The world of sportscasters is brilliantly parodied by Hank Azaria in IFC’s comedy series Brockmire. In the show, his alcoholic play-by-play announcer Jim Brockmire suffers a hilarious on-air meltdown after discovering his wife’s infidelity. He becomes an internet meme and spirals into personal and professional ruin – only to rise again as a broken-down announcer for the fictional minor league baseball team Morristown Frackers.
The six-time Emmy Award winner has voiced over 100 characters on The Simpsons and has featured in movies like The Birdcage, Along Came Polly and Dodgeball. But Azaria calls his star turn as the narcissistic announcer the meatiest role of his career. Joe Buck of Fox Sports noted he’s “pitch perfect imitating what I do for a living.”
Front Office Sports talked with Azaria about his critically praised comedy, and acting with real life broadcast legends like Buck, Bob Costas and Rich Eisen.
FRONT OFFICE SPORTS: Tell us the origins of this character? And how are you able to get Buck, Costas and Eisen to make fun of themselves?
HANK AZARIA: It started as a short about 10 years ago on Funny or Die. It was sort of a mockumentary, a fake documentary about this guy Jim Brockmire. To lend it credence, we had Joe Buck, Dan Patrick. Rich Eisen is a buddy of mine. We got these guys talking about Jim Brockmire as if they knew him. That seemed to work so well it created a template. We also realized shooting the short that Brockmire is really funniest when it seems like it’s happening in the real world. It’s not broad comedy. It seems to come right out of reality. Having guys around like that lends a sense of reality. And Joe Buck was so good and did so well.
In Season One, we had Brian Kenny, Tim Kurkjian. It just became part of the idea of the show. George Brett this year. Bob (Costas) We’ve had some people turn us down. Which I understand. It’s sort of raunchy. With each person, we have to see what the line that they’re comfortable with. But that’s not hard to do. Everybody’s kind of psyched to be a little raunchy.
FOS: Is his voice based on Mets announcers listened to in Queens?
AZARIA: I think Bob Murphy was the closest. But Bob was a little more gravelly. Bob had that cigarette, beer voice. It was more what I think of a generic baseball announcers from the 1970s. You don’t get it as much any more. Certain guys do it. Jon Miller sounds a little like Brockmire. But Jon Miller is obviously not a hack. He’s amazing. But he has got that kind of timber, that rich timber.
A lot of the NCAA guys…today if you turn on a Saturday afternoon men’s basketball game you get a lot of guys, I don’t know what their names are, or who they are, but they sound like this. It’s also like the voice of those old 70’s infomercials. The Ginsu Knife. Popeil Pocket Fisherman. You always got this generic announcer voice. I found it kind of hilarious. It’s just such a weird way to express themselves. I wonder if those sounded like that in their civilian lives as well.
FOS: Some sportscasters such as Marv Albert, Ryen Russillo, Pat O’Brien and Pat Summerall have had embarrassing personal incidents, mostly due to alcohol. Does the itinerant, nocturnal nature of sportscasting lend itself to closing hotel bars at night?
AZARIA: I think so. Not the majority. But some of these guys have really gone off the rails like Pat O’Brien. We have Marv Albert. But Marv took a vacation for a while because of his extracurricular activities. Summerall, for sure, was a huge drinker. Harry Caray of course, pretty famously. So yeah, I would imagine that it does lend itself to a sort of a bare version of a rock and roll lifestyle. I also found that funny.
Brockmire has the soul of kind of a rock star. But he sounds like this— and he’s talking about baseball. You don’t get much older and whiter than that. That’s another thing that makes me laugh. Do these guys still sound this way when they’re wasted out of their minds? When they’re arguing with their girlfriends? When they’re having sex? Are they still giving it you from HERE with that voice?
FOS: What sports announcers do you like? Any you dislike?
AZARIA: I just mentioned Jon Miller. He’s extraordinary. I’m a Mets fan. Mets fans don’t have much to celebrate. But Gary Cohen, Keith [Hernandez] and Ron [Darling] are awesome. Gary Cohen’s amazing to me. He’s got a little Brockmire in him. He’s not a hack either. But he’s got that basic timber that he really plays up. Gary Cohen’s knowledge of the game is tremendous. I like Joe [Buck] a lot. In football, I love Cris Collinsworth. I don’t care when people complain about him either.
And Tony Romo took us all by storm. But its well-deserved. There aren’t too many guys I do not like. But when I don’t they really drive me crazy. I used to feel that Dan Dierdorf and Bill Walton would do the same thing that drove me crazy. Which is they’d hyperbolize about a team based on what just happened. So if they made a good play, this is why they’re the greatest team ever. If they made a bad play, this is why they’re not going anywhere.
FOS: What did you think of Jason Witten on Monday Night Football?
AZARIA: You can tell Jason was struggling a little bit. For sure. I don’t want to name names. But there are certain color guys. They don’t need to be as eloquent as the play-by-play guys. But when the English language starts to challenge them a little too much, that starts to drive me crazy. It’s like c’mon, at least get your thoughts across. But especially in this modern era, when we have so much analytics and so much information available to us, it’s a fun time to be a fan.
FOS: We have life imitating art.: You just went into SNY’s Mets broadcast boot as Brockmire. And you also appeared on Eisen’s show in character.
AZARIA: I’m not doing play-by-play. I’ve gone in as Brockmire — and as myself. I’m the weird color guy. As Brockmire I go in with a lot of material to make fun of whoever I’m in the booth with. And then whatever teams are playing. Brockmire last year got obsessed with the size of Bruce Bochy’s head, for example. The Mets are the one team I know, sadly, inside out. I can sit there an entire game, let alone an inning or two, and just discuss what’s going on with the Mets. It’s really fun. I really enjoy it.
FOS: In one episode, you tell Buck, “I hate your stupid face.” Buck retaliates in a way that’s so gross it has to be seen to be believed. But there was an element of truth in that scene. Why do so many sports fans hate Joe Buck?
AZARIA: God, I don’t know. Part of it I guess is jealousy. People feel like he’s kind of everywhere. He’s ubiquitous. Maybe they get a little tired of him. I think he’s great. You kind of get excited for Joe Buck to call your team’s game. But you’re used to your hometown guys. It’s not that Joe hates your team. He’s being neutral. I don’t know. I think Joe is really gifted. He makes it seem so easy and natural. He knows his stuff. I think he’s tremendous.
FOS: Where does Brockmire go next?
AZARIA: We’re about to start shooting Season 4 in a couple of months. It goes in a very different place, one that I never would have thought of. But our head writer Joel Church-Cooper really wanted it. Joel is really good at writing social commentary. In the last couple of episodes of this season, there was more social commentary. I was a little worried about. But I thought it came out great. Really funny. The season finale is truly funny. While also very observational about the state of our society. Season 4 is very much like that. It’s really in Joel’s wheel-house. He writes that stuff really well.