When The League debuted on FX last year, few could have predicted it would spawn a live tour that would sell out Chicago’s House of Blues. Now in its second season, The League has transformed into a sleeper hit, with a talented cast and crew turning a show about a group of lifelong friends who play fantasy football into a sharp comedy that sport-illiterate TV viewers can love.
This year, the people behind The League decided to hit the road and bring the show to fans with a handful of live performances across the country. Before The League hits the House of Blues stage, The A.V. Club met up with members of the cast and co-creator Jackie Marcus Schaffer at Old Town’s Benchmark Bar to discuss The League’s Chicago-influence, the odd phrasing of the “Chicago Marathon” in last week’s episode, and the future appearance of a Bears player on the show.
A.V. Club: The League takes place in Chicago, and yet it feels like it could take place anywhere. What aspects of this city apply to the show?
Steve Rannazzisi (Kevin McArthur): Besides taking stock footage from Getty Images of Gibsons?
Katie Aselton (Jenny McArthur): We wear a lot of winter coats.
Jon Lajoie (Taco McArthur): We spray snow all over the place…
KA: …when it’s 90 degrees in Los Angeles.
SR: And we’re shooting with gloves and hats and scarves on, things like that. Whenever we talk about sports people, we talk about a lot of Chicago guys. Ozzie Guillén was mentioned this year, and Ditka. So we try to mention them…
Paul Scheer (Andre Nowzic): Chicago is, like, the perfect place to do this show. When you go to the airport, every level is a sports team. There’s no other place that exemplifies a fanatic as much as Chicago. I feel like sports fans have bred out of Chicago.
It’s that kind of passion and obsessiveness, which I think everybody on the show kind of has.
Everything is in New York or L.A. or whatever, but Chicago is more of, like, a real world. It has the art and the music, but it’s more centered and grounded, so I think that’s why [the show is] here. I think our characters can kind of be, like, cultured, but also suburban at the same time, but I don’t think you can do that in L.A. or New York.
JL: I do the Chicago accent, but nobody can tell…
AVC: You’re from Montreal, right?
JL: Yeah, I’m [from] Montreal, so I’m actually covering up my French accent and making it sound a little bit more like I’m from Chicago.
KA: Do you really?
JL: No. But it sounded nice, right?
KA: No, totally. He works on his Chicago accent every night.
AVC: The League features a number of football player cameos, yet there hasn’t been a Chicago Bears player on the show. Will there be one on this season?
Jackie Marcus Schaffer (co-creator): There’s one Bear who would like to be on in season three, who’s a fan of the show. No more for season two for right now; we’re all done shooting.
The second-to-last week of shooting [season two], the phone started ringing. It was right before season two came out, and there were a lot of promos on. Let’s just say a lot of top-five fantasy picks, first-round fantasy picks [were] calling up wanting to be on the show, which is one of the most flattering things that could ever happen. We would maybe like ourselves some [Bears running back] Matt Forte in season three.
AVC: Last week’s episode, “The Marathon,” featured Andre’s quest to run the Chicago Marathon, and yet, the “Chicago Marathon” is never mentioned in full…
PS: I say “Chi-town Marathon.”
AVC: Is there a reason it’s never mentioned as the “Chicago Marathon” throughout the entire episode?
PS: It may just be in editing.
There’s a scene that was cut out, the whole ending of the thing. Basically, because I’m running for people with this “Thurber-Horngood Syndrome.” At the end, they see me limping, and somebody thinks I’m making fun of them. So then all the people with Thurber-Horngood Syndrome attack me, and I get beaten down by all these people. It was a scene that was totally cut out. But, there was all this paraphernalia that said “Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.” I think it may have just been an editing thing, but not intentional.
AVC: Had any of you played fantasy football prior to working on The League?
KA: I didn’t even grow up with football. I learned the rules of football on this show.
JMS: Did you learn them last week since I kicked your ass?
KA: Oh, I’m sorry; who won the entire league last year?
SR: I’ll explain what these girls are yelling about. They’ve never played fantasy football before. I’d played previously, the co-creator Jeff Schaffer has played…
JMS: I’ve played before!
SR: I didn’t know you’ve played before… Jackie played as well. We did a league last year with the people on the show, and Katie’s character… Katie won.
KA: I did. Not my character…
JL: We have fantasy cross-country skiing up in Canada. I’m pretty good at that. By the way, did I win this week, or lose?
SR: I don’t know.
JL: I didn’t even check my lineup. I was in Canada.
KA: I think you beat me last week…
JMS: You have Internet in Canada!
SR: That’s life imitating art.
PS: I was not a football fan, and I feel like that’s the one thing I’m always trying to get out about this show. Yeah, it’s about fantasy football—now I am in fantasy football, I love playing it, I’m addicted to it, and on Sundays my wife is upset with me because I’m constantly checking my Blackberry and going online—but the cool thing about the show is you don’t have to know anything about fantasy football.
It just sort of feels like it’s just about people in their late 20s, early 30s. It’s like, “I’m an adult? That’s weird.” I feel like the first season was kind of like, “I want your guy,” and this season is more about, “I’m running the marathon,” dealing with your wife hanging out with your friends, and all that sort of stuff.
AVC: It kind of reminds me of, have you read Friday Night Lights?
PS: Oh yeah, of course.
AVC: It’s great, because you don’t need to know a thing about football to get it…
PS: Yeah, exactly. I love Friday Night Lights the TV show, and I wasn’t even a football fan.
I always kind of equate it to the sense of, like, Jerry Seinfeld was a stand-up comedian, and it played into Seinfeld, but it didn’t rule what Seinfeld was about. It wasn’t like, “Ugh, I’m on the road this weekend.”
Most shows are ultimately like that. You don’t have to identify with, “Oh, King of Queens works at a UPS office. I don’t know what that’s like.” That’s the cool thing about this show. [The fantasy football element is] there, it’s great that it’s there, and it brings in a cool fan base, and it acknowledges that. But, at the same time, it really is about people not wanting to be adults, or being an adult and being like, “I have a kid, what the fuck? Why do I have a kid?”