Jeff Schaffer grew up in Warren and went to Western Reserve Academy in Hudson. He's produced and written for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, penned the screenplays for Bruno and The Dictator, and co-created The League with his wife Jackie, which wraps up its fourth season Thursday night on FX. Schaffer took a few minutes to talk about dick jokes, cameos by NFL players, and the backstories to some of your favorite League terminology.
The cross-section of viewers includes football fans, fantasy football fans, and people who couldn't give a shit about either of those. How do you build the story to appeal to all those people every week?
I'm in a league with friends from Western Reserve. We're in our 10th year now. And this basically started when my wife and I, we went skiing in the French Alps. She had planned this amazing dinner for Christmas Eve. And Sunday night in France is Sunday day in America, and I was in the championship of two leagues, and I was trying to figure out how I was doing. So, basically, I was telling my wife the food was making me sick, then running outside to a snow bank to call long distance and get updates. After about the third time, she followed me outside, laughed, and said, 'This is so pathetic. This is a great idea for a TV show.'
You grew up in Warren and went to school in Hudson. Are you a Browns fan? And did you ask Josh Cribbs and Trent Richardson to be on the show, or did they approach you?
Yes, I'm a Browns fan. We, well, I, wanted to get Cribbs on the show. I loved him. We were thrilled to have him, and Trent, we had heard he was a fan. So my wife reached out to him, he was thrilled to do it. And we shot Trent before the season had started. He was in town for the ESPYs in July, and my wife was pregnant and due at the end of July. The baby came July 8, about six hours before we were supposed to shoot Trent. He was literally the first person I saw after I became a father and the first person to give me parenting advice. I said, 'You have two little girls. What am I supposed to do?" He said, 'Man, you gotta relax.' I was so hyped up.
How many leagues are you currently in?
I'm in five leagues. My wife and I are in a league with the cast of the show – The League of The League – and she's telling me to tell you how I'm doing. I'm not in the playoffs, Jackie [his wife] is. I have never won this league. Jackie has. There, the most public yet of all my humiliations. The team names are from the show. And because we start shooting in July or August, once we shoot something funny, someone takes possession of it, says it's there's. Jackie's is The Toilet Kitchen, and has been for two years. Last year I was The Zipper Fairies, and this year I was The Second Harvest.
But the granddaddy, the one I care about the most, the one I agonize over, is the league with the guys from high school. To give you an example, I'm in a league where I'm the No. 1 seed and in the playoffs, another with friends from college where I'm in the playoffs, but I'm spending all of my time and praying that I don't get The Sacko in the high school league. I don't even want to win it; I just can't take being insulted if I come in last.
There's an institutional knowledge in groups that have known each other for that long. Do the jokes come from how you interacted with those guys?
We wanted to do a show about deep history, and fantasy football was the perfect vehicle for that because of the long simmering insults, and the show is built around the fact that no matter how successful you are now – Andre – everything that happened to you when you were 13, 14, or 15, all those humiliating things are going to come back, and they're going to be used against you publicly. That's exactly what it's like in my high school league. Sometimes people say, 'Oh, fantasy football, it's like a book club.' I get it, except I don't know any book club that's making fun of the first time you got a handjob.
So the show is basically a venue to publicly unearth the most embarrassing moments from your friends' lives?
Who can I throw under the bus from high school? How about Ted Humphrey [producer, writer, "The Good Wife"]? There's an episode in season two, I think, where Andre has a move to meet women. He'll ask about their day, they'll answer, and he says, 'Oh, you poor girl,' and put his arm around them. That was Ted Humphrey's stupid lame way to get his arm around a high school girl. We'd watch him 'poor girl' sophomores and freshmen, and we'd give him shit about it, and then I put it on a TV show.
I have this crazy relationship now where I can use the TV show as a weapon. For instance, I'm playing this guy in the high school league, and games are Thursday night, and the show's on Thursday night. And Jackie named a character Charlie, which is one of the guys from the league. She named the stupid kid who watches Kevin and Jenny having sex Charlie. And I'm messaging him, 'Watch the show, I'm in your head while you're worrying about whether Gresham scores a touchdown for the Bengals.'
Which NFL guest star had the most natural acting ability?
RG3 is the most charismatic person I've ever met. He's a natural, an absolute natural. All the athletes that come on the show, every one of them has been a pleasant surprise – 0.0 attitude. They're prepared, excited to be there, and they're really having fun. Adrian Peterson is on the finale next week, and he was great, too. He was like, 'Should I reach for my water glass here for continuity sake?' Yeah, he's not just the league's leading rusher, he could be doing our job for us.