Jake Johnson on ‘Salty’ Language in ‘Hoops’ — Plus, Which ‘New Girl’ Stars Stop By?


Tiny Toons or Bugs Bunny this ain’t! Netflix’s new animated half-hour series Hoops follows foul, loud-mouthed high school basketball coach Ben Hopkins (Stumptown‘s Jake Johnson) as he spews expletives and verbally rails on pretty much anyone who crosses his path. Hoops is definitely an adult comedy.

But sometimes Coach Hopkins may be more bark than bite. He also exhibits a vulnerable side in the midst of his ranting when it comes to his ex (voiced by Natasha Leggero) and his father, Barry (Rob Riggle), who is as much of a sports legend as his wayward son is not. And while Coach doesn’t make the best choices for himself or for the losing team of young basketball players he leads, audiences will find much to like in this new series created by Ben Hoffman (The Ben Show) and executive produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, where Johnson voiced Peter Parker).

TV Insider chatted with Johnson, who is also an executive producer on the show, about the challenges of spewing such salty language without breaking into laughter and having cast mates from projects past (New Girl) and present (Stumptown) appear in Hoops .

I’m from Indiana and you’re from Chicago, Illinois, right?

Jake Johnson: Yeah. [Indiana University basketball coach] Bobby Knight is a big influence for me.

So we both understand that in that part of the country, basketball is everything. How did the show, which captures that spirit, come about ?

This was all Ben Hoffman. About seven years ago, Ben approached me with this idea and the cold open of the pilot where Ben is yelling at the refs, gets kicked out and goes to the locker room with the team. All that was from the pilot presentation we did seven years ago. Jokes have changed but it was the same structure. And then all the stuff with the seven-footer [player] and trying to get him a prostitute in order for him to play and him not wanting to…all those scenes were what we did.

Jake Johnson as Coach Ben Hopkins and Natasha Leggero as Shannon in “HOOPS”. Photo: Netflix.

We did it for MTV but they passed on it, which I wasn’t shocked [about]. Lo and behold, about a year-and-a-half ago, we get a call that Netflix is interested and they’ve picked up 10 episodes. So how do you take that presentation and turn it into a series? Some people will be offended by this, but we realized for what this show is, it might not get the biggest audience. It might be a smaller group. So we decided to lean in on the vulgarity, the loudness of it, the ‘offensive’ nature. Even though we try not to target any individual group, it’s offensive because it’s a loud mouth screaming at people for 10 episodes.

I definitely noticed that it’s raunchy and loud but, one thing I appreciated, is that everyone gets verbally beat up, not just one particular group or person.

That was a really big point of view for us. And it was something that producers Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Ben and Aubrey Lee all cared a lot about. One thing I have realized in this day and age is a lot of stuff you do offends one group more than another and you didn’t even intend that. So we might have screwed up and there could be groups that are really offended by this. That’s not our intention. What we wanted to do is [have] everybody get kicked in the face kind of equally. Because nobody gets kicked in the face more than Coach does. It was an experiment to see if in this day and age you can do a loud, screaming, vulgar show and people want to see it.

When you were recording the dialogue with the rough language and such, were there challenges to stay in the zone and not laugh?

I always wanted the other actor I was in a scene with to be there [when I recorded]. Let’s say Cleo King, who plays the principal, Opal. I didn’t want to be saying stuff that I wouldn’t be able to say in front of Cleo. And all the vulnerable kids in this show are [played by] grown-ups. We reasoned the way not to break was to do full scenes. So if I’m trying to get through all the lines and the other actor doesn’t break, then I can’t really break. But we were also all encouraged to improvise.

Oh, so there is improvisation in there?

A ton. We recorded it first and then animated. I copied Chris and Phil’s film Into the Spider-Verse on that process because I was able to record in the booth with Kathryn Hahn and Shameik Moore. It’s so important to do that, so we did that on this, too.

How was it different since you don’t have to worry about how you look when recording? Were there challenges there?

I really enjoy it. I’m wearing cutoff slacks right now and an old shirt. I’m not a style guy. I don’t care. I don’t like going through hair and makeup at work. I never need to do another photo shoot in my life. If I never went on another red carpet, I would be thrilled. A big part of my job is getting to work. What was great is you show up, nobody cares how you look, nobody cares what your pants look like and you just do the job. And it really fits my personality.

Watch the NSFW trailer here…

Talk to me about the coach’s relationship with his estranged wife, Shannon. What’s their actual arrangement?

They’re split, but he won’t sign the divorce papers. She’s moved on and has a new boyfriend, played by Ron Funches. For the character of Shannon, it was so important, and I told Natasha this too, if that character is not played by a hard, funny comedian, it gets steamrolled. But Coach wants to be with her and she doesn’t really want to be with Coach. She wants to run her business. She mates horses, and she has a father-daughter vibe with Coach’s dad, played by Rob Riggle.

Does Coach even have it in him to try to win her back?

No! [laughs] Here’s the truth about the story of Hoops — it’s something I like about it and it was something Ben Hoffman really pushed in the writers room. He wanted really simple stories. He wanted to keep it simple, and I think he was right because it’s a joke show. So the character’s arcs are, Coach wants his ex back and he wants to prove his dad wrong. And in that, let’s get as many jokes as we can. It’s really just best joke wins.

There’s also some fun trashing of the movie Little Man Tate, which I remember really liking! But I did kind of think, “Well, maybe I need to go watch it again!”

Here’s the truth on that bit. Ben Hoffman has been doing that bit since the presentation and it’s really funny. I never even thought to hit Little Man Tate but it keeps coming back for the whole series. And then somebody said to Ben, “What is it you don’t like about Little Man Tate?” And he admitted he’s never seen the movie. It’s just a funny title. Jodie Foster is a great director but no one’s even seen it. It’s just that the name is Little Man Tate and that really worked for Coach.

Is Coach the best example for these young basketball players?

No. If this is real life, Coach Tompkins should be in jail. He is the most terrible person. I wouldn’t feel comfortable having a young person [voice those characters]. It was a very conscious choice that all the ‘kids’ are played by adults. It’s a show for adults, to adults. Coach is not a role model. I don’t think anybody under 18 should watch this show. [laughs] It’s salty. It’s loud. It’s ridiculous. It’s an R-rated animated show.

I saw the episode with your New Girl buddy Max Greenfield voicing a character.

Yeah, Max is in it. Damon Wayans Jr. does an episode. Hannah Simone. I would be thrilled to have Zooey [Deschanel] on it, to have Lamorne [Morris] on it. The cast of New Girl are people I’ll always be connected to. If I get to do more, I would also like the cast of Stumptown [to guest star]. I’d love to see Cole [Sibus] on it, [Michael] Ealy, Cobie [Smulders], Tantoo [Cardinal], everyone. If Hoops has life, let’s do a crossover episode where it’s New Girl, Stumptown and Hoops. And we’ll get a character for you, Jim. You could moderate the episode!

I work very cheap, so whatever you need.

Good. Hey, guess what? We all do!

Hoops, Season 1, Streaming Now, Netflix