There are a lot of ways to make a name for yourself in sports media these days. You could go the traditional route of getting a degree in journalism, getting your start at a newspaper, and working your way up to beat reporter. You could be a former athlete with good looks and charismatic wit. Many others even start through blogging, podcasting and social media accounts. But perhaps the fastest rising name in sports journalism right now got his start by commenting on articles, intentionally using poor grammar and spelling, and not even telling you his real name at all. And it all started because he was bored at work.
Recently ranked as the number one sports media talent under 40 by The Big Lead – ahead of such names as Tony Romo, Tim Tebow and Erin Andrews – PFT Commenter (who to this day refuses to give out his real name) has grown his self-amusing hobby of satirizing idiotic comments on the NBC website ProFootballTalk into 332,000 followers on Twitter, a top-50 podcast (Pardon My Take, which is estimated to get up to 1.5 million listens per episode), and a future in comedy that he had always dreamed of as a child in Washington, D.C., listening to Phil Hendrie and Loveline on the radio. It just took a twist of mid-twenties angst to spark the creation he was born to play.
“I’d tape his show and listen to it every chance that I got,” PFT says of Hendrie, a Los Angeles-based radio host who plays both rational interviewer and the irrational, offensive characters who he would interview. “I developed a strong appreciation for his talent and the way that he’s able to make people laugh that other forms of comedy don’t necessarily strike.”
At the time, PFT had dreams of becoming a comedy-based radio host, but instead turned to writing, which eventually turned to moving to Austin to make short films, which led to working in a cubicle at a job that was not even tangentially related to entertainment, as such dreams are often wont to turn to. Unfulfilled with how his career had turn out up to this point, PFT created a Twitter account to keep himself distracted from the job that he loathed. It didn’t take long for him to find out that thousands of others had a mutual appreciation for his form of distraction. He just knew, naturally or perhaps because of his lifelong admiration for satire, how to hit the right chord with fans of both football and comedy.
A self-described “connoisseur of internet comments,” PFT Commenter found that he enjoyed the comments on articles to often be more entertaining than the posts themselves. A huge fan of the NFL, he’d frequent sites like ProFootballTalk and get extremely amused by what people had to say in response to news reports, often going above and beyond their actual level of expertise on an issue. Especially back in 2012, when he was finally compelled to start the Twitter account that would change his life, with much of the credit going to arguably the most satire-worthy personality in the history of sports media: Skip Bayless.
“At the exact same time that Skip Bayless and the entire First Take industrial complex on ESPN was coming into full form, people were giving the most outrageous takes. Things like, ‘You should encourage players to hit with their helmets more often because the human body can adapt to concussions like a callous, so your brain will toughen itself up.’ People in comment sections that saw themselves as the working man’s Bayless,” says PFT Commenter, who thought that dynamic was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen.
“How one guy on television who has disingenuous takes has now inspired millions of people to think about sports in that exact same paradigm.”
He then created a persona, “PFT Commenter,” who he thinks of as a guy who “grew up inside of a man cave only watching Skip Bayless, ‘Clockwork Orange-ing’ himself to just seeing First Take, and that’s how he sees the entire world.” He likens this creation to Plato’s The Wall, where the only thing that a person knows is the shadows he sees on the wall. Keep in mind that this comes from the guy who created PFT Commenter, a character who spells maybe three-fourths of his words right on a given day.
He credits writer Drew Magary, of sports sites Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber for being the first to really discover his Twitter account and spread the word around about his brand. Mike Tunison, also of KSK, then asked him if he wanted to contribute to that site, which PFT described as “a dream come true.” At that point he had 1,000 Twitter followers, an opportunity to write at KSK, and he was overjoyed. That may have been enough to keep him happy. But then SB Nation came along and offered him an opportunity to write for them that would give him enough money to live off of his writing and to quit his desk job. His distraction had officially become his new career.
“I knew I might not make that much money doing it but if I can get up to $40,000 a year writing about sports and comedy, my life would be extremely happy and I don’t need anything more than that.”
Then he got the offer that is likely earning him much more than a modest $40,000, moving over to Barstool Sports full time and co-hosting the Pardon My Take podcast with Dan Katz (better known by his own pseudonym, “Big Cat”) that has vaulted him to the top of the sports charts and right back into the audial mainstream that he once so desperately dreamed to be a part of, just like hero Phil Hendrie.
It was still a tough move for PFT, as he enjoys the lone wolf aspect of his comedy career, but he felt comfortable that Barstool would not put any chains on him, which certainly appears to be true so far. PFT even goes on camera regularly now, for events ranging from the Super Bowl to the Democratic National Convention, in which he had an exclusive interview with presidential candidate and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. Really. But he’s always in sunglasses and doing his best to hide his identity, since anonymity remains important to him even as his fame and power within the sports world grows. “I want to keep my personal life personal if I can, and want to keep the character going in public.”
The person who plays PFT Commenter does not want to be famous, but he very much enjoys the fact that his outspoken, outlandish, Skip Bayless mutation of a character is. Certainly it comes with its perks.
“A few years ago, Phil Hendrie followed me out of nowhere. It was a holy shit moment. I didn’t tweet at him or anything it just happened organically,” says PFT, who goes on to say that he may have blown his opportunity to meet his hero. He send a direct message to Hendrie to ask if he wanted to go for a drink when he was in Los Angeles next, but the conversation quickly died down. “I shot my shot, but I probably shoulda kept that one down,” he admits.
Except that it’s taking your shot, even when everything and everyone is telling you not to that got him to this point in the first place. The idea that you could build a Twitter, podcast and sports media empire by making fun of anonymous idiots – by playing an anonymous idiot – wasn’t something that existed until someone stuck this person in a cubicle and overlooked how often he was spending on a football website. Above all else, he also put a lot of thought and care and gravitas into a persona that is completely devoid of thought, care, and gravitas; “PFT Commenter” is so genuinely stupid because the person who created him was so passionate about not going about it in a stupid way.
“I think that’s why people identify with PFT Commenter,” he says, “because I cared about it and I still do care about it, and I’m protective about where I would use it and in what ways. I don’t know if it was on purpose because I had no formal training, but if it’s something that I care about, then it’s something that I put time into thinking about.”
There is no official road to the top other than the one you build yourself. Even sometimes when you didn’t know you were paving the ground until you look behind yourself.