Steve Rannazzisi starred in a TV show about fantasy football, but as I do with a lot of conversations, I talked to him about pickup basketball.
The diversion was worth it.
Rannazzisi, who played Kevin MacArthur on the FXX hit “The League” for seven seasons, is headlining Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh this week and during our Tuesday afternoon phone interview, we talked at length about the improvisational nature of the show, the NFL stars who made guest appearances and the difficulty of getting through scenes since the actors consistently made each other laugh during filming.
But when I wedged my pickup basketball habit into the chat, Rannazzisi delivered this gem as he discussed the challenges that come with trying to remain competitive in sports as he approaches his 40th birthday.
“In my 20s, I’d go look for the best sneakers possible,” he said. “Now, I’m looking for the best braces. ‘Look at that knee brace. Look at the support. That ankle brace looks sturdy and can take some wear and tear.’ That’s what gets me going.”
I’m 42, and while I try to keep my shoe game tight, I have purchased ankle and elbow braces with zeal comparable to buying a pair of Jordans. In addition to being funny, Rannazzisi’s comments also rang true with me, a man whose every joint and muscle ached as I was asking Rannazzisi questions two hours removed from my regular Tuesday pickup game.
Oh, and we talked about comedy too, including whether or not post-election crowds are different, getting stage time while shooting “The League” and much more.
Tony Castleberry: I know you guys are professionals, but was it difficult to get through scenes sometimes on “The League” because you were cracking each other up?
Steve Rannazzisi: Absolutely. It’s a strange thing. We’re doing a show to make people laugh, that we want people at home to laugh at, but we’re technically not allowed to laugh at what we’re saying. We improvised our show, so we didn’t know what the next person was gonna say and every take could be different. We would crack each other up and the worst part was, sometimes when we knew something funny was coming and then it was something completely different, to get the scene back on track was difficult.
TC: Steve, no matter what you might do the rest of your career, I don’t know if you’re ever gonna have a more fun cast to work with than that one.
SR: I think you may be right. I’ll have different jobs and I hope I have great jobs and fun jobs, but it’ll never be anything quite like “The League.” The way we shot it and the short amount of time and the amount of laughs and scenes that we did, it was remarkable. It’s a testament to the six of us that did the show every day and the creators and the crew. It’s a dream job to have and I really couldn’t have had a better time doing it.
TC: In addition to that great cast, some amazing athletes joined you guys. Does anyone of those stand out?
SR: They’re all big. It’s remarkable how big they are. I mean, J.J. Watt is a monster. Terrell Suggs is big too, but J.J. Watt, he looks like everyone of us, but 150 percent bigger. His hands, his head, everything is bigger.
But the one that stands out to me the most believe it or not was Darren Sproles and I’ll tell you why. It was the reverse. I had no idea how small Darren Sproles is in real life. He’s shorter than I am. His legs aren’t that big. He’s just a small guy and you realize, holy cow, that guy gets hit by guys like J.J. Watt and is still so amazing in the NFL. I hadn’t met him before and I saw him on set and I honestly didn’t know he was Darren Sproles. I thought he was a background person because he’s not huge. Obviously, he’s a strong guy, but he’s not what you think a prototypical NFL player would look like.
TC: Were you able to maintain a pretty steady stand-up career while filming the show or did you have to put stand-up on the backburner?
SR: In the midst of filming, I wouldn’t go on the road, but I would still do spots in Los Angeles at The Comedy Store usually three or four nights a week after work. Once the show was over, I’d hit the road. I broke my year up into quarters. I’d do the show for a quarter, or a little bit more than that. Then I’d tour for four or five months, and then whatever other project I felt like doing. Then get a little bit of rest before doing it all over again. I didn’t ever take a break. I just didn’t go on the road when we were shooting, but I do stand-up every night if I can.
Because the way we shoot our show, it’s not a stand-up routine, but you’re making things up. You’re not just locking into a line and figuring out funny ways to get that line across. Each line is different. Each scene is different. Each take is different so mentally, you’re always in that moment. I don’t know what the next person is going to say so I have to be ready to come back with whatever works for the next piece after that. To me, it was a lot like stand-up in the sense that you have to constantly be thinking about what the next move is.
In 2015, Rannazzisi apologized after it was revealed he had been lying for years about working inside one of the World Trade Center towers during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. The admission cost Rannazzisi his job as a spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings.
TC: After the 9/11 thing, were comedians standoffish or supportive?
SR: A little bit of both. A lot of comedians were very supportive of me. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lot of friends in the business. The people that knew me for a very long time, my good friends, they 100 percent supported me. They knew the truth a long time ago. The friends that I’ve made over the course of my career all kind of saw the person that I really am. When this thing came out, they were just like, “People make mistakes. We understand who you are. We forgive you and we’re moving on.”
I’m sure there are people that hold grudges and they’re still resentful. I don’t how you find out about those people. Maybe they just fall by the wayside and you don’t talk to them anymore or they don’t contact you, and that’s OK. If that’s the way that people want it, I understand that. There’s nothing more I can do beyond what I’ve done already.
TC: Have crowds seemed different since Trump was elected?
SR: Let’s see. I’ve done eight one-hour sets and about six 15-minutes sets since Trump was elected. I think in the 15-minute sets I’ve talked about it a little bit more because, I’m gonna be honest with you, if people don’t like what you say, you’re only up there for 15 minutes and I’m outta there. Doing my hour sets, I usually stay away from it because, No. 1, you usually have two or three comedians on before you. Those guys are doing shorter sets and they probably have the same thought process that I do (about the 15-minute set).
I make two (Trump) jokes that are mostly at my expense. I say I’d like to be able to read for (the) Billy Bush (part) in the movie that is gonna be made about this. [interviewer laughs so loud that he drowns out Rannazzisi’s second example, which was about Chris Christie] Those are dumb, stupid jokes. I don’t know who could get offended or upset by it, but I do feel like people, from what I’ve seen, are just sick of it. We don’t want to talk about it. … It’s almost like 50 comedians have mentioned the same topic. It’s almost like it’s done already.
I don’t think anyone’s happy. Let’s just put it that way. The Trump supporters are usually getting bashed by the people on stage so they’re not happy. The people that lost, the Democrats and the liberals in the audience, are not happy because they lost. I’m sure there are people out there doing fantastic material and Chappelle did a great job on SNL. He’s probably the best out there, But that’s not my bag, so I don’t want to get lost or alienate a section of the audience because of it.
TC: You’re bombarded with it so much when you’re outside of the comedy club that, I think, when you’re in there, it’s a place where we can just forget about those things and laugh our faces off.
SR: Right now. Once the transition is over, six, seven months from now, it’ll be a different tone (in comedians’ material). You’ll hear a lot more comedians talking a lot more about it because at that point, it’s not just, “Well, I think he’s gonna do this.” He’s going to be doing things. … If he says he’s going to do something, and you’re making jokes about it, people don’t feel as passionate about it because it hasn’t been done yet. Once policy starts getting made, decisions start getting made, and things are real, then I think people will take strong stances and that’s when you’ll see more comedians digging in further. I applaud that.
This blogpost was first published on Raleigh & Company.