Interview: Jason Mantzoukas of The League

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In 2009, FX debuted The League, a sitcom created by Jeff Schaffer (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and starring a slew of familiar faces. The show’s subject matter was highly relatable — five friends competing in a fantasy football league. However, these five friends will do literally anything in their power to sabotage their opponents in order to win their league trophy, “The Shiva.”

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While the series’ main focus was predominantly fantasy football, it’s evolved into something much more. With an immensely talented cast, terrific writing, and hilarious recurring gags; The League has become one of the best-kept secrets on television. At the 2014 New York Comic Con, the cast and creators sat down with us to discuss the show, which is currently in the middle of its sixth season and talked about the future of The League.

Although the cast of The League is incredible, the show wouldn’t be the same without Rafi, Ruxin’s brother in law (or Bro lo el Cuñado) played by the hilarious Jason Mantzoukas. Mantzoukas fully embraces The League’s improvisational formula and has come up with some of the most quotable and funniest lines of dialogue in the shows six year run thus far. With his insane ranting, strange behavior, and overall terrible sense of right and wrong; Rafi has become a cult favorite amongst fans of the show. So much so that he has written two standalone Rafi-themed episodes with Seth Rogen who plays Rafi’s insane friend, Dirty Randy.

While promoting the latest season, we spoke with Jason Mantzoukas about the death and return of Rafi, writing the episode ‘When Rafi Met Randy,’ and learning about second harvest from Bear Grylls.

Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FXX
Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

Do you think Rafi can be over done?

Oh yeah sure. I mean it’s an insanely big crazy character. That’s why I feel Rafi’s not in every episode. If Rafi was in every episode I think people would revolt. As it is, the ones that are just Rafi standalone episodes, people really hate you know. A lot of people love them, that’s what I like is that those episodes are really polarizing to the fan base. The first scene comes up this season and Twitter exploded into people being like “Fuckkkkkk nooooooo,” “another one of these? shitttttttttt,” “you fucking ruined my show!” and then “best episode of the year,” “funniest episode of the year.” So absolutely Rafi’s not for everybody, it’s a very different character then every person on The League so absolutely it could be overdone.

When you wrote the episode this year, which is a prequel, Rafi was already dead. Did you have any idea of how you were going to bring him back?

Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FXX
Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

We wrote last year’s and thought it would be funny if we killed off Rafi at the end, not really intending that it would stick or anything like that. It’s kind of like a Fast 6/The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift scenario. So the series finally catches up with the death of Rafi this year and we see that he lives obviously. For us it’s more like what do we think would be fun to do that is just a complete divergence from what the show really does. This year [it’s] the origin story. We thought that would be a funny thing to play with. How did these two idiots meet and how did they become the monsters that we either love or hate?

What character pairing do you think is the best with Rafi?

Well the one that is funniest to me and him is Ruxin and Rafi. Those scenes are very hard to get to just because we laugh so much. But then I think Rafi and Randy are amazing. Sofia and Rafi have a really interesting relationship.

Who came up with “Second Harvest?”

I came up with that. A lot of it is improvised and so that concept called “second harvest,” which is eating undigested berries and nuts out of the feces of bears and large animals exists. I saw Bear Grylls do it on an episode of his show. He ate berries out of bear shit. I was like “this is blowing my mind.” Very soon thereafter we did an episode, that paintball episode, so I improvised something about second harvest in that episode. So this time when they were camping it came up again. So a lot of it is just we improvise something. A lot of the way the show works is we just improvise something and that something becomes integral to the show in some way or another or it’s a joke that gets called back. I improvised the concept of Dirty Randy. The concept that there is a guy out there that is Rafi’s Rafi and then the next season they were like, ‘Oh we are going to have Seth Rogen play that character.’ Great! And that’s another thing that is great about the show, there’s a very symbiotic relationship between the actors, the improvisers, and the creators.

Catch Jason Mantzoukas on The League which airs Wednesdays on FXX.

CHECK OUT OUR INTERVIEWS WITH: Nick KrollJon Lajoie, Mark Duplass a and Stephen Rannazzisi.

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