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Hoops Stars Jake Johnson And Rob Riggle On Their New Netflix Series - Exclusive Interview

Sometimes you just want to watch a show whose only goal is to make you laugh, then laugh again. That's the mission statement behind Hoops, a new Netflix animated series created by Ben Hoffman. Structurally, Hoops takes its cues from underdog sports stories we know and love, following high school basketball coach Ben Hopkins (Jake Johnson) as he tries to turn his team of misfits into winners to save his job and get out from under the shadow of his overbearing father Barry (Rob Riggle). Beyond that framework, though, the show's purpose is very clear: Make as many jokes as possible, and make them as dirty as possible, in every single episode. 

To make that happen, Hoops brings with it an incredible ensemble cast, led by Johnson and Riggle as Ben and Barry, which also includes Ron Funches, Natasha Leggero, Cleo King, A.D. Miles, Nick Swardson, Steve Berg, and more. Ahead of the show's premiere, Looper sat down with Johnson and Riggle to talk about how the series came together, how they crafted their characters, and why Hoops' relentless comedy style might not be for everyone.

Finding the right voice

To start with, what drew you both to this show? What appealed to you? What got you into it?

Rob Riggle: I'll jump in. Jake Johnson, and [creator Ben Hoffman], and Natasha [Leggero], and Ron [Funches], and Steve Berg. I mean, the people is what got me, and being able to play with super funny, super talented people that have a great script. It's like a dream come true. So, the people.

Jake Johnson: Yeah, I'm very similar, and you can't forget Chris Miller and Phil Lord who are producing it. They came to me, with Ben Hoffman, with this idea and it seemed like a lot of fun. We were able to hand-pick the talent, with Riggle and with everybody else, and we just felt really lucky that we got this group.

Your characters' voices aren't super outlandish, but they're definitely very well-defined personalities. How did you go about finding each of your voices for this?

Jake Johnson: I know for mine, I did a pilot presentation of this years ago, and it was just really the opening rant that's in the pilot, when he's yelling at the refs. Then there were a couple of scenes with Matty, but we did that opening rant a lot of times, and in the screaming of it, it was just really making Ben and I laugh a lot. All that's written out, that's not an improvised monologue. So then saying the lines and seeing the writer giggle at it, you just feel very quickly, "All right, I want to stay in this zone."

Then when I would go to more regular talking, Ben laughed less, so it became like a George Costanza kind of thing, where you're almost, if they're laughing, when you say, "I'm going to go to the bathroom," by saying, "I'm going to go to the bathroom!" then you just do it that way, and before you know it, every line is mad about something, even if it wasn't intended to be at first.

Rob Riggle: That's awesome. You know what's funny, is I remember being in the booth with Ben and Jake, and we were talking about the character, Barry, my character, and we tried a couple of voices at a couple of levels. Ultimately, they kept saying, "No, just be more yourself. Be more yourself. Let it flow naturally. Don't feel like you have to put a stamp on it."

So that's what I did, and we ended up landing in a place that was pretty close to the bone. So that made it easy for me because I didn't have to remember anything when I got there to record things. I just snapped into it. If the script required you to get mad or to raise your voice, then you do it, but otherwise, pretty close.

Jake, what was it like to keep up that energy level of Ben while recording? Did you ever improvise?

Jake Johnson: Yes. A lot of times, we also got to have actors coming together. So whenever the actors came in, or Rob would come in, or Cleo King, or Natasha, or anybody, we were able to do the script, and then we were able to open it up a little bit. In terms of the rants, I could always add things if I wanted.

So Ben Hoffman, who created it, basically show ran it and did everything on it, he has a very clear thing that makes him laugh. And so I am, like a lot of actors, when you're in the booth or you're on set, you just go to where the money is, and that is, you want to make sure one person is laughing, at least. So Ben became my thing.

I would go in there, and I didn't have to give it a lot of thought, as long as he was going, with his headphones on, like [laughing], then I knew we were near Coach. So a lot of those rants would be, if his shoulders weren't shaking, I would go, like, "Give me one more shot at it."

A show that didn't evolve 'on purpose'

Has the show evolved since that early pilot? How has it changed, getting the ensemble in and, over time, working together?

Jake Johnson: Yeah, so, it's a really good question, and the answer is embarrassing for the show and for our creative talent. It has not evolved, and it has not evolved on purpose. This show is what it is. It's a sophomoric joke-fest, and so that's what it was at the start. When we made it, the idea was we were doing a pilot presentation for MTV, and we wanted to see if we could make something so loud, that was really funny, but that they would have to pass on. We pulled it off. They passed on it.

So Netflix came and ordered 10, but we didn't want to change that original spirit. This was a show made with the intention of just trying to be funny for the sake of funny. So everybody we cast on it, we cast because if you look at it, it's a murderer's row of mostly standup comedians, and it was because we wanted everybody to be somebody who knows their own comedic talent and could carry a show.

There's not a person in our main cast, going all the way down to like Nick Swardson or Steve Berg on our team — everybody could be the lead of their own show. We have a cast that's 10, 11 deep of hard, funny individuals, and we try to make sure everybody scores when they talk.

Rob, what was it like for you, getting in there, and working with everyone, and finding that chemistry, finding that groove?

Rob Riggle: Just what you think would be. To continue on what Jake was saying, it was a dream, getting a chance to work with people that you admire, respect, and make you just genuinely happy, because they make me laugh. Everybody makes me laugh. I always feel like I'm breaking all the time, but I just love being around funny, talented people and getting to play with them. It's like the best gift in the world.

So, yeah, and the material is so great. Like Jake said, everybody gets set up to win, which doesn't always happen. So it was a joy to get to go in there and be just a really obnoxious dad to a really angry kid. That's a side of your personality you don't get to take for a walk very often, or at least you shouldn't, so when you get the opportunity, it's the best thing on earth.

Hoops plays with a lot of sports underdog tropes, then goes in its own direction. What can you tell us about what sets Hoops apart from those stories that viewers they think they know already?

Jake Johnson: Well, Hoops is a filthy show, but it's filthy by nature. It's a hard R. You should not watch it with young people. You should not watch it if you're easily offended. If language puts you off, which is fair, this one isn't for you. What sets this one off is, within two minutes of this show, you'll know what the joke is, and I do think we continue to heighten that joke for 10 episodes.

So if you're sitting at home watching and this gives you a chuckle, I think we're going to really deliver that over and over, and we will not fall off of that joke. It will not be a show that you go, "Man, they really changed." It is what it is, and I think we've hit what it is pretty hard, but what it is, is a filthy R-rated animated show for adults.

Hoops is now streaming on Netflix.