The sketch comedy troupe Broken Lizard has built, if not an empire, certainly a successful mini-chain around its laid-back style of cult comedy. None of their movies have grossed more than the minor hit Beerfest (which only narrowly eclipsed the minor hit Super Troopers, probably their best-known film), but these low-cost enterprises do well on DVD and cable, and the group has managed to stay together, working steadily for the past decade or so, sometimes moonlighting in other comedies.
The last Broken Lizard film, the agreeably amusing Slammin’ Salmon, didn’t make it to as many theaters as the likes of Club Dread or Beerfest, so it makes sense that the boys, who met doing comedy and theater at Colgate University, would take a show directly to their fans with a comedy tour. A show from this tour has been captured with Broken Lizard Stands Up, a Comedy Central special now on DVD in an extended, uncensored format.
In keeping with their status as a collective rather than a showcase, each member of Broken Lizard gets to do ten- or 15-minutes of solo stand-up material, buffered by a few sketches and some group storytelling. As in their movies, no single member stands out as vastly superior to the rest. Unlike their movies, no one comes off as particularly funny, either; the division of labor makes even more sense when you realize that for the most part, the Broken Lizard guys are more or less equally unequipped for stand-up.
Opener Steve Lemme, for example, is an easygoing storyteller, but his jokes themselves just aren’t very strong, with a poky, clunky rhythm. Erik Stolhanske talks about his attempts to get his wife pregnant, but doesn’t shape the material into a routine; he might as well be telling a story at a bar, only without any amusing interjections or questions from his friends. Jay Chandrasekhar comes closest to stand-up that actually seems thought up and practiced; he has a weird little sequence about his routine for hiding pot during air travel, actually riffing on his life rather than recounting it.
But for the most part, the slapdash silliness of their movies turns downright lazy on stage. The Lizards talk a lot about their college days and have obvious college-age appeal, so it makes sense that they’d return to their live-performance roots. That’s also why, in turn, it’s surprising to find their energy levels middling; their routines seem complacent, even a little canned. Whittled down to 40-minutes for television, this all might come off a little breezier; at near feature length, the enjoyment depends on the viewer’s affection for the guys and their irreverent-frat vibe—and as a fan, I can say even that is not enough.
In fact, even the best moments here would be better relegated to some kind of Broken Lizard DVD collection. There are some outtakes and extras on the DVD, like a live sketch with their Super Troopers characters, but really, the whole thing feels like extras. Kevin Heffernan’s stand-up focuses only on preparation for and the aftermath of his nude scene in Super Troopers; like the other routines, it doesn’t really have jokes, per se, but it does offer an engaging look into the insecurities of comic actors afraid to look reticent in front of their colleagues.
Heffernan’s stand-up really sounds like an extended Q&A riff, and when the Lizards sit down together to talk about how they met in college, that audience-question feeling takes over (even without actual audience questions) and compensates for some of the previous flatness. The anecdotal tone and mild amusement remain, but freed from stand-up’s expectation of jokes or observations or payoffs, the group feels looser and funnier—and cohesive again after an hour of middling fragments. It turns out that Broken Lizard is better at non-performing together than at showing off apart.