Women's rec basketball gets a starring role in new Pistol Shrimps documentary
The pistol shrimp is a ferocious creature the size of a human finger, armed with a deadly, oversized claw that functions like a handgun, sending tiny air bullets speeding at 60-plus miles per hour toward its victim. These Pistol Shrimps are 13 women on a rec league basketball team in Los Angeles. They, too, are fierce. They're funny. They have their own dance team. And last season, they almost went undefeated. So, so close.
The Shrimps' chase to the L.A. City Municipal Women's Basketball League division championship provides the backdrop for a new documentary, "The Pistol Shrimps," which introduces viewers to the most famous women's intramural team in the world, and is only tangentially about the game of basketball.
"From the outside, we look like an unassuming basketball team," says singer/songwriter/point guard Jesse Thomas, No. 99 on the Pistol Shrimps. "But after you watch the movie, you realize there's a lot more going on than just basketball. It's inspirational."
That's no joke. Off the court -- and sometimes, unintentionally, on it -- these women are funny. Some of them, like "Parks and Recreation" star Aubrey Plaza, make a living making people laugh. But on the court, they want to win. Or, in Shrimps-ese, "We are just lookin' to get out there and ball hard!"
As a league, they are bringing together women in entertainment who were lacking the types of outlets for socializing that their male counterparts enjoyed. "As adults, the only time you socialize with each other is at a bar or party and it's all very inactive," says model/writer/power forward Paisley Grey, No. 53. "This was a good way for us to all come together and socialize with a purpose."
Before the Shrimps, there was no women's rec league basketball in L.A. Three years later, there are 26 teams in the league. "I love being a part of this group of women because it's something that was missing in my life," says model/writer/shooting guard Melissa Stetten, No. 3. "I grew up having one or two close female friends and I hung out with guys the rest of my life, so being able to make 13 new female friends who were all amazing was the coolest thing ever. That doesn't happen when you're in your 30s. It's so hard to make friends, especially female friends."
Stetten, Thomas and Grey, as their coaches Mark and Chris call them, took a fast break from their hectic practice schedule to dish on the Shrimps, their HATERZ and the making of the greatest documentary not at all about the sport of basketball.
Alyssa Roenigk: Most of you didn't have experience playing basketball before the Shrimps. How did you come to join the team?
Paisley Grey: Melissa and I have been with the team since the beginning. I heard about it through a Facebook post Maria [Blasucci, team captain] put up, casually asking if anyone was interested in starting an intramural girls basketball team.
Jesse Thomas: I'm a jock. I'm really short and sports was the one thing that always made me feel tall. When the Pistol Shrimps opportunity came around, I was really stoked to feel tall again.
AR: What was your pre-Shrimps basketball experience?
Grey: I have a vague memory of really loving basketball in fourth grade. The first time I played was two years ago, when we started the team. I was very intimidated and now I can kind of play. It's awesome.
Melissa Stetten: I played in middle and high school. We were the Knights. We lost every game. When I joined the Shrimps, it was the first time I'd dribbled a basketball in 10 years. It was strange, but I still sort of knew how to dribble and shoot. I watched basketball my whole life. I'm a Clippers fan. I go to tons of games.
Thomas: I played in middle and high school. I went to Northern Kentucky on a softball scholarship and played soccer. I played in a rec basketball league in college. I tried out for the college team but I didn't make it. There was a conspiracy.
AR: Why the Pistol Shrimps?
Stetten: We had an email poll going to pick a name. We had a lot of puns, like the Kirsten Dunks, which I personally loved. Then we started googling names of weird animals. The Narwhals was an option at one point. We came upon the pistol shrimps. They have a giant claw and they're like the most deadly predator for their size. We were like, that's perfect, because we're predators on the court.
AR: Thanks to your Twitter feed and Aubrey's late-night appearances, the Shrimps have become known for your "NO HATERZ" slogan. Could you ladies give me a taste of your best trash talk? (Full disclosure to fuel the fire: I'm a proud and when-I'm-in-LA-and-they-let-me-play member of Peaches & Kareem.) Bring it.
Thomas: My trash talk comes in the form of draining 3s. Last game, I did the boldest thing I've ever done on the court. I blew a kiss to the girl who was guarding me. She kept smacking the floor, saying, "Come on, come on." But usually we like to keep our trash talking off the court.
Stetten: We like to pretend we have a lot of haters. I don't think we have any haters. People are like, "Who are you talking to? Nobody hates you." I wish we had haters. I wish we were hated. But no, we're all just a bunch of nice ladies. I say "sorry" a lot on the court.
AR: How did the documentary come about?
Thomas: I was walking in the parking lot with Molly [Hawkey] after one of the games and Brent [Hodge, the film's director] came up to us. I had no idea who he was. He was like, "Hey, I love what you guys are doing." He didn't mention he was a filmmaker.
Grey: I remember he was always at the games filming us with a nice camera. It was kinda weird, but none of us ever asked him what he was doing until the very end of the season. He explained himself and we were still kind of wary. Then he put a trailer together that was just incredible. We were like, "He gets us."
Thomas: It's cool how he bridges the gap from our team to the league. It was cool how he dug a little deeper. He asked the right questions. I thought I was independently having this insane experience where I was so inspired, but I wasn't sure if I was the only one having that experience. I was almost embarrassed after my interview, because I was like, "Everyone's going to know this basketball team changed my life." Then I watched the film and found out we all were having the same crazy experience.
AR: How have other women in your life responded to you playing on the Shrimps?
Stetten: They're usually like, "That's so awesome." A couple have said they're jealous and want to join, but they're intimidated. I tell them, "Go to the Sunday scrimmages and join a team. Or you can form your own team."
Grey: There is always a crowd at the women's league games and I think that shows that the community needed something like this. We have our friends, girlfriends, husbands, sisters coming to check it out and they're all so encouraging.
Thomas: I'm convinced if they gave us more bleachers and started selling food and alcohol, it would become insane. We already have 80 people showing up to playoff games watching girls who can't dribble very well. Our coaches play on a men's intramural league and we went to their games to support them and we were the only people there. And they're really good at basketball.
AR: You have your own in-game announcers. Who are those guys?
Stetten: Amanda's fiancé', Matt [Gourley], does a podcast called Superego that's insanely funny. He and his friend Mark [McConville] come to the games and they were like, "Let's do a basketball podcast." They set up a table in the corner of the gym and started calling the games. Matt knows nothing about basketball. At first, he was using soccer terms. Half the time, they're opening fan mail. But three seasons in, Matt can call the action pretty well. And the podcast made all these year-end lists of great comedy podcasts.
AR: Who started the Pistol Shrimps halftime dance team?
Thomas: A girl on our team named Angela Trimbur. She's an actor, but also loves dancing.
Stetten: Two seasons ago, she decided to recruit a bunch of girls. I remember her Facebook post. The response was crazy. She had tryouts and there are 15 dancers. She coordinates everything. Every week she comes up with a new dance.
Thomas: I can't explain the joy I have being in the gym, we're all sweating our asses off at halftime and I look over and see Angela throw off her jersey and put on her dance outfit and run out there. It's this beautiful, crazy, broken mess and it's amazing.
AR: Which team is harder to make: your basketball or dance team?
Thomas: The basketball team, not because you have to have more skill, but because it doesn't happen very often that the Pistol Shrimps are looking for a new player. I feel very lucky to be a non-original, because there are only three of us.
Stetten: It's a very exclusive basketball team. Now that Aubrey's no longer on the team, we may pick up a new player.
AR: Aubrey's no longer on the team? That's big news.
Stetten: She swapped teams midseason. Her sister plays on a team and her boyfriend coaches it. She made an announcement on ESPN. Did you miss that?
Thomas: We were thinking of holding a press conference about it.
"The Pistol Shrimps" is available Thursday, June 16, on Seeso, NBCUNiversal Digital Enterprises' ad-free, pay-for-service streaming comedy channel.