FX's The League is TV's latest attempt to tickle the potbelly of the coveted "18-to-whatever male" demographic. The show centers on the friendships, relationships, and fantasy football league of a group of thirtysomething guys. Sound familiar?
Skeptical? The sports sitcom — Sports Night, Coach, My Boys, Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond Who's The Boss? — is a good-in-theory/hard-in-execution genre of TV. Sports purists might turn their nose downfield on certain details (I don't follow the NFL closely, but even I wouldn't get trade-raped with Plaxico Buress while he rakes up points in some jail league), but believe me when I say The League is one of the best new comedies out there. Relying heavily on the improv skills of its cast of comics — Nick Kroll (above, naked, with the Chargers' Antonio Gates), Paul Scheer, Mark Duplass, the Tracy Morgan-Punking Stephen Rannazzisi — critics are generally positive and quick to note the Curb Your Enthusiasm influence. (Curb's executive producer/director Jeff Schaffer created the show with his wife, a revealing detail in the execution.)
The show is at its best when the insults fly fast and furious. Paul Scheer's wardrobe ("can I ask why you're dressed like a Russian house DJ?") gets good mileage.
Kroll, who is pretty damn funny in just about everything he does, plays Ruxin, the go-to neurotic Jew whose own sartorial choices borrow more from a Connecticut WASP and has a hot Latina wife. We shot him some questions; here are his uncut results.
Cultural stereotypes are fun so let's go with one. You grew up as a Jew in Westchester County, New York (if Wikipedia didn't fail me). Can you share your early sports experiences?
The height of my athletic achievement was in 8th grade when i was the point guard for my Jewish day school basketball team. We played in a public school league and, amazingly, went undefeated. I say "amazingly" because our power forward was 5"6. After a number of our games, our opponents threw quarters at us. We took the quarters and bought sodas. It was a win win.
Describe your level of sports interest before the show. You can be honest. You're in a safe space here.
I grew up a rabid Mets/Knicks/Rangers fan. When everyone else was listening to Nirvana and NWA, I was listening to WFAN 660. My Kurt Cobain was Chris "Mad Dog" Russo and Eazy-E was Steve "The Schmoozer" Somers. I had the rare privilege of going to some of the most memorable games of the era: Mets/Red Sox Game 6 (Buckner), Giants/Bills Super Bowl (Norwood wide right), Knicks/Pacers (Reggie Miller grabbing balls at Spike Lee). In recent years, I stopped following most teams as closely and just root for the best, closest games. Fantasy football has changed how I watch football because now every game is interesting start to finish. Even when its the Browns and Lions.
As many have noted, the show has less to do with a fantasy football league and is more about the fraternal bonds of a group of guys in their 30s straddling the bachelor lifestyle and early marriage/familyhood. What do you say to people who question the sports content?
I agree that the show is really about guys in their early 30s, traversing the joys and difficulties of being a husband, a father, a brother and a friend. But I think every episode has at least a few jokes for only the serious lovers of football. I don't think too many comedy fans understood why Steve's character was wondering who the hell Pierre Garcon was... but it's in there. That said, I don't think people tuned in to Cheers to hear Sam talk at length about the kind of beers he had on tap. I'm not comparing our show to Cheers but I do think that the reason I wanted to do the show was because fantasy sports — and the way they make us interact — was a perfect platform for a show about a bunch of dudes trying to question one another's masculinity.
To what extent is the show "semi-improvised" like Curb Your Enthusiasm? Is Paul Scheer dressing himself?
The show is set up very similarly to Curb. Jeff Schaffer (who created the show with his wife Jackie) has been one of the writers and directors of Curb for the last number of years so he knows exactly how to do it. The scenes are never written in script form, they're all outlines. Often, they have lines they want us to hit but they are always encouraging us to say things however we would say them. All of us come from a comedy/writing background so its a very collaborative environment. Paul's outfits bring me such joy every episode.
Now that you live in Los Angeles, did you know there hasn't been an NFL team there in 15 years? What do you make of THAT?
I think that USC is LA's pro football team. They don't seem to really want more than that.
Have any favorite funny athletes? How about athletic comedians?
I always remember how funny I thought Roger McDowell was. He was the reliever for the Mets in late '80s (winning pitcher in game 7!). He was famous for the 'hot foot' (lighting his teamates' cleats on fire with a bunch of matches) and wearing his uniform upside down. As far as athletic comedians, my buddy Jason Sudeikis on SNL is a real good basketball player. And the amazing Brody Stevens played college baseball. He'll tell you about it if you ask him.
Lastly, what does three-penis wine taste like anyway?
Do you remember Jolt? Well, three-penis wine tastes nothing like that. It takes like snake dick.
This is Krucoff, BTW.