Bryan Tucker who recently took over the head writer position at Saturday Night Live, just unveiled a new sports comedy website, the Kicker. The site is part of SNL head honcho Lorne Michaels’s Above Average digital network – home to web series like Hudson Valley Ballers and Vanessa Bayer’s Sound Advice – hopes to become the go-to digital destination for fans of sports, comedy, and naturally, sports comedy.
The site is filled with articles including an early draft of Don Mattingly’s new screenplay; videos featuring stars like SNL’s Kenan Thompson in a basketball-themed music video called Hold ’Em Back; and “Weird Al” Yankovic showing what every sports press conference ever looks like. The content is clickable and shareable with plenty of viral potential, buzzwords that should translate to big business for Above Average, but more than that, they’re actually funny.
While Tucker is not relinquishing his job at SNL (would you?), he will be supervising and writing for the site while SNL is on hiatus. The day-to-day operations will be lead by general manager Grant Jones, previously at the Onion’s sports site, and head writer David Ingber who joined the project from MLB Fan Cave. They are still building their editorial team, but the Kicker is already cranking out content.
While the site seems to have emerged fully formed from the tubes of the internet, it’s been a work in progress for several years. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” says Tucker. “About two years ago I started working with Above Average and Marc Lieberman, who had worked on sports at the Onion. We got the financing for it in the spring and we really got cranking on it.”
The goal is to make a sports comedy site written by and for fans, and which is responsive to the news. “We want to insert our own brand of comedy into the sports conversation,” says Jones. To ensure this, the site plans to release four to seven different pieces of content a day and build up from there. To achieve this ambitious schedule, they are also working with outside contributors like HumorDy who made the Weird Al press conference video. “On both Above Average and The Kicker, we are finding comedy groups that have a very unique voice and produce high-quality comedy content,” says Jones. “A big part of what we want to do is work with up-and-coming comedy writers behind the camera and in front of them, too.”
“We find people that we like and have them do the work for us,” deadpans Tucker.
For now, the Kicker will focus predominantly on the US market (“We monetise domestically,” explains Jones), but they hope to grow into an international audience, especially after covering events like the World Cup and the Olympics. “Those are times when the whole world is looking at the sports universe and we absolutely want to be part of that conversation,” said Jones.
Of course, covering international sports would require international sports stars to take part in comedic videos and potentially poke fun at themselves. That leads to the overarching question for a sports comedy site: if you build it, will big sports stars come? Can the Kicker, with its impressive comedy credentials, convince someone like LeBron James to make a video about eyebrow plugs? (In a parody article on the site now, one of the greatest basketball players of all time asks: “Maybe you can call me LeBrow?”)
“The first thing we’re going to try and do is establish that we’re funny,” said Tucker. “Also that our site is positive. We’re here to celebrate the fan in all of us and just be a fan of sports instead of tear athletes down – although we totally reserve the right to do that if someone has some bad behaviour, because we want to be independent. But if you’re talking about the most famous athlete in the world, LeBron James, that’s going to take us awhile to get to the point where he would know who we are.”
The site has already proven their ability to get sports stars on board with their concepts. In a recent sponsored series between the Kicker and NFL-sponsor Lenovo, comedian JB Smoove played a school chancellor alongside NFL running back Matt Forte who taught Chicago history in the bit, while wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, aptly played a senior professor of aeronautic miracles.
The sketches are fun, upbeat and perhaps most importantly, make the athletes look good. “Bryan is an expert at making people look funny,” said Jones. “Hopefully one day someone like LeBron James will work with us is because Bryan has built his career around on making people who aren’t traditionally thought of as funny, very funny on Saturday Night Live.” (For an idea of what the Kicker would do with James, if they were able to get him, look no further than the sketch Tucker wrote when James hosted Saturday Night Live in 2007, which featured James playing himself doing a Read to Achieve commercial with Jason Sudeikis needling him from the sidelines.)
In addition to sports stars, Tucker has tapped into his comedy contacts for the Kicker’s content, too, including Andy Samberg fantasising about the best thing that could happen to his favorite professional sports team. “I’ve been in television for 15 years, and on SNL for 10,” said Tucker. “People have been nice enough to do me favours and come be in videos, even though they didn’t know what the Kicker was, because it didn’t exist yet.” Tucker hopes that soon the site will have enough cred that he won’t need to trade in favours and people will be eager to contribute to the site.
In the spirit of the site’s name, Tucker agreed to provide the kicker for this article. “Sports is a huge pie that everyone is trying to get a piece of, and comedy is a huge pie that everyone is trying to get a piece of and what we’re trying to do is bake a new pie.”