Hank Azaria made his debut appearance on the Stern Show Monday morning ahead of the premiere of "Brockmire," his new IFC series. Naturally, Howard had a lot to cover with the Emmy-winning actor and "Simpsons" voice artist.
Hank enthusiastically spoke about his IFC sitcom, which began life as a video on Funny or Die in 2010 (below) and grew into a passion project of his. "I sent ['Brockmire'] off to many baseball guys I thought might get a kick out of it, one being [Bob] Costas," Hank said. "He called it the generic baseball announcer voice, which is how I think of it."
Hank and Howard laughed about the seemingly identical styles of every baseball announcer. "They all have a professional timbre," Hank said. "And they will all tell you, 'Yeah, I kind of jack it up twenty percent.'" Hank pointed out that the basic comedy premise of "Brockmire" is "do these guys always sound like this?"
The show's central plot revolves around the title character catching his wife cheating on him and, essentially, freaking out during a live broadcast after a few too many drinks. "He's a kind of old school guy who would have three to four beers during a broadcast, but this time [he has] a full bottle of Sazerac Rye, [gets] blackout drunk ... and the home run calls turn into 'That ball's either out of here or lost inside my wife's big, fat, cheating vagina," Hank explained to Howard.
Regardless, Hank is extremely proud of the series, which premieres with two episodes Wednesday night on IFC. "It's my favorite thing I've ever done," he said.
Early Vocal Influences
Hank has built a sterling career of voice work for his countless roles over nearly thirty years on "The Simpsons," but it all had to start somewhere. Hank explained to Howard how he used to watch television nonstop at age five and mimic the performers exactly.
"I didn't realize it was an ability," Hank said. "I just assumed everybody could do it."
Early on, Hank latched on to a particular role model. "My hero was in fact, Bugs Bunny," he told Howard. "And then about age 11, I was told, 'That's a guy, you know. That's a man doing all those voices.' Then Mel Blanc became my hero."
Blanc, of course, voiced nearly every single Looney Tunes cartoon character, doing a total of over 1000 unique voices. Howard theorized that Hank was now at Blanc's level.
"I certainly have done a lot of cartoon work," Hank said. "[Blanc] was a genius. There's him and everybody else."
The One With the "Friends" Audition
While a huge success with his vocal work, Hank still had on-screen ambitions as a young actor. In fact, while he was well into his time on "The Simpsons," Hank auditioned for the role of Joey on a little sitcom pilot called "Friends." He didn't get it the first time, but Hank didn't initially take no for an answer. He confidently went back in there and asked for a second chance ... which also didn't end up working out.
"It was a very fast 'no' once again," Hank explained.
The rejection stung all the worse after Hank's good friend Matthew Perry, who Hank met years earlier while filming a pilot, landed the role of Chandler. "I had to go to him and go, 'Bud, I got to tell you something: I'm burning with jealousy. I'm like consumed with hatred for you right now," Hank laughed. "Once you kind of express it and are honest, it kind of goes away and you can just be happy for your friend."
However, Hank was eventually invited on the NBC hit as a guest star for multiple episodes. "In between when that happened and 'Friends' came out, I did 'Quiz Show' and I think that stamped my passport a little bit," Hank told Howard. "They liked my audition, but they felt that Matt LeBlanc was better and history has proven that choice to be correct."
No Room For Jell-O
While his voice has garnered him a hugely successful long-running television gig, Hank told Howard that he also attempted, for a period, to get into commercial work. However, the appeal quickly wore off for Hank. He told Howard the auditions are "a bit of a cattle call" and pointed out that combining his vocal style with bland commercial copy often leads to unintended effects. "I always sounded sarcastic," he said. "Like, 'Hey, seriously — this is great!'"
While Hank was brought in for his vocal talents, he also auditioned for a few on-camera commercial gigs, with one in particular driving him away for good. "They were doing an ad campaign for Jell-O. They wanted to do a computer-animated Jell-O 'O' that lived in your fridge," Hank told Howard. "They called him Jell-O Man."
Hank's take on Jell-O Man was that of a gruff vagrant, so he gave him a voice to match. "The woman who's casting goes — she was a real Disney-type — she's like, 'Okay, that was wonderful and I really enjoyed it and you obviously have a wonderful sense of humor, but you know, while we do want Jell-O Man to have an edge, we don't want him to frighten children,'" Hank said. "As she's talking ... I realized not only am I not going to do a second take of this fucking commercial, but this is the last nanosecond of my commercial career."
"She went on so long I had time to think of an exit line," he continued. "She finished her whole monologue and I said, 'You do realize that Jell-O Man's not real, don't you?"
Catch the first two episodes of "Brockmire" starting at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5 on IFC.