“Hell yeah this is Sports-Talk!” The Guide to Bill Simmons’ “The BS Report”
Many readers of our erstwhile site may be unaware of Bill Simmons (the Sports Guy), the breakout star of ESPN’s often-excellent Page 2 (rest in peace, Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Wiley – it will never again be like the “Magic Three” days). For the past 9 years or so, Simmons eschewed the “human-interest” angle often seen in traditional sportswriting (e.g., most articles in Sports Illustrated) for the perspective of a regular dude that happens to be a die-hard fan. If you are remotely familiar with him, than it’s a safe bet (possibly a three-team teaser?) that you are also aware of Bill Simmons the Internet Entity. Simmons has a ridiculously-desirable job – a regular column that that covers sports, movies, video games and the occasional road trip with his buddies, many of which are also relatively well-known (Adam Carolla, Dave Dameshek, Jimmy Kimmel, etc). This has led Simmons to become the Target du Jour for that time-honored tradition that harkens back to a time when proto-Steampunks published scathing pamphlets about the latest Stravinsky acetate – the backlash. Gawker Media’s entry in the sports world, Deadspin.com[i], has been on the forefront of much of it. I get it – Bill Simmons gets to spend hours at coffee shops, pounding away on a keyboard about his opinions, which hundreds of thousands of people will eventually read, then forward to friends and debate over beers of various strength, or left-handed cigarettes of questionable potency. As someone writing for free, I understand the jealousy – however, this obscures the legitimate reasons why Simmons matters as a sportswriter and broadcaster. In the past two years, his columns have evolved into a meta-analysis of his own fandom, openly questioning why he allows the fortunes of his favorite teams to impact his life so intensely (As a Cubs fan, let’s just say I’ve got this figured out). This idea has become one of the main themes of his podcast, The BS Report.
When the BS Report began, his guests consisted of other ESPN personalities, his college buddies, and the Carolla/Kimmel axis. While a work-in-progress, it was an entertaining way to pass two hours of daily bus rides. We got to hear ridiculous movie pitches, discussions of the best video-game versions of football players in history (fear not – Tecmo Bowl’s Bo Jackson and Randall Cunningham were not forgotten), the best “bad” movies, and recounts of the weekly get-togethers at Kimmel’s for NFL games. (At the same time, Carolla and Dameshek were hosting radio shows in the Los Angeles area – imagine if the stories from your beer-altered antics were broadcast on three different media outlets). Eventually, Simmons expanded the guest list, providing one hour of commercial-free[ii] discussion with comedians, writers, actors, analysts, and the far-too-rare thoughtful athlete. As a former sports-radio aficionado – I still hunt down episodes of the Jim Rome “Smack-Off”[iii] – I’ve become painfully familiar with the ennui that accompanies almost any interview with a player or coach.[iv] I love to offer good deeds for anonymous corporate executives gratis, so here’s my attempt to save radio stations a couple grand in plane tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars:
Local Media Guy Sent to Cover Super Bowl XLIV in Miami:
So tell me, now that you’ve made it to the big game, what do hope to accomplish?
99% of pro athletes[v]:
You know, we…um…you know…love to, you know…play the game hard, and…you know, they [vi] have some great players, and, you know, they are going to want to win, and, um, you know, we know that if we, you know, practice hard and, um, practice hard and, you know, win the battle, and um, God and Coach and you know, we hope to, you know, be the, um, ones saying, you know, I’m, you know, going to Disneyland, you know…
I hear you dissenters – it is not fair to blame a professional athlete for boring the shite out of us when the hosts ask questions so banal and vague they make the opening salvo of a job interview appear exciting.[vii] But the other oft-cited excuse – “Should we expect our gladiators to be brilliant wordsmiths, too?” – can go to hell. I’ve heard some great interviews with athletes, so don’t tell me that I have unreasonable expectations. They don’t have to say mean things about their opponent (I understand that the 24-hour sports news cycle – I repeat, our society finds the need for a 24-hour sports news cycle – will jump all over any statement with a tinge of personality or free thought), but an athlete can offer historical context like Steve Nash or reveal how their anger has unfortunately transformed into apathy like Rasheed Wallace. No opponent, blogger or SportsYakker will chastise you for tossing aside cliche-ridden snoozefests to wax philosophical about what the sport means to the culture at this moment, or how much has changed in how an athlete is covered by the modern media. I would wager that sportswriters (and the public) might actually find it quite refreshing.
Which brings me back to the BS Report. As Simmons netted a few reps in the interview world, he made the leap as an interviewer. Most notably, he diversified his guest list beyond the world of sports, offering a 50,000 watt mouthpiece to the forces behind the most rewarding creative output in the realm of TV, movies, stand-up comedy, and cultural commentary.
While I’ll check out appearances of ball-chatters like Marc Stein, Ric Bucher and Aaron Schatz, here’s a guide to my favorite non-sports related guests:
Chuck Klosterman. In many respects, CK serves as the music-journalism version of Simmons. While their senses of humor are far different (Klosterman’s attention to detail, typified by his rural North Dakota upbringing, is the “sand the floor” to Simmons’ crane-kick to the head), they both claim sizable audiences within the more cerebral residents of the epicurean wing of the pro-Apatow/Kevin Smith demographic. They disagree on multiple subjects, which is both spirited and The Office (UK)-level awkward. The discussions between Klosterman and Simmons evoke what I’d expect from a similar pairing of Win Butler and Ezra Koenig – two people examining how their lives have changed as they’ve acquired a modicum of success, admiration, and scorn. Klosterman, just as Leon Black was instructed by Larry David, likes to flip the interview so Simmons is answering several well-constructed questions. I credit this game of criss-cross with aiding Simmons’ interview faculties. Klosterman’s appearances usually follow a big story in the world of pop culture (Michael Jackson’s death, Tiger Woods Thanksgiving window-smashes, Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters reuniting at All Tomorrow’s Parties to perform “Circus of the Stars – 1982” in its entirety, etc). This is closely followed or preceded by a discussion with…
Chris Connelly. The former MTV personality, columnist for Rolling Stone, and occasional ESPN segment-producer will also be summoned after major happenings. Like an episode of Community, he’ll leave you with several bons mots to quote during your next dinner-party conversation. Those annoying people who complain that the BS Report is “too long” will see the light when they hear Connelly’s in-depth accounts from his many years as a film and music critic.
The next visit from either of these guys should be – wait for it – interrupted by Doug Benson, who could offer a surprise installment of “The Leonard Maltin Game”. The host of Doug Loves Movies has made a few appearances on Adam Carolla’s Podcast, and I wager that Benson and Simmons could find common ground in film debauchery. It is likely that Simmons is the most-read sportswriter among Marijuanalogues audiences, although denizens of The Dank Knight would definitely lean more towards Dan Le Batard.
Bill Hader / Seth Meyers. The main attractions amongst the current cast of Saturday Night Live, both fill their hour-plus interviews with great behind-the-scenes tales from the show. Meyers adds spot-on sports commentary, while Hader will crack you up with dead-on impressions and hilarious stories about sketches that were deemed inappropriate for network TV. “…Pants!..”
Michael Schur / Jason Reitman. Schur, who plays Dwight’s cousin Moz[viii] on The Office, is co-creator of Parks and Recreation, and spoke with Simmons about the inner-workings of the two diverging programs. In addition to the pressure facing the follow-up to a critical success like Juno, Reitman’s discussion provided great insight regarding the process of assembling a cast, especially when a film is written primarily for a particular actor (George Clooney).
Patton Oswalt / Jeffrey Ross. Neither are regulars, but both were far more revealing than comedic. Oswalt painted a picture of the LA comedy explosion, including the numerous creative ingénues associated with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. He also enlightened Simmons (and likely, most of the audience) by talking up the New Hollywood era in cinema, and explaining how sci-fi like Battlestar Galactica and how a deep examination of failed institutions, such as The Wire is connected to sports-related drama like Friday Night Lights.[ix] Jeffrey Ross, the Roastmaster General, gave a very serious, almost NPR-friendly interview, talking about his early years, and just how fame has changed his life. He couldn’t get into his fascinating recount of the Hugh Hefner roast, which took place in New York City a few weeks after 9/11, likely due to ESPN’s rules stating that you can’t work blue.[x]
Tim Goodman and Alan Sepinwall (TV/Movie Critics). The NBC late-night fiasco was a slam-dunk for someone with Goodman’s credentials, whose “Bastard Machine” offers his own TV power rankings. I missed the Sepinwall episode when it was originally uploaded, so I was quite impressed to hear that the Newark Star-Ledger critic recommended Community and Modern Family among the season’s new shows. They also spoke in great detail about The Wire and Mad Men.
Malcolm Gladwell. In 1990, when Donald Fagen surprisingly accepted Guitar for the Practicing Musician’s request for an interview, the Steely Dan impresario had one stipulation – the whole process take place via written letters, with only one question allowed per mailing. GFTPM appeared flummoxed, completely blindsided by Fagen’s twisted sense of humor (they named their band after an animatronic dildo, for Burroughs’ sake!) and the entire interview was ruined by the bitter tone of their questions. Following in the footsteps of These Original Outliers, Gladwell has a quasi-similar policy. The lone podcast holdout, Gladwell prefers the extremely archaic method of e-mail communication. The Simmons-Gladwell exchanges, due to the outmoded readable format, make a helluva case for similar conversations. There’s no doubt that a thought can be developed in a stronger and more logical fashion when one is allowed to reorganize the words, as our trusty word-processing software permits. And in all honesty, sentences such as “The Jake Plummer story is not about the frailty of individuals, it’s about the redemptive power of environments” are not bloody likely in a casual discussion.
Kevin Wildes. If Karl Pilkington and Gladwell were to ever form a two-person Voltron, Wildes is the most likely result. While he calls them “Three Half-Baked Ideas”, many of them are pretty damn close to well-done, especially his suggestion that automakers re-issue popular styles from past years[xi], or for sportsbars to install retractable walls to constantly appear crowded.
I hope that Simmons continues to seek out non-sports figures, and I have a few suggestions:
Ricky Gervais. After bantering with Super Dave Osborne, why not bring on another guest-star from Curb Your Enthusiasm, who happens to be the host of the most legally-downloaded podcast of all-time? Outside of the obvious topics of discussion (potential Mel Gibson jokes for the next Golden Globes), perhaps they could examine the weirdness of the Hollywood scene from the perspective of two relative outsiders (perhaps Pilkington’s favorite actor Clive Warren will merit a mention).
David Simon and Matthew Weiner. If you’ve made it this far, I can assume that you understand why these masterminds would each serve as a pantheon BS Report guest. A Simon-Simmons deconstruction of the consequences stemming from a waning newspaper industry would be a podcast must-listen. And with Treme in production, there’s a whole new Simon-based world awaiting us, featuring the actors responsible for Bunk (Wendell Pierce) and Lester (Clarke Peters). As for Matthew Weiner, would any interview be hampered by requirements that he remain tight-lipped about series details, as not to forecast any future storylines? Maybe, but I’d still like to hear it.
Nathan Rabin, The Onion AV Club. Rabin is the site’s chief hip-hop reviewer, but he should reach legendary status for his series of film reviews entitled My Year of Flops. As a fan of films that are not exactly critic’s favorites, a Simmons / Rabin back-and-forth would likely result in a Klosterman-level conflict. I’d also like to hear a comparison of their respective book-publishing experiences, where they would have some common complaints, a la the Aaron Schatz podcasts, a domain of the shared catharsis as Simmons and Schatz commiserate over the fading supernova of the New England Patriots. Rabin’s other series, Then! That’s What They Called Music and Nashville or Bust would also be entertaining as Simmons-style deconstructions.
Daryl Hall. His interview with Pitchfork has been sufficiently discussed online and within the Popdose podcast, yet I feel that Simmons might have some questions that he’s not encountered before. His appearance on the old Adam Carolla radio show was awesome, largely because he’ll stand behind all of his songs, from the seminal (“United State”) to the admittedly-cheesy (“Kiss on my List”). He also sneaked the f-word past the censors, avoiding any Big Bam Boom. In a world where far too many musicians and authors are quick to apologize for perceived missteps, Hall’s lack of concern is quite refreshing.
Dan Harmon. The creator of Community, my favorite new show of the year, deserves the Michael Schur treatment (but not the Ralphie treatment). Channel101.com provides a speculative view of the series in its pre-NBC days. Hopefully the network will stick with the show as the characters evolve.
Zach Galifianakis. I’ll admit that this would be a total train-wreck, but it would be worth it. Simmons appreciates comedy, but he is very earnest – Zach’s penchant for dropping into character(s) might scare Simmons back to the days of bi-monthly Carolla. Perhaps Simmons would allow himself to be in on the joke, like Kimmel on Between Two Ferns.
Liam Lynch. The creator of Sifl and Olly (“You wanna buy some feckin’ apples?”), and one of the best Loveline guests that isn’t named Oswalt or Posehn, Lynch has become an ace director of videos from bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Tenacious D. He’s also a podcaster.
[i] When avoiding the Huffington Post ethic (aka softcore porn = heavy web traffic), Deadspin features some hilariously insightful examinations of the sporting world. Drew Magary, he of the “Balls Deep” column, should be required reading for anyone remotely involved in sports. The Buzz Bissinger – Will Leitch rumble – and by “rumble”, I mean “where one guy goes crazy while the other tries to defends his profession” – is also worth a look.
[ii] Save for the brief message from a public transit-themed dining establishment
[iii] That is if and only if Doc Mike DiTolla and Jeffrey DiTolla are, as they claim, different people.
[iv] There are rare non-NBA exceptions: Carlos Delgado, Maurice Jones-Drew on “The Dan Patrick Show”, and Mark Grace or Steve Elkington on “The Jungle with Jim Rome”. Why does pro basketball seem to have the most compelling personalities? Present and past NBA rosters featured awesome interviews like Steve Nash, Adonal Foyle, Etan Thomas, Dirk Nowitzki, World B. Free, Darryl Dawkins, Edgar Jones…
[vi] Sorry Vikings fans. I remember 1999, too. The only way to end a curse is to constantly acknowledge it (Dan Barreiro needs to change his last name to Shaughnessy, and fast)
[vii] My fave so far – one organization I will not name begins by asking “So tell me about your experience”, followed by bizarre simultaneous laughter from all four staff members. Thanks for such a probing, specific inquiry! If only the application process would have resulted in my submission of a couple of documents that answer that very question! Not to mention, WTF with the laughter? If only an armed Tommy from GoodFellas was in there with me – “How the f*ck am I so funny?”
[viii] I am not sure if this is the correct spelling, but I figure it’s a great way to add more hits from fans of The Smiths. I’ll add this: the version of “PDA” from Interpol’s Fukd ID EP is far superior to the incarnation from Turn On the Bright Lights, largely because Paul Banks adds a Morrissey-affectation during the chorus.
[ix] I wager that those willing to finish the episode set a record for Simmons-related Google-searches – or, at least, they matched the hoax from his “Mailbag” segment where he casually referenced a film featuring a Scarlett Johansson “nude scene”.
[xi] You can save your “James Howard Kunstler/ end of Happy Motoring” – As a New Urbanist, I am well aware.