Hank Azaria on the Balancing Act of Comedy, Pathos in ‘Brockmire’ (Exclusive)
By Elliott Smith
On the surface, perhaps represented by the garish plaid jacket worn by its titular hard-living baseball announcer, the IFC hit Brockmire is a profane comedy about a smooth-talking anachronism trying to keep his place in a rapidly changing world. But underneath the booze and bravado is something more serious: a man struggling to reconcile the darker nature of his life in full view of the public.
That’s a tricky balancing act to pull off, and for longtime screen and voice actor Hank Azaria, who’s been developing this character for three decades, it’s a challenge well worth taking.
“One of the great things about the golden age of cable television we live in is that you’re allowed to be really realistic and be dark and go back and forth between intense drama and hilarious comedy, sometimes within minutes of each other in the same show,” Azaria tells ET. “We definitely saw an opportunity with that with Brockmire and we’re glad to have it at IFC, a place where they let you do that. It’s been really fun and challenging.”
While the first season of the show gave viewers an entry into the world of this larger-than-life character and a look at his small-time comeback from a major public meltdown that cost him his career, the current season focuses more on what makes Brockmire the way he is -- and the results are not pretty. Azaria credits writer Joel Church-Cooper for taking what could easily have been a one-note character (one that began as a Funny-or-Die sketch) and adding layer upon layer to make a complex, fallible individual.
“Even though I created the character a long time ago, Joel has really picked up the mantle and has seen much more depth and pathos to this guy, not to mention how funny he makes it,” Azaria says. “Joel has, from the beginning, kind of pulled the thread of this guy’s alcoholism, his fish-out-of-water quality, his sort of holdover as a relic of old America, in the same way that baseball is. He’s a guy who’s trying to find his way in modern society and deal with his own addiction. We’ve just basically continued that and it leads down a deeper, darker path sometimes.”
Season two finds Brockmire having left behind the Morristown Frackers and love interest Jules (Amanda Peet) for a promotion, calling games for the New Orleans CrawDaddys. “We wanted to place him in a city that was the living embodiment of himself,” Azaria says. “Brockmire would tell you that he’s psyched about that, and any sober, rational human being would tell you that’s a disaster.”
Before long, Brockmire finds himself in a competition with fellow announcer Raj (Utkarsh Ambudkar) for a call-up to the Atlanta Braves’ booth, while still basking in the success of his “Brock Bottom” podcast with friend/caretaker Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams). Given the goal of staying on the straight and narrow, Brockmire’s demons, and the underlying psychosis beneath them, are too much to handle for the announcer.
“Brockmire treats everything through the lens of an addiction,” Azaria says. “He doesn’t do anything non-addictively, whether it’s booze, baseball, drugs, sex or the digital/social media era. It’s all going to be done very obsessively, compulsively and in an out-of-control way. The second half of season two kind of ignites. It’s super dark.”
In some ways, that stands in contrast to the way the character has been received by the public. Azaria has made numerous public appearances as Brockmire in commercials and on the sports talk-show circuit (he was scheduled to appear on the MLB Network in character after this interview), and baseball fans and broadcasters, in particular, have gravitated to the comedic aspects of the old-school announcer archetype. “I love that they are responding to it,” he says.
Thanks to its success, IFC has already renewed Brockmire for two more seasons, and Azaria is excited about the direction the show will take going forward.
“We know where the show is going, and that’s part of what I’m proud of as well,” he says. “We know the story we’re telling. We know what we’re writing to and Joel even lays in little references in second episode, season one that pays off in fourth episode, season two. We know where we’re going. As much as I love the golden age of television we’re in, it drives me a little crazy sometimes when you can feel narratives wandering and some padding. I’m glad we’re not doing that. I’m pretty psyched about where we’re going -- but I don’t want to give anything away.”
No stranger to acclaim, Azaria has won six Emmys for his voice work on The Simpsons as well as a trophy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2016 for Ray Donovan and another for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie in 2000 for Tuesdays With Morrie. While he’s “not really an awards guy,” he could find himself in the mix at the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards with a nomination for a character that means so much to him.
“Both as a recognition of the show and Joel Church-Cooper, and, yes, because it’s a character I’ve had on my mind in one way or another for 30 years now, it really would be very rewarding,” Azaria says. “Not to mention, it would raise a lot of awareness for the show. I’d love it if a lot of people were surprised, like, ‘Hey, what’s that show?’ and we built a larger audience based on that. I really do think the show deserves it. It’s just really funny and moving and unsentimental, and I’d love everybody to see it.”