If you’ve ever been around a runner or went to high school pretty much anywhere, you’ve probably seen the cross country shirts with the message, “Your team’s punishment is our team’s sport.” It’s not untrue that runners are usually not shy to talk about running, whether they’re asking you to make a donation in support of them running a marathon or trying to get you to come on a run with them in a snow storm because the texture is just better that way.
Yet, aside from films like 2007’s “Run Fatboy Run” starring David Schwimmer, there are no comedies that punch up at runners the way “Caddyshack” did for golfers or “Slap Shot” did for hockey players. So, when producers Brian Hunt of Believe Entertainment Group and Marc Lieberman from Above Average teamed up to make an ensemble comedy with a very specific kind of audience, they ended up with “Office Race,” Comedy Central’s new film that pokes fun at the perils of being a runner.
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“We started breaking down what categories target passionate, but kind of underserved audiences. And we literally started listing a bunch of them,” Hunt tells Variety. After a long list of options, Hunt and Lieberman landed on the subject of runners.
“Brian brought up sort of few different things and I remember seeing running. Back in the day, when I was much younger and in better shape, I used to run half marathons and triathlons and all my friends used to make fun of me for it,” says Lieberman.
Once that was settled, the producers moved on to wrangling a funny-enough ensemble cast. They brought on Above Average’s Ally Engelberg as a producer, who found it fairly easy to bring on talent that wanted strictly business for comedy.
Comedy Central, which previously put out TV movies like “Out of Office” and “Reno 911!: It’s a Wonderful Heist,” helped Engelberg bring on former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Beck Bennett and “Community’s” Joel McHale as leading men. Bennett plays Pat, an out-of-shape, average office Joe who vows to run a marathon against his smug, uber-fit boss Spencer, played by McHale.
“I will give Beck big props, he took on a leading role and took it seriously,” says Engelberg. “Office Race” marks Bennett’s first lead role in a full-length feature film since he departed from “SNL” in 2021. “He got really involved in character motivation and sent emails and emails to the director. This went way beyond a sketch for him and it was really fun to see him soak into really getting 90-minutes of the character and the arc of that.”
The film also stars comedy vets and newcomers alike including Kelsey Grammer, Alyson Hannigan, J.B. Smoove, Erinn Hayes, Kylie Bunbury, Geoffrey Arend, Katlyn Carlson, Matt Richards and Karolena Theresa. They also got former “SNL” star Sasheer Zamata on board along with a cameo from retired NFL running back Reggie Bush (“He’s so dry, his unbelievable delivery,” Engleberg mentions.)
In addition to the parameters of a target audience they could punch up at and a solid ensemble cast, the producers had to work within a budget of $5 to $10 million and work in some sort of brand placement along the way. In comparison to this summer’s comedy films, “Office Race” shies far away from the Jennifer Lawrence-led “No Hard Feelings” which had a production budget of around $45 million and sits closer to Emma Seligman’s gym-class farce “Bottoms” which worked with a budget of just over $11 million.
“There was no Tom Cruise role to be the number one that gets it made,” says Lieberman. With a small budget in mind, the producers tapped numerous brands for placement advertisement. From conception to finish, the film ran (literally) from 2016 through 2023, and they were lucky enough to have one brand stick with them through the process: Google. Lieberman explains that they wanted a seamless brand integration, something tasteful that wouldn’t impede the comedy of it all.
“I remember Brian telling me that ‘Dodgeball’ actually ran out of money and sold sponsorships throughout all the games — which I didn’t even realize — and that’s how they completed the film,” says Lieberman. “But it was done in such a clever way that it actually enhanced the movie. And I think that’s really what we want to include in this.”
One other homage to classic ensemble comedies was bespoke theme songs, like Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” for “National Lampoon’s Vacation” or Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” theme for “Caddyshack.” So, they called on singer Bryan Adams whose hits like “Heaven,” “All For Love,” “Everything I Do (I Do For You)” have appeared in a litany of films from “A Night in Heaven” to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
“As part of the throwback feel,” says Hunt, “[Adams] did two songs for the movie and it just fit the whole feeling of like those big comedies that everyone grew up on and loved.”
The film was directed by Jared Lapidus and written by Lapidus and James Kilmoon. See below for an exclusive clip from “Office Race,” which premieres Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. on Comedy Central.
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