“We’re not nearly classy enough to be in this building, you’ll see.”
Those were the first words out of Katie Aselton‘s mouth (after introducing herself) when she and her fellow stars of FXX’s The League arrived in the lobby of the Time & Life Building. Her concerns were unfounded, largely because most employees no longer dress in double-breasted suits or consume three-martini lunches. But during their hour-long chat with TIME, the cast and creators of the show did prove themselves even more hilarious—and profane—than the characters they play on TV.
Halfway through its fifth season, The League has reached greater heights but faces more challenges now than it ever has before: transitioning to a new network, fitting in an ever-expanding roster of guest stars and real-life NFL players, all the while maintaining its status as one of the freshest and funniest shows on television. Here’s what we learned when we sat down with Aselton, Paul Scheer, Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Nick Kroll and co-creators Jeff and Jackie Marcus Schaffer:
1. Just because the show is called The League, doesn’t mean it’s all about the league.
“It’s not a comedy about fantasy football, it’s a comedy about people who are in a fantasy-football league,” Jeff Schaffer says. “If you’re doing a show about firemen, they’re not always sitting around talking about fires, they’re also growing mustaches and making chili—they’re doing other things.”
That’s been especially true up to this point in Season 5. Episodes have
moved away from the nitty-gritty on the particulars of the football season, and more on what’s going on in the show’s growing universe. The new focus enables the show to attract to a broader audience, including women. Though more women than ever are playing fantasy football, it’s still a male-dominated pursuit, with men accounting for nearly 80 percent of participants. In spite of that, The League has managed cross-gender appeal.
“It’s been very interesting how many women are like, ‘I watch the show. My boyfriend got me into it, but I really like it,’” Kroll says. “It’s a testament to Jackie and Katie specifically—I think there’s a much stronger female voice to the show than one would think.”
Duplass had a slightly more nuanced take on the show’s appeal: “I think people come for the fantasy football and they stay for the shit-sipping and the fritattas.”
2. There’s a league outside of The League, and it functions much like the one in the show.
If you’ve ever noticed, The League is remarkably adept at remaining current with the events of the ongoing NFL season. Part of that is thanks to their block-shooting schedule (unlike FXX counterpart It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League doesn’t complete all their episodes prior to the airing of the season premiere). The other part can be attributed to what Scheer describes as Jeff Schaffer’s “Rain Man-esque ability to really call some amazing performances and even specifics about games that turn out to be true.”
Sadly for Schaffer, that ability has not translated into off-screen success in the cast and creators’ off-screen fantasy league. According to Rannazzisi, Schaffer hasn’t just “shit the bed,” now “he’s laying in his own shitty bed.” Jon Lajoie, who plays Taco on the show, is just as clueless about fantasy as his character, but has still managed to stake out a commanding lead in the real-life league. “He’s not an idiot,” Aselton explains, ”He’s Canadian.”
3. Not all NFL stars were created equal on the field or on the set.
Since the first season, NFL cameos have been a staple on The League, and though Scheer is quick to point out that “there haven’t been too many stiffs,” it’s clear that the cast has its favorites:
Duplass: “My favorite and least-favorite was Chad Ochocinco. He was my least-favorite when we realized he was trying to ghost-direct some of the scenes from inside of them, and then he became my favorite when we found him in the casino, basically naked… knee up like on this slot machine, just dropping coins.”
Scheer: “My favorite is Terrell Suggs, who is just super-fun, and a nice guy, and he could actually be an actor—he is—he’s a director and does a bunch of stuff.”
Rannazzisi: “I liked working with J.J. Watt this year. We worked with him on a Monday, then he shot a couple commercials that week, then we got him back on a Friday. And he was so much more loose and relaxed, and you could tell he enjoyed being there.”
Kroll: “It’s not a surprise that someone like J.J. comes in on a Monday and then by Friday is good. He’s a smart guy and they’re trained to learn systems.”
Aselton: “Jay Cutler made it quite clear he was doing it for [wife] Kristen [Cavallari] and not for us… He was lovely and sweet, but he was like, ‘This is boring. All you guys do is sit around and wait. I would not be here if Kristen didn’t ask me.’” [Note: For those familiar with Cutler's surly reputation, this is the least surprising revelation in television history]
4. The move from FX to FXX has not been without its complications.
After four successful seasons on FX, The League, along with comedy counterpart Always Sunny, was tapped to lead the charge for the network’s new endeavor, FXX. The new channel replaces Fox Sports Soccer and has 25 million fewer subscribers than FX, which has caused a few minor hiccups along the way.
“We’ve been flatteringly and lovingly, with Sunny, the pioneers of this new network,” Jeff Schaffer says. “These are the growing pains. We’re getting new fans if someone’s watching Fox Sports New Hampshire and accidentally hits the channel button instead of the volume button… Most pioneers end up dying alone or eating each other.”
Aselton admitted her cable package doesn’t even include FXX anymore. But news from the shift hasn’t been all bad. ” As much as we joke about this stuff, to our fans’ credit, they really have found us,” Scheer says. “I was amazed and really impressed that our ratings and everything like that has stayed strong.”
5. Even though they’re on the same network, there’s a bit of friendly jealousy between The League and its FXX counterparts.
“Oh, we’re just a bunch of bratty, jealous siblings, absolutely,” Jackie Schaffer says. “We’re always complaining. And it’s not just Standards and Practices, it’s like, ‘They have bus ads, they have cooler t-shirts.’”
The creators say one such instance nearly derailed the show altogether in its infancy. Naturally, it involved McGibblets. “The biggest example of jealousy where it did get ugly and Jeff and I sent some very specific emails , and nearly refused to do another season of the show was when we found out that after Season 1, Wilfred got a dog costume for Halloween,” Jackie Schaffer says. “When the commercial for it went up on air, you’ve never seen more screaming in our house and firing off emails: ‘Why can’t we have a McGibblets costume?!’ So for the next year, we literally said we’ll do the show if we can do a McGibblets costume, and it sold quite nicely.”
6. There are certain things they can say on the show, and there are certain things they can’t say, but the line is
Here’s an unedited exchange from the interview that demonstrates that particular point:
Jeff Schaffer: There are many things that you can do to a cock.
Jackie Schaffer: You can do almost everything to a cock, but you cannot suck it.
Jeff: You can honk it, by the way.
Rannazzisi: Can you smoke it?
Jeff: You can smoke it.
Jackie: We talked about smoking it.
Jeff: You can smoke it, you can mash it, you can grab it, squeeze it, twist it.
Duplass: You can brine it, I think.
Jeff: You can brine it, you can braise it!
Duplass: Yeah, you can braise that thing.
Kroll: Can you kiss it?
Jeff: As long as you don’t inhale. If you’re inhaling and kissing, that’s sucking. You better than anyone should know this.
7. The gang hates filming in the bar. Like, a lot.
“We f—- hate it,” Rannazzisi and Duplass say in unison. It’s really too bad, because it’s one of the most-used locations for the show. Duplass explains: “This is something you should know. The bar is the easiest location to get—it’s where all the exposition scenes happen, which are the hardest, and we do like four or five of them in a day. And we’re all ‘out of shape,’ as we call it, for Day 1 of shooting. We haven’t been improvising as much, and we’re all kind of pussies on Day 1. And they put us in the bar, like Spring Training camp.”
Duplass has even resorted to outright bribery to avoid the long takes that has the cast
standing in the bar. “It’s just funny to watch the progression, because in Season 1, I’d be like, ‘It might make more sense—my character is a little more laid back—maybe he’s sitting on a stool, and the other guys are standing around,’” he says. “Cut to Season 5 and I’m, like, ‘Jeff, I will give you $1,000 if I can sit in this scene.’”
8. The bizarro version of The League has already been cast on a provisional basis.
“You hear those rumors,” Duplass says. “That Eddie Murphy actually has someone who looks quite a bit like him to shoot his reverse stuff. Well, Ron Livingston (Office Space) has done 30 percent of my scenes.” Kroll joked that Josh Malina (The West Wing, Scandal) has served as his body-double. “We’ve also got Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine) coming in for Paul and David Boreanaz (Bones) for Steve,” Duplass added.
9. There’s a very specific reason that Rannazzisi ended up with the role of Kevin and not Pete.
Though many of the actors in the show auditioned for roles other than the ones they were ultimately cast in (including Duplass as both Kevin and Andre), it became clear during the audition process who was best-suited for each part. “When Steve came in to audition, it was very clear that he couldn’t be Pete because there was an aggressiveness to Steve’s comedy that needed to be tempered—in this world, not in the world of Steve’s comedy or life,” Jackie Schaffer says. “Clearly it’s working for him at home and on stage.”
“You can’t contain me, you cannot control me, you cannot temper me,” Rannazzisi says. “I’m rough around the edges.” But Schaffer explained that Aselton was, in fact, able to temper Rannazzisi without diving into any typical emasculation comedy trope.
10. Don’t worry, Rafi is coming back this season.
Perhaps the most disconcerting development of Season 5 for most fans has been the episode in which Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) and Dirty Randy (Seth Rogan) road-tripped to Los Angeles that seemingly concluded with Rafi’s death. Jackie Schaffer made it clear that Rafi would return this season and the conclusion of the “one year later” from the Rafi-centric episode would be revealed next year.
Check back tomorrow for outtakes from TIME’s interview with the cast and co-creators of The League.