Who Wears Short Shorts?
Courtesy Comedy CentralThe three-DVD, boxed-set Reno 911!TheCompleteSecondSeasonhits the stores in all its uncensored glory on Tuesday. That night, Reno911!kicks off its third season, in the time slot vacated by that craaaaazy Dave Chappelle. Not bad for a totally improvised Copsspoof that sat on a shelf at Fox for two years before cable's Comedy Central bought it off them. But now Tom Lennon, who plays unambiguously gay, short shorts wearing Lt. Jim Dangle, and who created Reno911!with his TheState/VivaVarietychums Kerri Kenney-Silver (Deputy Trudy Wiegel) and Robert Ben Garant (Deputy Travis Junior), flirts with career suicide by agreeing to a phoner with OC Weekly.
OC Weekly:I'm surprised that you consented to do this interview. Around the office, we're convinced theOC Weekly Curse killedViva Variety.
TomLennon:Oh, you guys gave it a bad review?
No,no.Yearsago,wephotographedyouguysforourBestofOrangeCountyissue,anditseemedlikeaweekorsoafterthathitthestreets,Viva Variety was,uh...
I'm gonna hang up now, Matt. No, really. Bye.
The thing is, VivaVarietywent as long as that show should have. We did 39 of those. For a fake European variety show, that's a pretty good run. That's not what we in the television business call a "home-run idea." It was only a home run for a couple of people who were high at the time.
Oh, that's why it did big at the OC, huh? It wasa very funny show, but that's what's nice about Reno 911!: everyone loves it. The other night, we blocked off some streets in Carson, and standing there watching us film were a couple ladies in their fifties, a young Asian guy, a full-on skinhead with an SS button on his collar, and everyone wanted to get their picture taken with us, from lonely housewives to lonely Nazis.
How about cops? Are they fans?
Cops love the show, and tend to be quite effusive about it when I meet them. I've had some cops follow me through airports, etc. Many cops have told us it's "the most realistic cop show on television" and "it seems like you've got a microphone in our morning meetings." Stuff like that. I think it's because what we're saying doesn't sound rehearsed—because it's not.
I've now spent quite a bit of time with cops, and they have better senses of humor than most people. I guess they have to, as people are literally trying to kill them all day. They love jokes, and when given the chance, laugh REALLY HARD! I think it has to do with stress.
Iguesswecouldn'treallykillReno 911! becauseithadbeenkilledalready,right?
Oh, yeah, this show sat around a couple of years. The original pilot was shot two years before Comedy Central picked it up. It sat around Fox forever, until Jim Sharp just bought it.
The executive in charge of production at Comedy Central. On TheStateand Viva Variety, he'd been our producer. He was fishing for us to pitch him something, and we said what about our fake cop show on Fox? He said to get him a tape, and they just bought it immediately. Generally, people don't give up rights to that. It's like when you break up with somebody but you don't want someone else taking them to the prom.
Um, we'd stopped doing TV pilots. We wrote a period piece for FX about the early years of porn in Los Angeles. It was kind of Chinatownmeets Boogie Nights. It ended up going nowhere. Ben [Garant] and I write films. We had no intention of doing another network TV show. In fairness to Fox, [Reno 911!] almost made it onto their lineup. It was quite close. We missed by one vote. Unfortunately, that one vote belonged to Peter Chernin, the head of the whole thing. I guess his vote counted more. Apparently there was too much man-on-man in the original pilot.
FromwhatIunderstand,you'refillingthetimeslotleftbytheChappelle Show. Sodoyougetthe$50million?
I believe that comes with the time slot. I'm looking into that right now.
You know, Dave Chappelle is apparently not crazy. He's back in LA. He was at the Improv last night. I don't know what happened to Dave. Pressure or something like that. But he'd already done 20 whole episodes of his show. We've come off 20-25 shows in a row, we've been shooting since February, I have to wear those shorts all the time, so he's not breaking everyone's heart with "Oh my God, there's so much pressure." I don't know if he'll come back ever. I can't tell you what's going on, but, you know, it ain't brain surgery. Other people have jobs with real pressure, and doing Blackzilla is not it, you know? Guys working in coal mines—talk about stress. Give me a break.
Yeah, we're in his time slot. Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Yeah, I don't think he wanted to spend any more time in them. They were the Bizarro World version of us. We ought to just do a spin-off on them on a slightly more serious channel, the Lifetime version of the show, with Lou Ferrigno.
That'scrazy.ButasmuchasIenjoyyourshow,ImustsayIfindtheComedyCentralpromoswiththekidsplayingwithReno 911! characterdollsevenfunnier.
You like that? You're the second person who's said that to me. I'm going to have to call Comedy Central and tell them people think it's funny.
A very little bit. Everyone seems to like it.
A few people have tried to order them.
No, they didn't. You'd think they'd send me mine. I'll look for it on eBay soon.
So, did you see Brian Unger [formerly of The Daily Show] in the third episode? He hosts a local Reno show for kids, Reading Ron.He's a recovering cocaine addict and something real terrible happens. It doesn't go well. It's episode three or four.
Ionlysawtheopeningtwo-partepisode.Butspeakingofkidshows,haveyouseenWonder Showzen onMTV2?
Uh, no. I don't have cable. Wonder Show-what?
WonderShowzen.You'vegottogetatapeofit.It'slikeSesame Street oncrack.
Is it for kids?
[Laughsoutloud.]That sounds wonderful.
Our new character shows up in the third episode. We will have one new deputy and I would not say who it was, but every publication in America has already printed it. It's Mary Birdsong [Deputy Cheresa Kimball]. She's from the Live on Tape sketch group. When we were in The State, she was in Live on Tape. She's really hilarious. She plays a very different sort of character. She's the least sort-of-cartoony character. Everybody else on this show is like the wacky sidekick. We needed someone more grounded than the rest of us. We were looking a little bit like Fat Albert and the gang. There was Mush Mouth and Russell standing there . . .
No. She is also pretty funny, but she's a far-right, right-wing Christian, a devout, devout Christian, which is what we needed.
Yeah, I think it will play well in lots of places.
Uh, I don't. My legs are a mess by the end of the season. It's worse than you even think. If you think it must be bad in shorts, what's worse is under those shorts are two straps to keep my shirt tucked in. The shirt tails are longer than the shorts are. So the straps are there to make sure nothing dangles out. I can't really stand up straight; the straps that hold my shirt down cut off circulation to everything. The shorts were such a funny idea for the pilot, for maybe one season, but right now, I've done over 50 episodes of this show. It was a horrible, horrible plan. And my legs are always getting scraped and bleeding.
Brush, broken glass, climbing into dumpsters. It looks like someone shattered glass on my legs.
Oh, yeah. Sure.
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