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'The League' Uses Fandom To Explore Friendship

<p>John Lajoie (from left), Stephan Rannazzisi and Mark Duplass, from the first season of <em>The League.</em> The new season beginss Thursday on FX.</p>
Patrick McElhenney
FX Network

John Lajoie (from left), Stephan Rannazzisi and Mark Duplass, from the first season of The League. The new season beginss Thursday on FX.

The stereotypical Fantasy Football fan is a 30-something suburban man-child. And the FX program The League is about their ilk. But even though fantasy football is what brings several friends together in the TV show, you don't have to be a fantasy football fan to enjoy it.

Creators Jeff Schaffer, of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jackie Marcus Schaffer say that anyone who has friends they hate can relate to the show. The comedy duo, who are also a couple, talk to NPR's Guy Raz about how they explore the bigger theme of middle-aged male friendship through the prism of rabid fandom.

Interview Highlights

On where the idea came from

Jeff Schaffer: "The idea was all Jackie. We were actually on vacation. ... We were at this amazing restaurant for a Christmas Eve dinner, and that was a Sunday night. Sunday night in France is game time back in L.A., and I was in two fantasy football championships — basically the fantasy football Super Bowls of two leagues.

So I kept pretending that the rich French food was making me sick to my stomach and I had to go to the bathroom. I would leave the table and run out into a snowdrift to call at great expense — this was pre-Skype — to do what, I don't know. Just to find out how I was doing. ... It was touch and go at first, but about the third time that I had to 'go to the bathroom,' Jackie followed me. And literally, I'm standing in a snowdrift, she is standing in the doorway to the restaurant, and she catches me. She just starts laughing and she just goes 'This is the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. This is a great TV show.' "

On being a fantasy football widow versus deciding to embrace it

Jackie Marcus Schaffer: "I'm both. I mean, I play fantasy, I'm a giant football fan and I think anybody is a widow if your partner is in four to five fantasy football leagues. So even though I play fantasy, I'm still a widow because he spends so much time on it. But I totally embrace it. And it seemed to me that fantasy sports were really, really growing. There's so many things about it that make it such a more contemporary book club, if you will, that brings both men and women together in a really organic way."

On the show's characters reflecting the kinds of people that the creators are in fantasy football leagues with

Jeff Schaffer: "I think when ... we hear things like 'Boy, these people are awful,' we sort of take 'awful' to mean 'authentic.' And we're just trying to capture what it's like to hang out with a group of people who've known each other for forever and ever. The mistakes you made when you were 13 are still gonna get brought back to haunt you even if you're a very successful plastic surgeon or a defense attorney."

On getting away with vulgarity on a basic cable TV show

Jackie Marcus Schaffer: "I have a really good friend — I won't name the person or the network — who is a reporter on basic cable, and she frequently calls and emails me and says to me, 'I am on basic cable. There's no possible way that we are both on basic cable.' This has been going on for three years, and every year she just can't believe that we are both employees of basic cable. When we first started with FX, they gave us a very clear list of five or six words that we were not allowed to say that bent their standards and practices."

Jeff Schaffer: "But I don't think they thought we were going to say every other one."

Jackie Marcus Schaffer: "And they didn't expect us to make up so many to sort of compensate. ... The colorful language is part of what we think makes our show different than a lot of the other half-hour comedies that are out there. I feel like the language of The League is a very unique vernacular that, if you had the picture off, you wouldn't mistake it for any other comedy."

On finding a cohesive cast that knows each other well

Jeff Schaffer: "It was a series of drinks or coffees or lunches with people that we thought were really funny, and going through the Curb world ... we get to see a lot of amazing improv actors. There were a lot of people who were just younger than [Curb creator Larry David's] contemporaries, who we knew we wanted to do a show with. We actually were thrilled — we got all of our first choices. We just said, 'Here are the people we love.' We brought them to FX and they said, 'That's a great cast.' "

On the relationship between Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The League as comedies

Jeff Schaffer: "I've been working on The League and Curb Your Enthusiasm almost at the same time for the last few years. ... Curb and League and Seinfeld are all written the exact same way, which was you come up with ideas for the characters that you think are funny and everyone has a story that way. Then on a dry-erase board, you do this comedy geometry to try and make interesting connections and build a structure that works. That's what I learned from Larry David ... structure, structure, structure, structure. That's the key, is just having stories that, if you tell them, they're funny. It's really all about the connections."

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