For this complete-ish oral history in celebration of Wet Hot's 10th anniversary, we asked director and writer David Wain, his cowriter and creative partner, Michael Showalter, and stars including Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, David Hyde Pierce, Elizabeth Banks, and Amy Poehler to reminisce about the shoot, the living conditions, the kids, the notoriously horrendous weather, and the hilarity (and debauchery) that took place off-camera. Throw another log on the soaking-wet campfire—theirs is an epic tale of camaraderie and survival in the heart of Pennsylvania darkness.
DAVID WAIN, cowriter-director: Michael [Showalter] and I met at NYU. He was one of the freshman members of a comedy group, and his group, the New Group, as it was once called, was the group that we thought—as the older sophomores at NYU—would never reach the professional heights of our group, which was called the Sterile Yak.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK, McKinley (counselor, secretly gay): I met Michael and David my freshman year of college. Michael and I helped cofound a sketch-comedy troupe known then as the New Group but eventually known as The State.
DAVID WAIN: We held an orientation session for incoming freshmen who were interested in sketch comedy, as if we at that time knew everything. We gave rather patronizing speeches to the freshmen, explaining the ins and outs of comedy to them.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: David was kind of a cock.
DAVID WAIN: When we saw the first New Group show, the Sterile Yak immediately disbanded because they were so much better than us.
JOE LO TRUGLIO, Neil (counselor, nerd): I was in a dorm room directly across the hall from Michael Showalter. I wasn't really interested in comedy, but he was. We became fast friends.
KEN MARINO, Victor (counselor, hazardously heterosexual): David was a roommate of a guy I went to high school with. David finagled his way into the New Group. He started by just making posters for the show, and then finally we were like, "All right, Dave, you can be in the group."
MICHAEL SHOWALTER, cowriter/Coop (counselor, all-around good guy): I don't remember any moment where he was like, "Can I be in the group?" It just seemed like a very organic thing for him to join up with us.
DAVID WAIN: It started off as a college activity, but we were from the start extra-serious about it and spent most of our time doing that instead of our schoolwork. I think we had a very healthy group ego.
KEN MARINO: We were so young. We had comedians that we looked up to, Monty Python and stuff, but we ultimately wrote and did stuff that made us laugh. We didn't know that there were rules. I think that defined us a little bit, that we were kind of too stupid to know any better.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: When I was 17 years old and full of myself, I coined the term "American Surrealism." To myself, not to anybody else. It was propulsive comedy that had a lot to do with taking things to totally wild and unexpected places. We were reacting against the very traditional observational comedy that we were seeing around us in the eighties.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: We believed in being silly and absurd over being topical or doing impersonations. We were more interested in being bizarre.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: We really thought we were the shit and had a legitimate chance of being the new thing in comedy. We were very mistaken.
•••In 1994, The State began a two-year run on MTV, which ended when the group "decided to leave the network for many reasons" (per their online FAQ)—at least one of which was to pursue a series on CBS, allegedly designed to challenge Saturday Night Live for late-night supremacy. Their 1995 debut, a Halloween special, was well-received but given little to no promotion. Virtually unwatched, it would be the first and last episode of The State on network television. The next step for the group seemed a bit unclear.
DAVID WAIN: After The State kind of petered out, Michael and I decided to try to write a movie script together.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: Honestly, we weren't busy doing anything else.
DAVID WAIN: We spent quite a bit of time writing something called Cleveland Rocks, which we were hoping would be our epic classic high-school movie. It was sometime in 1997. And we were hoping to shoot the movie that fall, and we realized that we were not going to get it written.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: In between writing the second draft of that movie, we said, "Hey, let's throw out some ideas for a movie about summer camp"—just to clear our heads from working on the other script, really.
DAVID WAIN: We called it Camp. We just put all of our summer-camp stories in the hopper, and that's basically how we started writing.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: Early in the process, it was like, "I'll play Coop, and you'll direct the movie." I was basing the character off of certain ways I might have felt when I was that age. His perception that he's the nice guy. And good guys finish last.
DAVID WAIN: I was at camp in 1979 when Skylab actually fell. It was in the news that it had slipped out of orbit and was going to fall back to earth. Kids like us were like, "Oh my God, do you think Skylab's going to fall on our camp?" And then we'd see a piece of metal and it was like, "Do you think that's a piece of Skylab?"
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: There's a whole sequence [in the script] where they go into town—that was something at my camp that you did sometimes. It was considered a big, awesome thing, kind of like going off campus at high school. Every character and idea is based on something that was paradigmatic of our summer-camp experience, but for me there's no specific story line.
DAVID WAIN: When Victor drops his kids off and runs back to camp in the van because he wants to see a girl, and then the van crashes, and he's screwed, and he can't go see the girl? That's exactly what happened to me.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: We also talked a lot about the kinds of movies that we wanted this movie to reference. Meatballs and John Hughes movies, like Sixteen Candles. Animal House, an ensemble film made in the late seventies about the early sixties.
DAVID WAIN: One of the main impetuses was to come up with something where we could work with all of our funny friends.
ZAK ORTH, J.J. (counselor, Belushi-esque): They had a couple of Wet Hot table readings that I was a part of.
DAVID WAIN: One reading was at William Morris, for financiers to come and hear the script. I believe Mary Louise Parker was in that one. There was one at my house, and I think we had Amanda Peete in that, maybe? And then there was one at my manager's office at a conference table.
ZAK ORTH: I have a vague recollection that Dan Castellaneta was there.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: Yes! He might have been reading Meloni's part. I think I was reading Paul Rudd's part. I wanna say there might have been two characters that were similar jerks that were combined. Those table reads were about trying to find how this was a complete story and not just a series of sketches. Which in a way, the movie still is.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: It's a lot of sketch premises tied together. It does have a plot, obviously, but it was sort of a natural progression.
DAVID WAIN: Over three years of trying to get this movie made, we put a little bit of time into creating an arc. My computer has thousands of files of scripts. We had the blessing and curse of having so many false starts. We had financiers sit and tell us, to our face, "This is a go, green light, we are doing this, let's have a drink." You never heard from them again. Every time that happened, we went back and rewrote. Finally, one came through, which was not until about two or three months before we started shooting it, in May of 2000.
•••Thanks to the fight for financing, some primary casting was done with the understanding that getting the movie made was contingent on having a few higher-profile cast members in place.
DAVID WAIN: We had written one of the more obvious typical-male-camp-director characters. We came up with the idea of it being Janeane Garofalo, and we rewrote the character for her, just because we loved her, and we knew her well enough from the New York scene to get the script into her hands.
JANEANE GAROFALO, Beth (camp director): I knew Michael, Michael, and David from The State. I might have met them on the Jon Stewart Show on MTV [1992's You Wrote It, You Watch It], if you can dial back the time machine that far. I think even prior to reading the script I wanted to do it, just because I wanted to work with those guys.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE, Henry (neighboring astrophysicist): I was in the middle of Frasier. It was really hard to find scripts that weren't basically Niles—and frankly, most of those scripts were not as well-written as the Frasier episodes. I read the [Wet Hot] script, and I thought, "This is really funny—if these guys know how to play the material." There's a scene where I discover that Skylab is going to come crashing down on the camp, and I have the line "Oh, fuck my cock." When I first read it, I thought, "Okay, that, weirdly, is one of the greatest lines I've ever read."
DAVID WAIN: He immediately called me on the phone and said, "If Janeane is doing this, and if you're going to play this straight and deadpan, and if this is the script, then I'm in."
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: I had done SNL with Janeane, and I really liked her a lot, so the fact that she'd be playing opposite me was a big draw.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I think he's being polite.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI, Gene (cafeteria chef, fucked-up Vietnam vet): I was doing Law & Order: SVU, just starting it, but deep enough in that it was a steady gig for me. I had a little downtime in between seasons, and I got a call to audition for this comedy. When I read the script, I thought, "Wow, this is really fucking weird."
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I'd actually seen Christopher Meloni in a Julia Roberts movie. Runaway Bride, I think. He's really funny in it.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I heard other actors in the audition room, and I heard how they were doing Gene, and I went, "No, that's not the guy." I was pretty confident in my gut about what the character was quote-unquote supposed to be. I didn't think of him as bombastic or threatening. I saw him as a whacked-out, cuddly Rambo.
DAVID WAIN: So many of the characters we came up with, it was like, "Yeah, there's gotta be, like, a fucked-up Vietnam-vet chef, right?" There wasn't a lot of thought in that.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I grew that facial hair out for four months. I didn't shave. I gained weight. I didn't get as chunky as I wanted to. I did the do-rag intentionally to have my ears stick out and give me an elfin quality. Everything had a purpose. It was very clear. And again, I think it's because I understood Gene.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: Christopher and David Hyde Pierce were, for many of us, the actors that validated this crazy circus. I was thrilled just to be in the movie.
MOLLY SHANNON, Gail (art teacher, recent divorcée): I was doing SNL, and David Wain and I knew one another. We actually grew up in the same town, Shaker Heights, Ohio. My manager told me about the part. It just sounded great, original and funny. And then David and I met—I think we went out and met for coffee, somewhere in the West Village. I just thought he was so funny, and I wanted to do it. It was real simple like that.
DAVID WAIN: I hadn't seen a lot of SNL in that period, for whatever reason, but when I went to see Superstar, I thought it was so funny. We also sort of knew Paul Rudd, who we'd met the year before when he came to see a play we had done called Sex a.k.a. Wieners & Boobs.
PAUL RUDD, Andy (counselor, douchebag): I had just finished [Baz Luhrmann's] Romeo + Juliet, which was how I met Zak Orth. I went to the show with Zak, who was friends with Showalter, and I hung out with David and Michael after. I remember thinking, "Oh. I'll be friends with these guys." I read the script and thought it was hilarious. I remember just saying to David, "Andy!" And he said, "You want to play Andy?" And I said, "Yeah, that would be great." So it wasn't like I auditioned or anything.
DAVID WAIN: Paul was a tiny name, but a name at the time.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I'd seen him in other things besides Clueless, and I thought it would be interesting to see him play against type.
PAUL RUDD: I was excited to play Andy. You read it, and you go, "Sweet. I already know what this guy wears." You just try and have fun within those parameters of douchebaggery and bandanna-ism.
KEN MARINO: I think I was the first guy in The State to move out to L.A., and I heard that David had written this screenplay. I think they wrote the part with me in mind, and then they had to get funding, so they were going to other friends of theirs who were bigger names. I think Sam Rockwell at one point was going to play my part.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I had gone off to make Viva Variety, and there were some bad feelings about that. I thought they were being huge mensches to give me a part in the movie.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: When you're so close to people, things happen. I'm sure we were upset, but it certainly wasn't enough of an issue for us to not want to keep working with Mike.
DAVID WAIN: Mike Black is crazy. We were doing Stella at the same time. I don't know what he's talking about.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: In a weird way, McKinley, it was a very hard part for me to play. Up to that point, I had done a lot of sketch work with The State, but my character is basically just a normal straight guy, pun intended, who happens to have this secret. My instinct always was to go for the bigger joke, to do more than was necessary. And they adroitly toned me down.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I think coming from sketch comedy, people have a tendency to ham it up, as it were. And I know that with Mike or anybody, the idea was for everybody to play it real. The more real and sincere and heartfelt that everybody played their roles, the funnier the absurdity would be.
KEN MARINO: I immediately went to Meatballs, and I was like, "I wanna be the guy with the Jewfro." So I went to the local wig shop off Hollywood, near Vine, and got a 'fro. That was my big contribution.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: Neil was really nerdy, and I think at that time, big eyeglasses equaled nerd to me. Like, "Yeah. Glasses. That'll do it."
KEN MARINO: I think I also insisted on Birkenstocks and cutoffs. I wanted my pockets to show.
MARGUERITE MOREAU, Katie (counselor, camp sweetheart): Bradley Cooper and I had just done a pilot in L.A. together, and he said, "You should go in for this movie!" There was a scene that ended with "Pan over to Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman from The Shawshank Redeption carving chess pieces." And I was like, "I have to do this."
DAVID WAIN: That's right! It was during the Capture the Flag sequence. In Capture the Flag, if you get tagged by the other team, you go to jail. So we panned to the kids in jail, and then there's [Robbins' character] Andy Dufresne sitting on the bed. It came out so dumb when we looked at it that we didn't even put it on the DVD.
ELIZABETH BANKS, Lindsay (counselor, a.k.a. Barbecue Sauce Girl): I was a cocktail waitress in New York, doing a ton of commercials at the time. It was the first official movie I was ever in, my first for-sure professional gig with other professional actors.
AMY POEHLER, Susie (counselor, director-choreographer of the talent show): I was doing Upright Citizens Brigade and performing all over New York. UCB and The State used to do a lot of open mics together, so we all knew each other. I came in and auditioned for the part that Marguerite Moreau did. I wasn't quite right for that, but they had me read for Susie, too. I like that she was the one who was always trying to keep it all together in this chaotic camp where nobody cared.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I auditioned for Marguerite Moreau's character. I was super disappointed when I didn't get that role. To me, playing Barbecue Sauce Girl was a consolation prize.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I actually went in for Liz Banks' Barbecue Girl. It was at Michael Showalter's house, with his cat, and they were like, "You have to read Katie."
DAVID WAIN: Marguerite had a certain innocence that I wouldn't necessarily describe as the first word you think of when you think of Elizabeth Banks or Amy Poehler.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I had a callback later that day, and there was this really serious dude there in the back. And I was like, "Fuck, I don't think that went well. That guy didn't laugh at all." And it turns out it was [Wet Hot producer] Howard Bernstein. I talked to him later while we were at the camp—he was on his way to a funeral and he dropped in for the casting.
•••Wet Hot was shot on location at Camp Towanda, a functioning summer camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from New York. Thanks to an indie budget of $1.8 million, the facilities had to double as both set pieces and home base for the cast and crew.
DAVID WAIN: We weren't sure if people were going to show up on set until they did that first day of shooting. We weren't positive it was going to happen until we started rolling the camera.
ELIZABETH BANKS: The way the movie was structured, if you can call it that, was "Everybody just come out here and be around!"
PAUL RUDD: We would eat in the chow hall. We slept where the campers sleep.
KEN MARINO: The crew stayed in one bunk area for kids, and all of us [in the cast] stayed in the nurse's quarters—basically the room Janeane and Joe destroy looking for the phone.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: We all had small rooms in quarantine, and there were no walls. There was no separation. There were no hotel suites, no trailers, nothing.
MOLLY SHANNON: With hair and makeup, I don't even think we had mirrors. It was just in cabins. I loved how free it was. It felt like when you're little and you make up a show.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: The Al Qaeda prisoners had it better than us.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I don't know what they were fucking thinking, but they contracted the actual people who make food for the camp to make food for us. And, you know, pizza bagels every day when you're 11 years old is a dream. When you're 30, and it's pizza bagels every day, you wanna kill somebody.
AMY POEHLER: Literally a bell went off when food was ready, and your Pavlovian response was always in full effect, and you'd walk down there thinking, "Okay, this is the day when the food's gonna be good." And it was always gross.
KEN MARINO: The crew was like, "We cannot do this."
DAVID WAIN: They staged a mutiny and forced us to bring in food from a restaurant.
ELIZABETH BANKS: Every day at lunch we would walk in, there'd be 150 kids and the cast. We'd all just go through the cafeteria line, sit down with our grilled cheese, and that was it.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I wish there'd been an entire movie made about the making of this. It was just like camp and so completely not like camp at the same time.
PAUL RUDD: It was definitely like camp, only we were allowed to have beer. And the closest thing was like a Walmart or something. It was still half an hour away. People who didn't have a scene to shoot would make the run to Walmart, load up on beer.
AMY POEHLER: We were being given the chance to take one more shot at summer camp, only we were wiser, better drinkers, and more sexually experienced.
ZAK ORTH: There were two distinct schools of thought. There were those of us who were like, "I'm never leaving!" and there were those of us who were like, "I'm spending as little time as I possibly can here in order to maintain sobriety and get sleep."
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I think I had about 14 actual days where I was shooting, and I stayed the whole time. You knew that if you left, you were going to miss something either on or off screen that was both really fun and hard to describe how hilarious it was if you weren't there.
AMY POEHLER: No one could really stay in the best contact with the people at home, which sometimes made things a little easier. We had a pay phone--all it was was the sounds of people coming up with excuses to their girlfriends and wives about why they weren't coming home.
MOLLY SHANNON: My stuff was shot pretty quickly. I just came in, did my part, and left. I used it like a retreat. I remember reading a lot. It was just fun getting out of the city for a few days.
ZAK ORTH: I was there for almost all of it. I think I came a few days after they started, and I don't think I left until it was over. I was in the last shot. It was very emotional. I think it was me picking up Mike Black and throwing him on the ground.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I was all in. I thought it was gonna be a lot of fun.
•••And then it started raining. After that, it rained some more. To be specific, it rained for 25 out of the 28 shooting days.
DAVID WAIN: It rained pretty much every single day, all day, really, really hard. Every day I would open up my door to my little room where I was staying at the camp and say, "There's no way it's still raining," and sure enough, it's still pouring down.
PAUL RUDD: It was insane. It made no sense. It was just one of those moments where everyone was talking about it. Even the people at the Walmart were like, "Yeah, we've never seen rain like this."
MARK WHITE, production designer: The mud was horrible.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: About four or five days in, I went to Walmart and bought the biggest pair of rubber fireman's waders that I could find.
DAVID WAIN: I had these regular leather shoes that I wore every day. I didn't want to buy boots because I didn't want to believe that the rain would keep going.
MARK WHITE: The art department had a bunk that was our workspace and storage area, and there was nothing but mud outside. So you'd work all day, but eventually you had to leave, and no matter where you had to go, you ended up with your boots stuck in the mud. It was crazy.
AMY POEHLER: As I'm sure you've heard, no one can underline enough the fact that the weather was so shitty that we were walking on planks across the camp because we were ruining the grass.
DAVID WAIN: It was fruitless. I think we destroyed their lawn.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: We had all of our crew members dragging equipment through a swamp, basically.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: It felt like the Korean War more than a summer camp. Or maybe an internment camp during the American Civil War.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I'd say he's right. It was like the most upbeat internment camp you're ever going to find.
AMY POEHLER: I was moving stuff around this week and I came across all these old pictures. My favorite, most symbolic one is just a kid's swing over a pile of mud. Like, just a giant gouged-out puddle filled with water, and then there's mud next to it. What we thought was gonna be this healthy, outdoorsy, activity-driven movie turned into a dark, Irish, indoors Eugene O'Neill play.
DAVID WAIN: The one thing about the rain is, even when it's pouring, unless you light for it, it doesn't fully show up on camera. So a lot of times we just shot in the rain.
MARK WHITE: It would start pouring and we'd frantically get cardboard or anything we could find to create a lip off the roof so that it wouldn't be just dripping rain coming down outside the windows.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: One of the great coups of the film is that it looks like it's warm and the sun is out. But it's not. When we were shooting Capture the Flag, there was a hurricane looming right over us. The sky was more or less black. We had 15 minutes to shoot it before there was a torrential rainstorm. But in the movie, you can't tell.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I know the scene where I'm like, "I'll see you in macrame!" there is a huge tarp from the roof of the cafeteria, over the camera, over where I am. And it is literally dumping rain all around us.
MOLLY SHANNON: Was it raining? I don't remember that. When I was there, it was sunny and beautiful.
DAVID WAIN: Most of the audio in the Molly Shannon arts-and-crafts-shack scene had to be replaced because the rain was pelting down on the roof the whole time.
MOLLY SHANNON: That's right! It was raining, and we had umbrellas. I forgot about that!
JANEANE GAROFALO: She forgot it rained every day? This is gonna sound like a smoke-blowing festival, but Molly is always in such a good mood that actually doesn't surprise me.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: There were a few times when me and the kids would do these scenes where we're all laying on the ground, looking up at the stars, and talking. And we all had hypothermia from the chill seeping into your bones of this ice-cold Pennsylvania wilderness.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: We were always wearing three layers of clothing at all times, unless we were shooting, when we were wearing basically nothing.
PAUL RUDD: I remember the scene where the kid was waterskiing in particular being really cold.
ELIZABETH BANKS: That was the coldest I remember being, too. It was freezing.
PAUL RUDD: We were on a boat, so that didn't help. No shirts, and we're moving in a boat, and it was seven in the morning and misty.
JANEANE GAROFALO: And you saw how tiny Elizabeth's bikini was.
ELIZABETH BANKS: When you see that shot, it kind of pans across us, and I was wearing pants most of the morning. I remember David being like, "We're kind of seeing your legs." So I'm pretty sure I'm wearing boots and pants wrapped around my ankles in the scene. Literally, they would call "cut" and I would pull up my pants as high as I could get them.
PAUL RUDD: Seven a.m., and I'm telling Elizabeth Banks she tastes like a burger and I don't like her anymore. I'll wake up at any time, in any weather, to say, "You taste like a burger." [He pauses.] I don't think she really tasted like a burger.
DAVID WAIN: The scene where Marguerite and Michael are hanging out in the goat shack—that was supposed to be in the woods, and it was just raining way too hard.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: We didn't have any time to shoot, and the goats were going crazy, so you really had to get it while the goats were happy.
PAUL RUDD: Even that opening sequence where we're all sitting around a bonfire and they're playing "Jane" by Jefferson Starship, it was just pouring.
DAVID WAIN: Our crew people were trying to build a fire, to no avail. We were like, "What the fuck are we gonna do?" We were freaked out, and, as always, we had no time…and Mitch came in and used his camping skills and somehow whipped this fire together. We were all very impressed.
MITCH REITER, director of Camp Towanda: I was actually in my office, and I heard them on the radio—they couldn't get the thing started. I went down there and said, "Listen, I'm a camp director, would you like me to start the fire?" I had slipped one of those firestarters up my sleeve, and I stuck it in the pile and I lit it. And of course it lights, because it's waterproof. And I got a nice standing ovation, and they shot the scene, and everyone eventually went to bed. They liked me that night.
•••Sadly, it would be a lonely bright spot in a working relationship that was awkward at best.
DAVID WAIN: I think Mitch was psyched about [the shoot] at first, and then once he saw that there were 100 people descending on his camp who were not under his control…
JANEANE GAROFALO: He really resented our being there. I don't blame him. You've got a camp to run, you've got campers coming a day or two after we wrap, and the camp is destroyed. I begrudge him nothing in that respect.
MITCH REITER: They were here until about 10 days before the kids showed up. Everything was inside out and upside down. I would find mess-hall chairs and tables in the woods. They were probably shooting a scene, but they never put the stuff back. They were supposed to stay in a restricted area, but I suppose some people weren't told, or weren't paying attention to the instructions, and they were really destroying our property, and I definitely got upset. I would say it took three years to recover from some of the mud damage.
DAVID WAIN: He was trying to make rules, like, no one could drink, and no one could smoke, and it was like, "Wait a minute."
MARGUERITE MOREAU: He was just trying to keep his ship afloat, but he turned into a comic character. Everybody sort of looked at him like, "You gotta be fucking kidding."
AMY POEHLER: When I look back at pictures, everybody is smoking. Everybody. And for a camp director, cigarettes are, like, the enemy. They're gross, they cause fires, they're hard to pick up. So cigarette butts were a big deal--where to hide them. Our pockets would be filled with cigarette butts because we didn't want to leave them on the ground.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: And then nobody could have dogs, which was really weird, cause it's, like, the wilderness. That got thrown out, thank God, cause Janeane had her great dogs there.
JANEANE GAROFALO: He was very nice to my dogs.
ZAK ORTH: He was a very nice man. But he consistently had trouble realizing that we were all full-on adults and not actual campers. We weren't doing anything to convince him of that, but, you know.
MITCH REITER: The cast was marvelous. They hung out at my house because it was the only dry place.
AMY POEHLER: He's an excellent camp director. A camp director has to be a person who puts their camp first, who cares about the campers, and who also has to be a bit of a buzzkill. It was really fun to have somebody that we had to sneak around and hide from. I'm sure Mitch didn't quite know what was going on half the time.
MITCH REITER: When David and Michael and Howard Bernstein, the producer, came to me and found our location, we talked it over and wanted to be sure it was an appropriate film to be associated with our camp. They said, "You'll have script approval!" So they showed us a script, and we approved it.
DAVID WAIN: I think we may have forgotten to put some of the scenes in the script when we showed it to Mitch.
MITCH REITER: Either it wasn't the same script, or the video portion didn't exactly stay true to what we read.
DAVID WAIN: There was sort of an unspoken notion that he knew we were doing things that were a little saucy, and it was in everyone's best interest not to talk about it.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I think any bad blood between us was not that different from any time you shoot on a private location. People rarely know what they're getting into. Ultimately he had a good time, and I think he's proud of their involvement in the movie.
MITCH REITER: We were promoting this and making a big deal out of it with all our campers. We kept talking about it and talking about it…and then when the movie came out, we never mentioned it again. When everyone saw the film, I got a couple humorous e-mails from parents saying, "We now understand why."
DAVID WAIN: We didn't, unfortunately, leave on the best of terms.
MITCH REITER: My scene with my wife was cut after Howard the producer got angry with us for yelling too much. We're in the outtakes—we were parents in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes and chewing gum, two things you're not allowed to do at camp.
•••To go with the real camp, Wet Hot also featured a slew of real kids, cast from a mix of Camp Towanda attendees, local extras, and professional child actors.
DAVID WAIN: They were just kids who auditioned. They came every day with their parents. Some of them drove two, three hours to get there
AMY POEHLER: The kids who were with David Hyde Pierce were really great. They were all pretty savvy.
MADELINE BLUE, Cure Girl (camper, one of Henry's geeks): I was 12 or 13 at the time. I had a manager in New York who got me auditions. I remember reading this script with all this racy humor in it and being like, "Wow, this is fun, but I'm a little scared." All I really knew about the movie--other than it had this script beyond my means of understanding—was the names attached. I knew Janeane Garofalo was that really funny lady in The Truth About Cats & Dogs and David Hyde Pierce was that Niles guy.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I remember there were issues with some of the kids' parents saying "I don't want my child to make out" and stuff.
ZAK ORTH: Their numbers certainly dwindled as their parents realized not only what was going on but just sort of the drudgery of it. They were like, "Ah, fuck this, I'm gonna go take them to a real camp."
DAVID WAIN: If you notice, in the movie there were basically 10 of them. We just kept shuffling them around in every shot.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I don't know if they understood the movie. We were shooting everything out of order.
KEN MARINO: I don't think we had any idea what was going on most of the time.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: There were a lot of things that people were like, "What are we shooting? What is this?" And we were like, "Just do what we tell you to do, and you'll see it when it's done."
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I think if they had known, or their parents had known, they would have been appalled. I mean, it's a filthy movie.
MADELINE BLUE: The specific moment that stands out to me is reading a scene that describes Michael Showalter's character waking up with a boner. I was like, "Oh my God! What is this movie? Is this a porn?"
DAVID WAIN: They didn't get the eighties at all. One of the earliest things we shot was the kids singing "Juke Box Hero" to Coop, trying to wake him up, and they were like, "What is this?" And we were like, "Oh God. We must be old already."
AMY POEHLER: Skylab was certainly something that our generation knew about, and the kids on the set had no idea what the fuck that was.
MADELINE BLUE: I got that it was something that had sort of actually happened, but not at this camp.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: Fortunately, we didn't have to deal with the kids that much. They were just sort of little fleshy props that other people were responsible for corralling.
MADELINE BLUE: They threw me in, my very first scene. I hadn't met Janeane yet. They're like, "Okay, here you go, here's Janeane, you're gonna tackle her." I just remember thinking, "This is really cool."
JANEANE GAROFALO: I hadn't met her, but it was delightful. And the most gentle tackle I had ever experienced. She was a wonderful person. I don't have children. I've never wanted to have children. But if you could guarantee me some like the ones at the camp, I might have tried it.
MOLLY SHANNON: A lot of times when you work with kids, the parents have them overpractice their lines, and they're like, "Good morning, Mom! You look pretty, Mom!" These kids delivered their stuff really deadpan.
•••Aside from kids—a notorious showbiz hazard—first-time feature director Wain was also dealing with a difficult location in impossible conditions while under significant budgetary and time restraints.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I don't know that he was qualified to do as good of a job as he did.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I remember thinking, "If he's able to do this amidst the monsoons, he should be fine down the line."
DAVID WAIN: I definitely was nervous. We had to make big compromises every day and quickly slash the shot list down as soon as reality hit. I had an assistant director named Chip Signore, who was also fairly young, but he'd done a few things. And he was the one who explained, you know, like, "Okay, you say, 'Roll sound,' and then when they say, 'Go,' then you can say 'Action,' "That kind of stuff.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: At that time—and I think David would agree with this—his skills as a director were very raw. It's not that they didn't exist. They did, of course. But he was finding his way around a camera.
MOLLY SHANNON: He let us improvise a little. When the kid gave me a massage, I was like, "Ahhh. Ohhhh, that feels so good. Ohhhh, your hands are like maaaagic." I loved that David would just let the camera roll.
•••But don't be fooled by the cast's sketch-comedy backgrounds—on Wet Hot, improvisation was rare.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: The script was pretty locked in. When you have a budget that small, and you have to make your days, and you're fighting the weather, there isn't time to fuck around that much. So I mean, as unbelievable as it is, the entire stupid spectacle of that movie was scripted.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Chris Meloni makes the speech where he admits to everybody that he's a pervert, essentially. That's when he talks to the can of vegetables and humps the fridge in front of everybody. He did that on the very first day he was there. Literally, he was driven to the summer camp, got out of whatever vehicle had transported him to the summer camp, went to put on his costume and makeup, walked on set, and shot that scene.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: Yeah. I just walked in, and I got to hump a fridge. It was nice to get the monologue out of the way, and I really appreciated everyone being there to watch the show. All the people who didn't have scenes or anything, they were all watching, and I could see out of the corner of my eye people were stifling laughter. That was sweet.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: That seemed to be the vibe on this movie for many things. People would show up on set, even if they weren't in the scene, just to see how it went.
JANEANE GAROFALO: We were all within five feet of each other all the time.
MARK WHITE: We would hang out on the art-department porch during work. Eventually they would shoot something where they were going to see us, so we'd have to bring in all the chairs and all the crap and go inside to wait until they finished the shot.
JANEANE GAROFALO: You just opened your cabin door, and you either went to do your scene or watch somebody else do one.
ELIZABETH BANKS: The funniest thing I did is not in the movie. I had to get up onto that floating dock to make out with Paul Rudd, but the way the camera was positioned, there was no ladder on the side I had to get up on. I don't know if you know this, but it's really difficult to pull yourself up onto a floating dock with the use of no ladder and when you can't touch the bottom.
DAVID WAIN: It's just not a thing that it's easy for a human being to do gracefully.
ELIZABETH BANKS: They ended up having to put a guy under the dock. He held on with his hands and his feet, and I used him as a human ladder, basically. So what you see in the movie was me stepping on some lovely crew person's midsection to haul my ass up.
ZAK ORTH: I really liked walking off the dock [into the water]. I liked how it came about. They had sort of shot themselves into a corner, like, "Here's this scene that takes place, and then another scene has to happen, and you can't be there anymore. So can you disappear?" And I was like, "How about if I just walk off?" I feel like that's one of my favorite little bits of absurdity. Just the blissed-out walk off the pier.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: There's a sort of artfulness to that sort of absurdity. There's a moment near the end of the movie where I've won an award and I have this gigantic trophy in my hand. I had to have an intimate scene with Janeane, and David had this great idea where I just handed the trophy off-camera. It just goes out for no reason and disappears. It's stupid. And it's meant to be stupid. And you just do it. And that's the joy.
ZAK ORTH: It's a complete disregard for trying to figure out sensible conclusions or solutions to a set of problems and instead saying, "We did this, and now it's over, and we're doing the next thing."
MARK WHITE: I loved the sun-tea jar that's on the porch when Beth is sitting there chatting with Nurse Nancy. We purposely did a gag where, every shot, the level of the tea would change dramatically. I kept that sun-tea jar.
PAUL RUDD: They say, "Let's put it in there, because it just seems absolutely stupid." Not in the way that Airplane! was, which is a very important comedy—this had a weirder, darker vibe to it. The vision is really specific and unfiltered, and not watered down.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: The whole montage of the counselors going to town—they go through essentially a classic junkie movie of experimenting with soft drugs and ending up getting high and killing people…and then returning to camp as if nothing had happened and only an hour had elapsed.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: It's a perfect example of a sequence that we could never have done in a studio film.
ZAK ORTH: It was this surreal rush into town to do this thing in one day. It felt very much like the actual thing that was being shot.
JANEANE GAROFALO: It was as fun as you would think it was by looking at it. I actually couldn't stop laughing at the scene where we mugged the old lady. And the celebrating when they got a six-pack.
ZAK ORTH: I assume they had all the necessary permits and crowd control and everything, but they might not have.
DAVID WAIN: Without question, we did not. It was definitely a situation where we had to say, "Okay, look, team. Here's what we're doing. We're going in the van. We're gonna run around town. We're gonna get the shots, and we can't really stay anywhere for too long, a because we'll get kicked out."
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: To me, that [scene in town] really sums up the movie pretty well. It's genre parody, and it's very meta, and it's absurd, and it's really silly, but it's dark. And understandably, when you throw that mix of ingredients into a blender, it's going to confuse some people.
KEN MARINO: I think the heart of Wet Hot is very relatable and very true. Between the absurdity and the dark moments of going to town and doing heroin are these little, innocent, wonderful moments, and I think that's what David and Showalter did so well in the movie. One of my favorite parts is when Showalter's character gets dumped at the end. Like, "Yeah, I'm gonna go with Paul's character."
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: "I'm 16 years old. Who cares whether he's nice to me or not? He's hot."
MARGUERITE MOREAU: She knows she's doing something shitty. She's trying to justify it desperately. Inside, her heart is broken, because she would really love to stay with Coop. But in her world at 16, that's social suicide. She has some issues to work out.
ELIZABETH BANKS: The whole movie is about how when you're that age, everything is so fucking dramatic. Every moment of your life could be the last moment, you know? And the fact is that none of it matters, ever. Like one in a hundred million people marries someone they meet at camp.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: For me, camp really was, you know, whoever you are in your life at home, you get to start over a little bit. It's sort of eight weeks of being seen differently.
DAVID WAIN: The camp I went to was so laid-back that it was a joke. None of the equipment or anything ever worked, and nobody particularly cared if you did anything all day. And so I mostly just hung around. I loved it.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: Looking back, I don't remember having that much more supervision as a camper than the kids in the movie. Counselors in real life are just teenagers. Teenagers are idiots and assholes. In my experience, the only reason to go to summer camp was to try to find people to make out with. And I started going to camp when I was 9.
AMY POEHLER: Us non-Jews were very fascinated by the idea of like, "Wait a minute. All these kids go up to a summer camp and they stay over?" I went to a broke-ass day camp. You didn't stay there. In my blue collar, Blue Oyster Cult town, if you needed to make out, you had to do it before the clock struck midnight. You had to get home. Here it was like, "Oh my gosh, this is a makeout factory."
•••While most of the making out in the film is of the comical-teenage-hormonal-explosion variety, there is one relationship that stands out for its maturity: The closeted love affair between gay counselors McKinley (Black) and Ben (Bradley Cooper).
DAVID WAIN: We liked the notion that the only sort of real and powerful and intimate sexual moment in the movie is between two men.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: The maturity of that relationship, oddly, is the joke—the fact that it's the only relationship that is treated with any genuine humanity. Believe me, it's not a political statement. It is, obviously, in its own stupid way. But like so many things in Wet Hot, it's an incredibly meta joke.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: It's the opposite of a gay joke. The joke is entirely on the people who are expecting us to be making fun of it.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I mean, that scene where we're just fucking the shit out of each other is the most lovingly lit and overtly directorial scene in the film.
DAVID WAIN: It was something I talked about with Ben Weinstein, our director of photography, from moment one. This is the one scene where there is no time limit—let's take the time and really light it, really make it beautiful. It's also one of the only two scenes that we built a set for, because we wanted to have the space to move the camera and really get it right.
MITCH REITER: That was a scene that was not in the script. And actually, when they were shooting that, they sent my wife and I on a wild-goose chase. If I remember correctly, we had a meeting to discuss the whole craft-services thing, so they had us on the other side of camp.
KEN MARINO: I may have been watching a Knicks game with him at the time.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I was very nervous, and I think Bradley was too. Neither of us had made love to a man before. There was no technical assistance. You'd think there would be. In fact, the kind of penetration I perform on Bradley, I don't know if it's actually physically possible.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I wanted to give them tips from Oz, but I thought, "You know? I'm not gonna jump in the game. I'm just gonna let them work it out for themselves."
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: So, you know, it was…strange, to start making out with a guy. And what was so strange about it, ultimately, was that it didn't feel that strange. It was sorta like, "Oh. I'm just making out with a dude. And it's fine." That was a little tough, to dig that up. I was unprepared. The blaśe-ness of it actually affected me more than had I been freaked out.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I just feel that there was a little more reciprocation between the fridge and myself than there was between Cooper and Black. What I think I'm saying is that the refrigerator has a wider emotional range than Cooper.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: In a professional environment, I absolutely took Bradley Cooper's cherry. And I feel good about that. What I don't feel good about is, I am the Peter Scolari to his Tom Hanks.
[Cooper was not available for this oral history but lent DETAILS this quote in an unrelated interview: "The truth is I was blown away by that experience. Watching Christopher Meloni work, and Paul Rudd…I was blown away at their freedom, and their creativity, and what they came up with that was not on the page. It was a real baptism by fire. It was wonderful."]
•••For an absurdist comedy, Wet Hot has a number of physical stunts that go above and beyond simple slapstick. Perhaps the least convincing is a scene in which a raft full of campers is supposedly about to careen over a massive waterfall.
ZAK ORTH: The whitewater-rafting sequence was an example of "I'm not getting through to these kids."
JOE LO TRUGLIO: They couldn't have been more relaxed, which was so weird because they were, in reality, in a very precarious situation! Yeah, their raft was tied off and we had safety guys in the water, but they were not very far from actual falls, which, although not big, certainly could have been a big mess.
KEN MARINO: We're like, "Act like you're in danger!" And they kept, like, half putting their arms up and kinda smiling and giggling. You know, when kids are that age, they can't commit.
ZAK ORTH: I heard that about Stand by Me—Rob Reiner couldn't get them upset enough. So what he did was actually make them upset in real life and then roll the cameras. David didn't do that. He was like, "Okay, fine, we'll just shoot around it."
•••In the film's climax (such as it is), the camp talent show is threatened by a plummeting Skylab while the oblivious kids and counselors in the rec hall are entertained by a very strange camper whose "talent" is the ability to create torrential windstorms.
DAVID WAIN: We had these military-grade wind creators, and we had a lot of fun playing around with them. They were these tube things that had the circumference of a steering wheel, and you could just sort of point them wherever you want.
MARK WHITE: I remember ordering it, and testing it, and laughing hysterically.
AMY POEHLER: I love when people use machines on sets, because there's a lot of speeches beforehand on all the safety precautions.
DAVID WAIN: At one point we threw this metallic confetti in there. That was a big mistake.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I don't know what I thought was going to happen, but that thing was like a hurricane.
ZAK ORTH: There's a very long shot somewhere that was just 45 seconds of me getting hit in the face.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I would have loved it if a kid had gone airborne, been projected across the room, and splatted against the wall. Nothing would have made me happier. They were all well-behaved children, but if one had died in the service of our art, that would have been fine.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I only got, like, half-wind. I definitely want to go back and redo that scene for prime windage.
ELIZABETH BANKS: David came over and whispered to me and Marisa [Ryan, who played a counselor named Abby], "Okay, on the next one, can y'all make out?" No one knew it was gonna happen. And then it happened, and the crew just erupted. They were so happy.
•••Eventually, Skylab itself had to come crashing to earth—and once again, the movie's time and budget constraints came into play.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: The Skylab drop was a great moment. To the extent that there was a special effect in the movie, that was definitely it.
AMY POEHLER: I remember us gathering for that. It was on this front lawn where we all used to eat and play football.
MADELINE BLUE: That was awesome. Kind of like watching fireworks. And in their very fun way, they were all pretty nervous about it. Like, "Okay, guys, we're gonna have one shot to drop this thing that's been hanging here for weeks off a crane, and it better look good."
MARK WHITE: Yeah, it was terrifying. We didn't have any money to build it. So we went to Home Depot and just bought a bunch of crap and put it together. And we tried to make it as sturdy as we could, but I remember a lot of conversations like, "Can it be on fire?" "No, it can't be on fire, because then we'd have to bring in the fire marshal, and plus it's made out of rubber and plastic."
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: They built this ridiculous thing, which if you looked at closely, it had, like, vacuum-cleaner hoses and stuff on it, but from a distance it looked great. They pulled it up and dropped it 20 feet or something, just above camera range, and they got it in one. I don't think they could have done a two. They couldn't afford to.
•••The other one-take event was the crashing of Victor's van, in the scene echoing Wain's real-life accident as a horny camp counselor.
ZAK ORTH: The crashing of Skylab was fairly uneventful. The crashing of the van was like the Manhattan Project.
KEN MARINO: They had a stunt guy, and it was an old van, and it was an old seat belt. I think they reinforced the seat belt. He went 40 miles an hour into a tree.
ZAK ORTH: They went into lockdown for the thing. We were like, "We're all gonna videotape it! We're gonna get our own footage!" And then people started freaking out—what if it made a noise, or what if it blew the take, or what if it distracted somebody? So at the last minute somebody was running around slapping cameras out of people's hands.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I was up on the hill across from the tree with a video camera. You couldn't see the van, but you heard it getting faster and faster. I remember just going, "Holy shit."
KEN MARINO: The guy came out and he was really shaken up. But stunt guys are really cool, and there's this unspoken code where they're not allowed to admit that they're hurt. So he came out, and put his arms over his head, and then he just walked in the other direction. I think he got the wind knocked out of him.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: No one said anything, because you're told that the stunt man and the stunt coordinator needed absolute quiet immediately after so they could see if he's okay. And of course he was, and there was this eruption of like, "Hell yeah!"
•••As is so often true, what happened on screen only tells half the story. In the case of Wet Hot, however, it may be the only half that anyone really remembers with much clarity. Blame, if you must, the weather. Or all that Walmart beer.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I have a lot of photos of people standing around with a cigarette in one hand and a longneck in the other—or maybe they're cans. Probably cans.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I did a lot of Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's porch-sitting. I was just hanging out, and depending on what time of day it was, I was kinda drunk. I did hold the line with never before 5 p.m. But I'm tellin' ya, after five, all bets were off.
MADELINE BLUE: There were a couple of actors that would sort of wander, and they'd be brownbaggin' it, and it was the middle of the day. I wasn't an idiot. I was like, "Oh, brown bags. Like the homeless people use." I think my mom and I talked about it, like, "Is that person an alcoholic? Should we be concerned?"
JOE LO TRUGLIO: It wasn't like we all got there Day 1 and thought, "We're just gonna get blasted every day!" It kind of developed into that because we started to realize how special this moment in time was, with all of our friends. The party was a result of, "This is amazing. Can you believe that we're all together here doing this?"
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: You only had two choices: To rage against the ridiculousness of the rain and the mud and the bugs and the icicles forming on your eyeballs, or just go with it and have fun. It really wasn't even a decision. Everyone just instinctively went with it.
PAUL RUDD: Everyone stayed up late. Everybody partied. There were no sticks in the mud.
AMY POEHLER: There would just be a lot of guitar circles, and people singing outside and getting really wasted.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I think I'm about 10 years younger than everyone else, so it was learning new books that I didn't know, or new musicians that I wasn't familiar with, and just soaking up as much as possible without getting way too drunk and being the young barfer in the corner.
PAUL RUDD: David kind of had to divorce himself from it a little, because he had to get up early and work. The rain would screw up so much stuff.
DAVID WAIN: I did participate in it, a lot more than I have in subsequent films. Partly because I was younger and more energetic. Partly because I was single. It was pretty crazy, I have to say. And then one day we decided to have a camp dance.
AMY POEHLER: They hired this DJ, Mr. Blue, who was friends with the guys from The State, and we had a rave on the grass of the camp. He played great '80s music, and we all went into the wardrobe department and put on outfits and had sparklers and danced.
DAVID WAIN: As luck would have it, for that moment in time, it stopped raining. It was this magical night, and we all went out on the dock in the pitch black and hung out.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I only got about 15 minutes of that party, and then it was blackout time.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: Yes. Mr. Blue is a friend of ours from New York, and Mr. Blue…uh…I'm thinking about this. I was not there. I missed it! Until now, I thought I was there for the entire time! I'm having a breakthrough!
AMY POEHLER: I can't tell you how fun-slash-ridiculous the whole thing was. I don't know where Mitch was.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: There were on-set romances, and drama, and mishaps, and misadventures. All of it.
DAVID WAIN: There were totally random hookups.
PAUL RUDD: A lot of people chewed gum. That was the big thing. Chewing gum and then wanting to make out. I think there was a lot of that that wasn't in the movie, too. Some of it was.
JANEANE GAROFALO: Waking up with someone in my bed, luckily fully clothed …that was not unusual. There would be certain crew members…[She trails off laughing.] I don't feel too badly about it. I feel safe in the knowledge that when you've got your shoes on, you're safe.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I can't speak to random hookups. I could, but I won't.
ELIZABETH BANKS: Let's be honest. If you were there during the day and it was raining, this is what you did: You went to sleep. You just slept all day. Because you spent the evenings getting drunk. So everyone was up until three, four in the morning every night, and then if you didn't have to work the next day, you just slept in and hung out. And it rained. And sometimes you went to Walmart.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I am one of those people who enjoys being employed without actually having to work. I'd get up, whenever, if I didn't have to work. I'd wade through the mud to see what they were shooting, and I would hang out for a little while. Then I might play Ping-Pong in the game room.
ELIZABETH BANKS: Michael Ian Black taught me how to play Stratego.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I remember Michael Black playing a lot of backgammon.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I have a bunch of pictures of the boys playing some sort of stickball.
AMY POEHLER: I sound like such a granny when I say this, but back then we didn't have any fucking cell phones and we didn't use the Internet. Nobody had BlackBerrys, nobody had laptops. It was just old-school writing on the door, like, "Meet me on the dock! We're going into town!"
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: It was when Survivor first went on the air. And it was a big deal. I remember watching maybe half of the first episode and saying, "Well, this is a piece of shit and it's never going to go anywhere."
AMY POEHLER: Ken Marino had a tiny portable TV with him, 'cause he wanted to watch Juliana Margulies' last ER or something. I remember him running around, crying, being like, "She went back to Clooney! She went back to Clooney!" He had this portable TV around his neck. That was it, as far as technology.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I was right next to Amy Poehler's room, and we had very thin walls, and I remember on her clock radio for some reason "The Piña Colada Song" coming through the wall. I started laughing, and I could hear her start laughing exactly at the same moment, and we started punching the wall because we both loved that song.
ELIZABETH BANKS: I have some photos of people, like, licking Britney Spears posters.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I definitely remember there was this big cult of Britney Spears on the movie. There were stickers of her, and I definitely had a Britney Spears poster in my bedroom. I don't remember why.
AMY POEHLER: We would go to Walmart and buy posters and put them in people's rooms. I remember having a lot of *NSYNC.
PAUL RUDD: Janeane Garofalo's room had a bidet, which we all thought was super-weird and really funny, and we were always making bidet jokes throughout the shoot. We were watching Showalter do the old Catskills Alan Shemper character [at the talent show]. After the song "Day by Day," and he just went, "Day, Bidet," which is a funny joke in and of itself. But we'd all been joking about bidets and using "bidet" wherever we could. So that one had us all in hysterics, because it was working on many levels, one of which no one would ever get but us.
KEN MARINO: I didn't have much to do with that. Although I have a bidet at my house now, if that's anything.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I have a picture of Ken Marino on the bidet, weeping hysterically while bidet-ing himself. It's one of my most cherished photos.
AMY POEHLER: Showalter had his cat with him, in his room. I don't know why. There was a lot of stuff about like, "Don't let the cat out!" Maybe it was to help him with his character.
KEN MARINO: Janeane had these big dogs.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: That made it nice for everyone, to have big furry things to cuddle up with.
KEN MARINO: At one point, her big dogs ran into Meloni's room.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: Oh, Jesus Christ. You know, she would want to come in and chit-chat, and her dogs had to be with her, and there was mud everywhere. So the dogs completely trashed my room. The dogs were not taught boundaries. They thought it was cute and perfectly acceptable to be sleeping with me in my sleeping bag, even though they were covered head to toe in mud. And there's Janeane, kind of oblivious, and just yammering on.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I am still mortified by that. I am still absolutely mortified. I'm being sincere. I was drunk a lot. Which I have to say was really fun, but sometimes what can happen is what happened with Chris Meloni, who is a person who I have a great deal of respect for, and in fact have had a crush on for years, so that makes it doubly mortifying. My dog Dewey, who was a big 110-pound retriever mix, he was a friendly boy. And if you opened any door to any room, he would walk in. If there was a bed in it, he would jump on the bed. So I opened the door, late night, to Chris Meloni's cabin. Dewey, covered in mud, walks in, jumps on the bed to settle in for the night with Chris.
KEN MARINO: I just remember Meloni packing his stuff up.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I'm walking after him going, "Are you serious? Are you seriously angry?" I'm already sensing this is not funny. My stomach has dropped. And you know people are angry when they're really quiet. He walked right to his car and drove back to New York.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I love Janeane, and I'm a dog person. I'm just not a muddy-dog person.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I don't drink anymore. I quit drinking in 2001. Let's just say that shoot was sort of the last hurrah. I went out with a bang. And a couple of concussions.
•••After a trip to Sundance and a struggle to find distribution, the movie was released on July 27, 2001. Just like The State's long-ago CBS special, it enjoyed little to no promotion; unlike the CBS special, it was not particularly well-received. It grossed what Wain estimates to be a grand total of $7,000 in its first weekend.
DAVID WAIN: Wet Hot has the outer trappings, by design, of a certain kind of comedy, and it doesn't deliver on that at all. And so if you're going in with the mind-set of wanting to see a regular comedy, this movie is going to disappoint you.
KEN MARINO: The first line that makes you realize, "Oh, this is a slightly different movie than I was expecting" is when Showalter says, "I want you inside me."
JANEANE GAROFALO: What does start out great is the opening song, "Jane." That gets people going. And then it sort of just powers down. Until Michael Showalter says that line, many people have little to no reaction, and they wonder why I'm raving about this movie. Sometimes with reviewers, the damage is done in the first 20 minutes.
DAVID WAIN: It got not just bad reviews, but savage, hostile reviews, like we did something personally bad to every reviewer. And maybe there was something revealing about the fact that reviewers took extra time and care to find ways to explain how much they hated our movie. Roger Ebert wasn't the only one.
PAUL RUDD: Owen Gleiberman [of Entertainment Weekly] gave it an A. When you're dealing with very good, specific comedy, and you get those kinds of opposite reactions, you're probably doing something worthwhile. If somebody didn't like it, I knew for a fact that I just so did not agree with that critic—and I bet you anything that person is older than me.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I'm about 10 years older than these guys. The people I brought to the premiere didn't get it. And that kind of shocked me. Because I could admit there were certain things where I was like, "I'm not quite getting it," but that's okay, 'cause I'm behind the curve. This was the underground cutting-edge comedy that us old folks can't get.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I do think this movie was a little bit ahead of the curve. I'm reluctant to say that any film is directly influenced by this one, because it sounds very presumptuous, [but] Anchorman springs to mind almost immediately—that kind of heightened, absurd insanity. That anarchic tone. We were sort of on that territory with Wet Hot, even if the producers never saw it. I hope there's some direct correlation.
MADELINE BLUE: In my very young brain, I thought there was a market for really racy comedy, so I thought this could be very big. But on the other hand, there were some nerves, like, "Ugh, what if people think I'm in a porn?"
PAUL RUDD: It only played in a couple theaters for a couple weeks, and when people would stop us on the street, their enthusiasm for it was genuine. You could tell.
MOLLY SHANNON: You had a feeling that people were really excited about it.
MARGUERITE MOREAU: I took a bunch of people in L.A. to see it in the one theater it was in, on the one weekend it was open, and something caught fire in the snack bar halfway through the movie, and we had to go outside, and then while we were outside there was a fucking earthquake. There were so many obstacles to seeing this movie.
AMY POEHLER: Knowing what I know now, I can really empathize with David and Michael and the hard work they did and how devastating it must have been for them.
DAVID WAIN: Obviously we hoped it would have more theatrical life. [But] a movie that size, to get a theatrical release at all was a huge win. It had its day in court, and it found its audience, and people who wanted to see it could see it.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I certainly have no regrets.
MOLLY SHANNON: For what it was, I'm just so pleased with how it did, you know? What was the budget, like a million? It was perfect. I loved exactly how it rolled out. They did it themselves.
ELIZABETH BANKS: The movie did exactly what we wanted it to do—it went to Sundance and it became a cult classic. Like, fuck yeah. Everything after the making of it was gravy.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: It's not like we thought we were making The French Lieutenant's Woman and then we can't believe that nobody liked it.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I never watch any of the other stuff I do, but I will watch that movie any time. It's like looking at photos of a wonderful time in your life. I was always assuming people would get the same kick out of it. Then I realized, "Oh, you can't expect people to understand how fun it was."
MARK WHITE: When people started going crazy for it, and it started showing up at midnight showings, it was just so exciting. I was a kid who grew up going to Rocky Horror on weekends, so to be involved with something with that kind of following was, like, "This is why I do this."
MADELINE BLUE: Most of Cure Girl's scenes are now deleted scenes, and if this had come out before DVDs, I don't think anybody would know the character at all. But as soon as I hit college, it was like, "Oh my God, you're Cure Girl!" I've had to make sure that people aren't befriending me just because I'm in that movie—it must be how real celebrities feel.
AMY POEHLER: I don't get quoted lines a lot, but they do talk about the movie in that way of, "You know what I actually thought was really funny?" Like, they use the word actually. When someone comes up to you and talks to you about Wet Hot, what they're saying to you is, "I'm not just a regular fan of your work."
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: When people stop me in the streets, the highest compliment they can pay is, "Dude, Wet Hot American Summer, man! I love it! I've seen it 20 times, man!" Or they'll shout out, "I'm gonna fondle my sweaters!"
PAUL RUDD: When I talk to people who went to camp and they're like, "Dude, that movie totally gets it," I don't know how to respond to that. Which part? The part of going into town for heroin? Or your chef humping a fridge?
MITCH REITER: On the first day of counselor orientation I say, "Listen, show of hands—how many of you picked our camp because of Wet Hot?" And about 30 percent of them raise their hands, and I go, "Bad decision! We are nothing like that camp at all!"
•••Now, 10 years down the road, with the film firmly ensconced in the cult canon and its cast and director headlining Hollywood blockbusters that make Wet Hot look like a student film, the drums are beating for a sequel, and the creative team isn't doing much to quell the rumors.
DAVID WAIN: We're talking about it! The joke is that in the movie we shot, the characters are mostly about 10 years older than they should be. We were saying everyone was 16, and most of the cast was more like 30. And in the next installment, it would still be the same time period, so now most of the actors are more like 40, playing 16.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: I'm not sure how that will fly, but I would certainly be excited to see what they came up with.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I would absolutely be thrilled to do anything with any of those people again.
KEN MARINO: If it's a prequel, I'll bust out the shorts again. I'm ready. If your question is am I skinny enough to put the shorts on again, the answer is …I'll go into several months of training.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I hope it happens. I love camping.
ZAK ORTH: Just the very thought of it makes me feel all warm inside.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: I think Michael and David are talking about it, but they're very mysterious about it, and I don't know if it will ever come to pass. David's a big-shot director. He doesn't have time for this.
DAVID WAIN: I can't comment on an ongoing investigation. Might be a little harder to get everyone together, what with them all being giant movie stars. But that's the idea.
JOE LO TRUGLIO: I would imagine our A-listers would come down in their quotes, otherwise the movie would cost about $100 million over the line.
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I think I'd need to make more money than Bradley Cooper. That's all I'm going to say.
MITCH REITER: I was thinking about the movie on opening day this year, because we had nine inches of rain the day before. I said to the staff, "This is just like Wet Hot!" I am not opposed to them coming back. Certainly I think we all learned a lot. And I am open to discussing how we would do it properly and without destroying my camp.
DAVID WAIN: That's fair.