Tony Reali has hosted Around the Horn on ESPN for more than eight years. The show is celebrating its 10th anniversary tonight and Reali and crew have some special celebratory plans to mark the date. We talked to Reali about the anniversary, his future plans and about voicing an evil cartoon villain.
Q: The panelists on the show often wear extravagant costumes for Halloween, do you ever dress up?
A: I dress up everyday pretending to do a television show. The show is about the panelists. They should be the ones playing the game and competing for points and I’ve always tried to a little stay outside of that. I like having fun with them and I have no problem with the pranks and jokes they try to sneak in the show from time to time, but on special days like Halloween, they like to dress up and really enjoy it.
Q: What’s the story behind the new beard?
A: I’m dressing up like a person pretending to grow a beard and pretending like I can grow a beard. I went to the beach over the summer and I came back and from the neck up I was still on vacation. It’s my wolverine look. It’s my Abraham Lincoln look. In reality I just look like a Serbian magician. The majority of people don’t like it and that kind of makes me like it more.
Q: The show is coming up on its 10th anniversary, what are you proudest of?
A: That we got here. That we made it to 10. I’ve been with the show for eight and three quarters years or so and Max (Kellerman) was the host for the first year and about 200 shows. I’ve probably done the last 2,000. You can call the show a lot of things and one of the things is a survivor, and in television, I can’t think of a much better compliment than that.
I think the last three or four years we’re operating at a higher level than ever. What we’re doing today is as good as any show we’ve ever done and that’s what I’m most of proud of—that we’re operating at the highest level we ever have.
Q: Do you ever wish you had a mute button to use in real life?
A: I really want to be able to build this, market it and get it on the street to everybody. It’s the star of the show, it’s one of the things that makes the show unique. I think if you ask the panelists, they secretly like the mute button. Maybe not Woody (Paige) because he’s gotten it about 50,000 times.
Q: Will you be doing anything special for Friday’s show?
A: Oh yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun just thinking about this. We’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks and have had some fun the last couple of days. There are some surprises, some faces we haven’t seen in a long time and some voices we haven’t heard in a long time. And there’s some good tributes there.
Q: People are still fascinated by your story about proposing in front of an airport bathroom – was that the most frantic you’ve ever been?
A: This kind of sums up my life, I think. Out of control and then through some unbelievable fortuitous break and divine intervention, everything rallies together at the last second and pulled through. I had a ring and I was going to propose in New York because I’m from New York and I was going to do it in the hotel room or something and then I thought I wasn’t going to do it that way because I’m going to get the stone reset. And then we go out all day Sunday and what am I going to do with a box in my pocket? I’m not going to get pickpocketed in my own city … so I give it to the hotel and they lock it in a safe and I know that it’s not insured and it’s pretty much like handing the keys to a very nice car to somebody and saying that, ‘I hope it’s here when I get back.’ But that’s what I did and they gave me a ticket and it’s like a Seinfeld skit.
I come back and it’s not there. When they opened up the safe and it’s not there—I need people to feel that exact moment with me. That moment, my stomach … I got down and I remember the guy’s face, saying, ‘sir, is this your bag?’ and we’re at curbside check-in at LaGuardia, which is now in like four feet of water. I go to the bag, rip open the bag, go to the shoe, rip open the shoe, go to the box, rip open the box, see the ring there and that’s when I pulled her in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms at LaGuardia and get down on my knee. I was just thinking, I got to get this ring out of my hands and now I can’t think of a more romantic place in the world.
Q: That’s got to be one of the more memorable ways you could have ever proposed, though, right?
A: LaGuardia is for lovers.
Q: You did some announcing in college – any thoughts on foraying back into that?
A: Play-by-play was my first love. I was an eight year old boy with a tape recorder—I think it was a fake one, it didn’t even have batteries in it—pretending to broadcast whatever game, so that was my first love. I did it at Fordham and it’s a blast. I think broadcasters will tell you that being courtside at a basketball game and having to spit out a million words a second, doing that play-by-play is just an absolute rush. It was something I wanted to do for sure, but now that I’ve experienced the mute button, I really like the personality that comes with working with some of the brightest minds in sports writing, so I think my future will continue to be here, maybe even in some in documentary and film, because I’m a film buff.
Q: You voiced a villain in an episode of Kick Buttowski that aired recently – was that kind of work ever something you thought you would do?
A: Maybe in my dreams. It’s something I always wanted to do. I always wondered how people got that job. How do you become a voice on tv? This voice I have, I was told with the accent I have, which was a lot worse 15 years ago—I was told by Marty Glickman who was my mentor at Fordham—‘that with that voice, you’re not going to be a pro.’ And I was fine with that. I wanted to be a producer and a writer… ESPN early on brought in voice coaches to work with me when I started doing Around the Horn…and I learned vocal variety is important and now the shows I work on are also all about personality, so I don’t sweat it too much.
But being able to do a maniacal laugh on cue is a part I was born to play. I’ve wanted to do that forever. They asked me to go opposite Dwight Howard and be an evil villain, the most evil villain (the show) had ever seen. I was having so much fun in there. For 45 minutes I was throwing out new lines and they were like, Mr. Reali, please, don’t do that. I was like, ‘we’re not so different, you and I’ and things that villains usually say and then I worked on my laugh and threw in a few snorts because eight-year-old boys love a laugh that ends in a snort. They seemed to dig that. I made a few Dwight Howard trade jokes into the microphone and they were like, ok, Reali, get out of here. And that’s how it ended, but maybe they’ll give me a call back, who knows? I live for the day that they say Kick Buttowski is going into the movies.