Steve Rannazzisi, Jan. 10-11, 8 p.m.; Jan. 12, 8 & 10:30 p.m., $25-$50. Comix at Foxwoods.
For those of us who love TV, we realize it’s an opportunity to step into another profession/world/universe for 22-44 minutes at a time. Our natural selves are still present while our minds live vicariously through the little people in the magical glowing box we spend so much time watching. Thus, it is possible to love a show centered around something one despises in real life. Like “The League,” F/X’s semi-scripted show about a group of friends and their experiences with fantasy football. A love of football, fantasy or otherwise, is not a prerequisite to realizing it’s the funniest show on TV.
The dynamic on the show between the primary characters is one of love, camaraderie and mutual loathing. These guys love/hate each other so hard. They’ve been friends since high school, and for all intents and purposes might as well still be at North Winnetka High. There is no shortage of sac taps, undermining, pranks, lies and collusion. The characters themselves are terrible people, but we love them just the same as we’d love our actual, terrible friends. “We got ourselves into stupid situations and we made horrible decisions and we alienated most of the rest of society,” says Steve Rannazzisi of the just-finished fourth season, and the three previous seasons as well. Rannazzisi plays Kevin MacArthur, League Commissioner, on the show which heads into its fifth season this year.
The semi-scripted nature of the show allows Rannazzisi and fellow cast members Paul Scheer (Andre Nowzick, a successful plastic surgeon and perpetual punching bag of the whole crew), Mark Duplass (Pete Eckhart, a recently divorced manchild), Nick Kroll (Rodney “everybody calls me Ruxin” Ruxin, a product liability lawyer with a super hot wife and unruly son), Jon Lajoie (Taco MacArthur, Kevin’s younger brother, an often-stoned chick magnet) and Katie Aselton (Jenny MacArthur, Kevin’s wife, a real-estate agent who is much better at fantasy football than her husband is) to flex their expertly honed improv muscles while pushing the story along. Rannazzisi returns to his comedic origins when he lays some stand-up on us this weekend at Comix at Foxwoods.
Rannazzisi draws his stand-up material from his everyday life, which doesn’t differ too greatly from that of his TV character. He describes his material as observational, sarcastic and self-deprecating. “I make fun of a lot of different people, including myself, mostly” he says. His wife Tracy is not exempt, either. “She takes it, she’s a good sport,” he says. “She’s the one who started me on this whole thing, so that’s why I tell her ‘This is what you did. You did this to yourself. ...I didn’t do this.’” Raising two sons with his wife no doubt provides plenty of material not just for the stage, but for the screen as well. And since “The League”’s creators Jeff Shaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer welcomed a second child recently as did Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass, it made sense to bring that to the show.
As for the character of Kevin, Rannazzisi has injected much of himself into the role. “The real parts, the arguments, the mundane stuff you see is the stuff that happens in real life, so I know what that guy [Kevin] goes through,” he says. He also played fantasy football before the show was even created. Even Kevin’s ridiculous mannerisms are mostly Rannazzisi just playing off his own reactions. “I do have a habit, and I brought it to the show because my wife says it’s so funny, like if I get scared I scream like a girl. I have very effeminate nervous ticks, so that’s become Kevin,” he says. The actors are only given outlines and scenarios, and then set loose on the scene at hand. “It’s fun to read really well-written lines and get to create a character based on them, but this is different because we’re given scenarios and we’re given situations, but we’ve been also given the keys to drive the car as well,” he says of the difference between making a show this way vs. a fully scripted show. “I like to be able to go off on tangents or not say exactly what is written there, because I think something else could be funnier. Which, sometimes it’s not. It’s not all gold,” he says. “I’ve done the network sitcom where you have the table read and there are notes, and people are clenching their fists and wringing their hands together” over which line would be funnier, “and then you’ve got people like Jason Mantzoukas [who plays Rafi, Ruxin’s brother-in-law] who just say horrifically filthy, horrible things,” he says.
And if we’re cracking up at home over what these guys come up with, imagine what it must be like on set. Rannazzisi says he’s the worst out of the cast at keeping it together, adding that Mantzoukas is “a tough person to be around, because he’s super funny and that character is just so outrageous. It’s tough to keep a straight face.” Somehow they manage to pull it off, working around a case of the giggles here or what he calls “laughter k-holes” there. “I know the show is not really in reality, but we do live in a real world, I do play a real lawyer, I do have a real family. So when someone tells me that they want to tongue rape my face, I’m gonna react a certain way,” he says, of something Rafi totally would totally threaten to do to Kevin.
Kevin’s on-screen daughter Ellie, played by comedian Dave Foley’s daughter Alina, gets to deliver some filthy lines, too, despite having yet to see her 10th birthday. When asked if he ever feels bad making her say all this terrible stuff (like “Ruxin, you're being a real dick to my frog!” in a season three episode), Rannazzisi comes back with “If she was adopted by the Catholic Church and they lent her to us just because she fit this role perfectly, then I would feel bad.” Ellie of course has a foul mouth, from being around her parents and their asshole friends all the time. “When she said ‘You're invited into the Jew fort!’ that might’ve been the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he says with a laugh.
Rannazzisi plans to keep busy this year, with a fifth season of “The League” in the works, his tour which brings him to casino territory this weekend, shooting a one-hour special for Comedy Central while on the road, continuing with his web series “Daddy Knows Best,” and hopefully shooting a feature too. He performs four shows at Comix at Foxwoods this week, and you can bet he’ll have plenty to talk about. "I look forward to entertaining the people of the Foxwoods Resort Casino this weekend," he says. "You can write that in."