Who Was Azaria’s ‘Brockmire’ Inspiration?

BrockmireThere are a lot of vile jokes and uproarious situations in the series “Brockmire,” in which Hank Azaria plays a slightly unhinged alcoholic sports announcer.

But there’s nothing funnier in the show, which begins its second season on IFC tonight, than Azaria’s central impersonation of a Midwestern sports announcer who uses that flat cadence to describe everything including, in its first episode, an explicit reverie about his wife’s unfaithfulness that gets him kicked off his major league job.

There’s something tremendously satisfying about speaking in what is a beloved character voice to me, baseball announcer, and saying these absolutely insane and sometimes really insightful things,” Azaria says.

It’s all because he uses that familiar tone and cadence that’s less frequently heard in real life but was once as common in sports broadcasting booths as the loud plaid sportsjacket Brockmire also wears.

At the TV Critics Association winter press tour, I asked about the inspirations for Brockmire, who first appeared in a celebrated 2010 video on Funny or Die, which is listed as a producer of the IFC series.

Before the IFC series premiered, he said, “I sent out season one to every sportscaster I know before it came out, just, like, ‘Please look at this…It’s a love letter to baseball. I love you, and I love this.’ And many responded.

“Bob Costas in particular really loved it,” Azaria said, “He called it what I call it, which is the generic baseball announcer voice of the ’70s and the ’80s.”

Then he began to describe it, in that sportscaster’s very voice: “He’s an amalgam. It’s just like vanilla ice cream, this voice. It’s down the middle.”

As for a specific inspiration, “it’s nobody in particular,” Azaria says, but adds, “ Jon Miller is perhaps the closest, I think, modern vocal timbre-wise.”

Miller, the voice of the San Francisco Giants since 1997, previously called games for Oakland, Texas, Boston and Baltimore, and hosted “Sunday Night Baseball” for ESPN for two decades from 1990-2010.

But, Azaria was quick to add, “Jon Miller is an extraordinary broadcaster. There’s nothing down the middle talentwise about Jon Miller.”

Who did Azaria listen calling games when he was growing up?

“Oh, I’m a Mets guy, a New York guy,” he said. “So: Bob Murphy; Lindsey Nelson, who the jacket is based on; Ralph Kiner; Marv Albert; Phil Rizzuto; and all of the Yankees guys, Bill White, of course, then Cosell and Curt Gowdy; and the national guys, Tony Kubek…

“ But none of those guys were really this guy,” he says, switching to his Brockmire voice: “You know. You still hear this guy on college basketball, right? Your average college basketball broadcaster, you’ll get this guy a lot still today.”

But it is a rare breed, says show co-creator Joel Church Cooper.

“There’s not a lot of broadcasters in baseball anymore who still kind of go for that big, deep voice with a big personality. It’s sort of a dying tradition, which works for what we are trying to build the show around, which is, Brockmire as a man out of time trying to struggle to keep up.”

That was true in season one, when it developed into a romance between the disgraced Brockmire and the owner of a minor league team, Amanda Peete, who only appears sporadically in season two as Brockmire moves to New Orleans to another minor league teams that he hopes will get him back to the majors.

To do so, he’ll have to beat a pandering announcer popular with local fans and tone down his alcoholic excess — not easy to do in New Orleans. In the mean time, his podcast “Brock Bottom” produced by his long-suffering assistant Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) has become a big hit among young audiences.

Brockmire is the latest in a series of hilarious characters Azaria has created based on the voice – a trait he’s been doing for laughs since he was a kid.

“Since I was little, I would imitate whatever I whoever I heard: family members, teachers, sportscasters, whatever. And back then, in the ’70s, you had those or late ’60s those big tape recorders. You had to press two buttons down real hard at once to record. And I would record myself and just make myself giggle.

“I didn’t realize as a teenager that not everybody could do that and it was actually a marketable skill.”

Sometimes, it got him in trouble. “Teachers didn’t always love it,” he said.

It got him into trouble recently, too, as voice of Apu (among many other voices) on “The Simpsons” when it was singled out as an offensive portrayal of South Asians — especially since it got so popular.

Although Azaria spent the whole of Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem with Apu” avoiding the question, he said at TCA it distressed him that it hurt people. He went further this week on late night TV, telling Stephen Colbert, “I’m perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or transition it into something new.”

 

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