Tacoma, Washington, is one of the rainiest cities in the country, and fires tend to take care of themselves. This leaves the Tacoma Fire Department with a lot of time on their hands. Sometimes they are called to handle other emergency matters best left to other first responders. Fighting fires doesn’t necessarily translate to solving crimes, for example. But that doesn’t stop them from clearing an innocent ventriloquist dummy from an obvious frameup. But most of the time the brave men and women of Tacoma FD are used to idling their hours on a weight bench, playing elaborate pranks or tossing balls at each other’s balls.
In an upcoming episode, the Tacoma squad will be tossing balls directly at the cops during a rec league softball game. The timing for the episode couldn’t be better considering series co-creators Kevin Heffernan, who plays Chief Terry McConky, and Steve Lemme, who plays Captain Eddie Penisi, joined our new baseball-themed video series this week to proudly show off their softball championship hardware, fill out a Major League BeerFest roster, and figure out if their Tacoma FD squad could beat the Super Troopers in a pickup game. You can watch the hilarious segment below and read on for the full interview on Tacoma FD season 2.
The series has always relied on real life anecdotes, and with a ratio of 20 great stories for every firefighter, they see endless material. The guys shared some behind-the-scenes stories from the making of Tacoma FD season 2, including Heffernan’s private dance lessons and a fellow Broken Lizard actor working his way deeper into the show.
DEN OF GEEK: Obviously there’s so many projects in Hollywood right now that are being shut down. What’s it been like working in post-production remotely to keep this season going?
KEVIN HEFFERNAN: Yeah, it’s been kind of weird. I mean we were lucky enough to get all our episodes shot before this happened. We shot 13, got them in the can. And then we got through about episode five when things started shutting down so we closed down our editing room about three weeks ago and sent all the editors home. Everyone’s working remotely. We’re learning all this new software, and a lot of Zoom meetings, and stuff like that.
And then we took another hit when the other post production facilities started shutting down the labs, the sound places and whatever. Everyone’s gone home and everyone’s working remotely and we’re figuring it out. We’ve got another episode done that way. And we have a seven more to do, we’re just going to push through and get them done.
Is there a quarantine episode planned for season three yet?
STEVE LEMME: It’s so funny that you say that because, yes. I mean first we have to get a season three ordered, but yeah. We’re friends with a lot of the Tacoma firefighters who are up there and pretty early on we are chatting with them and they were like, yeah already one shift got quarantined in the house, they were exposed. And so back at the station they had to quarantine the entire shift, and one of them tested positive.
And then of course we can’t help but start thinking about episode ideas because that’s just what we do. And so we’re like, that would be a pretty funny episode, these guys just locked together for 14 days. And then we got a couple of, I don’t want to give any way, but we got a couple of true stories already coming from those quarantined firefighters and games that they play while they’re all stuck together for two weeks at a time. Hopefully we can get something positive out of this.
You guys are a quadruple-threat on this show: writing, producing, directing, starring. What was the biggest learning curve for wearing all those hats for a TV show? What were you able to apply from season one to up your game for season two?
Lemme: I think one of the fun things for us in making TV is that there is a new episode each week. Whether you’re writing or acting or directing, it stays fresh that way. I think the nice thing about wearing all those hats is that we’re in charge. What we say goes. And it’s very intoxicating, Chris, I’ll tell you that much. [Laughs]
But no, I think the first season was our first season ever of doing a TV show and we realized just how much goes into it. And essentially, this season we’re doing 13 episodes. We’re making three movies total, back to back. I think it’s just a lot of time management, a lot of preparation, but you have to enjoy what you do. We have a great time, we love the people we work with, our cast and our crew are all awesome. Much like real firefighter life, it becomes a family. And the family keeps growing so it’s just been a blast.
When you’re casting a workplace comedy or a buddy comedy on TV, it’s absolutely pivotal for the cast to have a strong chemistry together. What were you guys looking for in terms of casting going into season one to make sure that that firefighter unit really feels like a family, but also a really, really funny one?
Heffernan: Part of it was we needed some younger people, because you know, Lemme and I are getting a little long in the tooth. But that was part of it. Because now we’re the captain and the chief, it’s like we get the young guys in there. I think another thing for us was comedy skill. We’ve learned over the years it’s really great to put people in who are comedy generators. Guys who can do improv, and actors and actresses who can do improv. So the idea was to search for those people who can help create the comedy. And then you’ll know that you’ll get more jokes than you have on the page that way. And you know that you’ll have people who are creating funny scenarios. I think that was the big thing.
The nice thing of it was you don’t always get chemistry and you don’t always click with the people. And in this situation we really did, and it was really fun once you realize that happened, that we all enjoyed each other’s company, we all played well off each other and everyone does a great job. I think it was really a great situation.
The friendship between your two characters is the heartbeat of the show. How does that evolve in season two? And how does the real life friendship and working relationship that you guys have factor in writing the show?
Lemme: Well, it’s funny because a lot of the personal stories between us are things that happen between us in real life. We’ve been friends for 30 years, and Kevin and I even went on the road for 10 years. We have a lot of these conversations that we have in the show are based on real conversations that we have and our attitudes towards each other. And I think particularly around episodes 10 and 11, we really dive into all the things that bother us about the other guy.
Like for instance, Kevin, it drives him crazy how loud I chew my gum. It just drives him bananas. And when he comes at me about it, I’ll be like, “Well, have you ever heard yourself drinking a Diet Coke? Because it sounds like there’s a hydraulic vacuum cleaner sucking liquid out of a tight space.” And then we just go from there. He’s like, “What’s that fragrance you’re wearing that cologne?” I’m like, “It’s not cologne, it’s body spray. And why don’t you stop turning around and showing me your butt crack.” And we can just go. So we channel that into some episodes.
Heffernan: Like a married couple.
It’s Ball Busters, the TV show.
Lemme: Yeah, exactly.
Is there an episode or gag in season two that you guys are particularly proud of?
Kevin Heffernan: Well, we do have those fun episodes later on where I actually do some salsa dancing where I break out of character a little bit and that takes her salsa lessons and it becomes integral to the plot. I’m not a dancer. I’ve never taken salsa lessons.
Lemme: He’s a dancer. Trust me.
Heffernan: It was a big experience for me.
Did you up your game with the lessons?
Heffernan: I did. You know what, we had a buddy who is a choreographer for a lot of these shows, like Dancing With the Stars, and stuff like that. And he brought in some of the really big guns to help train and then be in the scene. And it was an eye opening experience for me.
Set the scene for us. What was that first day of practice like with a choreographer from Dancing With the Stars?
Heffernan: Well we went to this dance studio here in Burbank and I was so nervous, I brought my kids with me. I have two daughters and I brought them with me so that they would calm the situation. But it was very intimidating. They’re very professional. We had two dance instructors, and one of them was my dance partner, who were incredibly intimidating. And the skills and the physical abilities that they had compared to a fat guy like me.
Are we going to see any of the other Broken Lizard guys pop up in season two maybe?
Lemme: Well one of the guys, Paul Soter, is on our writing staff and he was in season one in one episode. And in this season he’s in four episodes.
Heffernan: He really worked his way in.
Lemme: He really did. That was the funny thing about writing with him, every time he’d be like, “Yeah we should get … Who would be funny to pop into this episode?” And always he’d be like, “Wolf Boykins?” That’s the name of his character. He got himself into four episodes. Pretty sweet, pretty slick on his part.