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Hank Azaria reprises Jim Brockmire character in new podcast

NEW YORK (AP) — A part of Hank Azaria wasn't really ready to let go of foul-mouthed baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, a character he affectionately calls a “debauched freak.” So less than a year after the last episode of the off-beat TV series “Brockmire” aired on the IFC channel, comes “The Jim Brockmire Podcast,” promising a recapturing of the character's zany roots.

“This is sort of more returning to the frivolous, fun, silly version of the character that’s making fun of everybody and everything and himself,” Azaria said. The half-hour podcast will feature guests across sports and entertainment, including Joe Buck, Don Cheadle, Steve Cohen, Colin Cowherd, Rich Eisen, Jemele Hill, Dan Patrick, Ben Stiller and Joy Taylor. The first guest is Charles Barkley on Wednesday's debut.

Guests can expect questions about the week's sports headlines and a “Between Two Ferns”-type send-ups, as well as a “frivolous" game section. Barkley will play a game called “Did Shaq Endorse It?” in which Brockmire throws out the names of commercial items and Barkley has to choose if his Hall of Fame colleague endorsed it.

“It’s definitely a comedy and it sort of works whether we have folks on who are kind of in on the joke and like to play along or who are just completely playing it straight — it works just as well,” Azaria said.

On the four-season IFC series “Brockmire,” Azaria increasingly evolved from sports and juvenile humor. The last season saw the character sober, married, a father and wrestling with life's meaning and a brain disorder in a dystopian future.

“We told the story we wanted to tell and it was kind of done,” said Azaria. “It was an easy transition. We didn’t really even have to think about it.” Over the years, Azaria had promoted his IFC show on plenty of sports talk shows and so the idea of returning the character to its jokey sports roots came naturally.

“It sort of organically grew into, ‘Well, why don’t we just reverse it and have Brockmire host these guys on? Because we’ve done it so many times?' And so far it’s working really well.” Producer Sheena Datt is guiding the show along — or as Azaria describes it she is Robin Quivers to his Howard Stern. The two often get into sports conversations and at some point he told her she should be a co-host. Datt says the show is a homecoming of sorts.

“I honestly think a podcast is such a good format because it’s Hank and the whole thing about Brockmeier is his voice. What better way to keep him alive?" she asks. “That interesting blend of sports and just unfiltered inner monologue coming out — it’s funny.”

Azaria, an avid New York sports fan, based his character on former Big Apple broadcasters Bob Murphy and Phil Rizzuto. His Brockmire wears a plaid jacket and has a voice that sounds like a mix of bourbon and butter, announcing home-run calls like, “Some might call that ball Istanbul, but I call it Gone-stantinople!"

“There’s something incredibly comforting about that kind of just down-the-middle generic sportscaster voice from the 1970s. And then it’s kind of funny hearing a guy talk like that if he’s talking about sex and drugs and rock and roll,” said Azaria.

Away from Brockmire, the six-time Emmy Award-winning Azaria has starred alongside Liev Schreiber on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” and is well known for voicing over 100 characters on ”The Simpsons,” including Indian immigrant convenience store owner Apu. Azaria walked away from Apu after many South Asians objected to the caricature, something the actor is sympathetic with.

“I totally understand comedians bristling at the idea of what they see as being censored or having to watch what they say. But I think from a racial and social justice standpoint, it’s completely appropriate,” he said.

“Actors should voice their own race, their own ethnicity — if not for no other reason than let’s give the job to an authentic actor who’s bringing someone who is completely underrepresented in Hollywood to begin with," he said. "I don’t need to dip into that, even though in my career I have a lot in the past.”

As for Brockmire, that's all Azaria. He jokes that his character gets away with much more than can Azaria. Not long ago, the comedian tweeted a joke about how few people attend Pittsburgh Pirates games and fans got upset.

“When Brockmire is making fun of the Pirates, that’s fun," he said. "I can’t even go after the Pittsburgh Pirates attendance as me. Whereas Brockmire can say whatever.”

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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