Thomas Lennon on bringing back 'Reno 911!' for Quibi, his weird new movie 'VHYes,' and his brutal gig announcing the Emmys
Thomas Lennon chatted with Business Insider about starring in the future cult classic, "VHYes." He also gave details about the return of "Reno 911!" on Quibi. Lennon opened up about his unpopular stint as Emmys announcer last year, which he said was worth all the haters because Paul Rudd texted him the following day and said he thought it was hilarious.
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You just never know where funnyman Thomas Lennon will show up these days. Recently he was on the penultimate episode of "Veep," he released the first in a series of young adult novels with "Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles," and he was the announcer at the Emmys (much more on that later). And he isn't slowing down. Lennon will be playing not one but three characters in the upcoming Russo brothers movie, "Cherry," starring Tom Holland; and he's bringing back the beloved "Reno 911!," which he cocreated, for Quibi. But before all that, you can see him in the bizarre new movie from Jack Henry Robbins (son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon), "VHYes." Shot on VHS cameras, the just-over-one-hour movie (opening in select theaters Friday) follows a 12-year-old as he accidentally copies over his parents' wedding tape with the strange shows he finds on late-night cable (a few starring Lennon), and recording a spooky trip with his friend to a nearby house thought to be haunted. Think of the late 1970s classic comedy "Kentucky Fried Movie," blended with "Paranormal Activity," then spiked with acid, and you have "VHYes." Lennon chatted with Business Insider about starring in this strange movie. He also gave details about what's in store for the "Reno 911!" gang on Quibi and explained why it didn't sound like he enjoyed being the Emmys announcer at last year's show. Jason Guerrasio: So, "VHYes" — this is one of those wacky movies. Thomas Lennon: When Jack first reached out and said, "I'm going to make a movie on VHS," I really thought it was a bad gimmick. I just couldn't see any way that this turns out great. [Laughs.] But I liked him and he seemed like a smart guy, maybe there was something here. So we shot it, on the crappiest equipment that 1983 had to offer, and I have to say the first time I saw the movie I was kind of blown away. Guerrasio: Snuck in the middle of it is this great horror sequence that connects everything. Lennon: I think what's really going to surprise people, it actually does add up to something at the end. Parts of it are incredibly random and weird. Guerrasio: A lot of that includes you. Lennon: Yes. But the movie surprised me in that it has genuine emotional moments in it and some legitimate scary stuff.
Guerrasio: Yes. And as a kid of the 1980s, I have to say the movie captures what it was like to stay up past midnight. Lennon: It got really, really weird. Guerrasio: It was B-movies, soft core porn, or really wacky stuff. That's what was on cable TV after midnight. Lennon: I can tell you this, because we actually talked about it while we were filming the movie, I specifically remember when Cablevision first came to Chicago and there were scrambled channels, the real high channels. Those were the porno channels. Guerrasio: I grew up in Connecticut, and we also had Cablevision, so I know what you're taking about. Lennon: But if you looked at the scrambled channels long enough once an hour you would get two seconds of a flash of a naked person. So sometimes me and my friends we would go to my grandmother's basement and do that, waiting hours watching scrambled channel 145 to see one naked breast for a second. It was amazing what we did before the internet. Guerrasio: Kids have it too easy now. The character you play in the movie, was that planned out on page or did you have a lot of freedom? Lennon: The freedom was amazing. The first scene was somewhat on the page. The scene with me and Courtney Pauroso, where we are the Home Shopping Network people, that was kind of scripted. And then, honestly, we riffed a lot. The entire Antiques Roadshow sequence, that was entirely improved. We didn't even really discuss it at all. And one of the weirdest things about that was Jack's dad, Tim [Robbins, who stars in the movie], was there doing off-camera lines for us in the morning. And then at lunch, Susan Sarandon [who also stars in the movie] came and she's one of my all-time favorite actresses, and she just sat and watched the Antiques Roadshow thing. So there she is, one of my favorite actresses, who I've never met, and I had to improvise that scene in front of her. It was very intimidating. Guerrasio: And I know folks in the business want feature-length movies to run at least 90 minutes, but this running time, hour and twelve minutes, is perfect. Lennon: The only thing that made me like the movie more is even before I saw it I knew that it was an hour-twelve, and as a grown adult man with major attention deficit it's custom made for the way I want to watch things. It's exactly how I consume the world, for real. Guerrasio: This is hardly the only thing you're working on. You will be in "Cherry," the next Russo brothers movie. Lennon: "Cherry" is really cool and there's a weird detail about this. I actually play three parts. The way that happened was I got a call and they were like, "Do you want to audition for two sentences in the new Tom Holland/Russo brothers movie?" And I really have no ego about anything, so I was like, "Of course I want to audition for that!" So I went in and read and then the Russo brothers, God bless them, they had a really neat idea. They thought wouldn't it be cool if instead of me playing the one authority figure of the movie, I play three different sh---y authority figures in the movie. So I get to do a minor Peter Sellers in "Dr. Strangelove"-type thing. Guerrasio: And will we recognize you as all three characters? Lennon: You will recognize me in two of them, at least. But I'm not really sure. It will be a surprise even to me. But it looks like a very cool movie and I got really lucky to do it. Guerrasio: And "Reno 911!" is going to Quibi. Lennon: I actually have the highlights in my hair and have the mustache, so obviously we've very close to shooting. Guerrasio: So what can you divulge about what your guys' plans are? Lennon: We start shooting at the end of the month. We have every single member of the cast back with us, so that's super fun. One thing that's going to be pretty fun is with Quibi you can watch it in two different ways. So if you hold your phone vertically when you're watching Quibi, you can see one feed, and if you flip it horizontal, you can see something else. So we're going to try to take advantage of that as much as possible. I think there will be times where you're seeing Lt. Dangle and what he's doing and if you flip your phone sideways, you'll get to see what his body cam is filming. Stuff like that. Guerrasio: I love that! Lennon: We're going to do some fun stuff with the technology. The reason I think we're very uniquely qualified for Quibi is episodes are going to run less than 10 minutes. Guerrasio: So not every episode is going to go the full 10 minutes that Quibi allows for its shows? Lennon: Oh, God no. I think some episodes will go five minutes long, which would be one scene. And others will be seven minutes long that are 20 scenes in that time. We're going to keep it fast and light and punchy. Guerrasio: Because one episode could literally be you guys going on a 911 call. Lennon: Exactly. But there are a couple we're working on that's kind of like "1917." We just want beginning to end to feel like a single shot. There will be a couple of those. But, as always with "Reno," it's highly improvisational so we'll see how it plays out. But along with all the original cast there are a lot of favorites coming back. It's going to be pretty fun. Guerrasio: So I have to bring up your experience as the Emmys announcer back in September. What was that all about? Lennon: I had a tremendous amount of fun at the Emmys. There were some really great jokes, but yeah, there were a lot of haters. But I got fan letters from some really amazing people who seemed to love it. Those things tend to be a thankless job. I think most people who host those things, you'll never get them to do it twice. Though, I wouldn't mind doing it again. Guerrasio: Even in that format again? Lennon: Would I do that again? Probably. I have to say, one of the nicest things I got was a three-part text from Paul Rudd the next day telling me how hilarious he thought it was. And I have to say, that made all the bull---- totally worth it. One of my favorite funny people thought it was great. Guerrasio: But when you did that woke joke and then stopped and said, "This is why people don't do this, because it sucks," was that a bit or were you serious? Lennon: That was really me. Because they came in and told me to be more upbeat and say facts. At one point, they were like, "Why don't you just start saying facts," and I was like, "Oh, no, no, no, that ship has sailed. I'm not that guy." So me saying, "That's why nobody does this, because it sucks," that was definitely after I had been given notes. But I still enjoyed it. Guerrasio: I'll be honest, when you said "this sucks," I just thought, "I hope he's getting paid a ton to do this." Lennon: Oh, God no! The answer is no. Guerrasio: [Laughs.] Lennon: But I have to say, someone wrote an article about Ricky Gervais hosting the Globes and how he made a Felicity Huffman joke, the story said my Huffman joke flopped. Check the tape, my joke killed at the Emmys. SEE ALSO: The 11 worst 2020 Oscar snubs — from Jennifer Lopez to Robert De Niro to female directors Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns explains why country music is universal