All of Blitz's gnarliest childhood indignities were suffered under the watchful eye of the gym teacher—getting picked last in kickball because of my nun-chuck feet; the bat-to-the-brow that ruined my 6th grade graduation ceremony; breaking a finger on the wrestling mat, ruining football season and my certain NFL future. Will Ferrell understands.
"I had a classic gym teacher in junior high who wore a weightlifters belt all the time," he told me not long ago. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, is that really necessary'?"
No. Which is why we're all geeked up about Eastbound and Down. The new comedy series from HBO which Ferrell is producing (premiering Sunday night) follows Kenny Powers, an arrogant and potty-mouthed major league pitcher whose many transgressions—drugs, fights, blatant homophobia and off-color jokes—get him banned from baseball. Forced back home, Powers takes a gig at his old middle school … as a gym teacher. Hilarity ensues.
Eastbound is the first TV series from Ferrell's Gary Sanchez Productions (named after a fictional ex-NFL kicker from Paraguay—no joke), and it's a big deal over at HBO, which is searching for buzz-worthy content to replace the long-departed Soprano family and the fading Entourage. It stars Danny McBride. You'd know him as the scene-stealer in Tropic Thunder (as an explosives expert), Pineapple Express (a drug dealer) and Heartbreak Kid (a jerk vacationer). But it was his star-making turn as an inept martial arts instructor in the insanely funny—though little seen—The Foot Fist Way that caught the eye of powerbrokers like Judd Apatow, Ferrell and Ben Stiller.
Two years later, Eastbound's co-creator and writer is one of comedy's rising stars. And he rocks as the portly, mullet-and-'stached Powers. Blitz caught up with McBride to chat about the series and the pitfalls of physical education. (We'll let him explain that one.)
Blitz: How did y'all think this one up?
McBride: Myself and (co-creators/writers) Jody (Hill) and Ben Best came up with the idea a few years ago. I'd just left LA to move back to Virginia to live with my parents. I was trying to write, but I ended up taking jobs as a bartender and substitute teacher. I liked teaching, but I remember thinking, "God, if I didn't enjoy teaching, this would be the worst f***ing job." (Laughs). The first day of class, I tried to justify moving back home, so I introduced myself to the kids with, like, "Listen kids, I left LA, but I plan on going back there because I have a lot of great things I'm working on, just so you know." (Laughs) They couldn't care less. So I came up with the idea about someone going back home and eating crow as a gym teacher.
The Battle against childhood obesity is all the rage now. Can Kenny Powers help?
I think he'd make fun of the kid until he inspired him to not be fat. Otherwise, he doesn't give a s***. (Laughs)
Do gym teachers get a bad rap?
In my school, people liked the gym teachers because they were the football or soccer coaches. But look, if they're cool, they get respect. If they're a***-*****, they become the inspiration for a f*****-up TV show.
Any research go into this? Or are you just pulling from creepy gym class memories?
It's all pulled from our memories. Like, God, who teaches gym? Who wears shorts and blows whistles and yells at kids to run fast? It was weird, man. In my gym class, we had something called The Pit, this little alcove where we had to sit if we forgot our gym clothes. It was usually just the crippled kid, the pregnant girl, and me. It was pretty awkward, just hanging with all these freaks who didn't want to show their legs.
Were you the fat kid who couldn't do a pull-up?
I was in my skinnier stage, so I was the lanky kid who couldn't do a pull-up.They used to give you the option of basketball, running the track or lifting weights, and the weight room was the best because you were out of sight. But I remember one time, there was this bigger girl who wanted to show the guys she could squat like them, so she loaded up with all this weight and, I'll never forget, when she lifted it, she had the most horrified look on her face. Then she fell down, and her eyes just blooded over. She'd busted a blood vessel in her eye.
The key gym class quandary: to shower, or not to shower?
Oh man, I always avoided the showers. Not in middle school and high school. I wasn't ready for that.
Not much. Played soccer growing up and martial arts. But I never played baseball, except for f***ing around in backyards. My pitching was terrible when we started shooting. The coach I've been working with, first time he saw me throw, he's like, "I sure hope this is a comedy."
I hear you can also handle your business at a shooting gallery.
And I'm not even good at that. (Laughs.). I'm just not afraid of guns.
Kenny is an epic jerk. Is he based on any major leaguer in particular?
A lot of people are throwing names out there, John Rocker being one. Kenny's just a greatest hits of all of the shamed ballplayers. But he'd probably be friends with A-Rod. And after the recent news, he'd probably tell him to cash in while he can.
You're about to hit the big time. Will you be a big celebrity jerk like Will Ferrell?
Man, I can only hope to be as big of an a**-**** as Will.