Erik Stolhanske looks to inspire/entertain Wounded Warriors
It’s time again for the the Wounded Warriors to visit the Eastern Sierra. Next week, 41 servicemembers and guests will be hosted by Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra in a plethora of adventures on Mammoth Mountain and beyond.
Erik Stolhanske of Broken Lizard Comedy Troop, famous for the movies “Super Troopers” and “Beerfest,” will be part of those adventures. Stolhanske, who was born without a femur and has lived his life with a prosthetic leg, is not only a comedian but also a motivational speaker, and will give a presentation to the Wounded Warriors crew on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. at Edison Theatre. The public is also invited.
Wolf caught up with Stolhanske as he prepared to visit Mammoth.
Wolf: You’ve been to Mammoth Lakes before for the 4th of July Parade a few years back. That must have been a life changing moment for you.
Stolhanske: Haha, that’s when the movie roles were rolling in. I think Ted [Carleton] likes to mix things up a bit. We were going down the road and Jay [Chandrasekhar, a fellow member of Broken Lizard] and I were atop this float waving and people were yelling, “Who are you?!” I think that’s why Ted wanted us there, to confuse people.
Wolf: Do you ever get tired of the “Super Trooper” jokes? In other words, how many “Super Trooper” jokes can I throw in here before you hang-up on me?
Stolhanske: Haha … 23. No I’m flattered that people are willing to tell ‘em. I don’t mind it, sometimes people will come to me and say those things and I don’t know how to respond. But it’s nice that people love that movie.
Wolf: So you’ve had a bit of a career change in the past couple years. What made you decide to go on the motivational speaking circuit?
Stolhanske: When I was in high school there was a women who came to speak to our class that had lost her leg to cancer. She was a model and I remember being young and impressionable, and I have a prosthetic leg myself so I was pretty inspired by that. I’ve always wanted to do something similar, but I wanted to wait ‘til I was at a point in my career where I could go back and it would have some sort of meaning. [Broken Lizard] did a national stand up comedy tour for about a year and a half and it was a very fulfilling experience. I was able to get comfortable speaking in front of large crowds and after that it seemed like a natural progression to use my comedy for something more meaningful and motivational. When Broken Lizard was touring we visited Walter Reed Hospital and we had met a lot of soldiers who got injured by IEDs. The guys would be like, “Hey Stolhanske over here, he’s got a fake leg,” and they had seen our movies and had no idea. So after the tour I started meeting some wounded soldiers. I would show them my prosthetic leg and you could see the change in their eyes a little bit, that they could have a normal life.
Wolf: Now you were born without a femur. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been growing up. But coping with that as a kid, did that steer you at all toward being a comedian?
Stolhanske: I think it probably had a huge impact unconsciously. I never felt like I had to be the class clown because of it. But I always wanted to make people laugh. I remember back in elementary school when we would have a substitute teacher I would purposely sit in the front row and have one foot facing forward and the other facing backward just to see if she would notice.
Wolf: That’s kinda of dark. What about in your college years?
Stolhanske: I had a ton of fun with it in college. The first time I had met Jay we were both building sets for the theatre department and we didn’t know each other at the time. He said he was from Chicago and I told him I was from Minneapolis so we started talking about which city was tougher. So I said, “Oh yeah,” and went and grabbed a hammer and smacked myself in the ankle then nonchalantly handed it over to him. To my surprise he whacked himself in the ankle with it. So I kicked a cement wall, and then of course he kicked the wall and dropped to the ground almost crying. Then I went and got a staple gun and shot a staple into my leg and he was just about to do it and I stopped him and was like, “Stop, you’re way tougher than I am. I have a fake leg.” We became best friends and roommates after that. That’s sort of how our relationship started with the comedy group.
Wolf: You’ve played so many different roles with those guys. Has the fact that you have a prosthetic leg ever limited any roles that maybe you’ve wanted to do but couldn’t?
Stolhanske: I mean, people sort of noticed in the films that I never was in shorts. It was a big challenge in “Club Dread” because we were in an environment where everyone was in shorts and Speedos. I just never wanted to come out about it early in my career because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed in any way. That was the nice thing about being in Broken Lizard, I never felt insecure about it because
I was with my five best friends from college. This one time I was cast in an Armed Forces commercial and I was about to fly back to do it and they found out that I had a prosthetic leg and so for whatever reason I wasn’t allowed to play that role. I don’t think anyone would have noticed, but I guess they had some policy that wouldn’t allow it. So my leg has stopped me from getting some roles.
Wolf: Was there a moment in your career where you decided to stop caring whether or not people knew you had a fake leg?
Stolhanske: I had a very specific moment when that happened. I was asked to be in the workout video P90X. I was in the gym one day and I saw a flyer that asked people to come try “the hardest thing they’ve ever done.” So I went and did a test group and the instructor, Tony Horton, found out I had a prosthetic limb. He asked me if I would be in it specifically for the reason that he thought it would be inspirational to people. At first I said no. I didn’t want to be seen as a guy with a wooden leg and I’ve been doing movies and television for almost 20 years while trying to keep it a secret. Then I realized it had the potential to really help get people off the couch. It was the first time that I wasn’t embarrassed about it. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately I did those P90X videos in shorts and came out to the world about it.
I just wanted to be a guy with a prosthetic showing people that you can do this even if you have challenges to overcome. I don’t know, it was very separate for me. It had nothing to do with acting or my comedy career.
Wolf: What happened after that video? Did it help your career in any way?
Stolhanske: I don’t think it hurt or helped it. But I got a lot of letters from people saying that it helped change their lives. And it also helped encourage me to go out and do my motivational speaking.
Wolf: Is there anything on the radar from Broken Lizard in the near future?
Stolhanske: Well, we have the script for “Super Troopers 2” finished, and that’s what we really want to make next. We’re sort of in negotiations with the studio right now so we don’t quite have a green light.
Wolf: Any chance, we’re going to see Rabbit in some short shorts?
Stolhanske: Eh, that would be plagiarism. You can’t be Lt. Dangle. So maybe I’ll just do a scene in my underwear. Hmm, that could work … there is a love scene.
The public is welcome to attend Stolhanske’s presentation on Thursday night. Tickets are $10 at the door, but if you plan to attend please call 760.934.6592 for advanced reservations as seating is limited.