Ben Garant (Reno 911, The State)

Interviews | By on Feb 24th, 2005

How did Reno 911 come about?
After Viva Variety, FOX wanted us to do a live, prime time sketch show. We cast it, (with our current Reno Cast, minus Wendi), and were four weeks from filming, when FOX changed their mind, and didn’t want a live sketch show any more. We still had $500,000, and four weeks, so we came up with Reno (a sketch show shot like Cops.) As we started improv-ing, though, the characters of the cops turned out to be more interesting than the preps. So, it sort of became a soap-opera. Fox passed, two years later, Comedy Central bought it.

Is it easier writing for a character, knowing that you’ll be playing that character?
We don’t really write stuff. It is easier, when you come up with a joke, to fill it out, though — if you know what the character’s reaction is going to be. Jokes is easy. Coming up with decent, likeable characters is hard — especially on paper.

Do you think a parody of COPS type shows are a little too late? Maybe not as relevant anymore?
I think that docu-TV is such a common format, that I’m surprised we were the first ones to do a show like this. The idea seems like just a great, obvious, jumping off point for kinda-out there, kinda grounded sitcomedy.

The State has become something of a cult classic, oddly enough appealing to people who otherwise hate MTV and anything else on it. How does it feel to still have people come to you and talk about it?
I’m glad people liked the State, It seems like it’s much more popular now, than when it was on. I guess that’s always the case, in shows that don’t last too long. We had a lot of fun doing the State,. We argued most of the time, and it really help you figure out your opinions about comedy. What you think, and why. We had to articulate ourselves all day, every day — to ten other equally passionate people who usually disagreed with your point.

Was it difficult working with MTV? Were there any skits they nixed?
MTV was a great place to work. We couldn’t shoot guns, but other than that — it was pretty much whatever we wanna do.

Do you still keep in touch with folks from The State? Any future collaborations down the road?
Got very drunk with Ken and Joe this weekend and watched the Brood. Just like old times. Tom and I write movies together. I see everyone while they’re in town.

Is there any hope The State reruns will air on Comedy Central? Or get released on DVD?
I personally doubt they will ever be aired again, or come out on DVD. MTV doesn’t have the rights to clear the music, and almost every Sketch had a top 10, 95 hit in it. They could do sound alikes — but that would be totally lame. Pants without Cannonball by the Breeders just isn’t Pants.

I’m an unemployed person that wants to get into comedy, perhaps do a sketch comedy show like the State or Kids In The Hall, How would I go about starting a show?
Work hard, all the time. Find funny people who you trust to tell you when you’re not funny. And when you are funny. Be really hard on each other. And work hard, all the time. Rent small performance spaces, do shows, invite as many people as you can. Work hard. Get funnier. Throw out EVERYTHING that doesn’t KILL your audience. If you’re good, eventually you’ll get a following. If you do, then people will come to you with opportunities. There is no right way. There is no wrong way. Cable, public access, commercials, public performances. DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN. Work hard. Get funnier. And in the end — you’ll get big, and get picked apart by scavengers.

Viva Variety was an interesting show but ended up not doing well. Do you think American audiences just weren’t interested in a mock European-style reality show?
It’s funny. Viva lasted way longer than The State did. It had way more viewers, almost twice as many. I meet just as many Viva fans as State fans. They’re just older, and don’t start Websites. If I could do one of the shows again, I’d definitely do Viva. We had the fucking Bosstones, on man. Shonen Knife, Pizzacato %. Adam Fuckin’ West. I got drunk with Fishbone. It was a blast. Waking up at 5 to work with Showalter, or waking up at 5 to work with the Swimsuit Squad. Very easy decision.

Your writing has really matured, instead of silly, ridiculous sketches a la The State or Viva Variety, Reno 911 goes for a more Christopher Guest, pitch-perfect parody of COPS shows, so the humor is there for those who want it, rather than being forced.
Yes.

Would David Cross be up for a cameo on Reno 911 as Ronnie Dobbs?
I love David Cross. He’s real funny, and I hope we can get him to do Reno.

Is it fun pretending to beat up people on the show?
…Pretend?

Generally this site deals with mostly music, so what kind of music do you like? Were you a gutter punk growing up?
I don’t know what “gutter” punk means. Is that some term the Kids use? I used to listen to The Cramps, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Dead Kennedy’s, Suicidal Tendencies… I grew up in east Tennessee, so I listened to whatever I could find. The Cramps came to Knoxville, but not many other bands did. Now… I listen to Tom Waits. Elvis. Pizzacato 5, Smokie and Hiho…

Who’s more punk rock: Arnold Schwarzenegger or Gary Coleman?
Arnold. He’s the fuckin’ Terminator man. The fucking machines are taking over.

Would you write an American Young Ones series, given the chance?
You can’t do the Young Ones without Rick and Viv, man. Without the accents, and Margaret Thatcher…. It don’t work.

I heard you’re writing a film adaptation of Starsky & Hutch. Why Starsky & Hutch?
Have you seen Starsky and Hutch recently. Ben Stiller looks so mush like Starsky, that it’s kind of spooky. Todd Philips is a funny director, That movie’s gonna be good.

Any more writing or acting gigs in the works?
I don’t really act. (as you know, from watching Reno, and the State.) Tom and I have a movie that’s filming right now, TAXI, a remake of a Luc Besson movie. It’s got Queen Latifa and Jimmy Fallen. It’s gonna rock. We’re writing a movie with The Rock. We’re writing The Incredible Shrinking Man, for Imagine, with Eddie Murphy.

Check out Reno 911, Wedsnesdays at 10:30pm on Comedy Central. Also check out Carlos Alazraqui’s interview here.

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