Yannis Pappas Couldn’t Be a Professional Athlete, So He’s Making Comedy About Them Instead

When describing a move from New York to Miami, comedian Yannis Pappas said, “I had a New York body. I was thirty pounds heavier. My body looked like yogurt with hair on it. I looked like a middle relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals.” Sports references like these come easy for Pappas, a former wannabe pro athlete turned standup, who has been honing his specific brand of humor for some 15 years. Pappas’ current role as the host of AOL’s new sports-centric daily comedy series 2 Point Lead is a perfect marriage of his rabid love of sports and his razor sharp wit. I talked to Pappas about the new show, his long love affair with sports, and what’s it like to let go of your childhood career dream to find joy in your second choice.

2 Point Lead is not the traditional clips and commentary formula. There’s definitely a lot more going on. How would you describe the show?

The show goes beyond news and offers a humorous take on the world of sports. We’ve constructed the show around the internet and modern times. We release a video every day at 2 PM. It’s usually a two-to-four minute video. It’s comedy, straight comedy. It’s sports fan comedy. We do sketches and interviews with athletes. It really runs the gamut of satire and sports.

Who are you hoping to attract to this show, audience-wise?

Younger sports fans and people who are watching stuff on their phones, which is pretty much everybody, except for my grandparents, who are dead, so they can’t.

By keeping each episode short, are you hoping to get an edge on some of the more traditional sports programs like SportsCenter?

We’re not even thinking about competing with SportsCenter. They do what they do. They’re informative. We’re more about taking a real comedic stance on being a sports fan. Although, we are knowledgeable. I’m a huge sports fan. When I hang out with my friends – I don’t know if you’re a sports fan – but when guys hang out, most of what we talk about is sports, unless you’re hanging out with boring people. If you’re a dude, you should be able to hold a ten minute conversation about sports. That should be a rule. In order to earn your dude card, you should be able to talk sports for at least ten minutes. If not, you need to get your life together.

The show kind of takes shots at some of the common perceptions of what sports media should be like. For instance, you’re bringing big name athletes in and doing slightly irreverent interviews with them. Do you think most fans will be into the format, or do you worry that some people might not like their favorite team or player being treated in a jokey fashion?

No. We’re not looking to offend any sports fans. For example, you brought up SportsCenter. I watch SportsCenter on repeat. When I’m on the road doing standup, one of my favorite things is to just be in the hotel room in what I call a “SportsCenter coma,” where I just have it on repeat. I fall asleep to it. It’s on when I’m awake. I watch it over and over again. But SportsCenter would do an interview with an athlete and talk about … if SportsCenter sat down with Alonzo Mourning they would ask about his insights into the game. We will sit down with Alonzo Mourning and ask him how he feels twenty years later about Shaq’s diss of him in the Fu Schnickens rap. The lyric goes, “Now who’s the first pick? Me. Word is born’in / Not a Christian Laettner, not Alonzo Mourning.” We want to know how he feels about it. Is he over it? I would also ask Alonzo if he thinks that Larry Johnson’s Grandmama was the original Tyler Perry’s Madea. Does Tyler Perry owe Larry Johnson royalties? Those are the types of questions we want to ask. We’re just having fun. We’re not looking to offend. You know how it is man, anyone who gets offended by comedy is taking themselves way too seriously. We’re rabid sports fans and comedians. We’re marrying those two worlds. I feel like sports fans have been waiting for something like 2 Point Lead for quite some time.

I don’t watch much sports-related programming, but I’ve really enjoyed this show. It’s good comedy. There was a hilarious sketch featuring Michael Rappaport as tough basketball coach for white kids. I also loved the bit where you went to a psychic and at one point, asked her to call upon the ghost of Ty Cobb to see how he feels about integration. I think you’re probably going to be able to open this show up to more than just sports fans.

Yeah! That would be great. If we can turn sports fans into comedy fans and comedy fans into sports fans, it would be a dream come true.

In your Comedy Central Half Hour, you used sports as a way to illustrate a lot of things. You used it as a way to describe your appearance and as a way to explain breakup dynamics. It’s obvious that sports are in your wheelhouse. Do you have any good sports-related stories?

I played basketball. I was recruited by D3 schools, but I ended up going to American [University in Washington DC]. I tried to walk on at American. I just wasn’t good enough. But I played against Stephon Marbury as a kid. I also played against Manny Ramirez in baseball. Sports is one of those things… the guys who you played against when you were little that end up becoming superstars in professional leagues, they were always better than everybody else back then. It’s hard to explain to someone who didn’t play how crazy the disparity was between them and everyone else. It was like a joke. Look at Lebron James. Can you imagine playing against Lebron James in high school? That’s what Manny Ramirez was to me. It’s like playing against a 12-year-old kid with the strength of a 32-year-old man. When we played against Stephon Marbury, there was no way to stop him. He was unstoppable. You see these guys get to the top level and the reality is: they were always that good. There’s this American thing where we say, “If you work hard, anything is possible.” Dude, my dream was to be a professional basketball player. I had a poster in college that had a hoop on it that said, “A dream is a goal with a deadline.” I would pat it every time I went to class. It was delusional. When I realized that I wasn’t even good enough to make my Division 1 team I was like, “You know what? I’ll circumvent that. My mother was born in Greece. She’s got a Greek passport. I’ll end up playing professionally in Greece.” But they’re actually really good over there too. I wouldn’t have been able to make it there either. My point is, the people who are good now have always been good. Looking back, I realize that I had no shot. But this is close to my actual dream. Take Derek Jeter, for instance. When he was a kid he said, “I want to play shortstop for the Yankees.” He did it. Who does that? Everyone is living their fourth option. Right now, I’m just one step away from my dream. I’m hosting a show where I’m able to be a comedian – which was my second choice – and still be in touch with sports.

Yannis Pappas Couldn’t Be a Professional Athlete, So […]