Talkin' baseball with the man behind Ken Tremendous
Michael Schur wrote under the name Ken Tremendous on the blog Fire Joe Morgan
A television writer by trade, Schur wrote for Saturday Night Live and The Office
He is the creator of the new show Parks and Recreation, which debuts Thursday
It's hard to write funny. I know this is true because people mention it to me all the time after I write something that doesn't make them laugh. Well, they usually say it like so: "You're not funny." I take this to mean that it's hard to write funny.
So, naturally, I am in awe of Michael Schur. You might know that Schur went to Harvard, wrote for Saturday Night Live, wrote for The Office, had a role on The Office (as Dwight's neck-beard wearing cousin Mose) and is co-creator of the new show Parks and Recreation, which debuts on Thursday on NBC.
You might also know that Schur was "Ken Tremendous" on the extremely popular sports media-mocking Web site Fire Joe Morgan ... and it was there that he wrote an exchange that I still consider to be one of the seven funniest things I've ever read.
The set-up: A story was written last October about how Yankees fans felt about the Chicago Cubs-Los Angeles Dodgers series -- the premise being that the Cubs were managed by former Yankees player and manager Lou Piniella, while the Dodgers were managed by Yankees icon Joe Torre. It's fair to say that Schur as Tremendous was not especially taken with the premise.
Tremendous: Wow, this is getting pretty (bleeping) uninteresting. We'd better keep going. Is it possible to interview a woman with a comical name that sounds like it was made up by Jackie Mason in the 1960's?
From the story: Miriam Pinto, who drove to Yankee Stadium from Springfield, Mass., to say goodbye to the old place one last time, said the Dodgers-Cubs series would probably draw her in only because of the 68-year-old man filling out Los Angeles' lineup cards. "I'll probably flip back and forth on them, but to see Joe Torre sitting there, I think that's a good thing," Pinto said. "I'm upset the Yankees aren't there, but Joe Torre deserves it. I think [the Yankees] let him go in the wrong way."
Tremendous: There you have it. A made-up woman with a ridiculous name is a fan of Joe Torre. But what about people with names that are bad parodies of Italian-American Sopranos-style goombahs? What do they think?
From the story: "I was glad that he left for somewhere else," added Savino Stallone, 54, who made the drive from Stormville, N.Y., with his daughter, Jennifer, and son, Joseph.
Tremendous: 1. There's no one named "Savino Stallone" in the whole world.
Schur and his comedy-writing friends have stopped writing for Fire Joe Morgan -- they just got too busy and felt like the thing had run its course -- but Michael says in this question-and-answer session that he misses it, at least a little bit.
Schur: I do miss it, and people still send us e-mail links to silly articles. It just took too much time away from our jobs and families. The thing I'm proudest of was that it was never a money-making enterprise. We just did it to do it. The other thing I was most proud of was: the cursing. There was some really bleeping creative cursing on that site.*
*Note the "bleeping" edit in the above exchange. Ken Tremendous did not write "bleeping."
Joe Posnanski: Let's talk a little baseball. You grew up in New England and are a lifelong Red Sox fan ... how important is it for you that the Red Sox, now that they are ultra-successful, maintain some of the identity that you grew up with? Do you find -- as more and more fans seem to find -- that the Red Sox (and, to some extent, their fans) are not taking on some of that Yankees persona?
Michael Schur: What is most important to me is that the Red Sox win the World Series, preferably every year, ideally three to five times per year. That being said, I do find it more satisfying to watch a team that has homegrown players, whose careers you can track through the minors and watch develop. If I were a Marlins fan, 2003 would mean more to me than 1997. Also, I would likely have magical powers, since Marlins fans are predominantly mythological.
JP: Do you think the Yankees -- by buying CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, etc -- will be significantly better in 2009?
MS: Significantly? No. They won 89 games last year. They'll probably win 93-95 this year. When the Angels got Teixeira last year, everyone wrote "Well, this makes them the definite frontrunner to win the World Series!" That may have been true, but the way the playoffs are structured, it probably increased their chances from 12.5 percent to 13.2 percent. The Yankees were already a very good team, and now they are a very good-plus team. The pitchers will help more than anything, if they stay healthy, and their defense will be better without Giambi and Abreu, but they still have a lot of guys who are on the wrong side of 34 playing key positions.
JP: Do the Rays take a step back?
MS: They almost have to. Their defense was insane last year, and they had no major pitching injuries. But I cannot BELIEVE they got Pat Burrell for so little money. Makes me sick to my stomach.
JP: Do you like what Oakland A's GM Billy Beane is doing or are you, like me, confused by it or all but certain that he must know better than we do?
MS: The latter. I love Billy Beane. The only mistake he has ever made was writing that braggy book about himself, and how he's so good at computers.
MS: I don't know. I picked them to win the World Series last year. And I was right! Congratulations, Chicago Cubs, on your 2008 world championship. (I didn't watch the playoffs -- I just assume they won, right?).
JP: Tell us a little bit about your new show, Parks and Recreation*.
*This is the part of the interview where I try very, very hard to sound like Jay Leno.
MS: Basically, it's about a woman named Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, who works in the Parks and Rec department in the (fictional) town of Pawnee, Ind. She has very big dreams of a long political career, but not much skill in the business of politics. A citizen comes to her with a problem -- there's a giant abandoned construction pit near her house -- and Leslie decides that if she can turn that eyesore into a park, it will launch her career. So she sets about trying to do it. And it goes totally smoothly and everything is fine! (That is not what happens.)
JP: Obviously, I know nothing about your world, but like everyone, I love-love-love-love Amy Poehler and also Rashida Jones (who played Karen Filippelli on The Office). Would love a sense of what they're like to work with, if you can offer anything there.
MS: Amy is a real screamer. She screams all the time -- her normal method of communication is an ear-splitting, curse-filled rant. They get very personal. Rashida is very timid and quiet, like a mouse. I think it's because she is unattractive and has limited talent. (Because I am typing this and not saying it out loud, and you cannot read the tone of my words: they are two of the most wonderful people I know, and are both extremely funny and talented. Though Amy does scream a lot. Angrily. Like a longshoreman.)
You can read the entire interview with Michael Schur at joeposnanski.com.