Interview: Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant from "Hell Baby"

Photo Credit: Photo by Larry Busacca – © 2013 Getty Images – Image courtesy
September 5th, 2013

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have been cracking people up since their early days on the hit comedy tv show “The State”, and years later with “Reno 911“.  Both have had huge success in the film industry as well as writers of films like “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian", and as actors in films like “I Love You, Man” and many more.  These brilliant comedic writers/actors sat down with us here at Movie Room and talked all about their new film “Hell Baby” which comes out September 6th.

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant: Nick!

Nick Leyland from MRR: Hey, what's going on?

Lennon and Garant: Hey, how are you man?

MRR: Good. How are you guys?

Lennon and Garant: Oh, good. Yeah, real well.

MRR: It's a pleasure to speak with both of you comedy geniuses.


Lennon: Oh, geez!

Garant: Oh, that's a massive overstatement.


Lennon: Yeah, yeah. Who are we supposed to be talking to?


Lennon: "Hell Baby?" The movie where we’re eating sandwiches?


MRR: Well, how much genius does it take to be a comedian anyway, right?

Lennon: No, you don't need to be a genius. We don't make movies for geniuses. No, no, no. Well, we make movies for the working man.


Lennon: And by the working man, I mean very stoned, very stoned teenagers...

Garant: Stoned 20 something.

Lennon: Yeah.

MRR: Speaking of, where do you guys come up with ideas for this? Where does an idea like "Hell Boy or Hell Baby" come from? I mean, and how do you convince yourself that it's a good idea to go through with?


Lennon: Well, the basic idea was what if we created a world where Keegan-Michael Key comes in and says, "Weird things" as a character who we really know nothing about. No. It's basically the whole movie is like a jazz album that we made.

Garant: For Keegan to do his thing.


Lennon: Yeah. Everything else we've done is like sort of structured. This is our departure into jazz.

Garant: This is no structure at all.

Lennon: Right. Well, one, it'd be fun to take off Riki's (Lindhome) clothes, would be fun.

MRR: Yeah, that was amazing.

Lennon: Two, it'd be fun if your Keegan say things like, "That's why we call it pizza salad. Pizza salad! Pizza salad!" something like that. [laughter]

Garant: You could almost say the movie is based on a true story, because I know Tom had that experience with a lamp in the home he moved in.

Lennon: Yeah, yeah, I had that experience with a lamp that actually tried to kill me. It did. It burned briskly through my hands and set fire to both my hands at one point. I did try to fix them anyway.

Garant: Based on a true story. Yeah.

Lennon: And I do kind of like combining Domino's Pizza with a salad from Domino's. Something based on a true story, we say.


MRR: Well, the film reminds me of almost several skits just combined together to make this great comedy. Is that kind of what was intended?

Garant: Yes.

Lennon: There were some overwhelming positive reviews for the movie, but the negative ones are like, "This is just a collection of the most random, stupid pitches!" And I'm like, "Yeah! Yeah!"

Garant: Yeah.


Lennon: That's like, "Yep exactly... " Almost exactly word for word how I would describe the film, yeah.

MRR: Well 'cause several of the scenes, you bring in your friends and all these comedians. So, do you write the part and then bring in the comedian or find the comedian and then write the part around them?

Lennon: For the most parts... Well, Keegan's was very specifically was written and it had to be Keegan. There was never any discussion of anything else.

Garant: If he hadn't been available or liked the script, then we wouldn't have been able to do it. There was never like plan B. Like the movie is really for him. And we love people (Rob) Huebel and (Paul) Scheer and knew that they were gonna be in it somewhere. We didn't know every single person that specifically and then, Leslie (Bibb), just as soon as she read it, wanted to be in it.

Lennon: She was fine. She was really, really funny and for a lady so pretty, she's so weird.

Lennon: I mean, it was just one of the best experiences. Nobody in the movie has any other agenda. People just had a really fun time improvising, being weird in basically this weird little movie.

Garant: I've never worked with (Rob) Corddry. I've been a fan of his for a long time.

Lennon: Oh my God! He is like my acting hero.

Garant: He's great! Like he takes it so seriously and is just so good. He's the rock. Like he's the one person in the movie who actually kind of makes sense. The audience can really kind of relate to him, 'cause he's reacting the way you really would in this situation. And then, that was great. That was his own kind of take on the character. But it was just a blast. It was really, really fun to work with so many funny people in a situation like that where there were no extra shoots at the monitor, telling people to do it a different way.

Lennon: Right.  I mean, a lot of things happened in the movie for not really any reason other than, "Oh, maybe that'd be funny!" [laughter] So, that's the main agenda of the movie, is just to be amusing. Really.

MRR: You talk about Leslie and Rob and these veteran actors. How many times can you do a scene like this before it just loses its passion?

Lennon: Well, that's an interesting thing about us that I think that we sort of learned on "Reno 911" is we, and this movie really is a representation of it in every way, we would much rather shoot and improvise and be doing scenes than talk about it. And get like, have sort of theoretical... That's one of the things when you're making big studio movies, there's a lot of committees and everything that gets said in a studio movie, for the most part, has been vetted by tons, a lot of people.

Garant: Yeah, tons of people...

Lennon: We'd love for us instead of spending some time talking about a scene, we'll be like, "Why don't we just shoot something and see what happens?"

Garant: Or arguing about whether or not a joke is funny, we'll say, "Well, let's just do it!" If they hate it... If it's funny, great. And if it's not, maybe we'll come up with something else, but we really like to think on our feet. The other thing... Almost everybody in this movie has their own TV show. They've all been in the editing room and edited themselves. So, everybody really knows how to improvise and make it still usable in a movie. Like people know how to reset, and what camera to look at if you're gonna do the same improv again, and how to recreate their improv. In the tight shooting schedule we had for this, the movie would not have been possible without such a group of pros, you know.

MRR: Is there any scenes in the film that you guys would describe as totally your scene or totally the other guy, in terms of your sense of humor?

Lennon: Sense of humor-wise, I mean the whole movie is our sense of humor. There's no arguing that Keegan runs away with it.


Lennon and Garant: Yeah.

Lennon: There's just something that he can do with that character that's hard to describe.

Garant: It's delightful.

Lennon: Yeah.

Garant: It's mean spirited and charming at the same time. He's pretty great.


MRR: I thought he was pretty hilarious. And your guys parts are great as these kind of jackass  action hero priest with a heart of gold. It's pretty funny 'cause I grew up Catholic and it's not quite what I'm used to.

Lennon: It's definitely a very anti-devil movie. I guess, if anything... I was raised Catholic too. Yeah, we very clearly state that the devil is real and he's a d%$#.

Garant: So, we shot the scene that's the Vatican, it's like this beautiful old church in the Garden District in New Orleans. And so, we had to pitch to the old priest who runs the church and kind of oversees it, what we were doing. And Tom pitched it as, he said, "This movie is about those old timing priest that used to like to box, and work out, and chain smoke, like those old tough tough priests." And this old Catholic priest said, "Oh, we could use a lot more of those." [laughter]

MRR: With a movie like this, I watched it, and I thought it's hilarious, I want to ask you guys how do you feel that comedy has progressed since you guys began, in your early days with The State and all that stuff and are the same things still funny?

Lennon: What's interesting, I think we're more confident, certainly than I was starting out when we were in The State and were figuring stuff out, but to me this movie is very much it's own like Porcupine Racetrack and Eating Muppets, two of our early work because in The State, there never was an agenda for what would anybody else like. It was, are we doing something that's different, that's unique, and that makes us laugh? And this movie follows very closely I think, all the rules of the state which were only those. It was never like, "Well, this audience is like this. " We never cared about that. And we still kind of don't.


Garant: Do Tom and I like it? Does the cast like it? And it's done. We don't ask anybody. No more talking about it then, let's just do it. There's also like The State, The State had a very specific tone in that people in the state, their acting was always very earnest. Like nobody, even Blueberry Johnson was very serious. Like everybody was super earnest and nobody were acting like they knew they were funny. People were acting sort of dramatic even if they were doing Porcupine Racetrack or Eating Muppets and that's... I think what all of us do. I think that's what The State has become in all these different directions.

Lennon: Trying to be as serious as possible while stupid things are happening.

Garant: Yeah.


MRR: Well, is there anything that either of you would refuse to write or do in the name of comedy?

Lennon and Garant: Hopefully not, absolutely not.

Lennon: In fact, I've noticed there's a scene that actually got cut from “Hell Baby" we I’m in a swamp where there were alligators that were spotted behind me, at the time, apparently. But I've noticed that if you tell me you're going to film it, I'll do almost anything.

Garant: Almost anything, yeah. If it's on camera...

Lennon: Yeah. I've been in like five car crashes in my life, they're all on camera with Ben driving.

Garant: Yep.


Lennon: Yep. I've been shot in the head with paint balls, I ate a f*&%$%# jar of mayonnaise, I would never walk nude through areas of Los Angeles except on Reno 911, when we did it tons.


Garant: Yeah. It's like that frat boy thing, betting people money to do something. No amount of money could pay me to walk around San Fernando Valley naked, but film it, "I'll do it for scale". What time and where?


MRR: Well, thank you guys so much. “Hell Baby” comes out September 6th. It's such a pleasure talking with you guys and it's just been a pleasure.

Lennon: Thank you man.

Garant: Yes, I got you. Thank you.

MRR: Have a good day guys.

Lennon and Garant: You too.