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Halfway Gay

What’s so gay about dude comedy 30 Minutes or Less? More than you think.

Celebrity Interview by Chris Azzopardi (From GayCalgary® Magazine, September 2011, page 10)
Halfway Gay: What’s so gay about dude comedy 30 Minutes or Less? More than you think.
Image by: Sony Pictures
Halfway Gay: What’s so gay about dude comedy 30 Minutes or Less? More than you think.
Image by: Sony Pictures
Halfway Gay: What’s so gay about dude comedy 30 Minutes or Less? More than you think.
Image by: Sony Pictures

It felt like a major coup – a gay journalist invited out to New York City to interview the cast of 30 Minutes or Less, a comedy that appeared to be made for men. Straight bro-talking, burp-expelling men.

But after the recent gay marriage ruling in N.Y., progress is just sweeping the nation. I mean, how else do you explain my presence among all this mainstream press covering a movie that, I was told, wasn’t the least bit gay?

So just minutes into the film, about a pizza-delivery guy forced to rob a bank, I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing – gayness, everywhere. Maybe I’m just trained to see gay – you know, like a sixth sense or something – because 30 Minutes or Less was full of it: gay-adjacent relationships where having sex with your dude-friend’s sister means you had sex with him too, humping Jason Voorhees via a movie screen (weird? or gay? or both?) and talk of a girl getting some OTPF (Over The Pants Fingering) from a gay guy. And that’s not all – there’s Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, the foursome who comprise the budding bromances.

When the all-guy cast casually assembles in their street clothes at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park for a press conference that’s nearly as funny as the film itself, my question is, naturally, the gayest: When does a bromance go full-on gay?

"There is an alternate ending we shot where we all fuck each other," says a straight-faced Ansari, best known for his role opposite Amy Poehler on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. "But when we watched that, we’re like, ‘This is turning into a gay thing.’"

Even without the scene, sometimes 30 Minutes or Less, like so many halfway-gay buddy films where the guys have a complicated and unusually strong tenderness for each other (for instance, I Love You, Man, Superbad and Pineapple Express), seems kind of like a gay thing – just not gay-gay, clarifies director Ruben Fleischer.

"I call it a double-buddy comedy," he says. "This is really two pairs of friends, and to me the friendship never strays too gay. It’s just a true affection and support and love for a friend."

Because in the film, the well-off Chet (Ansari) throws his life on the line to help rob a bank so that his not-all-together chum, Nick (Eisenberg), doesn’t explode into smithereens when two small-town twits, Dwayne and Travis (McBride and Swardson, respectively), strap a bomb to his chest and give him an ultimatum: get them the money, or die. What ensues is ridiculously, and probably surprisingly, hilarious, as they exert their masculinity by making homemade flamethrowers in the garage and blowing the hell out of watermelons – and yet Dwayne and Travis still come off, at times, like two big fruits themselves. And therein lies the setup of an endless barrage of gay jokes. That’s not it, though: Gender and ethnicity, you’re not getting off that easy.

"I kind of have this Lenny Bruce approach," Fleischer explains. "If you insult everybody, it’s like you’re not singling anyone out."

Says Swardson: "For me and Danny, we made a lot of off-color jokes and we did have to be in the mindset of those characters, because they are these kind of small-town – I mean, they’re just jerks. It was really in the vein of those guys."

And so it makes sense that these dummies would talk and act like fifth graders who get a kick out of finding bad words in the Spanish dictionary. One scene has Dwayne calling out Travis on "being gay for this dude," referring to his softheartedness toward Nick.

"If wanting a lot of money is gay," he responds, "then yeah, I’m fucking Elton John."

For as much gay talk as there is, and with the so-close-they’re-almost-gay bonds between the guys, it wouldn’t have been terribly shocking had one of them come out by the time the movie reached its big finish.

But since they don’t, we’ll just have to call it a bromance.

"Can everyone stop saying bromance?" Ansari insists, admitting his distaste for the genre. And still, it’s hard not to see 30 Minutes or Less as exactly that. Fleischer even compares the two duos to Edward and Jacob of Twilight (and that’s pretty gay), and Swardson, well, he has his own way of putting it: "The cool thing about the movie is that it does show the relationships of guys and just how close guys can be without chowing each other’s cocks," he says. "It just shows that guys are... awesome."

"It’s so great," Ansari adds, "because you guys are like the bad guys in the movie and you have such a sweet relationship, and it really pays off."

In his most mockish tone, Swardson looks lovingly at Ansari: "It’s very bromantic, right?"

Real-life bromance

Nick Swardson is like that guy you’ve seen at the bar but can’t quite place how or why he looks familiar. Even as he stood in front of me on an elevator in the Ritz, casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, it took me a good few minutes before it hit me.

That’s because Swardson, a longtime comic actor who’s gone gay in Grandma’s Boy and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, has a tendency to get lost in his characters. You might remember him as, and he puts it best, "a raging gay prostitute on roller skates" named Terry on Comedy Central’s cop farce Reno 911!

"I really wanted to do the exact opposite of what I did in Reno 911!" says Swardson, who jokes that he used audio loops from gay pornos to get him pumped for the action sequences in 30 Minutes or Less.

The movie’s also a vehicle for the two sides of Jesse Eisenberg, who not only does his nerdy, average-guy thing, as seen in Zombieland, but morphs into a fake-gun-totting badass. After The Social Network, and last year’s lesser-known Holy Rollers, what’s up with all these shady characters?

Eisenberg looks concerned when asked, and then deadpans his response: "Thanks, Mom."

"No, I mean, all of these characters have, like, a real inner life," he continues. "They’re going through something real, experiencing it in a realistic way. This one is very heightened, because he’s experiencing this mortal fear at every moment, but it’s all the same to me."

Even somewhat relatable, as his role as a pizza boy paralleled with a past real-life gig in musical theater. "I started doing musical theater when I was 10 years old, and I did a lot of musical theater," he says, "so maybe cumulatively that’s a terrible job – but individually they were fun!"

The rest of the cast didn’t fare much better. Fleischer cleaned up the Scantron bubbles while working at a standardized testing company. Ansari jokes that he’s currently managing a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and McBride worked at an amusement park’s candy store a half-hour from his house.

"I used to pray on the way to work, ‘God, please help get me in a car accident,’" McBride recalls. "‘One where I don’t get hurt but where I don’t have to go to work today.’"

Says Eisenberg: "It’s tough to find that middle ground in a car accident."

Swardson had lots of sucky stints. "Before I started doing comedy and acting, I was a busboy at Planet Hollywood," he says. "It was kind of bizarre, but I also prayed for car accidents."

Who can say they have that in common? Oh, these two fellas, who don’t just have that onscreen camaraderie, or bromance (sorry, Aziz), but a real-life relationship.

"Making a movie is long hours," McBride says. "Whenever you get to work with people that you dig, who you think are really funny and cool, it’s always good. With this project, all these guys were awesome to work with. I’d want to do it again in a heartbeat with any of them."

Should a sequel happen, and Fleischer doesn’t expect it to, Ansari already has the concept worked out: "It’s, like, a couple day later and Jesse’s character comes back, knocks on my door, has another bomb and he goes, ‘Here we go again!’ That’s how the second film will start."

But the real question, Aziz, is: How does it end?(GC)

Image by: Sony Pictures
Image by: Sony Pictures
Image by: Sony Pictures

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