Comedian Rhea Butcher on new podcast, fandom and falling in love with sports

Comedian Rhea Butcher discusses her love for baseball, her sports fandom and her new podcast. Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

If you love baseball, comedian Rhea Butcher has a new podcast for you! It's called "Likely Mad as Hell" and can be found wherever you get your podcasts. They have launched a podcast specifically to talk about this World Series (and some other fun baseball stuff). Butcher has some serious street cred too. They threw out the first pitch at a Cleveland Indians game in 2016.

Butcher grew up in the Midwest (specifically, Akron, Ohio) and is an avid sports fan. They travel the country doing stand-up comedy as well as providing commentary on LGBTQ issues. Sometimes they do this with their wife and fellow comedian Cameron Esposito. They also did a show together called "Take My Wife."

Luckily for us, Butcher was gracious enough (and found some time on a plane) to participate in a Q&A about their fandom, the podcast and just how much they love sports.

espnW: When did you fall in love with baseball?

Rhea Butcher: I feel like I fell for baseball right away, so probably like 4? Maybe even earlier, honestly. I have memories of setting up pillows in the living room and running the bases. I grew up in my grandparents house with my mom and we all watched together. I'm an only child so I loved making all the adults laugh. I was seventh inning stretch entertainment! We had cable (it was my grandparents' idea of retirement) so we watched the Atlanta Braves on "WTBS: The Superstation." But really in the summer, games were always on. And the on-screen box score back then was way simpler, it just read: RHE. My name was already in the game! I have so many memories of drifting off to sleep to Skip Caray and Jon Miller.

espnW: What is your own athletic background?

RB: I was always a really active kid. Just outside all the time and I really loved sports. The school I went to was all girls' Catholic school, and unfortunately the principal at the time didn't see sports as a "ladylike" thing, but we did have basketball and volleyball, so I played both. I loved basketball and volleyball was fun, but I always wanted to play baseball. But because I was a girl, I don't think it was ever thought of as an option.

espnW: What other sports do you enjoy and who do you root for?

RB: I mean, I'll watch all sports. Literally all of them. I'm also a big underdog fan. I watched last year's Softball College World Series and holy cow was that a game. I've been getting more into hockey after following the U.S. women's national team's fight for equal pay last summer. I'm not a big football fan for a lot of reasons, specifically how they are handling their players protests against police brutality and Colin Kaepernick, but also their handling of CTE. I have been getting into women's football though. If women are playing, I'm watching. Oh! And women's skateboarding too. It's evolved so much. I grew up skateboarding, too.

I like women's sports because they are really inclusive. Not just lesbians, but also non-binary people and trans women and trans men are on women's teams. That's why, no matter how I identify, I will always be on the "women's" side of things. Someone on twitter once said they identify as non-binary but politically as a woman, and I really agree with that.

espnW: How do you balance your fandom for multiple teams?

RB: Not well?! Hahah. Since I grew up watching the Braves and whatever game was on, I learned that you liked the teams you like. I guess being from Akron helped that too. My teams never had my city on the front, so I was always sorta removed. I love thinking about being a diehard fan, which I do feel toward Cleveland because I've died hard many times watching those teams, but I also think that's pretty myopic. Am I not a fan of the game because I really love more than one team? I don't think so.

For example: My team and my wife's team were in the World Series last year and I just so happened to really like her team in 2015 (they were part of the reason I fell back in love with baseball). This year we are both rooting for the Dodgers. Which is more fun?

People who think you're not a real fan unless you're dedicated to one team for your whole life are totally entitled to their belief and opinion, but so is anyone that wants to root for multiple teams. I mean, I get my heart broken all the time! I know the risks.

espnW: What is your response to the idea that cheering for multiple teams makes you less of a fan?

RB: I think it's misplaced. If you're a fan, you're a fan. I find myself judging other people and I try to catch myself. Who cares if someone just got on board? They're on board! It's the same as people who quiz me on stats or ask me about the infield fly rule when I say I love baseball. I've realized these days that those kinds of actions speak more about them than me. Like literally a guy stopped me on the street while he was on a run -- like he was super sweaty -- and he turned around and said, "Are you a real fan or you just wear the gear?" Like, why do you care? He tried to play it off by saying he does that to everyone but if that's true, how sad.

espnW How has your gender affected the way other fans interact with you?

RB: Depends on which gender! I think when I was identifying as a woman all the time, I was speaking for women like myself, gay/bi or straight, who were outside of the norm. I hope now that I am identifying more as non-binary, those same people can still relate. I hope that people who identify as NB feel welcome too. We have more in common than we don't, and I'm hoping that with comedy and sports, I can show people that and hopefully bridge the gap that sometimes exists in the community.

After saying this, I re-read your question and you probably mean other sports fans. Well, I'm sure you can guess that going to the bathroom at a baseball stadium is pretty difficult! I've had people be weird to me, had them think I was a man, etc. For the most part it's been fine, but it is kinda difficult. I wish we could all evolve past this sorta adolescent stage mentally where we have to "figure out" what's "going on" with strangers. Like, we're all wearing the same team colors, let's just be on the same side!

I also run into a lot of situations where people think I'm a child, like an actual child. I'll try to talk to strangers at a game (one time a guy didn't realize Orel Hershiser pitched for Cleveland!) and I'll start talking to them, making small talk, and they'll just sorta laugh at me? It's weird to be treated that way at age 35. But I persist!

espnW: What are the barriers women and non-binary/trans folks face as fans and athletes? How have those shifted over time?

RB: I think for NB and trans folk, there are huge barriers because a lot of people just don't understand. The binary is so concrete to so many people and we are all sort of chipping away at that and I think it scares a lot of people. Once they get over that initial fear, they'll see that freedom from the binary is actually freedom for everyone. We should all be able to play sports. That's it, we should be able to play if we want to play.

I have a joke about how people always know I'm a woman when I talk about sports -- hahaha! Women get tested and quizzed about fandom. As a woman, I always encountered barriers in sports. I am speaking from both places because identifying as NB doesn't mean people don't see me as a woman, and that creates barriers, plus I still identify with the community of women. For example I play on a baseball team that's co-ed and I put all this pressure on myself to do really well, which I'm sure the guys do too, but I do it because I feel like I have more to prove. And the other side of that is that you can't help but see the bad calls or floated pitches or the running you over at second as a slight because you're a woman on the field. Or if you make a mistake you start to feel like everyone thinks you made that mistake because you're a woman, not because you just made a mistake like players do. It's hard to not let it get in your head.

There are many people out there working to lessen these negatives and these barriers, and I look up to them. People like Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams. Megan Rapinoe and Chris Mosier. Harrison Browne in hockey and Justine Siegal in baseball. The Sonoma Stompers are actively bringing women on their roster, and they had the first woman record the win as a pitcher since the AAGPBL last season! And the season before that, they had the first all female battery since the AAGPBL.

I think sports having pride nights is a big step in the right direction. Once the door is open just a little bit it's our duty to push through and hold it open for everyone else.

espnW: What are you hoping to achieve with your podcast?

RB: I'm hoping to maybe add a different perspective on baseball and eventually sports, but also culture and politics. I kind of think of my podcast as a tiny version of a Pride night at a game. Giving people a solace to enjoy something they like and feel welcome while doing it. I got to throw out the first pitch for the Oakland Athletics this year at their pride night, and just seeing everyone so happy and so comfortable was really amazing and I just want to make versions of that in the world.