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An Interview with Fox Announcer/HBO Host Joe Buck

Joe Buck needs no introduction. He’s been FOX’s lead NFL announcer since 2002, and the network’s top MLB voice since 1996. Recently, HBO gave him a quarterly sports show, Joe Buck Live (premieres June 15th). He was kind enough to chat with us on the phone this morning.

Q: A couple of years ago you filmed a pilot for a late-night comedy series, and now you’ve got a sports/comedy show coming out on HBO. Have you been itching to get into comedy for awhile?
A: It’s kind of my intention to be myself on the show. My main priority on FOX is to do play-by-play. Nobody’s tuning in to listen to me. If I didn’t show up to do the games, people would watch, and the ratings probably wouldn’t be all that different. That’s not why people are watching. You have to be true to the game you’re covering, whether its being lite at times – I certainly try to be that way – but it is limiting because you’re fitting it in around what’s going on in the game. The priorities are game first, and everything else starts at 10.

Even talking about serious issues – it’s hard to fit in anything around calling a baseball game. Whether it’s a steroid conversation, or a player who gets into trouble, whatever it may be. Because of that, it makes you wonder what you can do if you had a little more space. That’s the fun of the show for me – I have an hour worth of space.

Q: In your opinion, who is funny? Are you a Will Ferrell guy? Judd Apatow? What brand of humor do you find funny that we can expect from the show?
A: One of my best friends is Paul Rudd, and he’s been in just about every one of Judd Apatow’s movies. Through Paul, I’ve met Jon Glaser who has a show on Adult Swim call Delocated and he’s the main writer we hired for the show. That’s really my brand of humor, I would say. Judd Apatow, Conan O’Brien … taking what you think is funny, and then adding another layer to it. That’s kind of my sensibility. Those are the guys that make me laugh. We’re going to have a comedic roundtable at the end of the show, and theoretically, Paul will be a part of that.

Q: What about Larry David? Is it safe to assume he won’t be included in the roundtable? There’s a funny story about you two floating around on the web … meeting on a beach somewhere?
A: A mutual friend introduced us. I figured he was going to ask me about the Giants and the playoffs, or the Red Sox or Yankees. All he said was, ‘Joe Buck? That was the name of Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. Is that really your name?’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s really my name.’ He said, ‘wow, that’s funny.’ And then just kinda walked off.’ Clearly he’d never heard of me, which is great. It’s funny.

Q: Sounds like a no to the roundtable.
A: He has not been asked. I would be floored if he would come, though. You want to ask him?

Q: Don’t have him in the speed dial. Are you familiar with the Top 50 Sportscaster lists that are floating around the web? Take a guess where you’re ranked.
A: I have not seen the list. 78th?

Q: Close. One list has you at 13th, behind Dick Vitale -
A: Really? You never know where you’re going to find yourself on a name like that. Anytime you go digging around on the internet and into your world, maybe you don’t want to find out where your name pops up.
It’s a different world for those of us who are doing this for a living. Certainly a lot different than my dad had to deal with when he was calling games on a national level for CBS. It’s just a different world. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, there’s just a lot more access.

Q: When you say ‘had to deal with’ … does that mean you have to deal with scurillous rumors on the web?
A: It’s always something that’s kind of lurking out there. I get questions from Richard Sandomir at the New York Times or Michael Hiestand at USA Today about issues .., ‘well, there’s a blog site that says you root too hard for the Red Sox. Or people don’t like you because you’re rooting against their team …’

I don’t want to say it’s bad. There are certainly things you learn from the internet. You certainly learn from people’s opinions. I think you’re going to get some of the negative a lot more than the positive, but I think you can learn from it. I certainly don’t feel like I have a monopoly on [opinions] because I have the job at FOX – any one of a thousand people could have the job. There are people out there that have just as educated an opinion on what I’m calling or describing as I do.

But five years ago, I wasn’t getting questions [about blogs and the internet] from the TV/radio critic of the New York Times.

Q: How do you react to those who say you don’t have any fun calling games?
A: I think I enjoy my job more now than I did when I started. When I started in 1996 on a national level, I was 27 and part of me was scared to death. Part of me was always trying to prove that I belonged and prove that I deserved the job and prove that I could handle it. And that takes the fun out of it.

I have more fun now doing a game on a Saturday or Sunday than I’ve ever had. I love the fact that every year, it’s gotten more and more fun. Sometimes though, I take things more low-key. I think sometimes, you have to pick your spots about when a game gets intense or when the game’s outcome is pivoting in that moment.

You have to make that stand out from the rest of the three hours. There are times when I’m having fun and being loose, and there are times when I’m ultra serious – calling the Giants/Patriots in the Super Bowl is a lot different than calling the Giants/Cubs game last Saturday. There are different levels of intensity, and I try to respect that when I’m doing it.

Q: You told the New York Times in 2007 that you’re “deathly afraid of overexposure.” Will the show contribute to these fears?
A: That’s the beauty of this opportunity. It’s only four times a year. It’s a chance to create these shows, quarterly, and make sure every time we come on its fun and worthwhile, and we have great guests and something gets accomplished and it’s enjoyable to watch. But it’s not on everyday or every week and it’s not in your face everytime you turn around. I think it’s going to turn into a really good mix. The worst thing in the world is to feel like people turn on the TV and say, oh god, it’s that guy again. I’m trying to avoid that.

Q: How do you feel about Jeff Van Gundy announcing the NBA Finals with his brother coaching? How similar is that to you calling Cards’ games or Troy Aikman announcing Cowboys games?
A: I think Jeff is really, really good and fun to listen to. And I would be disappointed if – I know he offered to not be a part of the broadcast – he wasn’t on the air. We’d all miss something. I think the [brother situation] adds the human element.

It’s a little different than where I came at it from – I got hired by the Cards when I was 21, and I could handle the job, but for the most part, I got hired because I was somebody’s kid. When you start that way, you have a lot to prove.

In this case, the raw emotion of somebody calling it … I like that. I like that he might be squealing from time to time or holding back or letting go, or whatever it turns out to be. That, to me, is interesting. We’re not all robots. There are emotions that creep in.

I’m probably always guilty for rooting for a long series. Not either side – I don’t really care who wins the game, but it makes for more compelling TV the more games you go deeper into a series. I think it’s cool, and I’m glad he’s going to be a part of it. It’s probably going to make me listen more.

With Aikman, you’ve got a fan base in Philly or NY, and from time to time, Aikman, when he played with Dallas, was breaking their hearts. There are things he says and a Giants fan or Philly fan wants to take in their own way and say, ‘I knew he didn’t like us, he’s rooting against us.’ The beauty of it is that he gets in trouble with fans in Dallas that think he roots against the Cowboys. He can’t win.

And I can’t win in the postseason because I get people who say I get excited when Jeter hits a home run. But you’re making an exciting call … and the reverse is true. The Yankee fans only seem to hear screaming in the booth on an Ortiz home run. It’s a game that I get asked about every year. It’s something you can’t fight, you just have to swallow and accept. It’s something we have to deal with, almost weekly.

QUICK HITTERS

Q: Best way to speed up a baseball game. Call strikes. Make a big strike zone. Pitchers would love it, hitters would get used to it, and the game would move faster.

Q: If you could have 10 minutes in a room with Barry Bonds … I’d ask him for another half hour. And then I’d probably start with the obvious and see how honest he would get. I just think those guys are so protected, that you’re not going to get much out of them – Bonds, Mcgwire, Clemens, A-Rod – anybody doing anything. It’d probably be a wasted 10 minutes. We’d just sit there and look at each other.

Q: True or False: Tony LaRussa is being too protective of Mark McGwire and steroids. False. I think he legitimately believes what he says. I don’t agree with him. But I think he’s being as honest as he can be.

Q: Regarding two of your most famous football calls – The Catch by David Tyree in the Super Bowl, and the Randy Moss incident in Green Bay – if you could have one do-over, which would you choose to replay? I wouldn’t take either one back. Between the two, I would stand by the Super Bowl call, and I guess do-over Randy Moss. But I’d probably say the same thing. I wouldn’t take either one back.

Q: You went to Indiana, and your friend Paul Rudd attended Kansas. Which was the better party school? I was always a ‘grass is greener’ kind of guy. When I visited KU, I thought, ‘I wish I’d gone to Kansas.’ They would take me around to their spots, and my spots at Indiana just felt like old hangouts. It was one of those times where you always wished you were somewhere else. But I was happy I ended up at Indiana coming from small little St. Louis.

Q: Are you a BCS guy, or a playoff guy? I’m a proponent of a playoff so everybody can calm down. I learned what that was all about a couple of years ago with Missouri and the inequities in the system. It just seems too imbalanced.

Q: Best non-sports you’ve read recently. American Rust by Phillip Meyer. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I’ve recommended it to just about everybody I’ve come across.

Q: You’ve been in this announcing game seemingly forever … how much longer do you plan on calling games? As long as they’ll have me, and as long as my family can handle me leaving every weekend. When those two don’t mix, I’ll be done.

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