Thomas Lennon Calls 'Reno 911!' Revival 'Leanest, Meanest Version of the Show'
“First off they’re tight because I’ve definitely had more bread and pasta since the show ended,” the co-creator remarked. “The shorts had to be let out a little bit for sure. Also, when we shot the original episodes of Reno 911! I smoked about two packs of cigarettes a day. My blood stream at the time was probably 85 percent nicotine. Weirdly the shorts still fit a little bit, and I think the reason why is that they are stretchy.”
Our lovable, yet incompetent, officers of the Nevada Sheriff’s Department return to the beat after more than a decade. Its original run lasted six seasons on Comedy Central along with a Reno 911!: Miami movie. The hit series may have gone from a traditional cable format to a short-form presentation on a mobile-on-the-go streaming platform, but its trademark irreverence remains.
Here Lennon gives TV Insider a look at how recruiting the original cast for Season 7 of Reno 911! came to fruition and reflect on his adventures in quarantine like playing Joe Exotic for Stephen Colbert.
There have been whispers about the show returning over the years. Why is now the right time, and why is Quibi the right place?
Thomas Lennon: It’s an idea we’ve flirted with a lot. It’s the show people know me and [other co-creators and co-stars] Ben [Robert Ben Garant] and Keri [Kenney-Silver] for the most. The real problem with getting any kind of Reno reunion to happen is the entire cast got so successful. It was definitely in the classy problems category because so many of the cast have giant shows of their own. Scheduling was always very complicated.
With Quibi, Doug Herzog got us in the door. He was the president of MTV when we did The State. He was the president of Comedy Central when we did Viva Variety. He was the president of Fox when we did the Reno 911! pilot. It was actually just a sketch show that got canceled. So Doug has been our patron of the arts our entire lives. He came asking us to do more Reno 911! for Quibi because the platform was perfect. Most of the episodes are six-and-a-half to eight minutes. It’s like the leanest, meanest version of the show with zero filler. I think the coming 25 episodes on Quibi are probably the best ones we’ve ever done.
Reno 911! is known for pushing the envelope and not being politically correct. Do you feel more freedom on Quibi to explore the topics you want?
Comedy Central never really gave us notes back in the day. Very rarely would they give us a note, and it was almost always a major standards and practices. Something we couldn’t say or something like that. A big conversation coming into the show was how do we do all the things we did on the old show, which was so astonishingly inappropriate. I think you’ll see we really didn’t shy away from anything at all. If you’re offended by Reno 911!, the problem is you and not us. Generally, the things we’re talking about as idiotic as they are, they’re somewhat upbeat. It’s hard to describe, but there isn’t really any dialogue for the show that is written down. No matter what comes out of people’s mouths, that is them saying it for the first time. That’s coming from their worldview and whoever they are. There are no jokes done at a table read ever. I think that's why people like the show, and also why s*** gets in there.
It’s amazing when we see all the familiar faces in the briefing room and these Zoom calls on YouTube. It includes some who were essentially killed off (Deputys James Garcia, Deputy Clementine Johnson and Cherisha Kimball were killed at the Taco Stand accident in season 5). What was it like getting the band back together?
There are certain members of the cast I’d talk to every day or here and there. Being in a comedy group is a lot like being in a band. We broke up the original cast of the show, which I think was a horrible idea. It was just a crazy, emotional time where we made a really bad decision. Since then, I think we’ve all grown a lot actor-wise, emotionally. Right before Christmas we all had dinner at the Village Idiot in Los Angeles, and it was genuinely one of the best times of the last couple of years seeing everyone in one room. Almost everybody has been at batting practice every day doing comedy.
The other thing is there is less trying to guess what would be funny these days. They are all ready to go. I haven’t seen Niecy Nash in a little while. We talk, but she has been in New Orleans making Claws. So the first day I saw her on set at all, she was in the T.T. outfit. We just hugged and were like let’s do this. It was kind of like you just roll out of bed and start doing it again. The other thing about the show is it’s astonishingly uncomplicated. Once you put the outfits on you pretty much know who you are and what you would say.
Speaking of taking on a character, you recently took on the role of Joe Exotic on a recent episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. How did that come about?
Here is a bizarre thing. I’ve only seen one or two of those shows. Dax Shepard, I think had tweeted a picture of himself as Joe Exotic. I kept getting pinged with comments like, “Hey Thomas Lennon is so Joe Exotic-y.” It’s funny because when I look in the mirror I see like a Daniel Craig-type. I think I give off a James Bond vibe. Then someone tells you no, you’re the weird dude with the mullet. I kept getting this, so one day I just woke up and typed up a little sketch. We shot the camera test. The kind of fun thing about a life in sketch comedy I have all the s--- to do Joe Exotic within eight feet of me at the time.
In doing these skits, it’s amazing to see performers like yourself pull it off by just filming from the waist up on iPhones in your house.
This is the real test. See who is amazing in quarantine. On [Saturday Night Live] Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant did this skit about grocery stores. I watched it three times in a row. It’s so amazing. And somehow everything Kenan Thompson did from his house, you can do so much with virtually nothing. That was the funny thing about The State. Shooting sketches in my backyard during quarantine is exactly how we made ourselves, except we were in New York City. We edited it ourselves, shot it ourselves. We’re kind of getting back to that, which is the fun part.
Somehow you’re also finding the time to write novels with your second Ronan Boyle and the Swamp of Certain Death book recently released. Given the success of your young hero, do you plan to adapt this to a movie/TV project?
Something may be in the works. I can’t go beyond that. For the Ronan Boyle series, I was in Ireland where a friend of mine showed me a real shillelagh. It just sparked something in my head. I thought about what if the weapon you had to carry at work was a shillelagh. I think a lot of writers talk about doing a novel. Then 25 years go by, you never have an idea go by that is good for a novel. That was kind of my scenario. I felt like this idea of a little boy who has to police these little folk. It just felt like a natural.
It’s hard to tell if it was written for kids or adults. It’s just wonderfully stupid. I’ve enjoyed writing those, even though it’s a huge task because they are pretty epic compared to writing a Tiger King sketch. [Broadway spoof sketch] “Porcupine Racetrack” was written in about 15 minutes. The novels I’m getting into the realm of something that takes me a year, which is different for a person with a short attention span which I have.
The new Reno 911! episodes are perfect for viewers with short attention spans. How do you feel about people watching this show again all these years later?
It does feel fantastic. The best thing that has happened was I got to show quite a few of the shows to "Weird Al" Yankovic, who is in one of the episodes. I got a nice note from him saying, “Wow, these are among the best Reno 911! episodes you’ve ever done." I think I probably started crying in my kitchen. Any time he says something nice to me I think I always quietly start crying because I’m lucky to know him. If nothing else came from all of this, "Weird" Al told me he liked the new episodes, and I sat in my kitchen crying.
Reno 911!, Premiere, Sunday, May 4, Quibi