up. At the last second, her manager said, “We’re not going do that.” Cloris Leachman was ready to do it, but her representation thought that it would be inappropriate.
Broken Lizard came from a fraternity, but were there any drinking games you guys didn’t know about before Beerfest?
We certainly learned a number of drinking games while we were practicing. The funny part about making this movie is that we actually got to play drinking games to research what we thought would be exciting. So we would write off beer on our taxes.
Potfest* has been talked about for awhile. What’s the word on that?
It’s something we’re talking about. We want to do it. There’s a couple of other movies we want to do. We want to do Super Troopers 3. We’ll see what happens, but right now, we’re focused so much on Super Troopers 2.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.