Hank Azaria Says 'Brockmire' Has Been With Him For Years

May 13, 2017
Originally published on May 15, 2017 9:05 am

Brockmire is back! Jim Brockmire, the beloved old voice of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, who became one of the first Internet sensations 10 years ago when he shared the shock of walking in on his wife in the middle of an orgy without dropping a moment in his play by play.

Emmy-winning actor Hank Azaria plays Brockmire on the IFC series of the same name that premiered this spring — it's the story of a man coming back to life in minor league baseball, now the voice of the Morristown Frackers. He tells me — in character — that Brockmire has been with him for a while. "He's been with me since I was a teenager. By the way, you did a wonderful job of cleaning up for your audience what Brockmire really expressed there. If you tune in to the show, you'll catch some blue language, some more graphic detail, as we like to say!"


Interview Highlights

On sending the show to Bob Costas

I couldn't believe it — he absolutely accurately defined the character's voice. He called it "the generic baseball announcer's voice of the 1970s," which it absolutely is. It's no one distinct. People ask me, who'd you base it on? Is it a conglomeration? And I grew up a Mets guy, so that was Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson. It's none of those men. It's closer to the TV pitchmen who sold you the Ginsu knife, or told you about Popeil's Pocket Fishermen. And the comic premise ... became, do these guys always sound like this, even when they're at home, if he's drunk on the air having a completely explicit inappropriate meltdown about his wife's infidelities, does he still sound like this? And does he still give you the count afterwards?

On whether Brockmire is his alter-ego

My stock in trade is voices, so there literally are so many, I don't consider any — the closest to an alter-ego I have is [in character voice] Moe from the Simpsons, because I've been doing Moe for so long, and I actually was a bartender myself, that I like to think of it as, if I didn't get my Simpsons job, instead of Moe the bartender, I'd probably be Hank the bartender. Moe is a New York guy, he's from Queens — to me, he often feels like a sort of a dark, shadow, New York version of myself? But Brockmire, no, but he was a go-to voice that I would entertain myself with a lot in lonely moments as a youth. I would just kind of narrate my day sometimes as Brockmire.

On Brockmire's alcoholism

We made this as a short for Funny or Die, which was pretty sophomoric and funny. And frankly, the only reason he drank was to allow him to melt down on the air and be so explicit like that, it's just a believable excuse to be that foul-mouthed on the air. But what the writer saw in it was a portrait of a pretty lonely alcoholic. And then the director really took that ball and ran with it — he didn't let me get away with anything less than honoring the dark night of the soul that Jim Brockmire was experiencing. Which was funny to me, because to me it was really just a jumping off point for comedy, but as I was acting it, and working on it as an actor, not as a producer or developing it, I realized that ths was quite emotional stuff. And it's not sentimental, but it's highly emotional.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Brockmire" is back. Jim Brockmire, the beloved old voice of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, who became one of the first Internet sensations 10 years ago when he shared the shock of a profound personal embarrassment without dropping a moment in his play-by-play of the game.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BROCKMIRE")

HANK AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) Please imagine my surprise when I opened my front door to find about a half-dozen naked folks sprawled out in my living room, engaged in what can only be described as a desperate and a hungry account of a love-making. And right in the center of it all was my - my wife, Lucy - fastball misses, just low, count goes full, 3 and 2. That'll bring Clark up to bat. Clark having himself a heck of an afternoon with two doubles. Bob Greenwald - Bob Greenwald, that two-faced S-O-B - I hosted his kid's bar mitzvah. I hosted his kid's bar mitzvah. Here's the kicker. Here's what kills me. My wife Lucy has the stone, she has the unmitigated gall to turn to me and tell me that she is a sexual astronaut.

SIMON: That's Hank Azaria as the character Brockmire on the IFC series that premiered this spring. It tells the story of a man coming back to life in Minor League Baseball, now the voice of the Morristown Frackers. Hank Azaria, of course, is the actor and producer. He's appeared in "The Birdcage," "Shattered Glass," "Night At The Museum," so many other films. He's won six Emmys for his television roles. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

AZARIA: My pleasure.

SIMON: You've carried Brockmire around with you for a long time now, haven't you?

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) I have. I'll answer as Brockmire. I have. He's been with me since I was a teenager. By the way, you did a wonderful job of cleaning up for your audience what Brockmire really expressed there. If you tune into the show, you'll catch some blue language, some...

SIMON: Oh, yes (laughter).

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) ...Some more graphic detail, as we like to say...

SIMON: Graphic is the word, yeah.

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) I can't. It's explicit (laughter).

SIMON: Please, go ahead Brockmire - Mr. Brockmire or Hank, whoever you are, yeah.

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) Sometimes I don't know, Scott Simon. I'll tell you that right now.

You know, I sent the shows out to some baseball men that I thought would appreciate it. One of them was Bob Costas who - I couldn't believe it. He absolutely accurately defined the character's voice. He called it the generic baseball announcer voice of the 1970s, which is exactly how I'd describe him. It's no one distinct. People ask me, who'd you based it on? Is it a conglomeration? And I grew up a Mets guy, so that was Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson. It's none of those men. It's closer to the TV pitchman who sold you the Ginsu knife or told you about Popeil's Pocket Fisherman. And the comic premise of the short became, do these guys always sound like this, even when they're at home, if he's drunk on the air having a completely explicit inappropriate meltdown about his wife's infidelity (laughter)? Do he still sound like this and does he still give you the count afterwards?

SIMON: Is Brockmire in anyway an alter ego?

AZARIA: My stock in trade is voices, so there literally are so many (laughter) that I don't consider any - the closest to an alter ego I have, Scott, (as Moe) is Moe from "The Simpsons" because I've been doing Moe for so long, and I actually was a bartender myself, that I like to think of it as, if I didn't get my "Simpsons" job instead of Moe the bartender, I'd probably be Hank the bartender.

And Moe - he's a New York guy. He's from Queens. To me, he often feels like a sort of a dark shadow New York version of myself.

But Brockmire, no - but he was a go-to voice that I would entertain myself with a lot in lonely moments as a youth. I would just kind of narrate my days sometimes as Jim Brockmire. When Brockmire goes to Morristown and goes, (as Jim Brockmire) all right, let's see who we have in attendance here today. We have some feral dogs, and a boy with a gun. And Brockmire's officially disturbed.

I actually would sort of engage in nonsense narration of my (laughter) own day like that every once in a while.

SIMON: Well, he - the fact is Jim Brockmire is a very talented professional, I mean, an artist in a way. As Jules, the team owner played my Amanda Peet, once says to him, you can sure paint a picture.

AZARIA: He's good. He's got almost - thanks to Joel Church-Cooper, our wonderful writer, he has a nearly Shakespearean, poetic way of expressing himself, which if you think about it, the guys who do this really well, like the Vin Scullys and Jack Bucks and Ernie Harwells and Red Barbers of the world, had. It's an almost poetic, spoken word kind of thing they got going on while they're delivering, you know, the action of a baseball game in real time.

SIMON: When you see Brockmire always in - with the exception of maybe some of the intimate scenes - in his madras sport coat, it might seem to be like a kind of a sports rube, but he's a sophisticated man. He's been around the world.

AZARIA: Again, Joel Cooper, our writer, kind of saw in him Jim Brockmire being the embodiment of baseball and what baseball means to America and thus, kind of an embodiment of America at this point. You know, he's rooted in a lot of the traditions of the past, as baseball is. He's struggling to find who he is and what he is and how he's relevant in the modern world, including - he's an Internet sensation, and he didn't know it. And by the way, this whole thing called digital media and social media, what is it? And how does one navigate it?

And he's of the tradition of, like, Sinatra and those guys too, I suppose, those kind of hard-drinking men's men. And - but no, he's a sophisticated guy. His reference is - another comedic premise we found that was fun was a guy who describes everything and also lends itself to a lot of observational comedy. And he makes a lot of references like, you know, the way ESPN kind of blew our minds 30, 40 years ago when they started putting pop culture references into sports. Brockmire's right along with that.

SIMON: You've got a British director, Tim Kirby.

AZARIA: Yes.

SIMON: Now, at first I wondered, is that a drawback? But then, as I thought it through, I thought, no, it might help you actually set up for him what's so important about baseball to some people.

AZARIA: You're the first person to ask that question, and it's absolutely correct because we wondered the same thing, too. We love Tim and his work. We're like, well, can we really have a Brit who doesn't understand baseball directing all these? And then, we realized that Joel Cooper, the writer, and myself are so baseball oriented. It actually was an aid to have somebody there who didn't know any of it and was able to say (imitating British accent) so I don't understand. What's happening here?

Like, oh, OK, if you don't understand baseball, you don't get this moment. So it helped us make it accessible for folks who may not, you know, understand the language of baseball.

SIMON: Yeah. The series is profane and utterly hilarious...

AZARIA: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...But it can also be unexpectedly touching. I - Jim Brockmire can be a very likeable man.

AZARIA: We made this as a short for "Funny Or Die," which was pretty sophomoric and funny. And frankly, like, the only reason he drank was to really allow him to melt down on the air and be so explicit like that. It's just a believable excuse to be that foul-mouthed on the air. But what the writer saw in it was a portrait of a pretty lonely alcoholic.

And then, the director really took that ball and ran with it. He didn't let me get away with anything less than honoring the dark night of the soul (laughter) that Jim Brockmire was experiencing, which was funny to me because to me it was really just a - it's a jumping-off point for comedy. But as I was acting it and working on it as an actor - not as a producer or developing it - I realized this is quite emotional stuff, yeah. And it's not sentimental, but it's highly emotional.

SIMON: Yeah, picked up for a second season already I gather.

AZARIA: Yes.

SIMON: But we have to wait another year to see it.

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) You have to wait till baseball comes back again in 2018.

It seemed to work pretty well releasing it in tandem with opening day of baseball, probably going to do that again.

SIMON: Hank Azaria - "Brockmire" is on IFC Wednesday nights at 10. Thanks so much for being with us, both of you.

AZARIA: (As Jim Brockmire) My pleasure.

And my pleasure as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.