Spoiler alert: It's rock bottom day on the Brockmire set, and everyone is feeling it. Hank Azaria/Jim Brockmire wears a bloody T-shirt, and he and the cast are doing some heavy, heartbreaking, soul-crushing acting at a hospital. It's weighing on him. It's weighing on everybody. This dark day reminds of the Frank Sinatra line about "Only the Lonely," his album of impossibly sad songs: "It should come with a shot of whiskey and a .38."
"This is still a comedy," Brockmire creator Joel Church-Cooper says on several occasions. "I promise."
Brockmire is still a comedy -- a raucous, raunchy, hilarious comedy about the baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, who lost his job announcing baseball games for the Kansas City Royals after having a nervous breakdown on the air. In season one, Brockmire began his halting climb back by taking an announcing job with the Morristown Frackers. In season two, which debuts on Wednesday on IFC, Brockmire continues his drug-and-alcohol-soaked climb back by broadcasting in New Orleans.
It's fair to say that New Orleans isn't the best town for Jim Brockmire. To get to the top, though, Brockmire will have to hit bottom.
And by pure coincidence, I happen to be here on the day that happens.
"I never thought," Azaria admits, "that we would go this deep into the soul of Jim Brockmire."
And then in the voice of Brockmire he says: "It's kind of a scary place to be."
Legend in the Booth
Brockmire began as a hilarious four-and-a-half-minute Funny or Die video called "A Legend in the Booth." The video's plot was that Jim Brockmire was this groundbreaking baseball announcer -- "Brockmire's style was ahead of its time," Rich Eisen says in the video, "all that stuff we did back in the day on SportsCenter, throwing in cultural references, catch phrases from movies, we were ripping Brockmire off left and right -- until one day he lost it in the booth after catching his wife cheating.
Back then, Azaria will tell you, Brockmire was all about the voice. Azaria is a student of voices; he thinks about them constantly. "Other people lean on their sight," he says. "I lean on sound." He is best known now as the voice of dozens of characters on the Simpsons, each of them a connection to some voice or sound he has heard before.
Well, Azaria is a huge baseball fan, a long-suffering Mets fan, and so he has spent much of his life listening to baseball announcers. That's what the Brockmire video was: His comedy homage to baseball announcers. He is not the first comedian to discover that various non-baseball thoughts -- appropriate and inappropriate -- are funnier when said in a twangy and distinguished baseball voice. It is something that others like Robert Klein, George Carlin and Roy Firestone have played around with. It seemed like a one-time thing, a funny one-off that would live on YouTube forever.
But Azaria kept wondering if there was more. And he was not alone: Comedy writer Joel Church-Cooper saw the character and, knowing Azaria's chops as an actor, agreed that there was something deeper in Brockmire. Cooper, like Azaria, is a lifelong baseball fan, and he thought baseball was the perfect background to his idea of Brockmire as this deeply broken man -- if you have seen the show, you know, the key word there is DEEPLY broken -- who would try in his own halting way to find his way back.
"In many ways," Church-Cooper says, "baseball is the very best part of Jim Brockmire. He's a drug addict. He's a sex addict. He's selfish and rude and entirely inappropriate. But he truly loves baseball, loves the traditions of it, the rhythms of it. He sees the romance of baseball in ways that I think he can no longer see romance in the rest of the world. I thought that was something to explore."
"Plus," he adds, "I thought we could make it really funny."
The show is dirty. No, seriously, it's really dirty -- "the filthiest show on television," in Church-Cooper's words. My favorite character on the show is Charles, a young tech nerd played by Tyrel Jackson Williams. Charles knows nothing and cares nothing about baseball, which leads to some of the most wonderful exchanges between him and Brockmire. But beyond that he is relatively innocent, matching the actor's background. Williams is probably best known for his role on the Disney show "Lab Rats," which means kids come up to him all the time. And their parents whisper, "I love Brockmire, but I would not let my kids watch it."
To which Jackson says, "Right. Don't. Definitely don't let your kids watch."
The, um, indelicate humor of Brockmire comes from a very real place though. Brockmire is the guy who will say any thought that comes into his head. He is profoundly honest; Azaria finds it amazing how Brockmire will say things that he could never get away with saying.
"You really shouldn't like Jim Brockmire," says IFC president Jennifer Caserta, who has announced the show has been renewed already for seasons three and four. "He's a pretty terrible person. But you do anyway because he's charming and he will say anything. And he's just so funny."
Also, he's a pretty terrific baseball announcer. Well, as Church-Cooper says, he wouldn't be a great baseball announcer in the late innings of a tight, well-played 4-3 game because he would be off talking about something drug or sex related while the drama of the game passed by. But in a 10-1 blowout game, it's hard to imagine anyone who would be more entertaining.
"You don't have to be a baseball fan to like Brockmire," Azaria says. "It's not necessary. But I think, as a baseball fan, that we get a lot of the baseball right. If you like baseball you'll get something extra out of it."
Jim Brockmire has a feud going with Brent Musburger. He has another feud with Joe Buck. Spoiler alert: He gets revenge on Bob Costas for some perceived slight. He is determined to make it back to the Major Leagues and he will not let anyone stop him. This is the quote-unquote plot of Brockmire.
But really, it's a character study of a man out of time, a man who made it to the top of the world as a baseball announcer and then crashed as hard as someone can crash. It's a comedy, and Church-Cooper insists that the ultimate goal always is to make people laugh out loud. But he has to concede. There's a lot of sadness, too. And, as mentioned, I happened to be invited to the set on the saddest day of the year. No more spoilers, but here's something interesting: Azaria and Church-Cooper, like most stars and creators, like doing several different takes for scenes, and they like doing them very differently.
So the director might say, "OK, Hank, let's do this one funny." And Azaria will do the scene with comedic timing.
Then the director might say, "Great, now let's do this one somber." And Azaria will do the scene in a serious, solemn way -- it's incredible how different the same words and actions seem in the hands of a skilled actor trying different things.
Then the director might say, "Let's do an angry one now." And Azaria will be angry. Or the director will say, "Be impatient." And Azaria will be impatient.
But my favorite one -- and I watched Azaria do this a half dozen times -- is when the director says: "OK Hank, let's do a baseball take." Then, Azaria does the same scene, except he does it in the rich baseball announcer voice of Jim Brockmire.
It is some baseball voice. You can hear a little Phil Rizzuto in there, a little Lindsey Nelson (Brockmire wears the Lindsey Nelson jacket), a little Jon Miller, maybe a little Vin Scully, too. He's usually talking about something obscene or twisted, but you still hear the baseball in there. You can tell it's the bottom of the ninth and the game is almost over, and Jim Brockmire is getting ready for another wild and lonely and haunted night.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.