After three ex-Microsoft execs bought the Professional Bowling Association for $5 million, Bill Bryan and his friends Chris and Alex Browne decided to make a documentary on the life of the pro bowler in the early 21st century. "A League of Ordinary Gentlemen" opened in New York last month and is expected to come to the District in the next few weeks.
When you went into this, did you think of bowling as a sport?
I don't know, it's tough to figure out. Any sport that you get better at as you drink, it's tough to really consider it a sport. At first, I and the rest of the guys who made the film had the same biases that most people do, but once we spent a year out on tour, it's impressive what these guys do. It really takes a toll on their bodies. It's just as much of a sport as golf is. It's more of a sport than billiards or darts, in my opinion. I think once you live out there and get to know the guys, you see the amount of commitment and time and effort that's gone in. For these guys it's not a recreational pastime, it's really what they do for a career. It's definitely a sport, but there's still kind of a giggle factor with bowling that will never go away.
Any idea why hipsters have taken to the bowling shirts and bowling shoes?
Yeah, that was the other thing that kind of brought about the movie, why these hipsters were attracted to something that's so uncool. It's a little like the trucker hat phenomenon -- none of these guys want to be truckers or work in the garage. It's the same thing, none of these folks want to be bowlers, they just think there's something kitsch about it or cool about it.
Will bowling ever get its old popularity back?
I don't know, without it being on network television. That's where you get your publicity. The way I think of it, NASCAR's kind of replaced bowling. If you go back to the '50s and '60s, bowling kind of had NASCAR's spot: not really a major sport, but it had a blue-collar following that no one really understands. And now bowling's been relegated to cable television. It needs to basically crowd out bass fishing and pro rodeo and beach volleyball, and there's no reason it can't. Right now it's further back there with Ping-Pong and miniature golf. The ratings are up, and they should be up. More people bowl in this country than play any other sport: 70 million people bowl a year.
What was it like to live the life of a pro bowler?
Kind of exactly the way you'd think. It's a lot of eating at fast food restaurants and diners, living out of hotel rooms.
Did you guys gain weight?
Probably about a 10 to 15 percent increase. Do you know what a jalapeno popper is? We had a popper eating contest with ourselves and a bunch of bowlers, and I'm proud to say I won. Ate I think 24. That's not good for your cholesterol.
Do bowlers use performance-enhancing substances?
You know, that's an interesting question. I don't think there are any, but one thing the new management did was they banned drinking. You could never drink when you were on the TV show, but I heard in the old days you could sneak a few beers in during qualifying. I guess they banned performance-decreasing substances.
-- Dan Steinberg