Vox Q&A: The Slammin Salmon’s Steve Lemme

Broken Lizard—the sketch-comedy troupe behind films such as Super Troopers, Club Dread, and Beerfest—came to DC last Thursday as part of a nationwide comedy tour. Vox spoke with Steve Lemme about the group’s upcoming film, The Slammin’ Salmon, as well as Mike Tyson’s weaknesses, the group’s early days, and the food service industry.

How did Broken Lizard meet?

We met at college. Four of us were fraternity brothers—Jay [Chandrasekhar] and Kevin [Heffernan] were older than us and Eric [Stolhanske] and I were the younger guys. At that time, Paul [Soter] wasn’t anywhere near my radar screen. Jay was given the opportunity to direct something student-run, and he and Kevin decided to do a sketch-comedy show.

I auditioned for it … and ended up becoming the guy who would play the scumbag, the dirtball, or the dick in sketches … The first night 25 people showed up, but eventually we were turning people away from the door. We realized we had a good thing going, brought it to NYC, got into movies, and now we’re back on the road doing a live sketch-comedy tour.

What’s The Slammin’ Salmon about?

We play waiters in a restaurant that is owned by a Mike Tyson type of figure. He’s a retired Heavyweight Champion of the World. He’s a teddy-bear, but he’s also prone to throwing temper tantrums. He can break you neck with one hand if he wants to. Often he slides off into these tantrums.

One night, he ends up owing the Japanese Yakuza, so he has a contest with the waiters to see who can make the most money in one night. The winner he is going to give a cash prize to, but he is simply going to beat the shit out of the loser. That’s the movie. It’s our Glengarry Glen Ross, really.

Are you worried that Mike Tyson be offended?

Nah, Tyson’s a pussy. I could take him with one hand tied behind my back. He’s kind of chubby. He’s slow. I would stick and move, I’d keep hitting the body. The body is his weakness. Just stick and move, stick and move. Kill him with speed.

I’ve watched When We Were Kings, I know you’ve got to play the mental game. Just take his punches and he’ll punch himself out. Then you come out and just fucking crush him. That’s my strategy. Yelling things like, ‘Is that all you got? My grandma punches harder than you,’ and ‘Aw, man. I expected more from you.’

If Mike Tyson owned a restaurant, what would he sell?

I think he’d be selling ‘eye-talian kwi-zine.’ He’s an italophile, if you didn’t know. Spaghetti, fettuccini, alfredo, carbonara—things of that nature. Maybe an organic pizzeria.

Was The Slammin’ Salmon inspired by real-life experiences?

Back in the nineties, three of us worked in a restaurant together: Eric, Jay and I. We waited tables on the Upper East Side in Manhattan at places very similar to the restaurant in the movie. A lot of the stories are based on real life.

I quit my job in a blaze of glory after I thought I was getting paid by a TV network. I threw my apron down. A year later, the network never paid us and I’d raced up severe credit card debt, so I came back to the restaurant with my tail between my legs. All the waiters gave me the slow clap as I made my way in. I waited tables for three years after that.

We tried not to make it too waiter-centric. Too many waiter movies are only funny if you’ve waited tables before. Stuff like the five-second rule and putting pubic hair on food…the whole ‘don’t fuck with us because we’re the last people who touch your food’ thing. There’s none of that. We wanted to tell a story that was accessible to everybody. We’re just trying to use the restaurant as a backdrop for another story.

This was Kevin Heffernan’s directorial debut. How’d he do?

There’s a big difference between being a director and an actor. When you’re one of the actors, all you have to do is show up and say your lines. You get to dick around all day, you know, grab ass and shoot the shit and flirt with waitresses and actresses.

The director is working all day long. When Jay would direct, he’d shoot looks your way if you were being too loud, stuff like that. Once he was one of the actors, we seduced him over to the dark side—he became part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Kevin was the one who was giving us looks and saying this like, “I’ll drown you for this.” When I direct a movie, we will finally find the perfect balance.

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