Jay Chandrasekhar has been making America laugh since his theatrical film debut, Super Troopers, became a cult classic and embedded his comedy troupe, Broken Lizard, in the hearts of comedy nerds and stoners everywhere.
In addition to directing the classic, Chandrasekhar has also helmed the director’s chair for the goofball comedies Dukes of Hazzard (2005) and Beerfest. The comedy writer/director/performer is always keeping busy with new TV and film projects, including drafting scripts for the much-rumored and much-anticipated Super Troopers 2 and Potfest.
None of this has gotten in the way of Chandrasekhar’s stand-up comedy. He has transitioned from film to stand-up so often that it’s as if the two professions have become one. Whether acting on-screen or performing his pieces live, Chandrasekhar sticks to what he knows, and that’s comedy. Join Chandrasekhar on Wednesday, June 26, when he will be showcasing his on-stage chops for “a night of stand-up and stories” at the Scottish Rite Theater in Austin.
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For people who may not know you, can you describe yourself in three words?
Jay Chandrasekhar: Fresh, lean, American.
From where do you usually draw your material? What are some things that inspire a joke?
Chandrasekhar: You know, I suppose the reality is they kind of just come to you. You go through your real regular life. A lot of times weird things will happen. I was at a … this tennis club, right? And I was at the urinal and I was, you know, taking a piss, and this 10-year-old boy walks up to me while I’m taking a piss and he says, ‘Do you work here?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, do you play tennis?’ You know, I have my towel on and there’s this 10-year-old boy and I’m like, Gah, this is really wrong. And I said, you know, ‘Yeah, I do play tennis,’ and he goes, ‘Are you the champion of the club?’ and I said, ‘No.’ He goes, ‘Are you the champion of the world?’ and I was like, “I gotta go.”
You know most guys have moments. You know they happen to everybody, right? But you just have to be able to take those certain kinds of things and stick them into a file for stand-up and figure out a way to sort of give them context for the audience. Every show that I think of, I either put into a stand-up act or maybe into Super Troopers 2 or Potfest or whatever. You sort of have to find the right spot for whatever joke occurs.
Whenever you write for stand-up or for your films, what is more important, coming up with a solid joke or telling a relatable story that happens to be funny?
Chandrasekhar: I think ultimately what you need is to fit your jokes into a flow that’s going to last an hour and 10 minutes. I think the best stand-ups have chosen a kinda attitude or maybe a character. I’m sure Seinfeld is not that curious about everything, but that’s his character you know? And so he funnels all of his jokes sort of through that character. Chris Rock, I know for a fact is not, as you know, loud. He’s actually a quieter kind of guy. But you know, you funnel through that sort of idea. I tend to tell stories and some of them are stories about the movies and some of them are straight stories that have happened to me. I try to fit more of the “joke type” jokes into the stories. Some of the stories I tell are totally fraudulent, but I try to make them seem real and then at the end you realize, no, that’s not true.
You mentioned that Chris Rock has a totally different personality compared to his on-screen and comedy acts. Would you say that’s how you are whenever you’re performing compared to your personality?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, but it’s just like a much more cocky, confident, hyper version of myself.
If you had to choose between on-screen comedy or stand-up comedy, which one would you choose?
Chandrasekhar: I have to say being a stand-up comic is so fantastic because you can just write a joke in a car on the way to the club and then walk up and just do it. You know, there’s no requirement to raise 10 million dollars to shoot this joke, which often happens with film. You often have to write a lengthy script and notes with a lot of people, and you have to try to raise money and hire a crew; shoot it and then if you get it out, promote it. There’s all this stuff you have to do making a movie that…. Stand-up is just a better delivery for jokes. But on the flip side, leaving them [jokes] on-screen they sort of last a long time. You know like this “meow” joke. Every day, someone says meow to me. God, what do you choose? I think ultimately stand-up is probably…. Nah, nah. I can’t choose.
Is comedy something that comes naturally to you or is it something that you have to work at?
Chandrasekhar: I think that you are kind of either funny or you’re not, and then whether you can sort of find your voice and find what it is about you that other people find funny. Then, be consistent with that. Like when you see Will Ferrell do something, he’s consistently him. He may do different kinds of jokes, but he’s always like… ‘Yeah, that’s him.’ You know? When you see some people who are a little bit all over the place, those people tend not to last. They’re super broad in movies. You kind of have to, in a weird way, pick a style and stick to it.
What do you think is the best thing about being a comedian?
Chandrasekhar: Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but if you think of an idea, as a comic you can find your way to talk about it. You can find jokes. As a writer, you can just write about it. It’s a way to sort of get out your frustrations. You’re allowed to talk about whatever you want to. You gotta make it funny, obviously, but I really like that. It’s like you’re an entertainment philosopher, you know? You get to speak about anything, as long as it’s entertaining, and you can probably get away with it.
You’ve been pretty busy with directing lately and now you’re touring for your stand-up show. What is the transition like from on-screen to stand-up?
Chandrasekhar: I think the majority of people who come to see me have probably seen a film I’ve done on-screen. So because they know me through that, and that relationship with me through the movies, they want to hear about the movies to some degree. So I want to be aware of that and not just do straight up stand-up stuff. In some ways, they’re coming to see my personality, like, “Who is the guy who directed Super Troopers and Beerfest?” Like, ‘What is that guy like?’ And so you’ll hear stories about Beerfest and Super Troopers, and all of these things. And I’ll be sliding my jokes in-between. I think a show works best when you give people what they’re looking for. You can be a different version of what they’re looking for.
Who are some actors you would like to work with that you haven’t been able to?
Chandrasekhar: Let’s see … Of course Bill Murray, Sean Penn, Emma Watson. I just like her. I don’t know, I’ve kind of worked with a lot of different people through television. You know like when I did Arrested Development it was fun to work with Jeffrey Tambor and [Jason] Bateman and Will Arnett. It’s fun to work with these guys again and again. Like Will Arnett, I’ve worked with on a lot of different shows. I mean I have heroes of course like to work with. Chevy Chase. But you know, maybe it’s not always good to meet your heroes.
Would you say there are advantages to working with the same people?
Chandrasekhar: Yeah! It’s fun to do someone’s show over and over again because you get to be comfortable with them. You try more interesting things. Nobody wants to re-do what they’ve done. So it’s fun to kind of try new stuff. The more you get to know them, the more comfortable you are.
So you’re touring Texas. What is your opinion about Austin?
Chandrasekhar: Austin. I always say I wish I could live in Austin. I wish Texas would get a better a tax subsidy for shooting films. It’s just a successful state. You know, really successful states don’t really give you breaks, typically. I love Texas. I love that everybody there seems to be able to tell a great story. I also love how cocky Texans are about their city. It’s the way Chicago is. You know, Chicagoans feel bad for people who don’t live in Chicago or they can’t understand why anyone would move away, and Texas has that same attitude.
Chandrasekhar is performing in Austin on June 26 at the Scottish Rite Theater. Watch a clip of a Broken Lizard performance below.