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Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed.

Comedian Aziz Ansari has appeared on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, ABC's Scrubs and MTV's Human Giant. Nowadays he stars opposite Amy Poehler on NBC's workplace comedy Parks and Recreation.


Other segments from the episode on February 4, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 4, 2010: Interview with Aziz Ansari; Interview with Brian Billick.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, comic and actor Aziz Ansari, is one of the stars of the NBC series
"Parks and Recreation." In the Judd Apatow film "Funny People," he played a
loud and self-satisfied comic named Randy, a character Aziz has revived in his
own stand-up act.

Ansari has also been in the films "Observe and Report" and "I Love You, Man,"
and has made guest appearances on "Flight of the Conchords" and "Scrubs." He
was a member of Human Giant, which had its own sketch comedy show on MTV. But
if you want a full dose of Aziz Ansari, there's a new stand-up special he did
for Comedy Central, which is now on DVD and CD. It's called "Intimate Moments
for A Sensual Evening."

Ansari grew up in South Carolina, where he was the only person in his school
who wasn't white. His parents are from India. Let's start with a short excerpt
of "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr. AZIZ ANSARI (Comedian): I like living in L.A. One thing I don't like about
living here is driving. I always get bored when I'm driving, and when I get
bored, I go on the Internet on my Blackberry. So I'm going to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And whenever they go through the wreckage, they'll find my phone
and be like, whoa, that's what he looked up right before he died? It's going to
be so sad. It'll be like: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident
today. He was struck by another vehicle while using IMDB to see if Val Kilmer
was, indeed, in the film "Willow." A representative for Mr. Kilmer confirmed he
was, indeed, in the film and hopes this will prevent future tragedies of this

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: This is the third "Willow"-related death this year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident today. He was
struck by another vehicle while checking show times for "Up" on Fandango. He
just purchased a single ticket for a 4 o'clock show at a $2 theater in order to
live out the saddest afternoon of all time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Comedy bad boy Aziz Ansari, aka comedy heartthrob Aziz Ansari, was
killed in an awful automobile accident today. He was struck by another vehicle
while Googling his own name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari from his comedy special, which is now on DVD, called
"Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." Aziz Ansari, welcome back to FRESH
AIR. That is really funny. What made you think about how embarrassing it would
be to die while Googling yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Well, I remember when I – I used to come out to L.A. for months at
a time when we were doing this sketch comedy show I was on called "Human
Giant," and I didn't have GPS or anything, and I would be in rental cars, and I
would be in rental cars, and I would be on my Blackberry, looking at maps, at,
like, the dumbest stuff, like using the Wendy's restaurant locator and things
like that. And I was like this is so dumb. I'm going to die because I'm on my
phone looking for a Wendy's. And so from that notion, I kind of came up with
the other bits for that joke.

GROSS: Your act is filled with the kinds of stories that you would tell
friends, but you're telling the audience. Are friends sometimes your first

Mr. ANSARI: Sometimes, like, you know, I've told stories to friends and been,
like, oh, you know, I could probably take that story and turn it into something
in my act.

Like, after I went and saw R. Kelly's story, you know, I obviously told friends
about that experience as, you know, just as a friend telling someone about
something crazy that happened to him, and then I started doing it on stage and
kind of crafting it more – for standup purposes.

And, you know, when you tell a story on stage, it's a different thing. You kind
of have to have, you know, really hard jokes to go in, and the pacing and stuff
has to be right. So it takes – you know, it'll take a while for me to tell a
story on stage, to get it to where it really works well, stand-up-wise, but
yeah, you know, all those things I've talked about in my act, for the most
part, like, the story about Kanye West and stuff, those were all stories I told
my friends at some point, you know.

GROSS: So I want to play another example from your show that's now out on DVD
and CD. And in this part, you're talking about watching a reality show on MTV
called "Next." It's a reality show about dating that I've actually never seen
or heard of, but you had previously done a sketch comedy show as part of the
group Human Giant on MTV.

Mr. ANSARI: Yes.

GROSS: So here's your take on this dating reality show.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

Mr. ANSARI: First guy comes out, right, he's the guy going out on the dates,
and he comes up there, and he says this. He goes: Yo, this girl better be
pretty because if she's a pain in the ass, I'm gonna need something cute to
look at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And I was stunned that he could say that. That's so offensive, and
at the same time, on my show, they didn't want us to say that a character was
raped by a dinosaur, raped by a dinosaur because that's too offensive.

Oh, I guess they didn't want any of these letters from paleontologists who are,
like, hey, man, there's nothing in the fossil records to suggest that kind of
behavior. Why don't you chill with your accusations?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ANSARI: And then after you meet this dude, then you meet the girls he's
going out on the dates with, and they come up there, and they say things like:
If he has a neck tattoo, I'm gonna lick it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: It's like whoa, how slutty can you be in five seconds?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And after they say that, they breathe, and, like, three facts about
them pop up on the left side. And the first two facts are always really normal,
but the third fact always come way out of left field. It's always like:
Monica's 22, she's a hairdresser in Hollywood, and she hates purple gift wrap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: How does that define her as a person? And the whole show just
bummed me out, man, because the things they try to keep off TV are just, like,
really explicit sex or violence, and no one cares about their kids seeing
attitudes like that on TV, and that's way worse to me.

Like, I'd much rather have a daughter that grew up and shot me in the leg and
burned my house down than some really slutty girl that hates the sound of
people eating bananas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aren't you amazed at how proud people are to behave stupidly on reality
TV shows?

Mr. ANSARI: Man, every time I've seen that show "Next," yeah, you really can't
believe how terrible the people are that go on that show. What if each time you
came back from a clip, I was just sitting here just laughing so hard at my own

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Oh, God, Terry, we've got to take a break. I forgot about that bit.
It's so funny. You're like, oh my God, that's – that guy's really full of

GROSS: So do you feel like you had to create a personality, like a persona for
yourself on stage, like a stage version of Aziz Ansari?

Mr. ANSARI: No, not really. I never made a conscious effort to do that. I just
kind of tried to be kind of natural and conversational, and I think my stuff is
kind of a little bit longer and more story-based. It's not as jokey sometimes,
you know, so yeah, I just try to create like a vibe of, you know, someone kind
of casually telling you stories and things like that.

GROSS: Now, you did create an alter-ego comedian named Randy, which you
portrayed in "Funny People," and there's some really funny – you can find these
on YouTube – really funny videos.

Mr. ANSARI: Wait, you're not going to play any excerpts from the Randy...?

GROSS: Oh, they are so filthy. There's, like, absolutely no word I could
probably play on the radio.

Mr. ANSARI: Wait. Can you guys – can you say tatties? That's not even a real
word. That's a word that Randy made up, tatties.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. ANSARI: Let's just both say tatties. Terry, can you say tatties real quick
just to do it?

GROSS: Oh, no, I would never say that word.

Mr. ANSARI: But that's not a real word.

GROSS: I know.

Mr. ANSARI: Randy made up that word. You can say it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're going to make me say it.

Mr. ANSARI: It would be a landmark moment for NPR if you just said tatties one
time. It's not a real word. They don't have to bleep it. It's an imaginary

GROSS: Put it in a sentence for me.

Mr. ANSARI: Look at those tatties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: They've got to let this on, please? They're definitely going to put
any of it on NPR.

GROSS: Imaginary scenario: Four-year-old says to his mother, Mommy, what's a

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And she'll be, like, I don't know. Is that something you heard on

GROSS: It must mean an intellectual endeavor involving...

Mr. ANSARI: Tatties refers to a rare form of violin playing that was practiced
in ancient Denmark.

GROSS: Thank you, tatties, that's among my favorite type of music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: You said tatties. You did it. You did.

GROSS: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So tell us how you created your alter-ego Randy, for – like, who is

Mr. ANSARI: So Randy was a character in the film "Funny People" that was the
last film Judd Apatow did, and he had this character, and he – there's a very
little bit of stuff written for him.

GROSS: It's a film about stand-up comics, and you play one of them, yeah,

Mr. ANSARI: Yes, and Randy was a small character, and the idea Judd kind of
pitched to me was that he wanted the guy to be, like, really cocky and, like,
very concerned about things like merchandising and things like that. So that
was kind of the basic idea, and the other notion in my head all the time was,
like, okay, every time I've done comedy in, like, traditional comedy clubs,
there's always these comedians that do really well with audiences but that the
other comedians hate because they're just, you know, doing kind of cheap stuff
like dancing around or doing, like, very kind of base sex humor a lot, and
stuff like that. So I kind of took that idea and ran with that, as well.

And, you know, I watched a lot of comedians like – you know, I really like this
comedian Katt Williams, and you know, he's very energetic and, you know, he is
– he's really funny, but I saw that, and I was, like, well, what if somebody
just saw that and just was, like, oh, I can do that. It's just, like, yelling
around and saying stuff about your penis, and did it badly, and that's another
kind of thing about Randy that I kind of took.

GROSS: And it's great. You know, his DJ is called Ol' Youngin'.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah, that's this guy Brandon Johnson, who is very funny. I was at
the UCB theater in L.A., it's a theater I perform in, and I was kind of
workshopping the Randy material. Like, once we had the Randy character, the
idea of it, I was, at first, just kind of doing my material, and just kind of,
you know, jumping around and yelling it in different ways and stuff.

And then, you know, as we were filming, I was like, well, I should just write
specific material for Randy because Randy wouldn't talk about the stuff Aziz
talks about. So that's when I kind of wrote this stuff about, you know, the
really dirtier stuff, and I – one night I had this idea of, like, well, Randy
should have a DJ. And so I loaded up my laptop with, like, these sounds like –
a lot of DJs and hip-hop artists, when you see them perform live, they will
have this reggaeton horn sample that just goes:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr. ANSARI: And rap artists use it, like, to death. And it's just, like,
anytime you go see a rap show, they, like, hit that thing way too much. You
know, they'll just be like, are you guys psyched to be here? It's like:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr. ANSARI: So I was, like, well, what if a comedian used that sound, too, the
same way rappers do. So I wrote that, and I had, like, I recorded myself just
going Randy, just like that. And so, like, my idea was, like, whenever I would
do a joke, at the end, it would just be like: And I was, like, I got to get out
of here.

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr. ANSARI: Ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-Randy. You know, so that was the idea, and I was
just going to keep the laptop on the side of the stage, and then after I
finished the joke, like, jump over and just start hitting those buttons like
crazy. So, like, I would finish a joke, and it would be like: Ran-ran-ran-ran-
ran-dy-dy-dy, you know, like that.

And my friend Brandon was there, and I was like, oh, Brandon's really funny.
What if he's just the DJ? And so he did it, and, like, right away I could tell
he was just going to be awesome at this, and so every time I did Randy after
that, he was there.

GROSS: My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. His Comedy Central special is
now out on CD and DVD. It's called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. His Comedy Central special just
came out on CD and DVD. Ansari co-stars on the NBC series "Parks and
Recreation." Amy Poehler plays the head of the parks and rec department in a
small Indiana town. Ansari plays Tom Haverford, one of the people who works for
her in the department.

Let's hear a scene. Poehler has just been trying to convert a big pit into a
park. She started a community garden in the pit.

(Soundbite of television program, "Parks and Recreation")

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actor): (As Leslie Knope) People have just really embraced
this and planted the coolest stuff, and Tom is our master horticulturist. He
knows all the scientific names for everything, right, Tom?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom Haverford) Yup.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) Like this. What's this, Tom?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) Those are, of course, tomatoes or Soulja Boy Tell 'Ems.
Whenever Leslie asks me for the Latin names of any of our plants, I just give
her the names of rappers.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) And those over there?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) Those are some Diddies. Those are some Bone Thugs-n-
Harmoniums right.

Mr. POEHLER: (As Leslie) Growing beautifully.

Mr. ANSARI: Those Ludacrisses are coming in great.

GROSS: A lot of people know you from the TV series "Parks and Recreation."

Mr. ANSARI: Yes, we just got picked up for a third season, which I'm very
excited about.

GROSS: Congratulations. Describe your character.

Mr. ANSARI: In the show, I play a character named Tom Haverford, who is a
lower-level employee at the parks and recreation department in a small town
called Pawnee, Indiana, and I work under Amy Poehler's character, Leslie Knope,
and it's a really fun character.

You know, he's kind of like this guy who thinks he's really cool, but he's
stuck in a small town, and he's just way cooler and smoother in his head than
he actually is. You know, the kind of people that I think about when I'm
portraying the character, I'm like, well, who's this guy's hero? And for some
reason, Jamie Foxx always pops in my head. Like, I think Jamie Foxx is, like,
who he really looks up to because, you know, Jamie's an Oscar winner, he's an
R&B singer and is an all-around smooth guy.

GROSS: Now, one of the things that happens to your character in "Parks and
Recreation" is something that I imagine happens to you, as well. People who
meet the character assume that he must be from India, even though he actually
was born and grew up in South Carolina, like you. And his – he has changed his
name to Tom Haverford from Darwish Sabir Ishmael Ghan.

Mr. ANSARI: Ghani.

GROSS: Ghani.

Mr. ANSARI: It's Darwish Sabir Ishmael Ghani, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. ANSARI: Which is my cousin's name.

GROSS: Oh, yeah, you always talk about your cousin Darwish. I didn't realize
that was his full name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah, I put his name on there just so he would watch it and freak

GROSS: Did he freak out?

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah, he was, like, man, all these people just started emailing me
and say use my name in the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So here's a scene from a party in which you and the Leslie Knope
character are – she's there with her boyfriend, and you and she are trying to
impress him. He assumes you are from India.

(Soundbite of television program, "Parks and Recreation")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) God, India is so amazing. Let me
tell you something. That is my absolute favorite place to travel. Where did you
say your parents are from?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) The south part.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) The southern part's always the best part of anything.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Have you ever been to Khunaman Mosque(ph)
down in Talamado(ph)?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) Are you kidding? My uncle practically runs the place. I've
prayed there. It's sick.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Tell me everything right now.

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) One sec, I just got to hit the loo, as those bastard
British imperialists would say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) Last time I was in India, I was eight years old, and I
stayed inside the whole time playing video games. I got to bone up. Fourth-
largest coal reserves in the world.

GROSS: What you're doing is you're in another room at the computer, boning up
by Googling or going to Wikipedia or something so that you can answer his
questions. Sounds hard.

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah, that was a funny bit they wrote. I thought that was really
funny because I always meet white people that know way more about India than I
do and have probably spent more time in India than I have. And it always cracks
me up because, like, people assume I know a lot, and it's like, no, I don't
really. I haven't been there that much. You know, I've been there two or three
times, and you know, it's not something I'm proud of. I wish I knew more and
wish I had spent more time there, but you know, I haven't, you know.

But yeah, I thought that was kind of a smart bit that they put in there for me
to do in the show, you know.

GROSS: So did your parents immigrate here from India?

Mr. ANSARI: Yes, yeah. My parents are from India, but I was born and raised in
South Carolina.

GROSS: And you were the only person in your school up to 10th grade who was not
white, right?

Mr. ANSARI: Yes. I went to this small school in Bennettsville, South Carolina,
where I'm from. It's, like, you know, 9,000 people there, and yeah, I was the
only minority in the whole school. There wasn't even any Asian people, nothing.

And then in 11th and 12th grade, I went to this school called the Governor's
School for Science and Math, which is, like, this public boarding school where
they kind of take kids that are advanced in science and math, geniuses, such as
myself – no.

And I went there in 11th and 12th grade, and there I finally saw an Asian
person for the first time ever, and you know, that school, it was much more
racially diverse, and I met people with different backgrounds and stuff.

And also, even just meeting kids from different parts of South Carolina was
good because, you know, everyone in Bennettsville is from Bennettsville and,
like, talks like people from Bennettsville, et cetera. In the Governor's
School, I met some people that are from, like, Greenville and Columbia and
Charleston and Summerville, which are, you know, compared to Bennettsville may
as well be, like, New York or L.A., you know, because Bennettsville is kind of
a small, you know, bubble.

But, you know, that's kind of where I lost my Southern accent and stuff like
that, and it was a good experience.

But yes, when I was growing up in Bennettsville, I was the only non-white kid
in the whole school. But I think when people hear that, they immediately think,
like, wow, that must have been horrible, like, people threw stuff at you every
day, and it was horribly racist, and it really wasn't.

Like, occasionally – I was telling someone this the other day – like,
occasionally, there was, like, a racist thing that would happen every now and
then. But for the majority of the time, I may as well have just been a really
tan white kid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: You know, I may as well have just been, like, a fat kid. You know,
sure, every now and then, people made fun of you for being fat, but most of the
time, people were just, like, all right, that's the way he is.

GROSS: So we're going to squeeze in one more clip here.

Mr. ANSARI: Sure.

GROSS: Here's another clip from Aziz Ansari's Comedy Central special that's now
out on DVD and CD, and this is something that is, in part, talking about
movies. I don't think I really need to set it up, though.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr. ANSARI: I was doing an interview once, and this guy goes, so, you must be
pretty psyched about all this "Slumdog Millionaire" stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And I was like yeah, I am. I have no idea why, though. I had
nothing to do with that movie. It's just some people who kind of look like me
are in this movie that everyone loves and is winning Oscars and stuff. And I
was like whoa, whoa, whoa, are white people just psyched all the time? It's
like "Back to the Future," that's us. "Godfather," that's us. "Godfather: Part
II," that's us. "Departed," that's us. "Sunset Boulevard," that's us. "Citizen
Kane," that's us. "Jaws," that's us. Every (BEEP) movie but "Slumdog
Millionaire" and "Boyz n the Hood" is us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: You had to bleep my favorite punch line at the end of that joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, what can I say? So is that a good summation of what you think of,
like, identity politics?

Mr. ANSARI: When I crafted that joke, I wasn't doing it in the idea of, like,
what is my, you know, statement on identity politics, but I think that is
really how I felt. Like, I don't think that guy, when he asked that question,
was being racist or anything, when he said are you psyched about "Slumdog
Millionaire" because the answer is yes.

And it's actually very interesting to me, like, why are people psyched about
that? Why do I get psyched that that movie's doing well? I had nothing to do
with it. Why is there that kind of sense of, like, camaraderie with people that
just happen to be the same ethnicity as me? And then, you know, from that I
took the idea of, like, well – I mean, what I'm really saying is oh, so I guess
white people don't have that because they're so everywhere and so successful. I
guess the reason you do get excited is because oh, you don't really see a lot
of Indian people doing Oscar-winning movies. So when you see that, you feel
kind of proud, I guess. But, you know, so if that was true for white people,
they'd be psyched all the time because every movie has white people in it, you

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. ANSARI: Thanks so much for having me.

GROSS: Aziz Ansari's Comedy Central special is now on DVD and CD. It's called
"Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Ravens Coach Brian Billick Tackles Super Bowl XLIV


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. After Sunday's Super Bowl, it’s a pretty
safe bet that one of two men will be vilified in their home cities:
Indianapolis Colts' coach Jim Caldwell or New Orleans Saints' coach Sean
Payton. When a team loses, fans always find a way to blame the coach. We're
used to seeing NFL coaches roaming the sidelines during games, talking into
headsets, yelling at referees and encouraging their players.

But it occurred to us that being an NFL coach is actually an interesting
management job. He has to supervise a hundred or so assistant coaches and
staff, motivate 53 players with big salaries and egos, handle intense media
scrutiny and accept the fact that he will be adored or reviled every week,
depending on how his team plays on Sunday.

To find out what it’s like, we turn to Brian Billick, who spent nine seasons as
head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He won a Super Bowl in his second year on
the job and was eventually fired when the team performed poorly. He's now a
television commentator for Fox Sports and the NFL Network and author of the
book "More Than a Game." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.


Well, Brian Billick, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, it’s hard to think of
another job where you work seven days a week, you know, 80, 90, 100 hours a
week, you know, sleep in your office, live on coffee and caffeine, and work
around the clock. But you’re really judged by what happens in three and a half
hours on Sunday when the game occurs. Does it make you a little crazy, that
kind of a job?

Mr. BRIAN BILLICK (Former NFL Head Coach; Author, "More Than A Game"): You
know, sometimes you tend to think of it in those terms and you've got to
remember, everybody has a tough job, everybody has tough hours. But the hardest
thing is that when that first whistle blows in July - late July, when you start
training camp, particularly a head coach will not have a day - not a single day
off from the very beginning of training camp at the end of July, till hopeful
early February if you’re making a Super Bowl run. And it's that constant,
incessant clock that is always going off. I mean you’re used to long hours and
everybody works hard, but that clock stops for no one and that's the one that
can kind of grind you down if you’re not careful.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to talk about the intensity of game day for an NFL coach
and I thought we'd listen to a little montage of some coaches caught on game

Mr. MIKE TOMLIN (NFL coach, Pittsburgh Steelers): Come here. Hey, don’t wait
for him to catch it. Run through his (censored). Don’t wait for him to catch
it. You're there. That's an NFL play right there. Make it.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes sir.

Mr. TOMLIN: Can anybody give me any idea why they running up and down the
field? Can anybody give me that? Any time we call a blitz, we're going one way,
they find a hole on the other side. What is that?

Mr. MIKE SINGLETARY (NFL Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers): When that guy takes
off, go get him. You've got to make that play. That guy runs like me, man. You
can make that play.

Mr. TOMLIN: We're going to throw a damn touchdown because your boy ran right by
the damn guy if you block your damn man. Grow up.

Mr. JON GRUDEN (Former NFL Head Coach): We've got to protect him. We can't have
that happen, especially not down in the red zone. All right? So now listen, the
mark of a pro: you got to go play. Let it go and go play. Jay. Hey, my
headset's (censored) up again.

Unidentified Man #2: What's it doing?

Mr. GRUDEN: I don’t know. It's like, no one hears me. Jay.

DAVIES: And that's some NFL coaches. Among them: Mike Tomlin, Mike Singletary,
and at the end, the volatile Jon Gruden, complaining about his headset not
working. And that's one of the first questions I wanted to ask you Brian
Billick, every NFL coach has a headset all game. What do you guys hearing and
saying in that headset?

Mr. BILLICK: Well, boy, you want to make some money, put that thing on live.
You know, tape that and play it. You...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: Some of the conversations would be enlightened. Of course, you'd
have to edit it. It could only go on the Internet. You couldn’t even put it on
cable, it's so laden with profanities and tirades and, you know, it’s an
interesting combination of, particularly for the head coach, everybody has a
headset on for the communication purposes. You have four or five coaches up in
the booth that obviously have that perspective, then you’ve got all the coaches
along the sideline, the position coaches, the coordinators, that basically it's
just a communication process of communicating with one another of what's going
on. And everybody has a responsibility on a given play to look at a different
aspect of what's going on.

You want to hear a coach go off - and I am infamous, I should say, among my
assistant coaches for if I had a question, because let's say offensively okay,
the running back coach is supposed to watch the exchange between the
quarterback and the running back and the drop of the quarterback. One line
coach is supposed to watch the point of attack and the other line coaches are
supposed to watch the backside of the play. The receiver coach is maybe
supposed to watch the rotation of the secondary. And it's hard to do because
you tend to want to - almost like a fan - watch the play. And so something
would happen and I'd get on the phone and say, you know, maybe there was an
exchange problem or the quarterback got sacked and I was worried about the
depth of the drop and I'd click on and say okay, did he get his full drop?

And if the coach didn’t have the right answer, you know, if he was, coach I
wasn’t watching, boy, I would go off. I mean, you know, nothing would irritate
me more and I’d call this guy. Basically, you'd get everybody else online
going, you don’t want to be the next guy that tells me I wasn’t doing what I
was supposed to be doing. And it's just all about the communication with one
another, and it's in an heated environment, you don’t have the time. You would
love to, whether it'd be player or coach, after a difficulty, a crisis to, as
they come off the field, say, you know, put a big warm fuzzy arm around them
and say, gee, you know what? I don't know that that was the most efficient or
expeditious way to accomplish that. Why don’t we sit down and let's talk about
it and analyze? You don’t have time for that. So it's the two-by-four to the
head going, you stupid so-and-so, what, you know, what did you see or what
happened or why did you do that?

And - because you’ve got to cut to the chase of it. But it’s part of that
process that you develop the rapport with the players to understand, look,
nobody should take offense to the demeanor or the tone of the way we
communicate during the game. We’ve got to cut to the chase and if need be,
we'll apologize for it afterward.

DAVIES: You know, I've done a little bit of sports reporting and what's really
striking about if you’ve watched football or really any other sport from up
above, where there's this majestic sort of ballet-like quality to it, is that
when you get down on the field level, you realize how incredibly fast it
happens and how quick these highly-conditioned athletes are. And for some of
the seasons that you coached, I know that you didn’t just monitor what was
going on. You actually called every offensive play, which means you have this
paper in front of you with all these complex formations. And I wonder if you
could just kind of take us through the speed at which this happens. I mean
because, you know, when a play is run, your running back runs for two yards,
he's tackled, the referee spots the ball, and in 45 seconds they have to snap
another play, right?

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. And...

DAVIES: So take us through what you do as a coach to make that happen to get
the next play in.

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. Excellent question, because I think that's probably the one
thing that fans don’t have a full appreciation for because it is. You sit up in
the stadiums and you have that particular viewpoint and you’re wondering well,
why did that guy throw the ball there, you know, can't he see? Well, you know,
probably not. I think fans would be amazed to see the speed of the game
particularly say from the quarterback position. It's - they'd be amazed at how
little the quarterback really can see when he throws the ball or what he's

But think about it: In that 40 second time - just by way of example - the ball
is placed. You have to take into account, where are we? What's the down, the
distance, the field position? What's our intent? Where are we in the game?
Where are we on the field? You’ve got to get the right personnel. I've got to
orchestrate 11 people. First, I've got to get the right 11 people on the field.
I then have got to give them the parameters as to what we're doing. Where do
they line up? Where are they going? How do they communicate with one another?
That has to be communicated to the quarterback. He then in turn has to turn
around and communicate it to the team. You then have to get those 11 guys up on
the line of scrimmage with all the shifting and motioning and whatever you may
do, and get the ball snapped and get everybody on the same page doing the same

And you’re making calculations as a coach in terms of what it is you want to
call, what it is you’re trying to accomplish, where you are in the game. It's a
very, very fast paced and it's not something that's done very easily.

DAVIES: So you have - that leaves you with what? Eight seconds to make a
decision about what the next play is going to be?

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah, you don’t have much time. That's - you really have to be a
play ahead. You know, as the play's being run, as a play-caller, you pretty
much have to have in mind, okay, if this gets stoned and we get nothing then,
I'm going to do A. If we get a first down, I'm going to do B. If we get an
explosive play out of this, I'm going to do C. I mean, the parameters of where
- what the result of that play may be that will dictate your next call are, you
know, can fathom you at some point in terms of the choices that you have. So
you better, you know, you’ve got to be that proverbial two and three steps
ahead or you’re forever going to be that one step behind.

DAVIES: And so then you yell a play which will sound something like: Shotgun,
solo, right, closes E left, two jet rattle, Y drag.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. And it all is supposed to - and we coaches, I've got to tell
you, we coaches can make it a little more complex than we should. And with the
advent of the coach-to-quarterback communicator, you know, before you had to be
very brief because you had to signal it in and you...

DAVIES: Right. Explain that for the audience. I mean, right.

Mr. BILLICK: Well, before, about 10 years ago - eight to 10 years ago - we
added what only made sense, the ability for the play-caller to, via a
microphone in the quarterback's head, give him the play directly. Prior to
that, it was a little like baseball managers signaling in, you know, the pitch
or the steal sign, you had to go through this intricate orchestrated dance of
signaling in the personnel, the formation and the play. And obviously, so you
didn’t look like you were you were out there having an epileptic fit, you had
to be as concise as possible. So everything was about verbiage that the players
could be signaled in relatively quickly that met these multiple things. And it
put a lot on the players to remember, you know, if I signal in waggle right,
that means these five different things.

Well, once we got the communicator in, it meant that you could communicate all
these things directly. So what used to be I right 22, you know, because that
was easy to get in and you expected the players to know the I meant this, right
to the tight end for a motion was built in and 22 is an even number and
therefore, it’s a zone play, and therefore, we do - you expected the players to
know it. Now, you can send in tiger personnel, I right, Z short, 22 zone, X
crack, backside chip. You know, you could tell virtually everybody what to do.
And so, we got, you know, kind of drawn into where now the play calling, as you
read there out the book, becomes this multiple, you know, foreign-language
sounding, multidimensional call that basically tells all 11 players what to do
on every single play, and the verbiage can be overwhelming at times.

DAVIES: Now another thing that people will notice when they watch a game is
that the coach will have in his hand, like, a big play sheet, maybe laminated
for the weather. But that when they actually call the play into their headset,
they hold the sheet up so as to hide their mouth. Are you guys really worried
about lip readers or something?

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. We're not a paranoid group, are we?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: Because obviously there's a mass infusion of lip reading in the
National Football League, which is kind of silly. I think it bore from the
standpoint where - from the point that I don’t know that anybody can actually
read your lips, but what they might be able to glean is whether it’s a run or
pass based on the length of the call.

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. BILLICK: So again, we are a - tend to be a paranoid group as coaches. So
it's almost out of habit now as much as anything. I remember during a game one
time, we had a time out and I'm standing there talking to quarterback, and I
figure he's blocking off the view from the opponent. So we're just talking
about our options and I was calling a particular play. And the guy up in the
booth was yelling, coach, you've got to change the play. You've got to change
the play. I'm going, what do you mean I've got to change the play? What’s wrong
with the play I called? He said they had you up on the JumboTron and they could
see every word you were saying on the other sideline.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: So, of which after the game obviously, I had a long conversation
with our guy that runs the JumboTron – a rather one-sided conversation, I might
add. But yeah, so we tend to be a little more paranoid with it and probably
take it to extremes.

DAVIES: Our guest is Coach Brian Billick. We'll talk more after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re joining us, we're speaking with Brian Billick. He coached the
Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and won a Super Bowl. He's now a commentator for Fox
Sports and for the NFL Network.

You know, you’ve written - you wrote in the book that players and coaches
fundamentally are motivated by different things. I mean the coach will be
judged on whether or not his team wins. But the player is motivated by the kind
of contract they get that will be governed by their individual statistics. So
you must have situations where the team is doing well, but a running back or a
wide receiver you have isn't getting enough - getting the ball enough and is
going to get unhappy. How do you deal with that?

Mr. BILLICK: And that is the toughest scenario because as we talked about in
the book, you know, you follow the money. You know, greed is good because it's
quite a motivator and that's probably the biggest disconnect between coaches
and players. And that's not to say that players don’t want to win. Don’t get me
wrong. But you’ve got to find the core motivation. At the end of the day, that
next contract's going to be dictated by their individual performance. You could
lose every single game, but if this kid leads the league in sacks, he's going
to get a pretty good contract. And we can have stats up the yazoo and lead the
league in offense and defense, but if I don’t win enough games, then I'm not
going to be around as a coach. So the wins and losses are what dictates my
contract and how much money I'm going to make. So there is a bit of a

But the scenario you’re talking about is very difficult because - and it's very
easy to dismiss it, because if you’re doing well as a team but you have an
individual that's maybe not getting his touches, as we say, it’s hard for him
to publicly complain, because then he just looks selfish. But that doesn’t mean
privately he's not being bothered by it and he's not emotionally wearing
himself out. Because he goes home and he hears from his wife or his girlfriend
or his mother or whatever.

DAVIES: Or his agent.

Mr. BILLICK: Or is agent. Heck, how come you’re not - how come coach isn't
using you more? How come you’re not getting this - more that? And you get beat
up with it.

DAVIES: It is a violent game and over the course of a season players that
aren't injured enough to be taken out of a game do get, you know, bruises and
sores and nicks. And I'm wondering how you deal with that as a head coach
because there may be situations where players want to play more than they
should or don’t want to play and you think they can take on more, and how do
you, I mean do you give them less practice? Do you make them practice less with
pads? Do you make them rest more when they don’t want to?

Mr. BILLICK: Well, there's been a renaissance in the league over the last 10,
15 years to where coaches have finally recognized the cumulative hits, the
physically demand that these players are under. It used to be old school. I
mean I'm old enough, God forbid, we used to - well, don’t give them water.
That'll prove how tough they are. You know, how stupid is that? I mean there's
physiological needs. But that was the mentality before. Or we're going to
practice in pads every single day and we're just going to be tougher than our
opponent. Well, all you’re going to do is beat yourself up.

You know, Bill Walsh, who I was with in San Francisco and was probably the
originator to a large degree of the concepts that, you know, the body can only
take so many hits, an our job, and I remember him constantly telling the
coaches, your job, even in training camp, is to get the players to the opening
game healthy and fresh. That's job one.

Now, we have a lot of other things we’ve got to get done. We got to get ready
for the games. We got to integrate the offense, the defense. We’ve got to get
them in physical shape. We’ve got to get them in hitting shape. But we need our
players to be there healthy and fresh. What good is it if we beat them up in
practice to where the less than 100 percent player shows up to play? And that
has changed the mentality of coaches to where almost universally in the NFL, by
the time you get to midseason, most teams have pulled the pads off, you...

DAVIES: During practice you mean. Not during the game.

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. You cut down the practice time. I remember when I first got
to Minnesota, the legendary Bud Grant, who was known for, you know, no shirt,
you know, no long sleeves out in that winter and, you know, the players playing
in the elements, and we had, when I just got there they had built a new indoor
facility, and I remember Bud Grant telling me, he says, that's the worse thing
you could ever do is to practice on that indoor facility. And I'm thinking,
well, okay, this is the typical, yeah, you need to be out in the elements and
whatever, as you would expect from a Bud Grant up in the Northland. And it was
no, no, that's not the reason for it. He says, cold's cold. I don’t care if
you’re used to it or not. Cold is cold. He says, the mistake is that because
you can go indoors and in more protected warm environment, you’re now going to
practice longer than you should in November and December. He says, the best
thing for us is it was so cold here, we'd get out there in November and
December in Minnesota and you couldn’t last more than 45 minutes to an hour so
we had to shorten practice, which was better for the players.

DAVIES: I remember you as an emotional coach. I mean you had a lot to say and I
think you write in the book that you were fined $75,000 over the years for
comments that you made to the media. Are you a calmer man now?

Mr. BILLICK: I'm a little - I'm poorer. That's for sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: By about 75,000 - that'll get your attention now. You know, part
of it is, and I truly believe that your fans and your players need to know that
this is important to you. It's one thing to have a cool demeanor, which you
need to have and it always need to be calculated to a certain degree. But as
coaches, football coaches, we don’t have home plate to kick dirt on, like
baseball managers. At some point the fans need to see you upset, defending
their honor, defending your team. The players need to see you defending them,
so to speak. And that emotion, you know, you expect them to be emotional;
always under control, but emotional. But you do learn that you need to temper
it a little bit. Certainly I've said my fair share of stupid things that have
shown up in a way that you don’t fully appreciate until you do become a head
coach. You don’t realize how many people are looking at you and how that
organization, that city, your players react to you as the head coach. It's
something you have to learn as a head coach.

DAVIES: Well, can you recall one of those things that got you fined that...

Mr. BILLICK: Oh, well, typically it had to do with criticisms of official. I'm
not a big fan of replay and I remember I - after one particular replay that I
did not think was appropriate...

DAVIES: That's where the officials will look at video and sometimes overturn a
call on the field...

Mr. BILLICK: Correct. They’ll review it on the film and they do this dog and
pony show and go and look at this peep show booth and come out and tell you
they were right or wrong. And after the game and it was a game we won. And I
said, you know, again, I don’t know what and I think Johnny Grier was the
official that did the particular review and it did not go the way that - then
you look at the film and in your opinion it’s wrong. I said after the game, I
said I don’t know what Johnny's doing when he's looking in that little peep
hole booth. For all I know, he's looking at pictures of his grandkids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: Because he couldn’t have been looking at the play because it was
wrong. Well, the league didn’t want to hear that and fined me for it, so you
know, and rightfully so. They’ve got to make sure that the officials can
operate within a safe environment, so to speak. You don’t have the right to be
demeaning or to belittle someone. And the official's pretty usually good at it.
They're going to let you kind of go off to a certain degree, but then they
realize when you reach that point and they’ll give you that look that okay, if
you want to go beyond this then there's going to be repercussions. But if
you'll stop now everything's cool. And you'll learn to play that game a little
bit better as a head coach the longer you’re the head coach and the more fines
you’ve paid.

DAVIES: Our guest is Coach Brian Billick.

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re joining us, we're speaking with Brian Billick. He coached the
Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and won a Super Bowl. He's now a commentator for Fox
Sports and for the NFL Network.

I read that in the 2000 season - which was your championship run - that during
the season you forbade players from using the words playoff or Super Bowl, and
even fined one of them, Tony Siragusa, for violating it. Is that true?

Mr. BILLICK: Yeah. It was interesting. Keep in mind, when I came to the
Baltimore Ravens, they had not had a winning season since their inception. And
they had some good football players. They had a number of players that had gone
to the Pro Bowl. But I had made it very clear, you know, at some point if
you’re going to be a team - a good team, a championship team, you got to decide
what your priorities are. Is it more important to go to the Pro Bowl or to a
Super Bowl? And once we started to get on a run and started to be a team that
could think of themselves that way, I wanted to challenge the players that, you
know, look, you got to earn the right to think of yourself as a playoff team -
to call yourself a playoff team. And until that happens, you know, you haven't
earned that yet, so that's the carrot. Go earn the right to be thought of as a
playoff team, even to the point - and we had kind of some fun with it, kind of
the kangaroo court of, okay, we can't use the word playoff.

Which made it very interesting because as we got close to it, the league, once
you become within legitimate striking distance of making the playoffs, allow
the organizations, particularly those that have the chance of having a home
playoff game, to start selling playoff tickets because administratively,
financially, you just need to do that. So I put my organization in a bit of a
bind because I forbad the use of the word playoff, and here they had to sell
playoff tickets. So they had to come up with, I think they used the term,
there's an old "Seinfeld" episode, they made up a term Festivus Maximus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: And we kind of had - and that was what we called it because they
didn’t want to, you know, incur the wrath of the head coach and be fined for
using the word playoff. And it was kind of fun. And the players picked up on
it. And so when, I think it was, we beat the San Diego Chargers and had a
couple games left in the season, actually, and actually qualified for the
playoffs, we removed the ban on the P-word because we were now a playoff team.

DAVIES: Yeah. Well, if you hadn't spent a hundred hours a week watching film
and doing other coaching tasks, you would've known that Festivus was a
substitute for Christmas in a "Seinfeld" episode. That's a...

Mr. BILLICK: Well, it served our purpose, so what the heck.

DAVIES: Got a Super Bowl Sunday. What do you expect is going to happen?

Mr. BILLICK: A fascinating game. You know, it’s going to be a shoot out. It
could be a real track meet. Now, having said that, it'll be 6-3 and prove me
wrong. But both teams, dynamic offenses, two of the best quarterbacks probably
to ever play the game, clearly in Peyton Manning and probably in Drew Brees.
This is going to be a shoot out. Could be lots of fun.

DAVIES: And I have to ask you on behalf of many, many friends - when are we
ever going to get rid of the Gatorade shower for the coach at the end? How did
you feel about that?

Mr. BILLICK: Oh, you don’t want to do that. That's very profitable. That pays
very well. I got to tell you, that - that shows up on commercials a lot and
they got to pay you for that. So as a coach, no, bring it on. Pour that
Gatorade on. But it's kind of a traditional thing. How do you get rid of

DAVIES: You felt it a few times. Did you ever try and dodge it?

Mr. BILLICK: You know what? It was interesting. In our Super Bowl game it was
fun because, you know, it’s rare that you have a chance to really while you’re
in the moment step aside and realize what's going on, and in the fourth quarter
of our Super Bowl XXXV, you knew we were going to win. We had - the game was in
hand and so you have a chance to really kind of take it all in. And I remember
grabbing Matt Cavanaugh, who was - my offensive coordinator's son Andrew was
kind of a ball boy for us, and it's great when you can have the kids around
that way, and I grabbed Andrew about the middle of that fourth quarter and I
said, and the security guy that was, you know, responsible for me and I said,
oh, Andrew, I want you to go around and empty out all the Gatorade buckets
okay? And I told the security guy, if I get Gatorade poured on me, you’re
fired. Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BILLICK: You’re with me. They both bailed on me immediately. But it -
because it is kind of a rite of passage and really something as a coach,
although it was cold that night and I really didn’t want to get wet. But it was
one of those things that you really do, you look back on and you do treasure
because it is that rite of passage and signifies something very special.

DAVIES: Well, Brian Billick, thanks do much for joining us.

Mr. BILLICK: Glad to do it.

GROSS: Brian Billick spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Billick won
a Super Bowl the second year he coached the Baltimore Ravens. He's now a
commentator for Fox Sports and the NFL Network and is the author of the book
"More Than a Game."

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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