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Tom Lennon On Making A ‘Horny Weirdos On A Boat’ Movie With ‘Reno 911! The Hunt For QAnon’

QAnon conspiracy cosplay is front and center in Reno 911! The Hunt For QAnon, the latest chapter of the Reno 911! saga… saga, I like that. It has been 18 years since Tom Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kinney-Silver, and company kicked off their weird meditation on police work (and whatever else has come into their orbit). Now, the former Comedy Central standout turned movie turned Quibi and Roku headliner is heading to Paramount+ for its 2nd film with a focus on tracking down the infamous Q. But according to Lennon, we shouldn’t take this as a political film. It’s more an exploration into the ridiculousness of some of the “larger than life” characters that have filled the news recently and what happens when they run into the gang from the Reno Sherriff’s Department.

We spoke with Lennon about all of that, getting flat out denied in efforts to film on a specific cruise ship, never trying to write what he thinks other people will think is funny, and the nude British people who had a formative effect on him and his career.

What were some of the changes and challenges of doing this versus the season with Quibi? I think when we had talked last time, it was almost sketch-based where this is more of a full narrative story.

I love that. Thank you for saying it’s a full narrative story because that’s definitely a tiny bit true. I feel like whenever we make a movie, which is twice now, there is a pretty solid argument that it really is also a sketch movie. Which in many ways goes back to what the show was always meant to be.

The very weird way that the movie has a plot is Paramount came to us and they said, “Do you want to make a feature-length movie for Paramount+?” We’re like, “Obviously, of course we do.” And then they said, “Great. So it’s called Reno 911! The Hunt for QAnon.” And we’re like, wait a second. Did you just tell us what the title of the movie is? No one does that. You can’t do that, right? Can you? That’s crazy.

Does that come out of a machine? How do they generate a title?

Did one of the manatees bump it by the nose into a tank? There was a big debate between me and Ben [Robert Ben Garant] and Kerri [Kenney-Silver]. It’s like, is that something we could, that’s funny? What are we doing? Can we even… Is there any universe that we could turn Reno 911: The Hunt for QAnon into something that both feels like a kind of satisfying movie and is hilarious? But also, if you know us, we’re not particularly political people in this show. So I think the biggest surprise to all of us, was reverse engineering a movie from a batshit crazy title. I feel like, and obviously, I’m a little close to it, but I feel like it completely worked.

It really does. But I imagine another part of the challenge is just making the fiction more outrageous than the reality.

Right. Which is, you know, we walk a very close line. And one thing that’s great is some of the Q folks that showed up this last year are a little bit larger than life, I think is a good way to put it.

Absolutely, yeah.

And in a weird way, as the Reno characters are also kind of larger than life. I feel like it could have been Reno Vs Q, or it could have been Reno 911! Vs The Muppets, because we all definitely exist in a world where the characters are bigger. You know what I mean?

I would like to see that if we can make that happen.

Hey, let’s see how this one goes, but so far, it seems like it’s going pretty well. So the challenges were… For us, doing this show, it’s always like, what have we not done before, mixed with what are we very good at? Which is sort of like inappropriate stuff. The stuff that’s always my favorite in Reno is usually not the biggest flashiest stuff. It’s like the deputies talking around a table. You’ll hear the weirdest… None of those conversations are ever written. None of them would ever be approved by anyone, ever. But that said, Paramount+… And even this last run that we’ve been doing, which is Quibi, Roku, to Paramount+, no one’s given us any content notes. At all. It’s been really kind of a joy.

The one thing that does frustrate me tremendously is like, I’ll put up the poster for the new movie on Paramount+, and people would be like, “I miss that show.” And then I’d have to say, there are 25 brand new of the best ones we’ve ever done on Roku right now. We didn’t hide them. They’re right there. I weirdly feel like we’ve hit sort of the golden era of Reno 911, between the Quibi shows which, while not that many people saw them, they got four Emmy nominations. We got a fan letter from Steven Spielberg, which was very cool. That was one of the coolest things that ever happened. And then of course it led to doing this new movie. So as much as Quibi seemed like a weird idea at the time, it led to, I think, some pretty cool stuff that’s coming out. Especially some of the Roku episodes, which there definitely are more coming out. I’m not allowed to say when they come out, but there are more.

So as you said, you guys don’t usually get too political.

We do not.

With this stuff (QAnon), it almost feels like it outpaces the word political. It is political by its nature, but also it’s just, there’s a reality versus fantasy sort of thing at play.

I think the only way you could think the movie is really political in some way is if you’re standing like one inch away from it, or if you just look at the title. But in a weird way that… The way that we do everything, is that what it’s actually about? Or is it about a bunch of horny weirdos on a boat? Ultimately we kind of take anything… We reduce everything to its absolute stupidest. We’re like the opposite of the Large Hadron Collider. [Laughs] We just smash shit until it becomes worse and worse and smaller and smaller. And then everything’s just about icky interpersonal relationships and horniness and a bunch of sad weirdos.

What was it that made the boat the right setting?

A lot of times we just kind of work backward. We’re like, how could you possibly make a Q movie work? Well, what if, and I can’t say verbatim this has probably happened, but I think it must have… If due to posts on message boards, Q, or somebody from Q, were to get accused of slander or libel? And sometimes you have to serve papers literally to a physical person for then show up in court. So we’re like, well, that makes just barely enough sense that we could hang a movie off of this. Just barely enough sense. And then we had been talking for a while about doing sort of a Poseidon Adventure type movie that was sort of based on a cruise line that I won’t name, because they would not like it. Because we actually asked if we could film on this really nice cruise line that shall remain unnamed. And they were like, “A million percent, you may not.” We’re like, “Hey, we’re going to do this funny scene where Dangle’s got diarrhea, but he’s also trapped in the water slide. So like, I’m nude in the water slide.” And they’re like, “There’s no universe where you’re doing this on any of our cruise ships.” And we’re like, “Well, wait a second, your cruise ships are closed for COVID and they’re full of viruses. And they’re like, “You would still be the worst thing on our empty cruise ships. No, you may not film on them, you gross, gross weirdos.”

It’s really just an excuse to surround ourselves with people like Kulap Vilaysack, who plays a pretty amazing role. Jay Pichardo, Gary Anthony Williams. I find if you look at most of the Reno films, which is just now two, and a lot of the show, most of the fun is when we are somewhere and people are just yelling at us. If you notice, every single thing… I think in this movie, Kulap, like the second I open my mouth, she slaps me so hard across the face. And I think those are my favorite kind of scenes to play.

Before you go, tell me a little about what’s going on with Ronan?

Ronan Boyle, the book series, the third one is done. The first one made the New York Times bestseller list. The second one has done well. And now Fergal Reilly, who directed a movie called Angry Birds, a great Irish animator, artist, and director is directing the Dreamworks feature. Little spoiler, which is just that, as the Smiths song goes, these things take time. So currently, it’s completely honest to tell you that Ronan Boyle And The Bridge of Riddles, the movie, will come out on Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve, maybe… I think Christmas Eve 2025.

So that’s a ways away.

The first book is dedicated to my son when he was little and now my son will hopefully be able to drive me to the premiere of the film when it comes out, even though he was a tiny child.

Your career is so diverse in terms of the tone of your work, what’s the hierarchy for you?

Well, I think what’s interesting is how much I don’t sort or compartmentalize what I generally do. And that’s gotten some, definitely some… Sometimes in the books, there’s some criticism, oh, like, hey, they’re like, “Hey, these Ronan Boyle books aren’t really for little kids.” And I’m like, “So what? Maybe not.” But when I was a kid, I always enjoyed the things that I was not necessarily invited to, but got to go to. This may go back to a very strange story. Which is when I was seven years old, we were in London. It was 1977 and I was seven. We would always go see plays every night. We saw a lot of plays. They were big theater people. So one night we saw Evita, and then the next night we saw the original production of Equus in London. And there are naked people on stage for like 20 minutes in Equus. And I remember as a kid thinking show business is amazing. I’m going to have something to do with this. But yeah. So I guess I got to see things early that were not always the most appropriate thing. The thing about comedy is once you’re there for a long time… I never divide my stuff for grownups or for kids. I just don’t. There is no difference to me. And I guess it’s because I’m a very immature grownup. Or I was a very mature kid. But I’ve been laughing at the same things.

You’ll find that kids laugh at the same things that you’re laughing at. I think actually some of the biggest misses that you see when people are attempting to do stuff is when they think… The main thing where people fail is they think, “Oh, someone would think that’s funny.” And you can say what you want about my writing career and my career for the most part, I almost never, if it was something I wrote, you’ll never see me trying to guess what someone else thinks is funny. And in the Reno movie, I think it’s a great example of, this is very funny to us. We wouldn’t pander to anybody nor would we really whitewash it. I mean, there’s some weird shit in this movie. But of course in the Reno 911 movie, it makes weirdly perfect sense.

‘Reno 911! The Hunt For QAnon’ is available to stream on Paramount+ and there are additional, recent episodes of ‘Reno 911!’ on Roku. Here’s an exclusive clip from the film.