A League of His Own

On television he plays a character who is obsessed with his fantasy league, but when it comes to football, comedian and actor Steve Rannazzisi doesn’t have all the answers. “I get asked for fantasy football advice all the time,” Rannazzisi says. “I’ve had more conversations with drunk 28-year-olds than I’ve ever wanted. I give them the advice I think I would do, but tell them, ‘Don’t murder my family if I’m wrong.’”

And he has been wrong. “I’ve gotten Twitter messages like, ‘Hey man, how could you do this to me?’ And I’m like, ‘Bro, I don’t know who you are. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.’”

The 34-year-old comedian gets pumped for tips because of his role as Kevin, the (now former) commissioner of The League, now in its fourth season on FX. A half-scripted, half-improvised ensemble comedy, the show follows five male friends and their female counterpart, Kevin’s wife Jenny, who ruthlessly mock and compete with each other in hopes of winning their fantasy league and the highly coveted “Shiva” trophy.

Like his character, the Long Island native is a huge football fan. Originally from Smithtown, he remains a loyal Giants fan, despite having moved to Los Angeles.

Though he is best known for his role in The League, Rannazzisi actually got his start in comedy as a stand up. “I’d gone to see a show in New York, and turned to my girlfriend at the time and said, I think that’s something I’d like to try.” One night she surprised Rannazzisi by signing him up for an open mic and after “three minutes of horrible stand up I got bit by the bug,” he recounts. It’s been approximately 11 years since then.

Rannazzisi performed close to 100 “horrible, enlightening, stressful and awkward” gigs in New York before moving to Los Angeles to pursue comedy. In LA he performed at the famous Comedy Store and worked there as a doorman. “I got to watch great stand up and really take the time to learn the craft,” he says.

It was onstage there that he was discovered by Ashton Kutcher and cast as a resident mischief-maker on Kutcher’s MTV celebrity prank show Punk’d, giving Rannazzisi his start in television and film.

At the end of this month, Rannazzisi will return home to do a few stand-up dates on Long Island and in Manhattan. “I really enjoy those shows because I get a mixture of hometown friends that want to come hang out and fans of The League who didn’t even know that I grew up on Long Island. And because I’m not that different from who I play on television, what they expect, they get an opportunity to see.”

Between his solo dates and The League, Rannazzisi is able to perform both stand up and improv, though he doesn’t necessarily prefer one form to the other. “Both have so many pros and cons that they kind of balance themselves out, and [right now] it’s really a perfect balance for me,” he says. “When I’m onstage I get to come up with ideas that I think are funny. I get to connect with strangers and be myself, and when I’m working with the guys on the show we’re a team, and having that aspect to comedy is really fun too.”

It’s this team dynamic and witty back and forth with fellow cast members Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer (also from Long Island), Mark Duplass, Jon Lajoie and Kate Aselton that makes the show so entertaining and downright hilarious. “The way I put it,” Rannazzisi says, “you don’t really have to understand football, you just have to have friends that you hate and you’ll get the humor.”

With the success of The League and Rannazzisi’s stand-up career, he seems to be at the top of his game right now, though he does still have one weakness.

Rannazzisi has been in a fantasy league with his high school buddies for years, long before The League. “I’m way better in my mind than I actually am on paper,” he says of his skill level. “Every year I have such optimism and it all falls apart. I’ve never won. I’ve never felt the thrill of victory. So I guess when I really get down to it, I’m a loser.”

Steve Rannazzisi live stand up

November 23—Governor’s McGuire’s, Bohemia
November 24—Governor’s, Levittown
November 29 through December 2—Caroline’s on Broadway, Manhattan
steverannazzisi.com