Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan — two of the founding members of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard and creators of Super Troopers, Club Dread, Beerfest, and more — are currently on the road screening their latest creation, the upcoming truTV series Tacoma FD. The new comedy series, their first foray into television, focuses on a group of firefighters in Tacoma, WA, the wettest city in America. Without many fires to put out due to constant rain, the crew finds other ways to entertain themselves. I flew to Denver to catch the first screening of a few episodes of the series, and to sit down and chat with Heffernan and Lemme about the show.
When I met them before the screening, Heffernan and Lemme’s gregarious nature immediately shone through. They had no preciousness about their time or their green room. After a big, hearty handshake and plenty of questions about the pronunciation of my first name (it’s Jock-o, not Gee-ack-oh), the duo invited me to chat. The first order of business was to put in an order of beers and fried pickle chips. Once that was settled, we talked about the creation of Tacoma FD.
The idea sprang from figuring out where to take their comedy. “We thought, what do people really want from us,” says Lemme. “Well, they like us in these ‘men in uniform’ positions, like Super Troopers.” And the real appeal of Super Troopers was the fact that the troopers were on an abandoned stretch of highway. “What’s the firefighter equivalent of that? Well it’s firefighters with some time on their hands, so let’s set it in the rainiest city in America.”
“And then the real question,” Lemme explained, “when we got the green light on the pilot: do we keep the mustaches?” The two still sported their fireman mustaches, and it was a jarring sight to see these usually uniformed guys all mustachioed, but wearing street clothes.
“That’s a life decision,” Heffernan added. “Imagine if you can’t shave it, imagine if you’re not allowed to shave it?” There was desperation in his voice. “We’ve been riding these things for nine months and… I’m ready to fucking shave.”
“I have a bunch of family members who are firefighters,” said Heffernan, “and when we made Super Troopers they were always like ‘Cops are funny, but firefighters are really funny.’ So we were batting this idea around and we started talking to my cousin Bill, who’s been a firefighter for 25 years, and he had these great stories.” Cousin Bill ended up serving as a consultant for the show. “We started talking with these guys and every firefighter has like fifteen stories.”
With all these stories from actual firefighters, they wanted to focus on the nature of the characters. “We wanted to portray these guys as really good at their jobs,” explained Lemme. “Because all firefighters actually are. But they have downtime. They live under the same roof for 24 hours at a time so they do have time to fuck with each other. And that’s what we want to focus on.”
So what does a real firefighter do with downtime? “Firefighters we know say they get the most ridiculous phone calls,” said Heffernan. “Someone will call them up and just ask when high tide is. Someone will call up the fire department and ask when Thanksgiving is this year.” Lemme added that people still really do abandon their babies at fire stations. Would that make it into an episode? Heffernan grimaced, “Ehhh... I think that’s too sad.”
After our chat, I slipped into a packed theater to watch a sneak preview of the first and third episodes of Tacoma FD. That classic Broken Lizard humor was present from the very first scene, where Heffernan and Lemme, in uniform, challenge each other to a saltine cracker eating contest, and then debate the finer points of having a wet mouth. When this little moment pays off as a clever plot device a few scenes later, it became very clear that Tacoma FD was right up there with the best of Lemme and Heffernan’s output.
When, in the third episode, the boy’s club is interrupted by the arrival of the chief’s daughter as the newest rookie, the show manages to both embrace and transcend its boy’s club premise, becoming even more wonderfully deranged (and oddly touching). From cranky kids stuck in wells to angry exotic animals, the live crowd at the screening was howling at the antics on screen (much to the relief of Heffernan and Lemme, as this was the very first time they screened the show for the public).
So with a full season of Tacoma FD filmed and being edited, what’s next for Heffernan and Lemme (and the wider Broken Lizard crew)? “Super Troopers 3 will be next,” explained Lemme in the audience Q&A, “and then I think Potfest [the long-anticipated sequel to Beerfest] has a good chance of being the film after that.”
Full of good gags, the show also flaunts their penchant for gross-out and toilet humor. “We tried not to be crass,” Lemme explained in our interview. “But,” Heffernan quickly cut in, “it’s just our natural disposition.” To check out all the hot firehouse action for yourself, tune in to Tacoma FD on truTV on Thursday, March 28 at 10:30/9:30c.
Giaco Furino is Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.