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  • Interview: Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant of Reno 911

    Mon, 13 Oct 2008 17:47:45

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    Not even real law enforcement officials can deny the comedic genius of Reno 911. The mockumentary of T.V.’s Cops is so satirical that it borders on absurd. But with innocuous plotlines come hearty laughs that no one understands that more than the show’s stars and creators, Thomas Lennon, who portrays the possibly gay, mustachioed, nut-hugger sporting Lieutenant Dangle, and Ben Garant, who portrays redneck Travis Junior. Lennon and Garant are alumni of MTV’s ahead-of-its-time sketch show The State, a series which merely hinted at their comedic promise. Reno 911, however, allows Lennon and Garant to take their delightfully irreverent brand of comedy and satire to the next level. Lennon and Garant allowed us to interrogate them about how cops have approached them regarding the show, the artistic license that being the series’ creators allows them, and the general perversions reflected in the characters, the cops, and the perps. They also weren’t shy about revealing their own real life run-ins with the long arm of the law.

    You have the most input into your characters' idiosyncrasies and it’s clear you understand that the best things about the show are the details of each character. What gets the creative juices flowing for these details?

    Thomas Lennon: We created the show and we direct everything, so we have a lot of input and freedom. We try and keep everyone on the show as weird as we can. I think in Season Five and in the movie, we gravitate towards the sort of perversions that everyone has a little bit of somewhere in their lives. In Season Five, fucking food has come up a lot. There’s the skit with the King of Peanut Butter and jacking off with jelly. In the movie, there is a massive amount of masturbation. I am not sure where we will go with that in the series. We pay tribute to America's fetishes, her weirdos, and her pervs. And lonely creepy white people, too.

    Ben Garant: Everyone on our show, from the cops to all of the perps that swing through, come out really good-natured but very disturbed, perverted, and dark. I think a lot of that has to do with that we treat Reno as an improv show. We do 10-minute takes. When you’re doing a take, during the first minute or two, people are usually censoring themselves and are on their best behavior. But after four minutes or so of talking, their true selves start to come out. A lot of our cast members are good, but they are also fucked up and perverted. We're certainly not the Friends. We're not like ABC's or NBC’s version of “cute but perverted.” We're genuinely…weird. On our show and in the film.

    What's your favorite episode or storyline? What stands out as a personal favorite and why?

    TL: I really loved the George Lopez episode. He stars as the fucked up mayor of Reno who has been arrested. We don't know why he has been arrested, but it was for doing something sexual and murderous and it was really something nefarious that happened. I love the bounty hunter episode, too!

    BG: The “Coconut Nut Clusters" episode. I enjoyed that very much. There was a dark simplicity to that plotline. During the shooting, they were going door to door trying to sell them with the tagline, “It's like biting into a coconut tree!” A tree! Who wants to bite into a tree?

    TL: That was great. It’s the least appealing thing you could think of. That's the reason that law enforcement people, like cops and sheriffs, say the show is the most accurate police show on television and they are sincere when they make those comments. It feels more accurate than NYPD Blue or CSI . We address what most of those shows don't address.

    BG: Most T.V. material is heavily censored before a joke even makes it to the air. By the time it’s passed through 15 different writers and executives, it’s not the same joke anymore. On Reno, we don't even censor ourselves. No one is saying, “Don't say that!” So it makes it unique. We say and do what we want.

    Have either of you had a run in with the cops that you are able to share here? Anything that’s not pending litigation?

    TL: Last year, I was almost arrested by 17 Hollywood division members of the LAPD.

    No! You’re making this up.

    TL: This is totally true. They very graciously let me go. I witnessed my bike being stolen from the front of my house so I did the rational thing, which was grab my BB gun rifle and chase the perpetrator. He threw the bike immediately in the street and ran. I went after the man, not the bike. I was shooting at him for five blocks, screaming, "You are going to die, motherfucker!" He got away several blocks later and I could not get to him or catch up with him. I was walking home in a suit and tie with a BB gun that looks like a rifle and I was dripping sweat.

    Like Michael Douglas in Falling Down!

    TL: Yes, just like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Then the first cop showed up. There were eight cop cars, a helicopter, and 18 officers on the scene. No one asks questions when they see you with a rifle. They immediately pin you to the ground and handcuff you. The 18th cop was a huge fan of Reno and he had asked us to take a picture with him two years earlier, and it figures, he was the 18th man on the scene. He asked what the story was so I was able to tell them! My bike gets stolen on the show, so it was off my life and onto the show!

    BG: I was very punk rock in high school and spray painted my car with all these anarchy symbols and anti-fundamentalist Christian symbols so I was pulled over a fair amount. I never did any time, though, in Tennessee, where I grew up. A lot of material has come from the Knox County Police Force that would try to arrest to me as a kid!

    So is that where you get your inspiration for your performance as a law enforcement official? From the cop encounters you have had?

    TL: We shoot at a real working L.A. County Sheriff's station so we are around real deputies all the time. It's easy to pick up little things when you are in that environment. I never met one who didn't love to laugh because they are under so much pressure all of the time. They are desperate to have a laugh. I just put on the outfit and that dictates what I will say and do when I am playing the character. With the highlights and mustache and the hot pants, I act as macho as I possibly can.

    BG: They have a good sense of humor and they pitch jokes all the time.

    The show's brilliance is its non-politically correct satire. Do you ever have real cops come up to you and complain about the portrayal of their job?

    TL: It has never come up once, not from a law enforcement person. The Reno police department got a few calls when the show started with people suggesting to the Reno P.D. that they don't allow themselves to be filmed. But the department is great. Some people watching the show did not understand that this was a fictional show and that was the worst thing that came of it in terms of complaints. There is no Reno Sheriff's department. It's made up. That was it. No one has said the show is inaccurate. The network has never censored us, neither did Fox with the movie and for that we are so grateful.

    —Amy Sciarretto

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