MOTW: Super Actor, Super Writer, "Super Trooper:" Kevin Heffernan
From chugging maple syrup, to “delousing” with powdered sugar, to giving a disabling “Snoring Panda” massage, the baby-faced Kevin Heffernan has experienced some crazy adventures in his time as a comedy actor, writer and director. The road to his breakthrough hit “Super Troopers” and beyond, however, comes from a much more conventional childhood. His biography tells how he got from suburban West Haven, Conn., to become one of the funniest modern cult comedy icons.
Childhood and Education
If you looked only at his background and family history, Kevin Heffernan was an unlikely comedy star. He grew up in the coastal city of West Haven in 1968. Heffernan's West Haven was a quiet bedroom community and an industrial center, home to a rubber company and Coleco's central factory.
Heffernan's grandfather Gerald was the former major of West Haven. His father, Michael, was a probate judge. His mother, Jane, was the treasurer of West Haven. Despite his relatively ordinary background, all along the way, Heffernan showed comedic talent. According to a 2011 story in the “New Haven Register,” Jane Heffernan said that Kevin had “always been kind of a funny kid.”
Given this traditional background, a career in law made much more sense than the silver screen. That was where he began. Starting first at Fairfield College Preparatory School, he then attended Colgate University, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. He went on to pass the bar examination in both New York and Connecticut. While at Colgate, his career became somewhat derailed by his involvement in Charred Goosebeak, an improv comedy group that is still active at the university. That slight detour eventually led him to a life in acting and film, rather than a life in the courtroom.
Broken Lizard and “Super Troopers”
Out of his experience with Charred Goosebeak, Heffernan became one of the five founding members of Broken Lizard. The others were Heffernan’s classmates Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske. The comedy group started at Colgate and then relocated to New York City to start performing live shows, with the ultimate intention to break into movies.
Broken Lizard’s first offering was 1997’s “Puddle Cruiser,” with Heffernan playing the part of Grogan. The film was seen at the Sundance Film Festival and took the Grand Prize Golden Starfish Award at the Hamptons Film Festivals. It never landed a distributor, however. The team took the film, made for just $160,000, from one college campus to the next on their own. Soon on the heels of “Puddle Cruiser,” Heffernan also contributed as co-writer to the critically acclaimed documentary “Divine Trash" That 1998 film told the story of the “gutter king” of cinema, John Waters.
The big break for Heffernan and Broken Lizard finally came with 2002’s “Super Troopers.” The movie followed five state troopers in Vermont near the Canadian border. These five had more interest in practical jokes than in doing their job. That all changed, however, when their jobs were threatened by budget cuts. To save themselves, they decided to show up the local police department and solve a murder before them.
In addition to co-writing “Super Troopers” along with the other members of Broken Lizard, Heffernan also played Farve, the most straight-laced of the five troopers, who tries to keep the others in line. From interviews, making that movie was a crazy, fun time for Heffernan. It included chugging two bottles of real maple syrup. His co-star Chandrasekhar said that this left them in something of a sugar coma and that later, “evil things came out of you.”
Surprisingly, Heffernan also managed to get his parents involved in the film in roles known only as the “Chicken [obscenity].” In “Super Troopers” Heffernan’s brother Patrick also boosted his career as a grip: a lighting and rigging technician for movies.
Heffernan’s Career Since
While “Super Troopers” cost just $3 million to make, when it was picked up by Fox Searchlight for distribution, it made $23.1 million at the box office. Springboarding off the success, Heffernan has maintained his writing and acting career with credits that include “Club Dread,” “Beerfest” and “The Babymakers.”
The Broken Lizards, including Heffernan, also wrote and acted in the remake of “The Dukes of Hazard.” Heffernan played “Sheev,” but the movie marked a low point in the critical press for Heffernan. In fact, it had a startling number of nominations for “Razzies” for the worst in movies in 2006, taking Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay, to name a few.
Heffernan made his directorial debut in 2009 with “The Slammin’ Salmon,” which was about the owner of a Miami restaurant who owed money to the mob. He held a contest among waiters to make the most money in one night.
With his increased profile, Heffernan has also landed a number of smaller roles in such popular television shows as “How I Met Your Mother,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Arrested Development.”
While Heffernan’s diverted career path denied the world a lawyer, the loss is hardly great, considering his contributions to comedy. Lovers of comedy films gained a hilarious actor and creative talent and a whole series of classic cult comedy.