When it comes to his fandom, Queens-born Hank Azaria makes his allegiances very clear.
“I’m a huge Mets fan,” he says. “I make the distinction. I’m a Mets fan first, baseball fan second. I grew up in Queens, where it’s the law. They passed an ordinance: You must be a Mets fan.”
The versatile actor, most famous for his numerous voice roles on “The Simpsons,” has turned his love of America’s pastime into his new IFC comedy, “Brockmire.”
Azaria plays an announcer for the Kansas City Royals who, after a vulgar breakdown on air after discovering that his wife was cheating on him, is now trying to rebuild his career with a minor league team in Morristown, Pennsylvania. The character originated in a Funny or Die short, and now comes to cable for an eight-episode first season.
Azaria will be at The Bell House in Gowanus on April 4 for a screening of the “Brockmire” premiere, as well as a chat with sports writers.
amNewYork spoke with Azaria about the show.
How feverishly do you follow the Mets?
From a very young age, I just loved the Mets and Knicks and Jets. And I’m an avid, insane Mets fan — I mean that literally. All things Mets I can talk about.
Who’s your favorite player?
It was hard not to love Tom Seaver. I had a real love of Ed Kranepool growing up. And Bud Harrelson — my buddy and I had a big soft spots in our hearts for Bud Harrelson as well. I’d say those were the main guys that jumped out to me. But I loved all of the Mets.
How are their chances this year?
You know, they’re really good, I say with guarded optimism. I’ve been following spring training. There’s many question marks — I mean obviously if the pitching staff can stay healthy, which is huge. ... There’s no reason they shouldn’t do well, but we’ll see.
Do you get to go to a lot of games?
I do. I moved back to New York three years ago ... in no small part because I love the Mets, Knicks and Jets so much. I mean it really does mean a lot to me to be able to go to Citi Field. It’s great, you know. And it’s my hometown.
Who were your inspirations for the character?
The jacket is [former Mets broadcaster] Lindsey Nelson straight up. That really made an indelible mark in my brain. ... But the voice is really distinct in its indistinctness. To me it was the generic baseball announcer voice. It was the voice that was the sort of the default setting. The greats like Vince Scully and even local — even Bob Murphy or Phil Rizzuto or Ralph Kiner — they all had their distinctive voices. This was just kind of a baseline voice that for some reason.
What makes that voice unique?
Men my age, I swear to god there’s something about that voice that’s so comforting and to me, always a little bit hilarious. That was a lot of the basis of the character, to start out with that these guys always sound like this, because this is such a weird way to go through life if you talk like this. Do you order in a restaurant this way? Do you dirty-talk during sex this way? Do you argue with your girlfriend this way? It’s such a weird voice in an everyday context.
How can you relate to him?
Well, I think it’s fair to say he’s trouble. Look, I’ve gone through a lot in my life. I’ve been through divorce. I’ve survived show business, which is no small feat. You know, I’ve had many relationships fail. I absolutely relate to a lot of what Brockmire goes through. Part of what was funny to me about a character like this is, if he’s drunk and stoned, does he still sound like this? Is it still this delivery? ... And a character like that also is, by definition, observing and reporting on everything. So is he doing that about his argument with his girlfriend ... or how drunk he is or his wife’s infidelity? It just seemed like a funny territory.
You’re good at building unique characters. What’s your process?
I’m a mimic, a vocal mimic at heart. That’s sort of how I started. And that, to me, with characters like this, is sort of how I begin. [Brockmire] has been in my voice and brain and heart literally since I was a teenager. I was imitating these guys, doing bits for my buddies or whatever. I’ve been developing it professionally for a very long time. I’ve done this voice on “The Simpsons” for ages.
So, you have a great supporting cast.
You know, they were really awesome. Everybody says that about their co-stars, they’re co-workers, but I actually really mean it this time. I tell you what, to be more specific about that, in shooting the short, we realized that even though I do my best to make Brockmire real and three-dimensional, talking that way and going through life that way, it’s very broad. ... We realized that we had to surround him with people who were going to be very truthful, very real and down to earth and believable, which Amanda Peet has a real gift for that. She’s kind of incapable of not being authentic and she’s a gifted comedian, but always while being very emotional, very true and convincing. And I’ll tell you about Tyrel Jackson Williams. Now when you audition people, it really is purely on tape. You end up as a producer seeing like 30 or 40 auditions, one after another, on a reel. And I have never seen a greater difference between Tyrel’s audition and every other actor who came in. Literally there was him and everybody else. He just was so believable.
What is planned for The Bell House event?
That came out of [sportswriter] Jonah Keri, who came down and did a very lovely job on the show and then I ended up doing his podcast and he suggested this. I, of course, jumped at it. I love Jonah. I love baseball. I love this show. I love the Mets. All those will be discussed. So there was no way I wasn’t going to do that. Plus it’s a way to promote the show. I can’t decide what I’m most looking forward to: chatting with Jonah, showing the show, talking about the Mets with folks who are experts — the whole thing is a big, happy experience for me.
On the street, how do people recognize you?
You know, I get recognized the most with, “You’re that guy! You’re that actor guy!” I’d say about 50% of the people who stop me know my name is Hank Azaria. Mostly I’m “actor guy” and then followed by, “Oh, you’re a ‘Simpsons’ guy.” Or that guy from the “Bird Cage.” I hope to get Brockmire. I hope in the coming year, I get, “Hey, Jim Brockmire!” more than anything else.
Can you talk about your recurring role as Phoebe’s sometime-boyfriend David on “Friends”?
I get that sometimes, too. “You’re the scientist guy from ‘Friends.’ ” ... Matthew Perry, at the time, was one of my best friends. I was super happy for him. I’ll tell you something — that show, we all read it. Matthew, myself and a few other friends of mine. When you read that pilot, for whatever cast, this is pretty special. You never knew it would turn into the phenomenon it turned into. But from the inside, as 20-something actors at the time, we were like, “This thing is great!” I auditioned for Joey originally. And they politely rejected me. It’s the only time, before or since, that I bowled my way back in. I said, “Please just see me again.” I just felt like I had nothing to lose. Let me just try again. But I knew the show would be amazing. They were very kind, they saw me again and they just as quickly escorted me out the door. They knew me a bit and liked me. I had “Quiz Show” come out in between when I auditioned for “Friends” and when it aired, and I think that stamped my passport a little bit. They brought me in in season one as that character, which I loved doing. Again Matthew was a close friend of mine, so I was glad to be able to share in that experience with him a little bit. ... It was really great to come back in over the years. I ended up working a bunch over the years with Lisa Kudrow, and with [David] Schwimmer and with Jennifer Aniston on different projects. I sort of felt like one of the family over there after a while.
You’ve worked some on the Broadway stage. Do you want to go back there?
Yeah. I mean, it’s one of the reasons I moved back. Besides the Mets and besides wanting to raise a New Yorker, I love the theater, even more going than participating. I did a play at the Public [Theater] last year, which I enjoyed very much. Yes. I’m always looking for the right Broadway show or off-Broadway show. I just love doing it.