Home TVInterviews Interview: Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Cedric Yarbrough

Interview: Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Cedric Yarbrough

by Charles Trapunski

The idea of a participating in a “Morning Briefing” with the creators (along with Kerri Kenney-Silver) and stars of Reno 911!, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Cedric Yarbrough, sounded like a cool idea. We figured that like on the series, a Zoom chat featuring Brief Take along with an extremely select group of media outlets would be an extremely fun way to pass the time. But something very surprising happened, as we watched and listened to Lennon, Garant and Yarbrough talk about what the seventh season of this series debuting on Quibi means to them, and we actually got a little sentimental hearing three skilled pros handling themselves in this Zoom space.

The following is condensed and edited from a Zoom video conference call with Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Cedric Yarbrough of Reno 911!  

Brief Take: Thomas and Ben, you’ve obviously known each other for a while, and you have known Cedric since the show first started. Yet on your first episode you introduce a new character, played by Paul Walter Hauser. What’s the process been like of new people understanding the shorthand of the series and tell me about working with Paul in particular?

Robert Ben Garant: I’ll start. With him, he’s a genius, well he was so good! And he’s a fan of the show and he kind of knew who we were and what to expect, but that guy, that guy’s a stone cold genius. He’s so funny. Like we set him in front of the station and one at a time, walked up to him without really any plan at all and he…man, he was funny. He’s…Cedric, you did the first one with him, right?

Cedric Yarbrough: Yeah, I did the first one with him and he’s just brilliant. He’s ready to go. But the thing about the show now is that we kind of have a brand. So with guest stars that come in, they know what to expect, they get the tone of the show, it’s not like what we did 17 years ago when we were all figuring it out. Now we already kind of have a formula and to be able to plug in great people that we like already and Tom, Ben and Kerry who do a great job of auditioning people and finding people that can hang. There haven’t been too many times when I…I don’t remember many times in which I was like: “Whoa, that person didn’t work out at all“.

RBG: No, it’s been a while. And it didn’t happen at all this year.

Thomas Lennon: It never happened this season, no, and I think that what we sort of recognize when people join us, because Ben and I actually met August of 1988.

BT: Wow.

TL: [chuckles] So it has been a little bit. But I think that when people come to us, like Paul for example, what we really want to see is just: “Are you as batshit crazy committed as we are?”. And I think that [pauses] there is a nice thing about us, which is that the characters are all absolutely the dumbest people in the world. But they’re also very, very sincere. So I thought that Paul as Jeffy [chuckles] brought a really great…weirdly Paul comes in and suddenly he’s the smartest person in the room in the Sheriff’s Department.

RBG: [laughs]

TL: Suddenly we have one functional adjunct member in Paul Walter Hauser, yeah.

RBG: [laughs]

CY: It’s true, he’s so on it and he’s so bright. And he just made me look good.

RBG: And amongst us, he was the alpha in like every way.

[All laugh]

RBG: Like the smartest and the best-looking and the most confident.

TL: Like every scene into which he comes we let him instantly take charge, which is fun.

CY: And it’s also great because Paul brings such a different energy than a lot of our other guest stars. It’s a different thing and you can breathe and you can relax and he’s the guy, like opposed to what we usually do, which is kind of let them run around and we do that for them. And we kind of make sure that they stay within the parameters, and with Paul, it was very much reversed and he was, we were all weirdos.

RBG: [laughs]

CY: And he just…

TL: Yup. Yup.

How was it picking up the characters again?

TL: We actually do the characters a fair amount, but it was really a weirdness when we were all there together for the first time. It felt pretty amazing. The fun thing about this season is that everybody got really good at Reno 911!, then we took 11 years off where everybody got really really good at their own shows [chuckles], so by the time people came back, it almost had an Avengers vibe of improvisation. It was like, “Wow! everybody has gotten so sharp.” The first time I saw Niecy (Nash) this year, because the schedule was so hard, she was dressed up as T.T., Niecy walked up to me on the streets in plain view while I was in those shorts and she had those big, almost like pendulous boots and we hugged and were like: “Alright, let’s do one of these”. We didn’t really think too hard, and that is something that you can probably tell by the episodes.

RBG: I was nervous the night before, the week before, just because we didn’t have that long of a schedule and I was really worried that it would take us about a week to warm up. The first piece that we shot was Dave Holmes and Wendi McLendon-Covey and Kerri Kenney-Silver and as soon as they opened their mouths, they were great! As soon as they opened their mouths, I was totally not nervous anymore. They just hit the ground running so hard and like every word out of Wendi’s mouth was just fucking hilarious and perfect. I was super, super nervous, and then when we started, I was like: “Oh! this is going to be so easy”. And it was, it was so easy.

CY: I’ll say that it was a little emotional for me just because I gained 20-30 pounds. [laughs] Trying to put on that costume again? Shit, man.

TL: But if you look at it by years, that’s not very much weight, considering how long it’s been. [laughs] 15 years!

CY: It’s a pound a year. I’ve just enjoyed myself these last 11 years, man.

[TL and RBG both laughing]

CY: It’s different when you’re rich and now you can eat whatever you want, oh my God!  It’s so awesome. But [chuckles] Tom nailed it that it is like we’re like Super Friends coming together. We’re all bringing our weird powers and we’ve all had great life experiences and now we’re all bringing them to this show that we’ve loved. I was a little scared, could we capture lightning in a bottle again? And yeah! We can, you know? We all still really dig hanging out and being weird together and trying to crack each other up.

What do you think of the show in how much the world has changed in the interim since you last did the show?

TL: I’ll take a crack at this first. Definitely when we sat in the writers’ room, we had conversations about “How do we stay true to what did the show used to be?”, which was wildly inappropriate a lot of the time, and I think that, weirdly, we do address a lot of things that are going on, but sometimes you may not even notice because they’re generally pretty upbeat. We do have a piece about body cams on cops, we have pieces about how to arrest kids that are swimming in a pool [chuckles], there’s weirdly lots of social stuff addressed. We opened with the Second Amendment gun show, so I feel like, weirdly, we address a lot of social topics but with the absolute dumbest coating on all of them. [chuckles] I don’t think it’s a preachy show in any way, but my character hasn’t changed at all, my character’s just Viggo Mortensen’s outfit from G.I. Jane and Al Gore’s voice, so…

RBG: Like Tom was saying, the subject matter is dark. It’s murder, it’s meth, and I threw a cat into a fucking air conditioner. But for that it’s so light, it’s really upbeat. But we’ve talked about it, there have been so many waves in the time since we’ve been off the air of anti-police sentiment, there have been like three waves of it. The cellphone footage and the Black Lives Matter and all of this stuff has happened and we knew we couldn’t just ignore that, but we also knew we couldn’t be preachy or grim. So we went through and really tried to do material about crazy white people calling 911 because they saw a black guy, you know what I mean?

TL: We do that sketch like six or eight times. [laughs] There’s just endless shitty white people this season.

RBG: And we’re still in our own little bubble of stupid, but they’re definitely in 2020. They’re definitely now. And I think that we tried to walk on the fence between it being fun and silly, but also we can’t ignore it and pretend that it’s 2005 still.

CY: Just speaking as one of the actors that is a person of colour, I don’t necessarily worry about are we going to be able to handle a given topic in the right way, but I do make sure that we’re responsible. If I felt like anything was ever odd or weird or was coming at it a crazy way that I didn’t think we could do this at all, I would pipe up and say something. That’s one of the great things of working with Tom, Ben and Kerri and the rest of the cast is that we can talk about something that I don’t feel comfortable about doing, we can talk about it and say it. But the great thing about this show is that everyone gets it, whether we’re talking about homosexuality, whether we’re talking about race, whether we’re talking about women’s issues, everyone gets a chance of being offended [laughs], if they choose to be. But for all of us, we’re all just weird on the show, so it’s an example of looking at our humanity and being able to laugh at it.

Did this current landscape impact the production in any way?

RBG: We had edited 16 of the 25 episodes. Wednesday, before this started, we were discussing whether or not to have the wrap party. And we took it…it feels like a different world, it was 40 days ago. We took it…

CY: Oh my God! Yeah.

RBG: We took a show of hands: “Who feels comfortable having a wrap party?” And half the people did and half the people didn’t. We’re like: “Well, maybe let’s not have the wrap party”. And then Thursday was the last day anybody went into work that next day, and so Friday we sent Avid’s editing equipment home with our three editors and did the rest of it via Zoom. But we’re fuckin’ lucky. We wrapped.

TL: We got very, very lucky. Everything was completely in the can, we were almost halfway done with episodes. It’s amazing, when Ben and I started at NYU, the thing that you would need to edit a tv show was the size of an upright piano. [laughs] And we’re so lucky with the technology and people are now just finishing these episodes in their living rooms.

CY: It does suck because we never got to wrap the show. We never got to: “Okay, job well done”. Hopefully the audiences will enjoy the show because we had a fucking ball doing this. It was easier somehow, I don’t know if it felt that way to you guys.

RBG: By quite a bit, yeah.

CY: Just easier and more fun, and it would have been nice to put a little bow on it, but hopefully you’ll dig it, it’s good.

RBG: Yeah, it was so much fun. It was easier and more fun than it has ever been. It was just such a good time.

How does it feel having worked together for this long and still make this series?

RBG: When we met Cedric, we were casting a sketch show.

TL: Oh my God!

RBG: And we saw a VHS tape of him doing a sketch in Minnesota called the sexual harassment dance and it was set to like this groovy jazz. And it was him dancing around and we fell in love!

TL: And then in person, he came in and he put a little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on his head and he sang [high-pitched singing] and we all instantly shit our pants and said: “Let’s be best friends with this guy”, and then we were!

RBG: Yeah! We said: “Fuck! He gets it, this guy gets it”.

TL: Yup! [laughs] This guy gets it, this guy with a Peanut Butter Cup on his head gets it.

CY: I had a VHS tape, put it in an envelope, I hoped these guys would watch it, and they did. It was very, very lucky for me that these guys gave me a chance to come in and do some weird shit for them. And I had on like a Baby Gap vest.

TL: [laughs loudly] I forgot about that.

CY: Part of what I did is grow up watching these guys on The State, and then it was Reno. And now people come up to me and tell me that they’ve grown up on Reno 911! and that has shaped my comedy sense, that I’ve been part of a show that has shaped people and how they deem things funnier. And that’s so damn fucking cool. It really is, it’s really, really fucking cool.

The Reno 911! revival series will debut its seventh season on May 4th. Three episodes will premiere on launch day, with all new episodes launching weekdays in the app. 

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Brief Take