Forget 'Ted,' '21 Jump Street,' and 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie'; the Danish comedy "Klown" is the most perversely funny movie of the year. Think John Waters directing "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Think "The Hangover" as directed by Lars Von Trier. Actually, that last example isn't too far from the truth: Von Trier's Zentropa studio produced the movie. So how funny is "Klown"?
Usually, I watch the movies I write about at home or in one of the many screening rooms in L.A. This movie I watched this movie sopping wet, wired out of my head in a field in Texas. Austin's Drafthouse Films is releasing the movie, and the company's founder, Tim League, is committed to adding some gonzo adventure to the sometimes stolid, self-important world of indie cinema. So I was invited to fly out to Austin for a combination canoe trip and screening of the movie.
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My boatmate, the living embodiment of the city's unofficial motto "Keep Austin Weird," had a fundamentally different philosophy than I about what makes an entertaining canoe trip: Mine was to stay dry. His was not. We rolled the canoe twice. Somewhere along the line, I received a can of Four Loko. The FDA banned the original formula because it sent flocks of frat boys to the ER, though a new formula was rushed to market ostensibly free of the offending caffeine and taurine. I don't know which version I got, but I soon started feeling like Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" after her adrenaline shot to the heart. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Yet in spite of the wet, the bugs, and the somewhat worrying heart palpitations, I laughed my ass off while watching "Klown."
And I'm not the only one. Many of my drier and drunker fellow audience members were doubling over with laughter. The Danes, who turned the TV series that spawned the movie into a hit, flooded the theaters when "Klown" debuted; it's estimated that 20% of the country's population saw the flick. The movie has already been optioned by Danny McBride and "Hangover" director Todd Phillips.
"Klown," which stars Danish comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, is about two friends named Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, who go on the worst canoeing trip this side of "Deliverance." The perpetually horny Casper plans the trip to step out on his lady and go to the most exclusive brothel in Denmark. The deeply clueless Frank, however, uses the trip to bond with his 12-year-old nephew, Bo, whom he kidnaps in a wrongheaded scheme to prove to his pregnant girlfriend that he's ready for fatherhood. All Frank's good intentions, of course, lead him straight to Hell by way of capsized canoes, hilariously awkward three-ways, armed robbery, public nudity, and eventually prison time. Yet what's amazing is that in spite of the bawdy humor and some retina-scalding images, there is a remarkably sweet center to the flick. Perhaps that's why the movie mysteriously got an R rating.
I got a chance to sit down with Frank and Casper the morning following our canoeing revelry. Frank is far cooler in person that his bespectacled, tighty-whitey-wearing on-screen persona. The day before, he bought six western-style shirts from famed cowboy outfitter Allens Boots and was sporting one that morning. Casper, who looks vaguely like Gordon Ramsay, seems much closer to his fast-talking, free-wheeling cinematic counterpart. We talked about making the movie, the perils of canoeing, and why Lars Von Trier is a lousy friend. [Note: some adult language follows]
[Related: See a red band clip of 'Klown']
Jonathan Crow: So "Klown" is about two guys named Frank and Casper. And your names are Frank and Casper. Where does the movie Frank and Casper start and the real Frank and Casper end?
Frank Hvam: I think it just started with our characters, who were fairly based on our own lives, but as the series progressed, we turned up the volume a lot.
Casper Christensen: We've written 60 episodes and then the movie, it seems like it's just a name now. I talked to one of my good friends. He said, "I can't believe you. Now you're writing a movie. You're acting in it, you decide everything. You're in control of it, and you make yourself look like the biggest asshole with your own name, what's wrong with you? Why? Why?" It's just that we love comedy. We want to make people laugh. And tell a good story at the same time.
FH: We want to make it as realistic as possible. And that it's also a little bit thrilling and nerve-wracking to hang yourself out, if you can say that. We're both fans of reality TV. Fiction can't compete with the best reality shows. We wanted to get some of that magic dust from reality TV.
JC: Tell me about your process. Did you write everything beforehand?
CC: Everything, everything. We wrote the script, the storyline. We spent like three or four months just writing that storyline every day.
FH: Yeah, when we write, it's about motivation, motivation, and motivation. If you can motivate the story, then you can get away with a lot.
CC: I think that's why we got the R rating. The MPAA didn't see it as just gross, stupid, man-cave humor. They saw that there's some kind of a story.
JC: How about the dialogue?
CC: We're not skilled actors, so improvising just made it easier for us. We tried make each other laugh, so it kind of pushes the both of us the whole time to try to be funny on every take.
JC: Tell me about Bo. I mean, he's a great kid; he's perfect and innocent and totally kind of awkward in that the way he feels is totally real.
CC: It's hard to find a kid that's vulnerable, a little overweight, and at the same time has the confidence to go and act.
CC: He had never acted before in his life. The thing was, he had just gotten through some problems in his life. His mom died six months before the audition. So I think in his own little head, he wanted to try something different in his life. I think that's why he did it, and he was amazing.
JC: And he almost killed you, right? During the scene where your canoe capsizes in the lake.
CC: He almost killed me.
FH: I would say on purpose, but we're having a bit of a debate about that.
CC: I didn't realize how hard it was to stay up. It was really hard. And Bo was wearing a lot of clothes, and he just went down.
FH: I saved myself. My idea was that I was going to save Bo, but he panicked and he grabbed Casper's head --
CC: It was good action.
FH: We were fighting for our lives.
CC: That's why in the scene where we come up on shore, we go, "Oh, that was close, and we're alive." We really meant that.
JC: Tell me about the TV show. How is the TV show different from the movie?
FH: The emotions were bigger, and the actions were bigger in the movie --
CC: When we started the series, we had this list of taboos that we wanted to work with. We did a sitcom before, and it was more mainstream. We wanted to do something different with the comedy. We wanted to see if we could do comedy about really taboo things.
JC: Like what?
CC: Oh, Nazis, cannibalism, cancer, HIV, pedophilia.
JC: You produced in Lars Von Trier's production office. What was it like having him around the office?
FH: Yeah, when it comes to censoring yourself, he's a shitty friend. He comes by and says, "More, more. Turn it up."
"Klown" opens in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin, TX on July 27.
See the trailer for 'Klown':