Today’s special interview guest is none other than the talented and inspirational Erik Stolhanske. Erik has been a member of the comedy group Broken Lizard for over 20 years, starring in projects such as Super Troopers, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the well known p90x extreme home fitness program. Born without a left fibula, Erik has faced adversity throughout his life with courage and determination. I recently had the honor of talking with Erik and discussing many of his past projects, as well as his new career in motivational speaking and upcoming projects like Super Troopers 2.
BD: Over the years you have stayed very busy with Broken Lizard among various other projects, how did you become inspired to add speaking into the mix?
ES: When I was in high school in Minneapolis a woman spoke at assembly. Her name was Ivey and she was a model. Despite losing one of her legs to cancer she was on stage wearing a mini-skirt and panty hose. I couldn’t tell for the life of me that she had lost her leg. It was so cool and inspirational that she was up there talking about how it’s possible to have a very fulfilling and meaningful life even when obstacles (like having a prosthetic leg) are placed in front of you. It really gave me hope, because I was born without a fibula and grew up with a prosthetic leg. The message of her speech stayed with me and I felt that I wanted to share my message with audiences with the hope of inspiring people to live life to the fullest despite any obstacles they may face. Speaking is a nice way to give back to this world. I wanted to get to a place in my career in the entertainment world where I could have the most impact.
I didn’t talk about my leg for a long time, because I never wanted to be labeled as the guy whose missing a leg. Until Tony Horton, the creator of P90X, approached and asked me to be in his video. He thought that if I was able to complete the workout with one leg, people wouldn’t have any excuses. He wanted me to do it in shorts to show of my prosthetic leg. It was a terrifying idea, but in the end I thought that was the best way to announce it to the world to reach and help as many people as possible.
above: Broken Lizard and p90x star Erik Stolhanske
BD: How long have you been doing speaking appearances?
ES: I’m fairly new at my speaking career. I’ve been doing it the past 2 or 3 months now, and I’m starting to book gigs and go out, so this year will really be the first year I do it full time in addition to doing films and screenwriting.
BD: How has the experience been for you so far?
ES: It’s been really great, you know, if I go to an audience and I reach at least one person – to me that’s the most fulfilling thing. Everyone I’ve met
so far has been attentive and interested. I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in my story or not but everyone’s been very encouraging. My belief is that is that everyone has a “wooden leg” – something in their life which they wish they could change. There’s a lot of people that come up to me afterward and say, “I had something in high school or I’ve got something going on now, and the fact you were able to overcome your obstacles gives me a lot of hope”. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from people I’ve met and it’s very rewarding.*
BD: How long has fitness played a major part of your life?
ES: I always wanted to be a professional baseball player growing up. I was the captain of my high school base ball team, and from the minute I was started playing in Little League. Baseball was all I could think about day in and day out. I was always very athletic, playing hockey and going to the skating rink down the street. I just couldn’t get enough of sports.
above: from l-r; Erik Stolhanske, Dom “The Locust”, Tony Horton, and Pam “the Blam” in “the mother of all X workouts”, Plyo X
BD: How did you first get involved in p90x?
ES: In addition to playing sports I’ve always gone to the gym, I think fitness is very important in life, I was at the gym and I saw a flyer that said, “Come be part of the hardest thing you’ll ever do”. I always like to challenge myself, so I responded to the flyer and joined a test group of about 30 people. We met for 90 days, six days a week. We were required to be there everyday and follow a nutritional meal plan to see if the program worked. It did work, because it’s gone on to be the #1 best selling home fitness program.
BD: So after you were done with the program and filming, did you keep doing P90x or your own fitness regimen?
ES: Well I became buddies with Tony during the test group and we remained close friends after filming. I still work out with him every Tuesday and Thursday morning and have been doing that for about 5 years. On Sunday mornings I used to work out with a group of peopIe at the beach. We did a lot of gymnastic exercises- climbing ropes and parallel bars, really challenging ourselves with body weight.
BD: Yes, I’ve seen some of that on Youtube! I’ve seen some of the upside down rope climbing and I keep thinking, “I must learn how to do that!”
ES: (laughing) If you ever come out to Los Angeles its open to anyone who wants to go. A lot of great challenges. A lot of great people and a heck of a workout!
BD: Are you still friends with anyone else from the p90x crew?
ES: Our Tuesday morning group is Scott Fifer, Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice Guy), Tony and I. Daniel Haas is still a friend. I used to see Dominic from plyo at the beach. He’s a friend. Bobby Stevenson, Phil Maulton, Dreya (Weber). We all hang out every once in awhile.
above: Erik Stolhanske in Super Troopers as “Rabbit”
BD: Is Tony anything like he is during the workouts or is he more toned down off camera?
ES: He’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. He comes from a standup comedy background and it’s a good combination to have a friend that can motivate and make you laugh. Our workouts are a ton of fun and Ilook forward to them every week.
BD: Have you tried out anything from p90x2 yet?
ES: Yeah, we definitely have tried some stuff. I haven’t seen any footage but our workouts have changed quite a bit from the P90x workouts. A lot of BOSU balls and stability. If Tony learns something new we’ll incorporate it.
BD: P90x Plyometrics is such an intense workout, “The Mother of them all” as Tony likes to say. Did you guys film the workout straight through, or were there any cuts?
ES: (laughing) I would have loved a break! When I was doing the test group it took me about 60 days before I could get through all of it, it was really hard. I was working out like crazy before that, but weshot it straight through – no cuts. The whole routine!
BD: I am finally at the point where I can match Dom for every “Jump Knee Tuck”, but I’ve got to say I didn’t even notice until a few weeks in thatyou were performing on a prosthetic leg. Every time I do that workout I am so inspired and amazed with your performance.
ES: Well thank you, I appreciate that. The reason I decided to do it, was to helped to motivate people and inspire them to be better people, work harder and overcome challenges. I hope it achieved thatgoal for you. Dom takes it to a whole other level! It really has helped people. Obviously it’s Tony’s thing, but to be a part of it – it’s a fantastic feeling.
BD: Changing gears, I’d like to talk about two of my personal favorite televisions shows, Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm. What were those experiences like for you?
ES: I loved Six Feet Under and I’m such a big fan of Alan Ball. so, I just wanted to be a part the show. I went to the casting director and she said, “it’s a really small part, if you get this part you won’t be able to come back and read anything bigger” and I didn’t care at the time and said “I want to be a part of history, I don’t want to take a chance of not getting cast”. If it was a small part, the opening death scene, anything. It didn’t matter. We were filming on a boat in Long Beach for hours and dying from the cold. Watching the show you can’t tell it was so cold but we were freezing!
BD: Did you ever get to meet Michael C. Hall or Peter Krause?
ES: Yeah, they were at the table read, but it was very brief. I always wanted to talk to Peter Krause because he was from Minnesota, but everyone was very cordial and nice. They are great actors.
BD: What about Curb Your Enthusiasm?
ES: That was a really unique experience. I showed up for the audition and there was no script. I just got a little piece of paper that said “You are Norwegian and Larry mistakes you for being Swedish”. When I got to the casting room there was the casting director, a camera and Larry David in the middle of the room with the whole cast against the wall. It was intimidating, but a lot of fun. It was a perfect role for me. My dad’s side of the family is Swedish and my mother’s side is Norwegian. In reality there isn’t a huge difference between the cultures, but there is an imaginary division and there was definitely some funny back and forth between the two sides.
BD: And obviously you did great!
ES: (laughing) I was able to speak from experience, and I was grateful to be cast. A small part, but fun. Again, just to be a part of the show.
BD: So what projects do you have coming up on the horizon?
ES: We have Super Troopers 2 written and the ball is in the studio’s court, so we’re hoping to make it. We don’t know the exact start date but we’re in negotiations. I also just wrote a spec script with Paul Soterand, that’s been fun. I’ve working on a lot of other writing projects and, of course, my speaking.