The odds are in favor of their being some manner of sports in 2020, and I’m not talking about marble racing or competitive Mouse Trap tournaments. Bats, balls, linament, the whole thing. But there’s a great big valley of uncertainty between now and the first pitch, first tip-off, or first hot dog swallow so it’s good to continue trying sportifying everything to stave off boredom. Challenge your WFH friends to see who gets the most unique stab at the “I don’t know how to do email sign-offs anymore” sign off or teach your little babies to joust. Whatever.
If those ideas aren’t working for you, though, then the people behind TBS’ Tournament Of Laughs (the second episode airs Sunday at 10 PM and the first is streaming here) may have a sales pitch for you: what if March Madness, but with comedians? 64 of them, to be exact, channeling all the weird energy of these unprecedented times into comedy clips that viewers can then vote on to help widdle down the competitors and ultimately help influence the ultimate victor. The prize? Bragging rights. Also the friends they made along the way. Regardless, it’s something to laugh at all piled into one place and the opportunity to feel the God-like thrill those American Idol fans have been smugly enjoying for years.
Tournament Of Laughs is hosted by SNL alum and actor Jason Sudeikis, who is managing to do a pretty great impression of a SportsCenter anchor while introducing the comics and clips. We spoke with Sudeikis about that, feeling like ET while filming, forgetting about committing violence on Baby Yoda, impersonating Joe Biden, and how press tours and SNL From Home can set the stage for a pretty great grift.
I feel obligated to ask anyone who I know is a huge sports fan about sports, and obviously, the vibe of the show definitely speaks to that as well. How have you been filling the time without basketball, without baseball?
I’m a soccer fan, as well, so for me, it’s been the little things that help you out. The Last Dance was very, very, helpful to give you something to look forward to every Sunday for five weeks. And then more recently, me and some pals that work on this show that we have coming up this August for Apple TV [Ted Lasso], we play a lot of FIFA. We’re making our own sports. Dealing with our own virtual soccer to scratch that itch.
I guess the FIFA counts as research?
Oh yeah, exactly. We’ve written off the whole thing.
Perfect. So with this show, it really seems to lean into the daydreams of anybody who grew up watching SportsCenter and March Madness. Was that a part of the show when you signed on or is that partly your influence?
No, that was all them. They had that all lined up. I believe the show was probably even pitched in the absence of March Madness. I came into it after the fact. But you hit the nail on the head as far as the theme. I’m basically getting to play as if I was Rich Eisen or Scott Van Pelt. Just hosting SportsCenter and being the guy showing you the highlights and talking you through some of the great plays, the great moves and making a few jokes here and there.
Did you have any say in the comics that were chosen to be a part of the show? Did you call in any favors? I’m curious how easy it was to get participation. Obviously a lot of people are making this kind of content but adding the competition factor is definitely unique.
The producers had everything all lined up. It was one of the questions that I had coming in because with COVID going on, it affects everyone. It affects so many gigs. I’ve never done standup, I came up in the improv and sketch world, but I have a lot of friends who do stand-up and all the gigs were canceled. So this is a good opportunity to get them paid for doing what we all… anybody that does what we do, we do it for free to a certain degree. Unfortunately, people that rent homes and apartments don’t feel the same way. [Laughs] And it’s understandable, no judgment on them. So when I asked, “Who do we have?” And then when the producers started listing the names I was like, “Holy smokes, this is great,” because it’s a lot of people that I’m friendly with but also fans of, and a half dozen or more people that I also didn’t know.
So I know in the initial press release they had called out the at-home sets, and that’s hard to believe. This was filmed in your home, is that right?
Mine is not. [The comics are] I go through this interesting process, not too dissimilar from like third act of ET. Like coming into the situation, I get my temperature taken, I’m in a room all by myself, I get changed, I take my tie and my plastic bag. I’m in a room with just me, a teleprompter and three cameras, two of which are locked down and one is remote controlled. The producers are in different parts of this house speaking to me through a walkie-talkie. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done. But that’s where we are in this day and age with that process of just figuring it out as we go. It’s been very engaging.
For me, part of the problem is how quick the turnaround is going to be, especially after we get through this first round. We had 16 comics for the premiere and then 16 [this] week, and then we start getting into the week to week voting and elimination. That will be very similar to the process that I was used to at SNL where you kind of even forget people are watching the show, at least for me that is. By the time people are talking about the last one, you’re already on to the next one. I’m looking forward to that element, though, because I’m watching the pieces pretty much in real-time as well. At least I have over the last couple of weeks. There will probably be more of that. They’ll probably be coming in maybe as I’m talking about them. [Laughing] You don’t know. It’s part of the fun.
Popping back up on SNL From Home with the red tracksuit for “What’s Up With That,” did you have that already in storage or is that something they had to mail you?
No, man. The geniuses of that place figured out a way to bring that right to my home out here in L.A. That was all fresh. Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed that it wasn’t an official Adidas tracksuit.
It was like a velour kind of different thing. I’m not as good with the wigs as my gal Inga [Thrasher], who is my hair and wig lady from SNL, so that was just really a simple thing. It was all stuff that the producer and wardrobe there, sending packages the day of… they sent ring lights, they sent the tripods, I used my own phone. The same way that I feel like teaching at home has made all of us that have kids –especially younger children — appreciate the work and the patience of teachers, there’s nothing like trying to do a little 45-second sketch in your home to appreciate people behind the scenes at a place like SNL that make that seem so seamless. They did exactly what they do for me at the home version too. It was just me who took forever to be like, “Can you get this light to look right? Can I hang up a green screen?” Goodness, gracious. The crew is the glue.
Did you hold on to the suit now for next time or do you send it back?
Oh yeah! Oh no, no. I kept it all. I kept all the electronics too, I’m not sending any of that back. They know better. I don’t care if they put a return label on there or not. It’s mine now.
I’ll say I sent it back. You can use that in the interview, “oh yeah that was a joke.” My kids are going to make the best home videos, better than the crap I made when I was a kid. Oh yeah. We’re in great shape now.
Honestly, you just keep doing these things… keep going on different shows. I feel bad I didn’t send you some electronic equipment. Were you expecting me to send like a ring light or a phone or something? A rig? I’m sorry.
You know what I need now? HDMI cords.
There you go. It’s cool, we’ll just set up like an Amazon wishlist for you and then we can get that taken care of, perfect.
[Laughs] Exactly. Perfect.
So the Biden thing, obviously that’s in a different state right now because he’s the nominee and you’ve obviously played him for a while on SNL, though I know Woody Harrelson stepped in. Have you put that down or is that something where you might return at some point in the future?
Oh gosh, that all comes down to… I don’t know. That’s a Lorne question. Ask him and tell me what he says.
With everything going on right now, I don’t want to assume a political ideology, but is there any worry when you play a character like that where you might say something that might stick and become a factor? Like obviously, it’s probably overstated to a certain extent, but Tina Fey’s famous Sarah Palin had an impact. Do you ever have that in mind or is that just not part of the process?
I don’t think you can have any part of that in your mind. I know I didn’t. I really enjoyed Studio 60 and Aaron Sorkin in general. I’m a big fan of his but we like to think like Sports Night, or even West Wing, or Newsroom, or Studio 60… I think he essentially looks for the best version of a place and yet from the inside when that show is on television… [Laughs] I think Al Franken said it best when he was talking about the heyday of SNL, when it was the number one thing to watch on television in the ’70s. When it was Chappelle Show, The Daily Show, Amy Schumer, all in one type of show. Franken was just like, “We’re really just trying to make each other laugh,” so at the end of the day, that’s really what it is. The cultural relevance of it and the significance of it is nothing… Lorne tries to be responsible with it. We’re not trying to take shots that weren’t fair or warranted, but as far as from a performing side, no I’ve never gotten in my head. I played George Bush towards the tail-end of his presidency or Mitt Romney when he ran against Obama or Biden now. If anything, you’re just trying to connect to the material.
Especially not doing that show now on a weekly basis year after year like I was when I initially started playing Joe Biden. My take on it is, whenever you get the call… and a lot of times, it depends on what’s possible. When Woody played him we were in London working on this Apple show, so it was impossible to get back. I’m never going to complain losing a gig to Woody Harrelson. May I be lucky enough to have that happen many times over the course of my career. You can’t think about… “Will this change the NASDAQ?” as I’m saying this silly joke, this four-line monologue. It’s mostly just about trying to keep the fake teeth in.
Did you feel the cultural significance when you punched Baby Yoda and did you face a bit of backlash with that?
Yeah, that was a whole thing. You know what? I kind of forgot about it. I can’t remember exactly how many weeks, months went by from when Adam Pally and I did that with Favreau and Taika Waititi. For me, the most significant thing was my little boy Otis, who, like any little kid from the last 50 years, loves Star Wars. And I remember he even got to see baby Yoda. And it didn’t hit me when that became such a huge thing when the first episode of Mandalorian premiered and everybody went hog wild about Yoda, baby Yoda, it didn’t even hit me then like, “Oh shit.”
Like a sense of dread. Like uh oh.
Nope. Forgot. Didn’t even… because it didn’t show who he was before and it was just this one-off neat thing where you get to dress up like a scout trooper, not a Stormtrooper just so you know. [Laughs] I think its a scout trooper, it’s not a Stormtrooper. Anyway so they premiered on a Friday or a Saturday, whatever it was, I know it was the weekend because Otis and I were playing video games and Olivia [Wilde, Sudeikis’ partner] came into the room and goes, “Hey, you’re trending on Twitter” and I’m not active on social media so in this day and age it’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then immediately it’s like, “Wait, why?” I have no idea why. I already got a hard enough last name to spell. For it to be trending is bonkers, and then when she says, “apparently you punched Baby Yoda” and I was like, “Oh, that’s right!” I totally forgot that I literally hit… then I watched it and I was like, “I’ll be darned. How about that?” So that was the extent of it. It was very surreal and I started getting texts from friends going, “You bastard” and people saying like, “Did you really get to wear the suit or was that just your voice?” All those funny questions. And Liv is active on social media so I knew she was catching some guff on my behalf.
I’m wildly curious about Fletch. How real was that? Is it even still real, the possibility of you doing that? Because I thought it was was a fantastic fit.
There’s a version that almost went that I think would have been erroneous had it gone because it wasn’t ready. It was extremely real, drafts of the script and the studio, and I guess most importantly, money to back it financially. But yeah, it’s still going around out there. I’m not personally involved with it right now because I never personally have access to the money so I’m not exactly sure where it all stands now. I think the character of Irwin Fletcher has the opportunity to be a modern-day superhero, that’s my take on it. And I don’t mean that in the cape flying, throwing people through windows way. I just mean a person that is truly in search of truth and feels let down at every corner that he has to take matters into his own hands. I think it’s a compelling character that’s very, very, prescient and yet relevant at the same time. And it has been. Even from the early days as a character in a bunch of novels by Greg McDonald. I hope it sees the light of day with the right people behind it because I think it’s a cool idea.
Yeah, I actually agree and you never know. Look at how Ryan Reynolds swung back to Deadpool eventually. I honestly hope it does for you.
Yeah. You have all my blessings to start a Kickstarter or a GoFundMe.
All right, I will absolutely make that happen and at the very least, we’ll send you the money for the HDMI plugs.
That’s really what I was getting at. I appreciate you doing that. [Laughs]
‘Tournament Of Laughs’ airs Sunday at 10PM ET on TBS and you can vote for your favorite comics here.