By Leah Sobon
YOU PROBABLY RECOGNIZE STEVE LEMME FROM THE MEGA SUCCESSFUL “SUPER TROOPERS” MOVIES AND THE 90S COMEDY “PUDDLE CRUISER”. EVEN THOUGH HE’S NEVER SET FOOT IN A FIRE ACADEMY, HE HAS BECOME THE FACE OF FIREFIGHTING FOR VIEWERS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA.
Lemme (along with Kevin Heffernan) is the creator, executive producer, showrunner, head writer, lead actor, director and main character Captain Penisi in the firefighting comedy “Tacoma FD”. Battling fires is the focus, but the station hijinks are what makes this hot series a must-watch, not only for firefighters, but also for anyone looking for a good laugh. Steve is a huge supporter of firefighters and had lots to share about his passion for “Tacoma FD” during his conversation with CRACKYL digital editor Leah Sobon. If there was ever a question about Lemme’s passion for his projects, rest assured – there is no one better suited for this role.
So how did Lemme end up in another role that required a mustache and a witty, sarcastic, and at times, edgy sense of humor? The quick answer is a deep respect for first responders, and in this case, firefighters specifically. As Lemme explains, “The firefighters are a catch-all. The cops handle crime and the firefighters handle everything else. They’re just an amazing group of people, given some of the horrible things they have to deal with. And while cops are catching some heat right now, nobody dislikes firefighters.”
The team members from “Broken Lizard” (creators of “Tacoma FD”) go back more than three decades, but it’s the relationship between Steve Lemme and co-producer Kevin Heffernan that makes this comedy such a hit.
NOBODY DISLIKES FIREFIGHTERS.
GABRIEL HOGAN, STEVE LEMME, KEVIN HEFFERNAN AND EUGENE CORDERO ENJOYING SOME LAUGHS BETWEEN SCENES.
“The best friends I ever had were the ones I was forced to spend time with. The relationship Kevin and I have is complex in that we have known each other for 30 years. I have seen his ass crack a million times. He thinks I chew gum loudly. I think he eats and drinks loudly. He thinks I’m too concerned with looking and smelling good. I hate that he won’t moisturize. He can’t stand it when I’m crass. It annoys me that he thinks I’m crass while he’s writing fart jokes into every script. He gets mad that I get mad about fart jokes and then write sexual innuendo jokes. He thinks sex is gross. I’m romantic. He only shows affection to his wife at his parties if he’s gotten enough compliments on the burgers he’s grilled; only then will he kiss his wife. So you see, a lot of our material is our personal relationship. We are great friends and we are using this show as therapy.”
The seasoned dynamics between Lemme and Heffernan have carried the show to its third season, scheduled to air this fall.
Ever wondered how they come up with their ideas? It’s simple: they ask firefighters.
“There is no shortage of material. Firefighters would come (to the set), and every single one of them would tell you five stories. The people we have met in the profession are gracious, appreciative, and generous with the ideas that they give us.”
When coming up with themes for each episode, Lemme and Heffernan ensure that they stay true to actual firehall dynamics. They get solid input from an expert advisor and retired Lieutenant firefighter, affectionately known as Cousin Bill. Bill Heffernan, from West Haven, Conn., is Kevin Heffernan’s cousin. Lemme explained that when they first started the show, Bill would occasionally come to the set and offer ideas and solutions. Cousin Bill eventually became “Tacoma FD’s” technical consultant. He’s always able to give them lots of stories – but it’s up to Lemme and Heffernan to find a way to take each one and make it funny.
Finding humor in emergencies, while representing firefighters, takes an incredibly cautious and respectful creative process, something that Lemme and his writers take very seriously. They work exceptionally hard to make sure that laughter remains the common ground for everyone watching their show.
“In Hollywood, there is a lot of irresponsibility. People think if they just make fun of one person it won’t make any difference. But there are people out there who are going to feel it. You can alienate people. It’s not what we’re about (at
“Tacoma FD”). We know that there are people watching who are real, so it’s something we take very seriously. Our approach has always been to be respectful of the profession, we don’t want firefighters to see us as inept. But we do have to make people laugh because people want that – whatever they’ve been through. I don’t think there is anyone who would say, ‘I don’t like to laugh.’
Laughter is something we can all come together on. Now that we have delved into the world of firefighting, we know they see some really terrible stuff. And we know that there are things they take with them from that job that they cannot undo or unsee. Something we discovered pretty early on – which is something we didn’t intend or anticipate – is that laughter is the part of life that’s important. It’s something that keeps people going in hard times. And first responders need that to deal with the hardships of the job.”
Lemme has learned more about the fire service than he ever expected, which is no surprise considering how immersed the entire cast and crew is in fire culture. He reflects on how valuable being an on-screen firefighter has been to him, even when he is off-set.
“Now after making this show, I’m so hyper-aware of the firefighters around me. And I am constantly looking: is that a ladder truck or the engine? Which one is the captain? How many have mustaches? Could the women carry me? It’s amazing. And I’m constantly learning about the firefighting profession – every aspect of it.” He goes on to say, “When I go to station houses now, I see it through this new lens. This job is a way of life and the people who are on those shifts are experiencing a closeness and a shared experience that is totally unique.”
So how did a guy who’s never stepped foot in a fire academy convince actual firefighters – the toughest audience imaginable – that “Tacoma FD” would be something that they would not only relate to but also enjoy?
“First and foremost, we try to be really conscious of what firefighters might think as they are watching a show. The goal was to make everybody laugh, but because we respect the firefighting community so much – the most important thing we wanted to do was make sure firefighters would like it. You don’t know if they’re going to watch, but
if they do, you want to make damn sure they don’t call bullshit on you. One thing I’ve really enjoyed is that when we’re filming driving scenes in the engine, people pull over left and right. The cops who are escorting us don’t need to do anything. You feel like people really respect and know what firefighters do.”
With a steady momentum and growing fanbase, “Tacoma FD” is showing no signs of slowing down. The passion of Lemme and his castmates, together with their dedication to firefighters and the profession, will keep this comedy’s representation of one of the toughest and most rewarding professions in the world at the forefront for anyone needing a laugh or a new series to binge-watch.
“Unless you are in it (the profession), you can’t know. We have been fortunate enough to get to know firefighters and first responders…they are truly incredible people. It takes an iron will to be a firefighter.”