Comedy mastermind David Koechner takes a dark and troubling turn in the new thriller Cheap Thrills, which is available on VOD now before its release in theaters this March. The twisted tale follows Craig (Pat Healy), a struggling family man who loses his low-wage job and is threatened with eviction. In an effort to delay facing the music at home, he heads to a local bar and encounters an old friend (Ethan Embry). These two are quickly roped into a round of drinks by a charismatic and obscenely wealthy stranger (David Koechner) along with his mysterious wife (Sara Paxton). The couple engages Craig and his buddy in a series of innocent dares in exchange for money over the course of the evening, with each challenge upping the ante in both reward and boundaries. It seems like easy and much needed money, but the couple's sick sense of humor pushes just how far Craig and his friend are willing to go for money and Cheap Thrills.
We recently caught up with Dave, an old friend of the site, to chat about the movie, his turn as a more dramatic leading man, and his upcoming NBC variety show. We also ruminate on the possible return of Gerald 'T-Bone' Tibbons, who is eagerly awaiting his comeback.
Here is our conversation.
We've been talking about this movie for almost two years, it seems like. And now, I get to watch it get bigger and bigger as more people see it. It looks like you have a true cult hit on your hands. That has to be pretty exciting...
David Koechner: I know. I hope so. I have prayed and hoped for it. I hope the film finds a wider audience, because I think this is a rare gem.
It truly is. You're one of those actors that have been in so much stuff. Some of it hits, some of it doesn't. When do you know you have something special on your hands? Can you feel it as you step onto the set over the course of shooting? Is it when you first see it with an audience? Does the realization come later, when people are continuing to talk about it?
David Koechner: This film was difficult because it was 14 days. You're hoping you get everything. You don't have time for more coverage or more takes, so everything is precious. First time director, great script, obviously. From the get go, you think, 'This is great, does everyone know what they are doing?' Now, you still have to report 'yes'. You're hopeful when something seems like it should be good. But as you know, it doesn't take much for a film not to work. And it takes everything for a film to work. When you have something where so much can go wrong, and it all goes right, you are so happy!
I'd think a movie like this would keep you from getting soft...
David Koechner: (Laughs) Yeah. It was a fun challenge, for sure.
I can't imagine you had a stunt double. Nor did these other guys. I have to think what we see on screen is what happened there on set. It has that realistic vibe to it, like we aren't watching fantasy. Its twisted in that way...
David Koechner: Oh, no. Everyone did their own business. That's for sure. I don't know about taking the turd in the house, but otherwise we all played. There wasn't room for anyone else.
You are working on a redistricted schedule. Things are tight. Does that put you all on edge shooting this thing? It seems like the element of danger is greater. Anything could go wrong at any moment...
David Koechner: No one's personality is volatile in this particular crew. Immediately, I noticed there was a chemistry happening. And everything was so good. It really makes your job easier. You know once you start, everyone is on top of it. Its not like anyone ever gave a bad take. I mean that honestly. So that is rare, too. No one phoned anything in. It all seemed so important from the outset.
As a longtime fan, its exciting to see you tackle a more dramatic role. And really succeed. I know you've been aiming to go down this road, and Cheap Thrills coupled with your recent appearance on Justified really sells home what you're capable of achieving in something that isn't being marketed as a comedy....
David Koechner: Yeah, that is true. Had the opposite been true, I'd be just as grateful. But now that other people can understand that, 'Oh! Okay! He knows what he is doing!' People assume that when you work as a comedian, you couldn't possibly do the other. I think it's probably easier for a comedian to do a drama, than to have someone who is strictly known for their dramatic work to come in and do a comedy. Cause, it might be suggested that to be funny might be difficult if you are called upon to suddenly do it.
That's the thing. Sometimes, you are playing a character that is straight and serious inside a world that is comedic in nature. I wouldn't say you are necessarily the straight man. But when you play someone like Todd Packer, you aren't doing a goof or a spoof, that's a real guy. He's just obnoxious, which is funny when you put him in that setting. He's someone that could exist, and does, in real life.
David Koechner: Right. If you're doing it correctly, you are doing it the right way. You are still breaking down the script, and taking it apart, and saying, 'What is my responsibility?'
Let's go back to Justified for a minute. How much fun did you and Timothy Olyphant have on that show? I think I saw you two together on Conan before I saw the episode, and you guys work very well against each other. Though I'm not sure who the straight man is in this case...
David Koechner: I'm such a fan. Tim first came to my attention on Rock Star. It wasn't a big part, but I remember being like, 'Who the fuck is that guy?' Then, pretty soon, he was in a bunch of stuff, and I couldn't stop watching him. I had a chance to meet him a couple of years later, and we clicked. He actually called me and said, 'Hey, listen...There is this role on Justified, do you want to do it?' I said, 'Sure!' He goes, 'Don't you want to know what it is first?' (laughs) I was like, 'No, man, I just want to work with you!' He is a treat, man. I love him. he is obviously so very talented. That show is a real point of pride and passion for him.
If you were following that show, and he asked you to be on it, I can't imagine that you would care who you were playing. That's just such an awesome show to be associated with on any level...
David Koechner: Right, exactly. I knew that it was a great show. They are very kind in giving out great parts to people. I was very flattered.
Have you watched the episode that you're in yet?
David Koechner: I have not! (Laughs) But , bro, you know I have a wife and five kids. I don't watch much other than Kayu, or I'll rent the Disney. It's pretty awful.
I can't imagine. I see some of these animated movies, and I am done with them for a very long time. They give me a headache after awhile...
David Koechner: You're so grateful when there is a good one.
What I wanted to say about that particular Justified episode, though, and I don't know if you were aware of this, cause you didn't have any scenes with them, but you also have Will Sasso and Dave Foley in there, two other create comedians playing against type.
David Koechner: Crazy. There was a Second City actor in there too, John Kapelos...
And on top of all that, you got the New York guy in there...
David Koechner: Michael Rapaport!
Yes. I was blown away by that episode. You have all these guys, and they are playing it completely straight. It's like a showcase for actors looking to break into other avenues. It works. Whoever is casting on that show knows what they are doing.
David Koechner: Yes, it's a fun thing. Plus it shoots here in town. Except for my scenes that were in Florida. But you know, sometimes you just can't stay at home...
Wait, you didn't shoot that in Florida, did you?
David Koechner: Part of it, yeah. We shot three days out there. The Everglade scenes are the Everglades.
Oh, yeah! Now, let me ask you this. You were in that scene with the alligator. That shit blew my mind. Cause it was REAL! I was like, holy shit that was a real alligator. You don't see that ever nowadays. It's all CGI...
David Koechner: Oh, yeah. There is a family that lives out there. It's a tourist spot. And the kids swim in those waters. Apparently, the largest gator there knows the family. And he will keep other gators away when the boys are swimming. Its crazy. It's hard to get your head around it. Apparently, they are territorial, and big daddy comes around. It sends the other gators off. I arrived, and I saw the rope swing, and I was like, 'What the hell?"
That sounds like a good set up for Cheap Thrills 2...
David Koechner: No shit! Cheaper Thrills.
There's not actually talk about a follow up though...
David Koechner: Oh, no! It's just on VOD now, and it is a modest release. But I would be down for it. I just don't think they'd be able to get everyone back.
I kind of like that one-off Big Lebowski type cult movie that will never get a sequel. You don't see too many of those in this day and age. Everything has to have a sequel. Everything needs a franchise. I like the one and done nature of something like Cheap Thrills.
David Koechner: You're right. Talking about a sequel, it doesn't need one. That would be cheap. But I would love to work with that same cast and director again.
That's what I'd rather see.
David Koechner: Yeah, because it's a great group. They are all just so easy to work with.
A Fish Called Wanda did that. I think they were the first to do that kind of thing. Were it wasn't a sequel, but it was a follow-up, with all the same people. Just different characters and a different story. Set in that same universe of wackiness.
David Koechner: Ah, okay. Well, what was the first one then?
A Fish Called Wanda was the first one.
David Koechner: What was the second one?
You'd have to hold on a second so I can look it up...I don't remember...
David Koechner: Ha! I vaguely remember that.
The conceit was that they wanted to do a sequel, but they didn't want to do a sequel. If that makes sense. God, I don't remember what that second one was called. I guess it didn't do them much good, did it.
David Koechner: Uh-huh.
Now, let me go back to your Conan appearance with Timothy Olyphant. You were busting out the ol' Gerald 'T-Bones' Gibbons. I forgot how much I truly love that character. It made me hungry again to see more Naked Trucker. I need to see more of Gerald. I know you have been bringing him out on stage when you tour with your stand-up show...
David Koechner: I'm writing a pilot for NBC right now. Gerald is not in the pilot. As of today's writing. We won't shoot until late April. We are just doing the pilot, but if we go to series, you will definitely see T-Bones.
As soon as I saw you break into that character, I was just like, 'I Miss seeing T-Bones so much...'
David Koechner: Aaaaahhhhh! Sweet. Why isn't America like you?
I don't think most of America got to see your live shows.
David Koechner: That's true. That was a unique experience.
Seeing that live show, every time, it was different. And every time, I was in utter amazement.
David Koechner: I wish we could have had that experience translate to the television show. Which was less successful. Because a variety of reasons, that happened. And we could talk all day about that. Yeah.
I'm surprised they have never put that out on DVD. I know you can still get it on iTunes, maybe? But...
David Koechner: I know, people like to own things. Especially things like that. Maybe I should pirate it and put it out there myself.
I don't know...I see Workaholics on Netflix, that's a Comedy Central show. They have some of their stuff on Netflix, why can't the Naked Trucker be on there?
David Koechner: That is actually a good idea. I will bring that up to the masters over there!
You definitely should. You know, most people here in the states didn't know what Trailer Park Boys was, and then it went on Netflix, and they became so popular here, they got to do their third movie, which is coming out in the next month or so. They are on the most popular queue, always.
David Koechner: Wow. That's cool to hear. I think The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show would be a good companion for Workaholics, actually.
Oh, yeah. I just think you guys weren't given a chance to find an audience.
David Koechner: I agree. And they marketed it wrong. They sold it as Blue Collar comedy. That's what the marketing was. So fans of Blue Collar comedy didn't get it. But then, fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report wouldn't watch it. So, you know, it was confusing in the market place.
Let's jump ahead to Anchorman 2. It's coming back out this weekend, right?
David Koechner: Correct!
And you have three versions on the Blu-ray?
David Koechner: That's what I'm finding out. I just learned that. They don't tell me all this stuff. When we were shooting the movie, we all knew that it was too long. And we started lobbying Adam McKay to Kill Bill it. We said, 'Let's put out two right now!' And they toyed with the idea. Then, in success of the film, we were able to have a conversation with the Paramount people, and they were like, 'Why don't we just shoot out the big one, the extended version, just prior to the release of the DVD. So that's what they did. It's going to hit some markets and its fun. I'm glad they are putting it out there.
You have to be happy with the success of the movie...
David Koechner: Well, yeah...Worldwide, it did well.
A lot of people thought, 'Uh-oh, we just saw what happened to Arrested Development. Here comes Anchorman 2, we've also been waiting for it forever. Will the same fate befall them. You skirted away from the disappointment, it seems. Fans were happy.
David Koechner: Well, its Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. They are amazing. No shock.
When is the NBC show going to come on. I think you were in the midst of doing that the last time we talked.
David Koechner: That may have been a different show. I don't remember. I think it was for something else. Original, that was for a pilot that they went a different way with. It was a diversity role. This is a different deal that came together this past fall. We're going to shoot the pilot in April, and then we wait through the May up fronts, and we see if it has a chance to get on the air.
And its going to be a full on Variety show? Like a Carol Burnett type show?
David Koechner: Well, you say to yourself, 'What would Carol Burnett be doing today?' You can't do what has been done before. That model doesn't work any longer. You have to look at what is happening today. How do people digest material? You have all these platforms, your phone, your computer, your pad, your flat TV. How are people going to watch this? You have to be available to all those ideas. And it really has to move. Look at Youtube. Its, 'Lets do three or four minutes and lets get out!'
With your kids, do they ever watched the MadTV animated series?
David Koechner: I think they do watch that. I try to leave the room when they are watching those shows.
Maybe you want to take a look at that show in particular. Because, if you could do something like they do...Just the pace of that show, not necessarily the comedy that they are doing, but it really moves like lightening...
David Koechner: Let me tell you something, brother. In the first segment we have eight different pieces.
That's what you got to do. When I sat down and watched that MadTV show, I was blown away. My attention span couldn't keep up. It out runs any normal thought pattern, and I haven't seen that in a live-action skit show.
David Koechner: Just the way it moves.
David Koechner: We will have a very frenetic pace. There will be a lot happening. There will be four-minute scenes, three-minute scenes, one-minute scenes, 30-second scenes. If we can do a 15-minute bumper that we think is satisfying, then we'll do it.
As far as I know, that hasn't been done on TV in live action.
David Koechner: As far as I know, you are right. I don't think about anything but what should happen. You know, I did my Youtube series, and I learned a lot from that. And I have been on the road the last four years doing stand-up comedy. So I have learned a lot from that. So, that is informing everything that is going into the show.
See, that's one of the problems with SNL. They do one good bit, and then they have five minutes of dead air. The goal is to chop off that dead weight and move on...
David Koechner: I don't want to bag on what they do. Because, God bless them, that is such a difficult thing. It's a live animal, which makes it a lot more difficult to schedule your scenes. You can't cut away, unless you go to a live tape piece. You know. That's a whole different animal. Plus that is an institution, its tough to turn the boat.
I don't mean to bag on them either. I was talking mainly about the pace of the show. I think there are some remarkable performers on there right now, and they are definitely starting to come into their own. I don't know if you've had a chance to watch it recently...
David Koechner: I did the show back in December. I have to agree. I think there is a lot of talent there.
I just think the pace and flow of SNL is quite antiquated.
David Koechner: Uh, yeah. A little bit. They should look for a few ways to innovate.
You'll be able to pick up the baton and move it forward with your show...
David Koechner: Yes. But I have the luxury of not being a live show. That is a whole different element.
Last thing before you go...Are you coming back for more Justified before the end of the season?
David Koechner: I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you.
David Koechner: I'll say this. My character didn't die. But I haven't shot anymore. And I think the wrap party is next week. (Laughs)
Yes, but...There is season 6.
David Koechner: That's right. There is Season 6. Lets head back to Florida.
Hey, they brought Dewey Crowe back for his own season arc. Maybe we'll see a spin-off.
David Koechner: Exactly. I would love that!