Sports

Kyle Brandt Wants To Keep Taking Risks (Including Hosting ‘Jeopardy!’)

Kyle Brandt is happy to try just about anything. The host of Spotify’s “10 Questions” and the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football is a mainstay on all sports fans’ screens these days, but despite openly admitting the luck involved with landing those gigs, Brandt wants to keep taking risks.

The taste for trying stuff began as early as college, when as a student at Princeton, Brandt actively fought back against the path expected of him as an Ivy League grad. As the other guys around him took flashy Wall Street gigs with lucrative signing bonuses straight out of school, Brandt was determined to become an actor, filling in theater classes around his football schedule and doing his best to skirt the draw of Manhattan that reels in so many northeasterners.

“It kind of rattled me, but I stayed focused,” Brandt says. “I never was going to be that person who was like well, I should go get a job as a consultant. I was just never going to do that.”

But during his senior year at Princeton, the Real World did a casting call steps away from his bachelor pad, and Brandt was cast for Season 10. The experience was surreal after growing up watching the show as a teenager, but added once again to the perception he held with producers. Tall, handsome, and smart, Brandt had to again push back on being stereotyped.

“There was a pipeline from every reality show to L.A. to become actors, so that put that stamp on me where they were like, oh here’s another guy, a bachelor, a Joe Millionaire, who wants to be a movie star,” Brandt remembers. “Maybe I was, but I was like, I’ve been learning my lines, doing theatre, I’m really into this thing. Most people didn’t want to hear it.”

Eventually, his career took him through Days of Our Lives on NBC to a gig on the “Jim Rome Show,” a turn that put him back in the sports. Brandt took some time earlier this week to talk with Uproxx about the similarities between soap operas and a morning sports show, who his dream guests are on “10 Questions,” and why he’d like to be the next host of Jeopardy!

Your Twitter bio has a line that says “My resume is weirder than yours.” Do you see your journey in the industry as a point of pride?

Oh yeah, definitely. I scream that from the rooftops. But I have to clarify, I don’t think my resume is better than anybody’s, and it’s definitely worse than a lot of people’s. But no one’s is weirder. More than a point of pride, it’s a challenge. It’s a callout. Sometimes I’ll have people who will either tweet me or even stop me in person and throw down the gauntlet and say, “I used to work at a karaoke bar and now I’m a United States Senator,” or whatever the hell they say.

They think they can beat mine, and maybe some of them can, but I have never heard one that is as unusual, comical, eccentric, and unpredictable as mine. So I am proud of it, yeah, and the challenge is safe to this day.

When I hear you talk about Days of our Lives, I see a similarity to Good Morning Football in terms of the grind. Are they similar, and what is hosting GMF like?

There was a sense of “what am I doing here?” when the show started. I’m not an ex-NFL player, I’m not an insider consulting my sources, and I’m on the same network as Deion Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner. These are walk-in Hall of Famers, and I played some college football back in the early 2000s. I have to justify myself really quickly.

I was the last person cast on the show. It was Nate (Burleson) and Peter (Schrager) and Kay (Adams) and then what if we had this fourth guy? He doesn’t really fit any of the molds, he doesn’t have a ton of experience on TV, but we think he brings a different energy and it might work. The NFL is usually risk-averse, and this was a huge shot that they took on me, so I felt like I got there and had to be immediately like, ‘Here’s why I’m here.’ I have to be really energetic and really creative.

To do that every day, waking up at 4 in the morning and going into Manhattan, leaving your wife and two babies in the dark to come up with something original to say about Dak Prescott, it’s really, really hard. But somehow, I was able to make them keep me.

It sounds like you get energized by the riskiness of that. But there are some people who would get nervous or scared. How do you think of the NFL Network gig as an opportunity rather than, ‘Oh crap, I might completely lose this’?

It was really high stakes, even more than you know. My wife and our kids moved from Southern California to New York at the drop of a hat, with very short notice. We had a 2-year-old and a three-week-old when we moved, which was a nuclear move.

We had this sense that we’re going to try a new morning show, which the NFL Network has tried many of over the years to varying successes. This is a thing in New York with an outside producer. There’s four hosts that don’t know each other at all and aren’t very experienced. This could be a total disaster.

It would have been a real difficult blow if Good Morning Football had (fallen) on its face and we had to move back to Southern California and start all over. It would have been bad. But it wasn’t. Somehow, we made it work, and people liked it, and we found an audience. If I look back at some of those first shows, I don’t really recognize myself, but thank god that the NFL took a chance on us and especially on me.

How do you feel that your Ivy League education, show biz experience and now sports hosting experience combine when it comes to your work as an interviewer on a show like “10 Questions?” Does it make you a better or different interviewer than others might be?

I don’t know about better, but I try to be unique. I just like the variety. I take a lot of pride in two things about that. One, our contestant list for the show is as unique as my resume. It’s not just a bunch of football players or a bunch of actors or comedians. There’s everything. Within the space of a few weeks, we will have Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortenson on the heels of Guy Fieri, and that’s after NFL reporter Erin Andrews.

From contestant to contestant, there’s a lot of variety, and also even from question to question. I love taking them on that roller coaster where the first question is going to be really bizarre, about something like Snow White, then the second one will be about cooking … as random as we can possibly go.

There’s a moment in every episode where the contestant goes, ‘What the hell is this show?’ And I think that’s when they start liking it, because so many of these people need so many shows, and even if the person conducting the interview is talented and well-researched, they do kind of become paper dolls. So I try as hard as I can to cut that out.

Was that idea of mixing it up the basis behind “10 Questions?” What was the base level of what you wanted the show to be?

The base level was a conversation where you keep score. This podcast hosting, they’re everywhere, ubiquitous. I had to do something to punctuate the format, and I just said, I’m going to keep score, I’m going to come up with a game. It’s an extensive, deep-dive interview about this person’s life and career, but there’s going to be a setup where we keep score and we’re going to make it a competition.

I have found that interviewing so many athletes and now actors, that they’re unbelievably and almost disarmingly competitive. So if you sit them down and ask about themselves, they’re going to do it, but if you let them know not only I am I keeping score and keeping track of your answers, but you are competing against all these other contestants who came before, and for the next several weeks, we’re going to say your score and people are going to try to beat it, you can see them sit up straighter in their chair and get focused.

Who’s your dream guest on the show?

The ones that I really get off on are the ones who don’t do things, they don’t do a lot of publicity, certainly not sitting down for an hour on a podcast. There’s a couple I look at. I’ve always wanted to do something with Keanu Reeves, not only because he’s so accomplished and the body of work is obvious, but you also just don’t hear a lot of interviews with Keanu Reeves. I also think in the podcast format, if you have a recognizable voice, the second you start speaking, it’s already a win. I feel the same way about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The total pie in the sky, the one in a million chance, is Leonardo DiCaprio. He doesn’t do interviews, and that’s part of the intrigue about him, so I would put him on the list, too.

Would you ever have politicians on?

Absolutely. I’m not afraid of it. We had Jemele Hill on, and at the end of every episode, the contestant does a call out to challenge someone to come beat their score, and sometimes then we book the person and have them come on. But at the end of Jemele’s episode, she called out AOC and we reached out to her to see if she’ll do it.

Who is your favorite interviewer ever?

Howard Stern. What I like about Howard is not only is it longform, but it’s immediately disarming. He has the same thing where there are some stakes involved. When people go on Howard, they are a little bit nervous and they know all the people that have gone on before them and they want to do really well. Howard doesn’t have a scorekeeping system like I do, but he has that set of stakes.

The way he does it and follows them, not every question comes from journalist school, but he just has the natural talent to do it. I think he’s the best in the game right now.

What do you see down the line for your own career? It seems like you could go any number of directions.

If you asked me right now, I want to host Jeopardy!, and I mean that sincerely. There was a piece that was written about 10 Questions a few months ago and it was really complimentary, and he said that “10 Questions” was ‘a spiritual successor to Jeopardy’ and I agree with him in that it’s kind of old-fashioned like a quiz show that goes back to the 1950s with Tell The Truth and Quiz Show the movie.

What do you think you would bring to Jeopardy!?

It’s challenging, because some of the people who have done it in the past couple weeks get caught doing (Alex) Trebek impressions, which is really tricky, and nobody’s ever going to be able to do that.

The best part of the show and the hosting are two things. It’s the moment when you interact with each contestant on contestant row, and it’s very tricky because you have to be very quick and very quirky but fast and efficient. Trebek had such an efficiency of words that he’s tough to follow. Then at the end of every segment, he’s standing at the dais and looks right into his camera and that is the control of the show. It’s not reading the clues, it’s him when he looks in the camera.

I think that I would bring a relatability. I’m the person who sits at home with my wife, watching and shouting out the clues like everyone else. To be that type of person to go and know what that’s like is like Charlie going to the Chocolate Factory. They were looking for the person who understands it and won’t try to take it over. I’ve been that person on the couch, I know how to work on TV, and I could probably do the French accents if I had time to work on them, for those clues.

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