Why the Hell Was There a Duck in ‘The Pacifier’?

     July 26, 2006

I didn’t know that on Sunday, July 23rd in the Year of our Lord two-thousand-and-six at Comic Con the most vexing conundrum of my lifetime would be solved in a frivolous aside during an interview with The State alumni Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, who’ve since gone on to become highly-paid screenwriters whilst hatching the Comedy Central series Reno 911 and, most recent, taking the reins on their own material for Rogue Pictures with the table tennis epic Balls of Fury, but, as Maurice White might say, that’s the way… of the world (ow). As for the rest of the interview, you’ll learn plenty about Balls of Fury, which sounds pretty silly and pretty wonderful. Just don’t get too worked up it’s not due until January 26, 2007.

There’s also a bit at the end about a disagreement between Broken Lizard and the Reno 911 camp about the inspiration for the latter’s show. It’s the first I’ve heard of it, but Lennon’s clearly unhappy about what Jay Chandrasekhar’s been alleging to the press.

Read on, my dumplings…

(Noted Rotarian Thomas Lennon)

How come you guys aren’t wearing your [Reno 911] uniforms today?

Thomas: We can go get them. Dear lord, they’re so tight. We were wearing them on Friday.

Ben: Yeah, we did an in-character thing for the Fox presentation – which was fun! It went well. It was very, very stupid.

Thomas: It was like the biggest Viking movies and dragon movies, and then us prancing around in [our suits]. (Laughter)

[Balls of Fury] is the first movie you’re directing. Did you have a little more control over the script as opposed to the scripts where you just hand them over to the studio?

Ben: We went back-to-back. We did the Reno movie, which is now completed and done, and we went from that right into Balls of Fury. And it’s hard as a writer—

Thomas: – to watch the final cuts of other peoples’ directing of your script sometimes.

Ben: Bob Odenkirk did a great, great job on Let’s Go to Prison. You turn it in, and you never really know if the sensibility is going to stay the same. Sometimes you look at the movies that come out after you’ve written them, and they don’t resemble what you wrote at all.

Thomas: It’s really depressing.

Ben: You work and agonize over jokes. We’ll argue with each other on what’s the proper way to phrase this joke, and how’s the sight gag and how do you really make the sight gag work. And then you see the movie, and it apparently never came up on set how to make that joke work.

Thomas: Believe it or not, our draft of Herbie Fully Loaded

Ben: – was fucking great! (Laughter)

Thomas: It was really different. It was really kind of interesting, and we threw a lot of interesting shit in it. Nobody believes us, but our first draft of Herbie

Ben: – was great!

Thomas: We should post it on the internet.

Ben: It was funny and cool, and then…

Thomas: … what came out was bad.

Was there more duck in your draft of The Pacifier?

Thomas: Oh, there was tons of duck because it was a Jackie Chan movie. He bought the duck to eat.

Ben: The family didn’t have a pet duck, but he said, “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you kids. Duck!” And they’re like, “Yay!” And then he takes out a meat cleaver (holding it above his head ready to strike), and they’re like, “Ahhhhhhhh!” (Laughter)

Thomas: That’s why there was a duck.

Ben: Why would a suburban family have a duck?

Thomas: [And when we saw the finished film with Vin Diesel], we were like, “Wait. What the fuck is that?”

Ben: They have a duck!?!? Why would they have a duck?

Thomas: Jackie Chan buying a duck to eat makes sense.

Ben: So, they keep it as a pet. Which is a joke.

Thomas: There was a long scene where Jackie pours his heart out, his entire life story, and you cut over his shoulder and see he’s talking to the duck.

Ben: And the duck in Chinese says in Chinese, “We must all follow our own life’s dreams.” And then he [screams], and wakes up. It was a dream. Good duck jokes!

Thomas: We had such a good reason for the duck.

Have you ever thought about making an animated version of your script for, say, The Pacifier?

Thomas: Well, but it would never make $200 million.

Ben: It did okay.

How do you guys balance that? You write these things that you love, and they end up being something very different from what you want. Is there going to be a point where you say, “Okay, we’ve had enough of this game. We’ve made enough on these scripts, and now we’re just going to do our own thing.”?

Ben: Balls is that. And Reno is that. It takes a long time before you build up the credibility to do it. For the Reno movie, it’s our fourth season of the show we just got picked up for the fifth season. Tom and I go back and forth: the first season was a different director, the second season I started directing, and then third and fourth we started going back and forth. You have to prove to these people that you’re not going to waste their money. For some reason, they often trust some guy who did a really hip video, or somebody who did a really great Doritos commercial more than the writer. That happens a lot. You have to build up their trust. So the Reno movie really made sense a major studio let us direct it mostly because we’d already done exactly what we were going to do for them. And because it was so cheap! It’s the craft services budget for Spider-Man 3.

Thomas: You can keep your integrity – just don’t ask for a whole bunch of money from them.

Ben: And for Balls of Fury, we have worked with this same production company [Spyglass Entertainment] for the same time. We wrote The Pacifier, and it made buckets and buckets of money for them.

Thomas: Even though the duck made no sense.

Ben: Even though the duck made no sense to us, we were wrong.

Thomas: America has voted.

Ben: America has voted, and we were wrong. (Laughter) And directing the Reno shows also helped, but it took a long time to get here.

Thomas: We’re right at the point now where we have four films coming out from November to January: one [Let’s go to Prison] that Bob Odenkirk directed, two [Reno 911: Miami and Balls of Fury] that Ben directed and one [Night at the Museum] that Sean Levy directed. And I know for a fact that [Let’s Go to Prison] is 100 percent our voice.

Ben: It’s exactly our sensibility.

Thomas: It’s exactly the script that we wrote and what we meant. So is Reno 911: Miami, so is Balls of Fury, and I’m optimistic about Night at the Museum. It looks a lot like what we wrote.

It seems like the last few years have been really good for comedy. The 90s were a wasteland with Eddie Murphy making nonsense stuff, and now things are changing. Is it because a new generation is coming up?

Ben: I don’t know. There are a lot of new funny dudes. I think cable has been a really good training ground for writers. People can get away with a lot more on cable, so you kind of learn to do stuff – like Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker]. In the [early to mid] 90s, there couldn’t have been a Matt and Trey because there was no place for that kind of [comedy] that isn’t trying to appeal to everybody, but a voice that’s trying to be really, really funny, and knows that if you’re really, really funny someone will find you. Maybe that’s part of it. Jay Roach and those guys have come out of being given the freedom that you can only really have on cable.

Thomas: Though there was an article recently [saying that] all of the really, really big budget comedies have just started falling apart lately – all of these big $100 million and $150 million comedies.

Jim Carrey comedies.

Thomas: Yeah. I think the trend will be… you know, the Reno movie was less than [$10 million].

What’s the basic synopsis of Balls of Fury?

Thomas: It’s a table tennis movie.

Ben: It’s about a kid who in the 80s was Mary Lou Retton he was going to be the first American to beat the Chinese in ping pong.

Thomas: He’s twelve-years-old.

Ben: So he’s on cereal boxes, and there’s a Kid and Play video about him. He’s really, really hot. Then he goes to the Olympics, and his dad, who is Robert Patrick, is a problem gambler and bets his life savings on the kid to win. It’s in Korea, so [he places the wager with] a local Triad gangster guy. The kid loses, so his father is murdered. And the kid swears never ever to play ping pong again.

Thomas: He ends up doing matinee shows with David Koechner, who plays a character called Rick the Birdmaster.

Ben: He does matinee shows where he does ping pong tricks – behind the back, blindfolded…

Thomas: Black light ping pong balls. It’s really spectacular.

Ben: And the FBI comes to this kid twenty years later. George Lopez is the FBI agent.

Thomas: And he’s excellent in the film.

Ben: He comes to him because the guy who killed his father, Master Feng, has since risen up in the Triad and is now a major international opium/arms dealer, and is obsessed with ping pong. He used to play for the Chinese Communist team when he was a kid. Obsessed with ping pong.

Thomas: And every five years he has an invitation only, to the death ping pong tournament. (Laughter)

Ben: So they know that if they can get this kid to the tournament, that he’s their in. It’s sort of Bloodsport with ping pong.

Thomas: It’s what a Van Damme movie with ping pong would be.

Is this R-rated?

Ben: No! PG! The title is the naughtiest thing about it.

This would be the first Rogue Pictures release to be PG?

Thomas: Probably.

Ben: It’s PG. It’s a kung-fu movie with a lot of ping pong.

Thomas: The only naughty thing in the film is that Maggie Q has many, many fights in a miniskirt. And that is wonderful, but it’s not [wholesome].

And Christopher Walken is Master Feng?

Thomas: Christopher Walken plays Master Feng, and he’s sort of Ming the Merciless meets Elton John. Heavy on the Elton John.

Which era Elton John?

Thomas: Captain Fantastic. Donald duck hair. (Does a little “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”.)

What about the Reno 911 movie? Is that going to be R-Rated?

Thomas: Oh, boy, yes.

Well, they say the studios have been trying to make more R-rated comedies.

Thomas: But Reno 911: Miami is almost NC-17.

Ben: It’s very R-rated.

Thomas: There’s a lot of nudity.

Ben: Some people have said “an unnecessary amount of nudity”, which I don’t know what that is. (Laughter) I don’t know how to quantify that.

Thomas: As a fourteen-year-old boy at heart, I don’t know what too much T&ampA is.

And is there also male nudity?

Thomas: Oh, yeah! (Points none too sheepishly at himself.)

It’s just that after seeing the Borat clip…

Ben: There’s nothing like that.

Thomas: There aren’t literally balls on a person’s face.

You still have time.

Ben: Reshoots. Reshoots.

Thomas: There’s a lot more female nudity than in the Borat movie.

Ben: A lot more boobs than balls.


(Ben Garant)

Did you guys realize this is ping pong’s moment again? Rockstar has the Table Tennis game. Is ping pong it now?

Thomas: Ping pong does seem like it’s getting hip again.

Ben: Everybody thinks they’re good at ping pong. If you ask, everybody’s first response is, “Yeah, I’m pretty good at ping pong.”

Thomas: It’s the only sport where I think that’s true.

Are you going to reclaim it from Forrest Gump?

Thomas: You know, we have the same ping pong instructor that they used on Forrest Gump.

Ben: Wei Wang.

Thomas: She bronze medaled in 1996.

Ben: And she was our ping pong instructor. And Tom plays the East German [representative]. He’s Drago. (Laughter)

Thomas: I wear a lot of skintight leotards. For some reason, I dress like a speed skater in the film.

Is there anything that’s too embarrassing for comedy? It seems like on Reno, you’re the one who’s always dressing up in tight shorts.

Thomas: I’m trying to embarrass myself as much as possible. I wear an outfit in Balls of Fury that’s even stupider than my Reno 911 outfit. It’s a women’s swimsuit basically that says “East Germany” on it.

Do you ever wear loose fitting pants on screen?

Thomas: On screen? No. That wouldn’t be funny. (Laughter)

When is this coming out?

Thomas: I heard January 27th.

And you think Night at the Museum is going to be good?

Thomas: What we’ve seen of it looks pretty cool.

Ben: We haven’t seen more than anyone else has – just the trailers. But it looks very much like what we wrote, which is pretty exciting.

What’s next, then, now that you have these eleven movies coming out this year? Is 2007 going to be a big year, too?

Ben: Rehab.

Thomas: Rehab, and then death. Dead in a car like Montgomery Clift. (Laughter) At some kind of weird jackoff party. (More laughter)

Ben: That’s a good plan. (Lots of crosstalk and laughter ensues.) Season five of Reno 911 will start in January, but we’ll write it in November. Our goal may be to write it in one weekend. And after that… I don’t know? The Reno style of making movies is really fun. You don’t have a script, so there’s no script meetings. You don’t have script notes. It’s really, really fun.

Thomas: It’s more fun to do things than talk about things. And that’s what we like about that.

Ben: With Reno, it’s gotten to the point where we just call our friends and say, “Well, what do you want to do?” They just pitch us ideas. And then they come, and we arrest them. Season four started with people who we’ve never worked with before would call us and pitch us stuff, because now the show is out there and people know how to think about it. So it’s just starting where we’re getting to work with people with the same sensibility who we didn’t already know. That’ll be fun.

How long can Reno go for? Assuming that they’ll air it as long as you guys make it, how long do you think that should be?

Thomas: The show feels fresher than some other shows because we really never do write anything down. Anything you hear someone say on that show, it’s the first time it’s ever come out of their mouth. It does continue to feel pretty fresh. I think that’s also why cops like it, because it doesn’t feel rehearsed.

How is dealing with Comedy Central on this show? Do they censor?

Thomas: They say, “Cut thirty seconds.” And we go, “Okay.” And then they air it.

Ben: Our show is free. It’s got to be the cheapest thing on TV.

Thomas: It’s as expensive as a regular documentary.

Ben: Season three and four, we were budgeted for twenty episodes, and we turned in twenty-seven. You can’t do that. Because, like, Toby Huss… me and Tom will go up and arrest Toby Huss on his lawn. Then we’ll leave. Then Carlos [Alazraqui] and Cedric [Yarbrough] will go arrest him. And then we’ll be like, “Geez, it’s not lunch yet!”, so we’ll go arrest him for something else.

Thomas: This year we put Patton Oswalt in a suit of armor on a burro. (Huge laughter)

Ben: That was the plan. And we had no idea—

Thomas: We never discussed it.

Ben: We put a [Renaissance] Faire behind him, and he’s just—

Thomas: On a burro in a full suit of armor.

Ben: And we show eleven pieces. We just walked up to him and said, “Sir, you’re drunk.” And we don’t know what he’s going to say. I don’t know how long it will last. I honestly think it will last as long as we keep bringing in new people. It’s not like we’re sitting back and worrying about the arc and who shot J.R. and where are we going to go. It’s like… how long are the Groundlings going to last?

Do you think there will ever be a reunion of The State?

Thomas: There’s been some discussion of it. You know, The State, at long last, is coming out either on DVD and iTunes or something.

Ben: They just rescored it, and we’re all doing ADR.

Thomas: The thing that was presenting it was music clearances. At the time, MTV had a deal that anything with a video you could use. That’s no longer the deal.

Ben: So all our sketches that were built around a Breeders song or a Lenny Kravitz song, which was a lot of them – we had to rescore everything. But finally MTV put up the money to rescore it, and I guess it’s coming out.

Thomas: Some time this year, I bet.

The similarities between Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers and Reno 911 always seem to come up.

Thomas: Well, Jay [Chandrasekhar] always seems to think that we based Reno 911 on Super Troopers. Reno 911 was based on Cops. We shot the pilot before Super Troopers came out for Fox. We were doing a sketch show for Fox, we wanted to do a show that would fit into the Fox lineup, and it was originally created as a companion piece for Saturday night after Cops. Fox ended up not picking up the show, and it sat on the shelf for two-and-a-half, almost three years. And then Comedy Central bought the rights. We shot the pilot before Super Troopers came out.

It would’ve been a different show had it been on Fox, right?

Ben: I’m glad it’s not. The freedom that we have, you couldn’t have on another network. Having done many pilots for Fox, the way they work is too slow there are way too many cooks.

Thomas: I know that Jay likes to think and announce in the press that we based Reno 911 on Super Troopers for some reason, but we didn’t. We based it on Cops.

He’s never actually said that.

Thomas: Yes, he has. He’s said it many times in the press. And he should check the dates.

And we’ll conclude with that little forearm shiver. Perhaps someone could get a response from Jay, and see if we can’t clear this whole mess up, which does suck since it’s likely just a misunderstanding between two very funny and talented guys.

As for Balls of Fury, it’ll hit theaters January 26th, 2007, and promises to be a heapin’ helpin’ of ball-swattin’ fun. We’ll keep you apprised as trailers and the like become available.

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