"HELLO AGAIN EVERYBODY, JOE PISCOPO, 'SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE'!!!"
Attention span: Short!
"BACK TO YOU, BRI . . . !"
He knocks 'em dead almost every week on Brian Doyle-Murray's "Newsbreak" segment of NBC's irreverent show. Think of all the eccentric qualities you have ever seen in a sportscaster. What you come up with is: Joe Piscopo Live!
Windy, overconfident, with just a bit of a swagger, his perm-hair blown dry into perfect little curls, he barks out each syllable with all the energy of a MIRV warhead. He's an airhead, really. He thinks he's a hard-hitting reporter right out of "Front Page," but in reality he can't get out of the gate. He's in too much of a rush to speak in sentences, so if he were to describe himself, it would go something like this:
"Head! Empty! Vocabulary! Awesome! Interview? Camera! Face! Me!"
What makes it work is that there's a hint of credibility in it all. We all have seen sportscasters just a little like him.
At NBC, the story goes, some people thought Piscopo was for real when he first made a guest appearance on "NFL '81," the otherwise serious football pregame show. A number of reporters who were watching the act glanced warily at executive producer Don Ohlmeyer until they realized Piscopo was a kind of Tank McNamara come to life.
Piscopo and writer Barry Blaustein created the character last fall. They conceived of a "cocky, one-word-sentence, bright-but-not-terribly-so, sports guy." Backwater guys all over the country served as models, Piscopo says, although his favorite announcers also became part of the mix.
"There's probably a little Warner Wolf (now at WCBS-TV, New York). I love his confidence, the way he locks into the camera. There's Marv Albert's enthusiasm. There's some of George Michael. I followed him when he was a disc jockey in Philadelphia and New York. He gave me the hyper part. No matter what he's doing, even if it's golf, he's not going to let down."
"No influence, at least not consciously. A little Keith Jackson might have seeped in."
Piscopo, the one holdover from last year's horrendous edition of "Saturday Night Live," still feels unworthy following the likes of John Belushi, the show's chief star in 1979-80. "I like becoming somebody else," he says. "The sports guy may be a part of me, but as a person I don't have a terrific amount of self-confidence."
You'd never know. Piscopo once was a sportscaster for a radio station in Jacksonville, Fla. This was right after college, nine years ago. Could he become a sportscaster again? Piscopo pauses after being asked the question, then barks out his reply. "Sports? Straight? Future? ABSOLUTELY!!!"
Parody basically is reality carried to extreme. Thus the one-word sentences.
"What do sportscasters have?" Piscopo says. "Three minutes? They have to get it all in. That training never leaves you. It's always, 'Get it in! Get it over with!' Barry, Dave Sheffield (another writer) and I figured that if a sports guy ever went home to his house, he would say, 'Honey! Home! Dinner? Hungry! Dog? Paper!"
Empty-headed as his character often seems, Piscopo does comment on sports in the news. Witness the spoof he did for "NFL '81" early last December, when most teams still had a shot at the playoffs:
(Cut to Piscopo, busy puffing up his chest in front of the camera.)
Piscopo: "HELLO AGAIN EVERYBODY, JOE PISCOPO, LIVE!!! The Big Story! Playoffs! . . . Parity! . . . Equality! . . . (slowly now, voice building through the word) Me-di-O-crity! Everyone has a chance! Let's take a look!"
(Piscopo walks to display of toy dolls, each wearing a helmet of an NFL team. Piscopo goes down the line, making the dolls nod by tapping their heads.)
Piscopo: "Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Bucs! Cards, Chiefs, Chargers, Tough! Dolphins, Steelers, Lions, Green Bay, NFL (voice slowly rising) Disarray! Eagles, Falcons, Giants, Jets! Redskins, Raiders, Hold your bets! To make the playoffs it takes all sorts! JOE PISCOPO, LIVE, NBC SPORTS!"
Now for the kicker: As soon as he's finished, Piscopo, quite proud of himself, affects a vacant, wide-eyed stare. He stands behind the bobbing dolls and starts nodding his own head as the camera recedes.
Then there was the time, also in December, when Bryant Gumbel paid a visit to "Saturday Night Live." Gumbel was scheduled to become host of the "Today" show in the near future. Piscopo interviewed him, only to have Gumbel turn the tables:
Gumbel: A man of your depth, I'm sure you're up on current events. As, for example, the Richard Allen affair?
Piscopo: "Illegal procedure."
Piscopo: "Good defense!"
Gumbel: Yasser Arafat?"
Piscopo: "Always dangerous. Likes to go for the bomb!"
All of which served as mere introduction to Piscopo's brilliant 10-second show last week. Since sports news has been lean of late, Piscopo came up with the following idea:
(Brian Doyle-Murray, the "Newsbreak" host, tries for a little happy talk while cutting to Piscopo.)
Doyle-Murray: "Joe, what's going on in sports?"
Piscopo: "HELLO AGAIN EVERYBODY, JOE PISCOPO, LIVE!!! What's going on in sports? NOTHING!!! . . . BACK TO YOU, BRI. . .!"
Joe Piscopo. Born June 17, 1951, Passaic, N.J. Voice? Loud! Brain? Scattered! Funny? As they come!