22 Jump Street: Phil Lord & Chris Miller on The Film’s Funniest Jokes

22 Jump Street Car Chase

With the release of 22 Jump Street following The LEGO Movie by barely five months, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller may have just pulled off the biggest cinematic one-two punch since Steven Spielberg released both Jurassic Park and Schindler's List in 1993. But, you know, with really stupid jokes. And really smart ones as well. Both of Phil Lord's and Chris Miller's 2014 movies are extremely funny motion pictures about the creative process itself, whether it takes the form of pure childlike expression or churning out a copycat sequel of an earlier success.

Related Article: 22 Jump Street Review: Something Cool

We had a lot to talk about – Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and I – and being the merry pranksters that they were they introduced themselves wrong over the phone so it would be harder later on to transcribe this interview and attribute their responses correctly. (I triple-checked and I "think" I got it right.) But we had to talk about some of the most memorable jokes of the movie, the unforgettable ending (spoiler alert), the original ending they tested out instead, and why IMDb is just plain wrong on the film's trivia page.

22 Jump Street opens in theaters on July 13, 2014.

CraveOnline: Guys, I think, if I may…? I think 22 Jump Street is your best film so far.

Christopher Miller: Oh, I love hearing that!

Phil Lord: We’re trying to get better every time.

I think you’ve succeeded. Obviously I want to talk about the approach. Was the idea to do a very biting satire of lazy sequels the first thing that came to mind when someone suggested you do a lazy sequel?

Phil Lord: [Laughs.]

Christopher Miller: It definitely was the early idea that we talked about, and we, from the very beginning, said this should do for sequels what the first one was doing for remakes and ‘80s buddy cop flicks. It was in the very first draft of the script that Michael Bacall wrote, and then it just became… We realized that there was a parallel between how hard it was to make a sequel and how hard it is to keep a relationship going in real life, and we wanted to try to recapture the magic of the first time in both cases, and how hard that is. We thought we could make a movie about that. It seemed kind of interesting to us.

When I watched Jonah Hill do the slam poetry bit, and he just called out all the things other people were doing regardless of context, I thought to myself, “That’s what a comedy sequel is, isn’t it?”

Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: It’s like calling out its own form, it’s aware of itself. Yeah, I guess that’s true. “Specific point of view on THINGS!” That cracked us up when he did that. Yeah, that is kind of what it is, and as Chris says, that’s meaningless unless it comes back to their relationship. That’s a fun, cute trick to do but it doesn’t sustain a movie until that becomes a thematic problem that their characters are dealing with. How do you replicate success? How do you replicate a successful relationship and turn it into a marriage in the face of all the distractions, and all the other things that people could be doing?

Thinking about comedy sequels, one of the things you do that’s been done before is you’ve switched the paradigm about. Now Jenko is the popular one and Schmidt is left out of the fold. Like in Crocodile Dundee II, “Just send him BACK to Australia, see if it works.”

Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: Believe it or not, it’s rooted in observation. In the first movie we visited a lot of high schools and were surprised to find that the nerdy kids were kind of in charge now. Or at least the cool kids were dressed and acting like nerdy kids. But when we went to visit UCLA and we went back to our old college also, to do a little bit of research for this movie, we found the opposite was true. That actually, college is exactly how you remember it. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if that the idea of what college is supposed to be is just so strong that once kids get there they conform to it, but we found that the frat guys were the same as the ones that we remembered…

Christopher Miller: And sports was still valuable…

Phil Lord: Sports was still valuable and fraternities were still very popular, and a guy like Channing would rule at college.

I think a guy like Channing would rule anywhere.

Christopher Miller: That’s true.

Tell me about one of my favorite bits in the film. Tell me about the “Meet Cute” scene.

Phil Lord & Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Christopher Miller: That was a bit that was devised by Rodney Rothman, and we thought it was hilarious but we were really worried that people wouldn’t get it. Like a lot of the other meta stuff in the movie, we shot it and we shot a safety version that was a totally different version of that scene but it was so adorable, and those guys played off each other so well, Wyatt Russell just did a great job with being a natural but really likable doofus quarterback, and we found when we tested it that people got it. We were really impressed that that was something that people actually knew.

How did the other version of the scene go?

Phil Lord: It was just after the jinx scene where they go, “Oh, sorry dude.”

Christopher Miller: Yeah, and then they did an extended jinx bit that the later one was sort of a callback to…

Phil Lord: And it worked great but we wanted to swing with “meet cute” because it seemed crazier.

Christopher Miller: The only time that could ever happen in a movie.

There’s another joke that I want to talk to you about, because I saw it and then I laughed sixty seconds later really hard and no one knew what I was laughing at. It was “The Benjamin Hill School of Filmmaking.”

Phil Lord & Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Christopher Miller: Yes!

Phil Lord: That was another Rodney one, right?

Christopher Miller: That was us, from the storyboard. The storyboard panel that looks super profile, and basically it was always just a Benny Hill gag. I think it was your, or I can’t remember, my idea to have the name of the film school…

Phil Lord: “The Benjamin Hill Center for Film Studies.” I think it was Rodney’s thing. That’s the typical truth of these jokes is that they have many authors.

Christopher Miller: Although that one you’d think most people would be trying NOT to take credit for it. I don’t know that our main audience, it’s their favorite joke in the universe. There’s a lot of things in there that are just for us, and like Phil is saying, there are a lot of people that worked on this – Jonah, Channing, Cube and all the other actors and the crew – there’s a lot of people that had a lot of great input that helped make this thing as funny as it is.

There’s a bit on IMDb in the “Trivia” section, I’m wondering how true it is. It says something about how you were so busy on The LEGO Movie that there were no script revisions. Is there any truth to that?

Christopher Miller: It is the opposite of true.

Phil Lord: [Laughs.] No script revisions on Jump Street, you mean?

On 22 Jump Street, yeah.

Christopher Miller: That is incredibly false.

Phil Lord: Rodney was with us every single day, and writing every single night, and on the weekends we would start our day together going, “Why don’t we do this,” and “Maybe we could…” And it's true that we spent fewer years working on this script, because we had an extra year on the first movie…

Christopher Miller: But we were constantly revising it, up to the moment. Like, minutes before we were shooting we were printing out [pages].

Phil Lord: Yeah, Michael [Bacall], Oren [Uziel] and Rodney would all disagree with that.

Christopher Miller: And we’d spring it on the guys. “Oh, hey, there’s a completely new version of the scene. Hope you like it.” And they’re like, “Aw, guys! Man…”

Phil Lord: Basically right before we shoot. They had five minutes.

I want to get back to that car chase. That’s a really clever idea, saying “We’re out of money” and then having to do a car chase. It strikes me that you’re straddling a line between having things break and being upset about it, and also just having a cheap car chase. Can you talk about that idea?

Phil Lord: That car chase was a huge sticking point with everyone. They wanted it to be less expensive.

Christopher Miller: They really did want to keep our budget down on that and so we had to find more and more inventive ways to make things seem like they were more expensive, with actually spending any money. [Laughs.] So a lot of that stuff was making fun of the moviemaking process.

Speaking of the moviemaking process [Spoiler Alert], we’ve got to talk about this ending where you run through every possible 21 Jump Street sequel. Are you just trying to get out of making any more of these?

Phil Lord: No, we’re pitching! We’re pitching.

Christopher Miller: It’s 22 unique ideas for a great movie there, you guys. [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: This is an Original Film Production. If you don’t think there are going to be 22 sequels, you’re wrong.

Christopher Miller: They’re making nine Fast and the Furious movies.

So how did this come about? It’s really clever, because you begin the film with “Previously on 22 Jump Street,” which is a really clever way to rid yourselves of a prologue…

Phil Lord & Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Christopher Miller: And honoring our TV roots. And then the ending. The ending came about surprisingly late in the process. We had shot a different ending where the guys decide they don’t want to do this anymore and then walk off into the sunset, but we found that people were kind of disappointed that they weren’t going to keep doing this…

Phil Lord: They wanted a happily ever after.

Christopher Miller: So we thought that we would make the MOST happily ever after thing while at the same time poking fun at some of the establishment franchisization [sic] of movies.

Phil Lord: I want to see all those movies.

Christopher Miller: Especially the mariachi one.

Phil Lord: Yeah. [And] I want to see the animated TV series so much.

It looks to me like, when I look at your films – particularly the 21 Jump Streets and The LEGO Movie – that every time they approach you to do a movie you end up making a movie about making that movie.

Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: Yeah! That’s our one move.

Christopher Miller: Yeah, we’re always so surprised that they’re letting us make a movie, we’re like, “Can you believe it?! We’re making a movie!” So yeah, it’s definitely just us being excited that people are foolish enough to entrust major motion pictures to us. [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: Exactly. Maybe someday it won’t be funny that we’re making something.

Christopher Miller: Yeah.

Phil Lord: It still feels insane.

The snake will eat its own tail and you’ll make a really dark, nightmarish Kafkaesque film about filmmakers.

Phil Lord: Yeah, well, that’s for sure. We need to make our Barton Fink.

Do you guys ever get tired of being funny? Do you ever want to make that serious Oscar picture?

Phil Lord: I’d love to see us try. I don’t know what it would be like.

Christopher Miller: [Laughs.] The gritty coal miner drama.

Phil Lord: The Coens won one for Fargo. That’s a really funny movie.

There you go.

Christopher Miller: I think hopefully our careers will be long enough that we get to develop in different kinds of movies. It’s hard to think of one that’s completely humorless. That’s not the way that we operate. But hopefully we’ll be able to do a lot of different things, to work with people as talented as the people on 22 were.

What is the next project for you guys as directors?

Christopher Miller: Well, we’re going to do the TV show that we’re making with Will Forte, that is crazy, called “The Last Man on Earth.” It’s going to be on Fox, believe it or not, and it is crazy and wonderful.

Have you decided on your next feature yet as well?

Phil Lord: We don’t know yet. Chris wrote something really cool that he’s going to direct, and that we’re producing together sometime in the future. It’s called The Reunion.

Wait, you guys are going to split up the band?!

Christopher Miller: We’re not breaking up the BAND…

Phil Lord: It’s just solo albums, son.

That never goes well! When does that go well?!

Christopher Miller: [Laughs.]

Phil Lord: Mick Jagger’s solo albums are WONDERFUL!

Christopher Miller: And we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do in the future. Mostly we just want to take a little vacation because making two movies at the same time was super hard.

It’s been a crazy six months for you guys. And I imagine the years that preceded it as well. From our perspective, it’s like, “God, these guys AGAIN?! And it’s still GOOD?!”

Phil Lord: I know. We’re exhausting… We’re boring the hell out of everybody.

I can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming out in December. That is going to be awesome.

Christopher Miller: We’ll drop a surprise movie like Beyoncé. 

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.