Colgate Comedian Returns

As a member of the Broken Lizard comedy group and a successful film writer, producer and actor, Eric Stolhanske ’91 seems to have it all. But look a little closer and you will see that there is something missing: his fibula. Born without this prominent bone in the lower leg, commonly re-ferred to as the calf bone, Stolhanske has had to wear a prosthetic leg all of his life. Returning to Colgate this past Tuesday, April 3, the famed Su-per Troopers and Beerfest triple threat discussed overcoming adversity in a talk entitled “Foolish Perseverance.”

“Old peg-legged Stolhanske, they used to call me,” he joked during his talk on Tuesday. Growing up in Min-neapolis, Minnesota, Stolhanske re-called warm summer days where he would refrain from going swimming and wear pants regardless of the tem-perature, all in an effort to hide his wooden leg. But it wasn’t long before he realized that he couldn’t conceal his leg forever. One day, while play-ing kickball, Stolhanske was trying to impress one of the girls by “hitting a bomb.” But after taking a powerful kick, young Stolhanske was mortified to realize that the fielders weren’t running backwards because they were trying to catch the ball, but because they were trying to avoid being struck by his wooden leg as it went flying across the air.

“I wanted to die,” Stolhanske remembered. Nevertheless, he took some advice from his mother, brushed himself off and got back onto his feet. By his senior year of high school, Stolhanske went on to become the captain of his high school baseball team. This was no small accomplishment for a kid missing a leg. There were many days when Stolhanske would come home from playing baseball with a bloody baseball sock and a great deal of pain because of the constant rubbing between his prosthetic and his skin. But he put on some ointment and got back to playing ball by the next day.

It was this message of perseverance that Stolhanske spoke to on Tues-day, a theme that he learned to live by as someone who was born without a fibula, as an aspiring actor and as a Colgate student. Although he has made a name for himself as a prominent film actor in his roles as Robert “Rabbit” Roto (Super Troopers) and Todd Wolfhouse (Beerfest), Stolhanske did not always find his talents well sought after.

“I auditioned for every single University Theater production, but didn’t get called back once,” Stolhanske said. “In fact, it got so bad that my friends stopped asking me how my auditions went.”

It wasn’t until Stolhanske met Jay Chandrasekhar, another member of Broken Lizard, that his acting career finally started at Colgate. Chan-drasekhar, who was asked to direct a four-act play, decided to instead create his own comedy sketch and told Stolhanske to try out. Finally, Stolhanske found himself casted. In 1990, with the addition of Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme and Paul Soter, Charred Goosebeak was born. It was not until after graduating that they named themselves Broken Lizard.

Despite their successful startup at Colgate, however, Broken Lizard got a wake-up call when it came time to graduate. It was about a month after gradu-ation that the group decided to pursue their dream of acting and move to New York City. But it was not all of the excitement one might imagine.

“I packed up everything I had into two duffle bags, I had $200 in my pocket and I moved to the city,” Stolhanske said. “During the weeks, we waited tables just so we had enough money to perform for free on the weekends.” He soon found himself broke, sleeping on floors, all in an effort to pursue his ambition.

“I maxed-out my credit cards and acquired some pretty seri-ous debt until I was practically homeless,” Stolhanske recalled. But he was not willing to give up on this dream, no matter how high the odds were stacked against him.

It was 10 years before Broken Lizard caught their first big break with Super Troopers in 2001, but Stolhanske thought it was well worth the wait. It was five years later that Beerfest came out, reaffirming the success of a comedy group that started out in the small town of Hamilton, New York. Today, Charred Goosebeak still exists on campus as an improvisational comedy group.

Much of Broken Lizard’s work relies not only on a great deal of com-edy, but also on the underlying themes of camaraderie and friendship, qualities that Stolhanske believes they were able to garner here at Colgate. As members of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, Stolhanske and the rest of Broken Lizard were able to create a bond that would serve them far beyond their years in college, allowing them to persevere in the gravest of times.

It is Stolhanske’s belief that perceived limitations are nothing more than mental obstacles and, by recognizing this, one can go on to accomplish great things. This is the reason that he has traveled the country throughout the past five months to spread his message.

“Not everyone has a prosthetic leg, but everyone does have a wooden leg of sorts,” Stolhanske said. “Sometimes, you have to fail and fall and just keep on going.”

Before concluding his talk on Tuesday, Stolhanske left the audience with one last piece of advice.

“If you actually do have a wooden leg, don’t play kickball.”

Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected].