When Steve Rannazzisi made the move from New York to Los Angeles, he did so with a single dream in mind. Two dreams, really, but they had something in common.
“I knew that I enjoyed stand-up all the time, and I enjoyed acting, and I knew I was good at it,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m best at, but I know I love performing in both aspects, so I knew I wanted to get on stage as much as I possibly can. That’s my goal.”
Rannazzisi’s move to the West Coast eventually led to plenty of stage time perfecting his stand-up, and it led to screen time — most notably as the struggling fantasy football commissioner on the FX hit comedy series “The League.”
A native of Long Island, Rannazzisi went to college in New York, where he fell in love with acting and got his first taste of stand-up before making the move to L.A. He eventually ended up in two of the best training grounds an aspiring comedian could go to: He got a job as a regular comedian at the legendary Comedy Store, and he attended The Groundlings Theatre & School for improv comedy.
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Rannazzisi’s time at the Comedy Store built up his ability to do crowd work as a host and helped him settle into a storytelling stand-up style that has become his specialty. He was also cast in roles in a variety of sitcoms and films that seemed to have a common character trait: they were jerks.
Then “The League” came along allowing him to play a more likable and true-to-life husband and father while letting him use his improv skills when the show debuted in 2009. Cast alongside actors, comedians and improv specialists Mark Duplass (Pete), Nick Kroll (Ruxin), Katie Aselton (Jenny), Paul Scheer (Andre) and Jonathan Lajoie (Taco), the show took a simple premise of a group of friends and their fantasy football league as a jumping-off point to plenty of trash talking, comedic antics, tons of NFL player cameos and sheer lunacy for seven seasons.
Many times, they would be given a general outline of a scene with a few funny lines written down instead of a script. A good majority of what audiences were watching at home was completely off-the-cuff back-and-forths among the cast.
“We just all sort of jump into it. Here’s point A, here’s where we have to get to, and we’ll figure it out,” Rannazzisi said. “It’s fun because every take is sort of its own little thing. I love shooting like that. I sort of like giving people their own little world, and you give them the freedom to create the scene.”
Since the show wrapped up in 2015, Rannazzisi said, he misses the filming, the comic camaraderie and even how much they got into fantasy football outside of the show itself. But he remains busy, with acting roles on the upcoming season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and presumably donning some tights for his role in the superhero comedy film “Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars” set to be released this year. He also is launching a comedy podcast, “Hear Me a Book."
He continued to hone his stand-up comedy during and after his filming of “The League,” and he recorded two Comedy Central one-hour specials, “Manchild” (2013) and “Breaking Dad” (2015). He is drawing comedy from his life as a husband and father — along with thoughts on drugs, porn and a memorable trip to Nashville — for his newest stand-up material, which he will showcase Comedy Off Broadway, this weekend. Much like how “The League” allowed for plenty of creative liberty, Rannazzisi’s newest material is in an enjoyable state of flux.
“It’s sort of a work in progress, but it’s sort of a living thing. It changes every night,” he said. “It’s a fun little thing to work on. It’s a fun little ride.”