The Simpsons. The Birdcage. Along Came Polly. We all know Hank Azaria as being one of the funniest, most prolific actors of our time. Now starring in a dark comedy as barely-functioning alcoholic baseball announcer Jim Brockmire on IFC, we had the chance to get his insight into generating compelling content, the creative process behind Brockmire and his insider knowledge on the golden age of modern television.
Q: What do you think are the key ingredients in creating content that connects with an audience?
Hank: With the modern age of TV artists get to create projects that are very meaningful to them. There’s much more opportunity to not only get those projects made but make them in the way you want to make them without interference from the studio or network. You can create projects that you’re proud of, emotionally invested in and passionately believe in. It doesn’t always guarantee that the end result is great, but it has a much higher probability of connecting with people since it’s so authentic. There are many, many examples of that. From the huge scale of Game of Thrones to The Handmaid’s Tale to niche shows like Brockmire and Rick and Morty–they couldn’t have been made ten years ago. The shows wouldn’t have been allowed to touch upon the dark themes that shows like Brockmire delve into. Most cable and streaming of networks have the business model now that they’re going to hire actors to do what they want to do. Ten years ago this was the exact opposite. Actors were “noted” to death by executives. Sometimes this made great shows, but when the executives tried to steer the actors into the familiar territory, it watered down some really great ideas.
Q: What went into the creative process behind Brockmire?
Hank: A lot of my characters begin with vocal impressions. I’ve been imitating Jim Brockmire’s iconic baseball voice since I was a teenager. Starting from back then I thought more and more that if I could build a character around a baseball announcer guy, it would be pretty funny. The announcers have the observational humor of describing what they see–certain comedic premises became apparent, like “do these guys always sound like they’re announcing a baseball game in their personal lives?” The best part is they can say outrageous things as long as they give the count afterward. The official concept started ten years ago as a short in Funny or Die where the character had a nervous breakdown on air. That event became the basis for the series.
At first, it was going to be a movie, but five weeks into pre-production the plug got pulled, and we lost financing, but it was a good thing because we recognized it would make a great cable series and created this character. [TV producer] Joel Church-Cooper writes it. He took over the direction of [Brockmire] and his adventures. Season one was pretty much what I had envisioned–wildly out of control. Season two the character hits a very dark bottom and season three he tries to deal with sobriety. The awesome thing about the golden age of TV is you can blur the lines between comedy and drama and be realistic or dark–wherever the situation of the character leads you. Brockmire can get rather heavy and intense, but we bring it back to a really hard and solid laugh. The game we play is how dark we can go and then pull a laugh out of it.
Q: How has the show evolved creatively between season one and season two?
Hank: The tone and story changed, letting the character evolve. Joel has no interest in repeating himself. The nice part about cable is you can break the mold and start over again. Season two explored the real darkness of alcohol and drug addiction and season 3 shows the genuine struggles of trying to be sober.
Q: What is it like playing a broadcaster in Brockmire?
Hank: It’s been really fun for me. A lot of my career has been a vocal performer doing voices for The Simpsons, so this is a marriage of my career in voice over work and film. The show is mostly comedy but also has a lot of drama. Even though it’s funny I get to do a lot of dark stuff as well. I get to do everything I’m capable of, more than any other role–everything that I’d like to do. It’s a very strange character but he’s his own version of a leading man. It’s very honest and raw–all the things that I like. I loved being a part of The Simpsons, Spamalot was pure fun and Birdcage was a big break for me, but producing and helping create this love for the character was great. After some bad luck in TV production, it was nice to have a win in this arena.
Q: Do you think Jim Brockmire would use a media monitoring service to track his own mentions?
Hank: [Brockmire’s] been through so much scandalous stuff in his life Google is not his friend. However, he probably would monitor his media. He’s trying to move up and get back into the majors. Hopefully, he does that in Season 3!
Tony Award nominee and six-time Emmy Award winner, Hank Azaria is a multifaceted performer in film, television and on the stage, as well as a respected director and comedian. Azaria voices numerous characters on the long-running animated TV series The Simpsons. He’s also acted in films such as The Birdcage, Along Came Polly and Pretty Woman. In television, he’s been seen in Friends, Ray Donovan, Brockmire and Tuesdays With Morrie. He was also he was part of the original Broadway cast for Monty Python’s Spamalot. He currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and son.