Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon on her love for “The Super Bowl Shuffle”

Illustration for article titled Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon on her love for “The Super Bowl Shuffle”

The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.


The fan: Writer and producer Kay Cannon has had her fingers in the proverbial pies of all sorts of beloved comedy classics, from Baby Mama to New Girl to 30 Rock. Still, she’s best known for her role as the writer of both Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, the latter of which is in theaters now.

A Chicagoland native, Cannon is an outspoken fan of all things Chicago Bears, including stilted rap single “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” which the Super Bowl-bound team recorded in 1985. She talked to The A.V. Club about her love for the track, as well as how she’s incorporated the song into her life and work.

The A.V. Club: Why do you love “The Super Bowl Shuffle”?

Kay Cannon: I’m actually from a small town about an hour and a half south of Chicago. And so when the ’85-’86 Chicago Bears happened, I was at that great age where—I’m the fifth of seven children, and the whole experience of the Bears winning the Super Bowl, and being the champions, and “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and the song and everything, that all was just such a wonderful memory for me. My family would be in the living room and we would be doing “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and each playing a part. Who was going to be Walter Payton and who was going to be Refrigerator Perry, and it was just so popular where I was from.

All my siblings, we all had T-shirts that had the Bears on them, and it was one of those special teams where you knew almost every player—at least the starting player—by name, and could identify them. They were all these very specific characters. It was like, what sweatband is Jim McMahon going to wear today? And the fact that you had someone as talented as Walter Payton singing so sweetly—you know, they were characters. I’m very much drawn to sports movies in which you can remember these very specific characters that you fall in love with. And I feel like that was them in real life.

Also what’s amazing about the “Super Bowl Shuffle” is that they did it before they went to the Super Bowl. So they had this song, and then they were champions. That blows my mind.


AVC: Well, before they recorded it, they were 15-1, so they had a pretty good record going into that next season.

KC: Sure, but you never know what’s going to happen.

Some of my favorite lyrics in the song are like, “And we’re not doing this because we’re greedy / The Bears are doing it to feed the needy.” Like, “We’re really good guys who are going to give the proceeds to charity.”


AVC: Some woman still owns the copyright to the song, and in 2014 something like six of the Bears sued her, because they still think all proceeds from the song should be going to feed Chicago’s needy.

KC: I know, and it’s crazy. It’s like [Willie] Gault and McMahon. A handful of them are suing her right now to make sure that they can set it up so that the proceeds can actually go to charity.


I wrote this pilot three years ago called The Wrecking Crew, about the pre-game commentators, like your Terry Bradshaws and your Dan Marinos. It’s a show within a show, and the female lead was their boss, the producer of the show. I got to do a table read of the whole thing, and that character, who is based on me, talks about how the only time she cries is when she hears “The Super Bowl Shuffle” because it reminds her of her family—which it does. It reminds me of my family, and my dad passed away a couple years ago, and so when I hear the song, I do tear up. It reminds me of him, of that time. And at the end of that pilot, they played “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and all the actors got up and sang it and danced to it. A couple of the actors were from Chicago, and I just felt like we had this very similar experience and connection with each other. Hayes MacArthur was one of the actors, and he and I were both kind of holding hands, like “We’re not here to start no trouble…” Silly lyrics, but it brings such a fond memory to us.

AVC: NFL fandom is so interesting, because we tie the teams so deeply to our lives. For many of us, we haven’t known a time when we didn’t care about “our team.” That’s why we all take it so personally.


KC: I have to say, my husband is a big Patriots fan. Like, a huge Patriots fan. So Deflategate is bothering him. This is not good news in our household. As a woman who is a football fan, and a Bears fan, whenever anything negative happens with the NFL, whether it be concussions or men who are violent against women, it makes it very hard for me to keep rooting for the sport. Because as a woman, I should be like, “What are you doing?” How can you say yes to something whose members are violent against women? But it’s hard because I just have this big emotional connection. I just love it so much.

It’s in the fabric of who I am. When my husband and I got married, I was writing at 30 Rock. For our Secret Santa, we had to use our own talents and abilities for the gift, so I made a 30-minute workout DVD and that was my gift to my person that I had. Robert Carlock had me, and he was the co-showrunner of 30 Rock. He’s just one of the best writers around, and he wrote my wedding vows for when we got married on New Year’s Eve. And he did this really long, ridiculously funny rhyme about how my husband and I are like the ’85-’86 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. And he cited “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and talked about how, in life, sometimes I’ll be Walter Payton, and sometimes my husband will be Refrigerator Perry, and Refrigerator Perry can see the end zone and will lift me up and throw me into the end zone of life. And how then there’ll be days when I’m Refrigerator Perry and Eben [Russell] is Walter Payton, and then there’ll be days where both of us are Refrigerator Perry. It was this really beautiful, wonderfully written, really funny tribute to my love of that specific team.


AVC: Was your husband like, “but what about the Patriots?”

KC: Yeah. On the inside he was like, “those hacks.”

AVC: The Green Bay Packers make a special and funny appearance in Pitch Perfect 2. How did that come about, and was that inspired at all by “The Super Bowl Shuffle”?


KC: No, but it reminds me now, looking back, of the “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

What happened was the Green Bay Packers—there were some guys who really loved the movie and they tweeted to Elizabeth Banks how much they loved the movie. Then she started to follow Dave Bakhtiari, and they went back and forth with some direct messages where Dave was like, “If you let us in the sequel, we will take it serious. We will sing; we will rehearse. We’re athletes; we know how to do this; we will work really hard for you guys.” And so Liz and her husband Max, who is also her producing partner, would come to me and say, “I’m pretty sure the Green Bay Packers are going to be in the movie.” And every time, I was like, “Nope… no, they’re not.” I would say, “What does Jay Cutler think of the movie? What does Tillman or Forte think? Are they fans?” I really kind of fought it. Then when they for sure were going to be in the movie, it was kind of fun to write bits for them. And they’re so good and so funny in the movie—they really are fantastic.

I saw them at the premiere, and they really do travel in packs. I didn’t see one by himself the whole time. The whole time, they were this team that really stuck together. I saw them on the red carpet, and I bolted toward them. I was like this tiny little mouse about to jump on a giant cat, and I just went up to them and I was like, “I’m the writer!” And they looked at me like, “Oh, okay, sure, great,” and then I just yelled, “I’m a Bears fan!” And they were just like, “You are the weirdest lady we’ve ever met.” And so I really embarrassed myself. Then at the after-party, I was able to go up and talk like a human being to them, and we were able to laugh about everything. I really do love them. They’re very sweet; they’re so kind. And I love that they love the movie, and I love that they came out and said they loved the movie. They really liked the sequel as well, and I think they really like what they do in the sequel, because it’s kind of allowing other really masculine guys to come out and say, “Yeah, I like it too.”


AVC: It’s also interesting to see these big, one-dimensional guys doing something silly. They’re so serious on the field, but they can have fun doing other things that aren’t football.

KC: I guess these guys in particular. Like when they were on the road, they’d play these epic games of Settlers Of Catan. They’re basically like little kids who are just having the time of their lives, doing these very innocent things like watching Pitch Perfect over and over and playing Settlers Of Catan, and I think that’s a good message to be sending. They’re just having fun.


AVC: They’re not at a club.

KC: Exactly. They’re not getting in any trouble; they’re just enjoying each other’s company and having a good time and being true teammates to each other.


AVC: The lines that you wrote for the Packers flow better than some of the lyrics in “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

KC: I know.

AVC: “Shuffle” is a hard word to rhyme.

KC: It is. It is. The song is also kind of slow. It’s that very ’80s, doo-doo-duh-doo, doo-doo-duh-doo. It’s not like raps we know now, which are much faster.


AVC: It is dated, but it did well at the time.

KC: In preparation for our talk, I just wanted to make sure I remembered it how I remembered it, because I have a picture of the main guys from “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in my living room, and so I just wanted to make sure I was remembering everything all right. And what I think is pretty funny is they have the singers of “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and then they have the guys who played the instruments, who are also on the team, and then they have the backup singers, who are also on the team. I thought it was kind of funny how they separated them. They had like the Shufflin’ Crew band, you know?


AVC: Do they really play the instruments? Or are they faking playing the keyboard?

KC: Oh, I think so.

AVC: So you’re saying that one guy can’t really play the saxophone?

KC: Yeah. Although I think there was a guy who was really playing cowbell, because I don’t think that’s hard.


AVC: The song’s big 30th anniversary is later this year.

KC: It was also nominated for a Grammy, and I don’t think we should minimize that.


AVC: For an R&B performance, which tells you about 1985 in a nutshell. And the Grammys in a nutshell.

KC: Also in ’85 there were so many saxophone solos. I feel like the mid-’80s was the height of saxophone solos. When they were coming up with “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” they were like “We have to have a saxophone. We have to.”


AVC: “We also have to film in in a room that’s just blue, with nothing going on behind us.”

KC: “Guys, we’re going minimal on this. You guys are the bright spots.”

AVC: What was the video even for?

KC: I think it was on MTV. I think. But I’m pretty sure, like Friday Night Videos, they straight-up showed it. And I think it had a premiere. I think that’s how I saw it.


AVC: Well, hopefully you’ll get to hear a lot more about this song for the rest of the year.

KC: The sad part is, obviously Walter Payton passed away; Refrigerator Perry is not in good shape; I think Jim McMahon is having some issues. I try not to think about that because that’s just too sad. But in that moment of time, they were the guys. They were this wonderful cast of characters that we loved to watch. And they happened to win, and I think that’s rare. I mean, look at Pitch Perfect, like the Bellas. There are very specific characters in there that we all know and love, and they’re the underdogs, and then when they win, it’s just very satisfying, because I don’t think that happens very often.


AVC: Well, it happens more in movies than it does it real life.

KC: Well, sure. Because we enjoy watching that. We don’t want to see the hot group who’s got it all together winning.