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Hank Azaria on the Genesis of ‘Brockmire’

What inspired the ‘Simpsons’ voice actor to create a baseball announcer who goes on a personal tirade on air

(IFC)
(IFC)

Brockmire premieres on IFC on Wednesday, though you can stream the first episode on YouTube right now. It tells the story of a baseball broadcaster, Jim Brockmire, trying to make a comeback after a tirade on air ruined his career years ago. Hank Azaria, the creator of the character and star of the show, joined Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann on The Ringer MLB Show to talk about how he came up with the idea to do the original Funny or Die skit seven years ago.

P.S.: The Ringer MLB Show is playing exclusively on the TuneIn app for the month of April. You’ll want to listen to this clip, especially for Azaria’s voices. And for the voices of real broadcasters, listen to the home call of every baseball game with a special 30-day trial to TuneIn Premium.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Azaria’s Inspiration

Ben Lindbergh: So, tell us the genesis of the character. I know this goes way back [with] many incarnations and it’s taken a winding road to IFC. So how did the broadcaster character begin?

Hank Azaria: It started as [I was] growing up in New York and mimicking everything I heard. One of the main things was [broadcaster voice] this voice. I call it the generic baseball announcer voice. It seemed to be the voice of every sports broadcast that I heard. I got a little fascinated. I started wondering, "Did these guys always sound like this. Do they sound like this at home? Do they sound like this in emotional situations, in intimate situations?" Then that idea sort of stuck in my head. It’s a voice I used on The Simpsons over the years, just here and there.

Then, [I] did it as a Funny or Die short. By about 10 years ago, it had grown into a full-blown idea of, "What if a guy like this had a meltdown on the air, and said really inappropriate things? But remained delivering it [broadcaster voice] real smooth and with the count right afterwards." Some people thought it was real. It was really funny. Some people thought that it actually was talking about a real guy.

Then, yeah, we developed a script, and it was very popular. And then we developed it into a movie [and] almost made it about three years ago, lost financing at the last minute, kind of reworked it into a cable series pitch, and IFC bought it and it’s coming out Wednesday, April 5. So it was a very long and winding road, [and] it’s been really fun to work on. And it ended up, I think, in the best form for it. I’m a big fan of cable TV, and you can really get in there and take time with the characters and have a really nice narrative and that’s not a three-act format like you have in a movie. But mostly, I just wanted it to be real funny, and I’m really happy with it, I think it did come out pretty funny.

The Real-Life Influences for the Character

Michael Baumann: Brockmire really nails that sort of early-TV archetype of announcer. You hear the Vin Scully in there [and] there’s some Harry Carey. Were there any other announcers that you sort of drew inspiration from?

Azaria: Well, I grew up a Mets fan. The jacket is pure Lindsey Nelson, who always seemed to be in a red, plaid jacket, which I can never understand. The Mets have orange and blue colors, but he was always in a red plaid. I sent the show to Bob Costas, I sent it out to all baseball men that I admire that I thought might get a kick out of it. I actually heard from Bob, he binge-watched them as well, and he called it the generic voice. It’s almost distinct in its indistinctiveness.

There’s elements of all these guys [Bob Murphy voice]. I mean, Bob Murphy, who did the Mets, was sort of more guttural Jim Brockmire, who I grew up listening to along with Lindsey Nelson. There’s elements of these guys, but really, it’s sort of the middle-of-the-road aspect to it, the indistinctiveness of it that fascinated me. This voice also seemed to sell you stuff on television back in the ’70s. [Announcer voice] The ginsu knife and Roncos, kitchen magician also seemed to have this voice.

You know how [in] the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted Baxter was almost more about his voice than even his abilities as a newsman? Brockmire is sort of out of that school, it’s almost more about being charismatic and deep voiced, than it is about his baseball knowledge, although he is very knowledgeable about baseball. He was the man in Kansas City. He was the youngest guy to ever call professional games, and it’s a love letter to those kind of guys who are sort of a dying breed.

Baumann: You said the Brockmire voice is kind of indistinct, but the modern TV announcer sort of feels generic, and that’s been a letdown to a lot of fans watching the game. Some of those guys are in the show, some of the bigger names like Brian Kenny and Joe Buck, but how hard is it to follow in the footsteps of somebody who grew up being more distinct?

Azaria: The closest modern voice, I think, to the vocal timber of Brockmire is Jon Miller. But Jon Miller is awesome. Arguably the best guy around right now. There’s nothing hackish about how Jon Miller calls a baseball game, [Miller voice] but he does, kind of give you this, you know?

Making sounds is really my living, my bread and butter. I kind of hook onto things that really catch my attention vocally. There’s a different kind of generic, vanilla, middle-of-the-road, boring, you’ve-heard-it-all-before version of broadcasting that you get today. Brockmire was the old-school version of that, [Brockmire voice] which all kind of sounded the same. Now these guys, they’re very conversational, they sound like themselves, they’re not putting on an announcer voice as much.

To me, nowadays, watching your average, Saturday-afternoon NCAA men’s basketball game, you will [basketball announcer voice] get a lot of guys who give you this. You just watch Oregon against Texas A&M basketball game, whatever. Whoever’s doing the [basketball announcer voice] play-by-play, I’m like, "Ooh, that’s a Brockmire." I’m like, "He’s really leaning into this. He’s giving it to you." It’s still the way sports is delivered sometimes, it’s kind of a fallback way to do it, and I don’t know why. I know that men my age find that voice, the Brockmire voice, for lack of a better term, very comforting, and people don’t think about it, but when it’s pointed out, "Why is this the way this guy is talking?" it’s very funny to men my age.

Why ‘Brockmire’ and Baseball Go So Well Together

Lindbergh: I don’t know how good your recall of 20-year-old Simpsons scenes is, but there is one that comes to mind. I think it’s from Season 8 and it’s Free Pretzel Day at the ballpark. … I think it’s you and Harry Shearer, and you end it by saying, "This is a black day for baseball."

Lindbergh: There’s something just so funny about the juxtaposition of baseball, which is kind of this leisurely, pastoral game, and some of the dark-comedy aspects of Brockmire. It just seems like a really great juxtaposition where you can pair that stuff with baseball. It’s so different from what you’re expecting that the humor is amplified.

Azaria: Yeah, agreed. That became … the jumping-off point of the show … and that’s a credit to writer Joel Church-Cooper, because to me, the short is very funny. It’s observational, it’s kind of outrageous, it’s pretty sophomoric, and it’s basically like "What if a guy like that flipped out? And then just kept on giving you the count."

I grew up listening to Phil Rizzuto, the Yankee broadcaster, who seemed to tell you more about the Italian meal he had the night before than the game, peppered with the count. It was just insane. Like, [Rizzuto voice] "Oh man, we had some sausage and peppers, you know, my grandma used to call it — breaking ball just misses outside, 2 and 1 …" and it’s like, "What are you talking about?" Such a weird way to deliver information.

And then I imagined, well, what if that got a little more weird, what if this guy is talking about [announcer voice] "Oh, man, I am a little bit exhausted folks, you must forgive me, spent a good part of the evening with local law enforcement about, oh an 8-ball of coke and a Filipino hooker named Lua-Wei, swing and a miss at a breaking ball there, 0 and 1."