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Tom Lennon On The ‘Reno 911!’ Holiday Special, Dildo Stores, And Getting Distracted By Robin Williams

Tis the season for using the word tis a lot and also trying to feel something by watching endless holiday movies and specials, be they ones that feature talking trees, claymation squirrels, or saccharine sweet meet-cutes. But hark, the herald Terry sings, it’s an entirely different kind of holiday special with Reno 911!: It’s A Wonderful Heist (premiering Saturday at 8PM on Comedy Central), a sorta play on the Frank Capra classic It’s A Wonderful Life (complete with Nick Swardson’s rollerskating Terry as a Christmas angel) that quickly descends into typically hilarious and thunderously inappropriate Reno 911! chaos. All the usual favorites are involved with a ton of guest spots and cameos as Dangle and company try to thwart a theft at a local mall while dealing with a barrage of weirdos including the proprietors of a Kenny Rogers museum. It is, in a word, fantastic. Further proof that Tom Lennon, Niecy Nash, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Cedric Yarbrough, and company refuse to fade nearly 20 years after the first episode.

As we are wont to do when a new Reno project drops, we spoke with Lennon about the new special, a previous Christmas Special from his cult favorite show Viva Variety, macabre tributes to superfan Kenny Rogers, why there are so many dildo stores in Reno, and getting distracted by Robin Williams.

I would like to steal The State poster that you have in the background there.

That’s an original State poster.

I’m going to rob you of that, just so you know. Get your alarms set and everything.

It would be a Wonderful Heist.

It’d be a great heist, just like…

They plugged the movie as they did banter!

[Laughs] So, last night I was doing research and I stumbled upon…

You were doing research on me?

Well, the show and stuff. Not searching for your social security number or anything like that.

You’re doing a Steele dossier on me. I get it. I know how this goes.

Well, there is a little bit of a pee-tape situation in this (movie).

There’s a lot of pee tape.

Isn’t there? But I was watching the Viva Variety Christmas episode, which is hard to find.

I have absolutely no recollection of that. Are you serious? We did a Christmas episode on Viva Variety?

Yeah. First or second episode of season 2. And you guys had Duran Duran on. It was great. I want you to know, you actually came up with flavored nicotine gum on the show, Lemon Lua, so I think you guys actually created vaping. So someone owes you a check and a lawsuit.

When we did Viva Variety, Kerri and I were both chain smokers. We smoked so many cigarettes. So whenever we’re doing bits, and we could smoke in the studio where we did Viva Variety. So whenever we were doing commercials, whenever you’re seeing us smoking we’re definitely really smoking tons of cigarettes. Yeah, that was in a studio called Metropolis in New York that’s at 106th and Park Avenue. It was really cool. We had so many great bands, many of whom we kind of stayed friends with, which was really cool.

I saw you’re doing some kind of reunion thing?

There is, January in San Francisco, there is a Viva Variety 25th. It’s going to be a cool show. The last time we did a Viva reunion show, it was not very good. And can I tell you why?


Robin Williams came to hang out backstage. And that was the only time that we were going to rehearse, was that time we were backstage. So because Robin Williams showed up, we just hung around with Robin Williams and we didn’t work on the show very hard. Just because he’s fun to pay attention to. So then I think the show was notably not as good because he was there, and we didn’t really work on it because of him.

I think it’s understandable.


So, that was a Christmas episode. I know you guys have done some Christmas stuff before with Reno 911. What is it about just the season that just kind of lends itself to the show and what sparked the want to do this special?

The main thing is that we wanted to find a way to have Nick Swardson as Terry play a pretty significant role. We’re like, “A Christmas special really has to have Terry Bernadino in it.” So just the fun of what if what Clarence is to Jimmy Stewart, Terry is to Lieutenant Dangle? That was really just the whole thing. And then it was actually fun. It’s always fun to see when the Reno characters get to do something other than be cops just for a second. So to see that Wiegel’s having a great life. Everybody’s having amazing lives without Dangle, but they’re having amazing lives with tiny little dreams. Like Jones is just running a fondue restaurant. Kimball’s life goal is that she owns a snake. Everybody’s just got real small dreams that came true.

There are so many elements to this that feel just perfect. I don’t want to give too much away, but the Kenny Rogers Museum and the bus with Kerri is so great.

Thanks for watching it. It’s always nice to talk to people who’ve actually seen the movie. I’m so proud of this movie. When you tell people there’s a Kenny Rogers Body Worlds exhibit, that was the thing that really makes it a Reno 911 thing. That came up because Kenny Rogers was a huge Reno 911 fan, and he mentioned us in TV Guide. And then after he said that we were his favorite show, we kind of reached out to him and then he came on the show a couple of times. In fact, there’s an episode, if you remember, Patton Oswalt kills Kenny Rogers in an episode of Reno 911. And he walks up to him and he says, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” And then shot Kenny Rogers in a great episode.

I don’t know if you’re being real with me or not right now.

I’m being totally real with you.

I will confess that I’m drawing a blank and will have to look that up.

So many Reno 911s that we have to now look up to see what we’ve done before.

It’s been a while. You guys have a bit of a track record.

There are 125 of them. So yeah.

It’s funny, the first thing I ever published was, I went to the Bodies thing in New York forever ago and was appalled by it and wrote a thing. That’s the first thing I ever published. And so this is a full circle moment here. I think it’s a career. I’m going to wrap it here.

We’ve been trying to get references into the Body Worlds exhibit forever because it’s the most macabre thing that exists.

(Human bodies) just like playing tennis.

And everybody just acts like it’s okay. We brought in these corpses from China, and we’re watching them play volleyball.

You guys spend a lot of time at a mall in this one. It seems like there are a lot of dildo stores in that mall (in addition to the Rogers museum). Why are dildo stores recession-proof?

(Laughs) Yeah, Nick Swardson’s roller skating and I’m running down the middle of the mall next to him, and we’re screaming out “Merry Christmas.” It’s supposed to be like “Merry Christmas, you old building and loan.” And I think we had some ideas of names, but then we just kept riffing on what disgusting things would be in the mall. So nine of them are dildo shops. Several of them are weed stores.

We’re a long way from Things Remembered, aren’t we?

(Laughs) In the mall by my hometown, there was Things Remembered that then was empty for a long time. So there was just the hanging sign that said Things Remembered at an empty store. And I was like, “This is absolutely a Stephen King thing waiting to happen here.”

I have to ask, the Ricki Lake reference?

Ricki Lake made a movie. Is it called The Business of Being Born? It’s her documentary about home birthing. So this is Dangle. I give a great speech about Christmas and that Jesus was born in a manger because basically, it’s like the booking apps. Like they got to Bethlehem and they just got fucked because they didn’t have a reservation for them. And then I give a really long, angry speech about “This is why we don’t use the booking apps, because they’re not reliable.” And then I sort of dovetailed into Ricki Lake’s movie, The Business of Being Born. And I’m also in a leather diaper the whole time I give that speech.

You sure are.

It makes a lot of sense.

It does. It all works. It really does.

On paper, it doesn’t make sense, but in the movie, it also doesn’t make sense.

‘Reno 911! – It’s A Wonderful Heist’ premieres Saturday December 3 at 8PM ET on Comedy Central