In the world of broadcasting, some talents take chances and others play it safe. Kenny Mayne is the example of a man who has done everything in his career but follow the historic trend of many of his colleagues at ESPN that he says are funny, but fear showing it because of possible failure.
His unique sense of humor has led to a web series on ESPN.com titled Mayne Street that features him in a fictional portrayal of his real life job at the worldwide leader. In the webisodes, Mayne comes to terms with the highs and lows of being a veteran sports broadcaster. So far celebrities including Ben Stiller, cast members of The Sopranos, Jimmy Kimmel and every ESPN personality you can think of have appeared in the series in one way or another.
During his college years at UNLV, he played quarterback alongside retired NFL star Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. To set the record, Randall backed up Mayne. Not the other way around. An ankle injury, which he recently just had surgery on for the eight time killed his chances of an NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks.
While working at the local sports level and freelancing for ESPN, Mayne credits his persistence for the position he has today. If ESPN wanted him to go get an interview with an athlete he’d also write the entire story to show what he could do if he was working for ESPN full time. After finally getting hired the rest is history. His biggest victory in 15 years was during an unplanned trip to Philadelphia during the MLB All Star game events to get music legend Stevie Wonder to say, “‘I can’t be at the All Star Game. I have a high ankle sprain.” Kenny still provides his weekly Mayne Event segment during NFL season on the network’s pregame show NFL Live.
For those not following sports, you might remember him as one of the most famous first week exits on ABC’s highly popular Dancing with the Stars. Mayne believes that his dancing instructor wanted them to do too much and that is what cost him an early exit. He now comes back every season to provide a special segment called Dance Center where he talks about the season’s cast. Today, his biggest priority is making sure he’s getting paid every two weeks, if he has a new contract and taking care of his family. You won’t find him watching the generic sporting event on TV on a Tuesday night.
Listen to the Kenny Mayne CYInterview:
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Chris Yandek: I think many people in the media world in general would appreciate Mayne Street for it’s definitely interesting sense of humor. How did you come up with this concept for a fictional portrayal of yourself?
Kenny Mayne: “Well, the truth is I didn’t. I was very involved in putting it together. The origin was a couple of my friends came to me Todd Pellegrino and Josh Shelov, and I’d worked with both of them on ESPN and remained friends as they’ve gone on to other things. They said, ‘What if we pitched your boss John Skipper the idea that we do this?’ Basically I do pretend stories already. That’s my NFL job. ‘How about we do a pretend story about you doing your pretend stories? And you have a fake cameraman and a fake producer and a fake boss.’ I liked it right away. For starters, I just trust those guys because we’ve worked together and they do smart stuff.
I’ve done other things at ESPN through the years. The job I end up having now wasn’t exactly posted. It just sort of happened. So I looked at this as alright, there is one more new weird thing to try and we did. It took a while to get it going and in fact while we intended it for television to begin with, eventually after some delay it was like you know what? Let’s stick on it on the Internet. There’s plenty of space there. That’s where it has existed.”
CY: Well, I think it’s better than some of the stuff on regular television. It’s just truly unique and totally different. Are some of the bits and pieces anything you’ve experienced in your years as a sports broadcaster?
KM: “Oh absolutely. Yeah. I mean I’ll give you the best example was an episode called Fixes with Scott Van Pelt. It’s funny. I was just on that chat for ESPN.com and somebody accused us of ripping off a show on FX for our Jimmy Kimmel episode. In fact no offense to FX, but I don’t even know what channel that is. Like I have 500 channels. I couldn’t tell you what channel FX is.
I’m sure they have great programming, but there are only so many hours in the day. I don’t know if I’ve ever watched FX nor had I ever heard of the show these guys saying we used to rip off. And thirdly, it wasn’t like two people on earth couldn’t have come up with the same idea. So whether FX is doing that idea I don’t know. Certainly it wasn’t something that we said, ‘Hey! FX just did a funny bit. Let’s cheat and rip them off.’
And I was starting to talk about the Fixes episode, somebody criticized us, we ripped off Sports Net is what they said. That was the old Aaron Sorkin ABC show years ago. The truth is if anything ripped us off, not that he did, but if anyone did, that would be the case cause we’re the ones who lived fixes. Every time you do SportsCenter the last SportsCenter of the day has to be fixed is what they call it. Basically any mistakes are taken out or at the end of the show you say, ‘Hey! Thanks! We’re coming right back for more or they’ll say thanks, word tossing is next.’ Or whatever the next program is.
So we’re the ones in the morning fixing shows, not Aaron Sorkin. I think it’s not one of those protest us too much things. Although one could consider that I keep going on with it, but it bothers us greatly cause we think we make up rather independent, unique things. Not ripping off others. That’s not to say somebody else couldn’t have come up with a similar idea on a similar subject.”
CY: I think there’s people in the media who don’t have enough sense of humor, a good amount of them but you definitely bring the sense of humor to the job that you are as a media personality. Where do you get it from?
KM: “Well, I think some of it was born just from boredom of doing it a regular way. I started out, I still, my avocation I’d say is keeping up and reading international news and political issues more than sports. Like I’d be more out to watch CBS Sunday Morning than the Cubs and the Mets on a Tuesday for instance or watch PBS Frontline as opposed to – a World Series I’m going to watch. An NBA Finals I’m going to watch, but your generic Wednesday game of the night doesn’t do much for me.
It just, sorry it doesn’t. I have other things going on. I got two kids. I have a wife. I’m reading. I’m writing. So I don’t stay in touch with sports on a day to day basis like somebody who otherwise would consider themselves some great sports fan. I’m not really that. I still love football. I love horse racing. I like the other sports, but they don’t change my life. They’re just games being played.
So when I was doing SportsCenter, this is years after I had actually wanted to be like a Middle East correspondent or something and I started doing sports at the local level, interviewed at ESPN. Some time went by, I freelance for a while and we call that my blue period now. I was doing some other odd jobs to get by. I think I just drifted away from convention. I think I’ve always done things a little different maybe. Just kinda that’s in my constitution or whatever. At ESPN, doing SportsCenter just saying team A won five to four just got kind of boring. Like I thought you had to bring something more to the product and make it more entertaining and that’s what I usually try to do.”
CY: Do you feel that many maybe of your colleagues working in the sports media industry take the good with the bad when it comes to working in this industry?
KM: “Well, I think everybody does it their own way. And some people just don’t bring it out on the air. Like for instance, Bob Ley, Steve Levy, I could probably name others. Those guys are actually very funny guys. You hold conversations with them or even on the air they’ll say some clever things. More often than not a couple of guys like them are gonna do it a little more conventionally. They’re not gonna take big chances and make a fool of themselves if they miss whereas I’m taking pot shots and so what if I’m wrong a few times. If you’re right and you take some chances, that’s worth the times you miss.
I don’t know that I miss that many times. I usually don’t do so much deconstruction of who I am except being interviewed. I don’t talk about what I do or how I do it. I just do what I do and hopefully it’s halfway good and they keep employing me. It’s not like there is some vote every week, is the stuff I’m doing any good? It’s just am I getting paid every two weeks and do I have a new contract?
That’s at this point the only judgment that I need to support my family. I hope most of it works probably, but I think you can’t worry about every last person either. If everybody gets the joke often times it means it wasn’t very funny. It’s a little bit like the difference between and again I’m not comparing myself to them by any means, but Jay Leno I’m told is like the funniest guy in the room anywhere you go, but on TV while he can be funny and he admits this, he plays, he is a generalist.
He’s kind of playing the folksy I’m talking to middle America whereas David Letterman just doesn’t care. He’s just going to do his thing and if not everybody gets it so be it. And I’d say I lean towards that end more than trying to make sure every last person listening gets every last word I say.”
CY: The Mayne Event and Mayne Street have had some interesting cameos. If you could get one person from any walk of life, politics, sports, Hollywood to do a Mayne Street, Mayne Event , who would it be that you haven’t gotten yet?
KM: “Man, that’s a good one. I’d say a sitting president would be pretty good. We’ve tried. We haven’t tried yet for Mr. Obama because he’s busy, not that President Bush wasn’t. You see those guys and they do the correspondent’s dinner and they do other every so often little gags or they show up on David Letterman or whatever. Often times the answer has been it wouldn’t look very presidential for him to do blank, whatever it was I was looking for. Usually it’s just one line or be the support that ties something together. So I shoot for the moon that way.
I already got the guy that would’ve been my all timer and I was fortunate really just by patience. I went down, it was about four years ago, I can’t remember the exact year it was. The All Star Baseball Game was in Detroit that year. I guess four or five years ago. Stevie Wonder was playing in Philadelphia for Live 8. This was for the economic partners. You know? The G8. Trying to tell Africa to give them some debt relief was the whole point of the world concerts that were taking place. Stevie was the headliner in Philadelphia.
So I called my boss on the baseball event because I was doing the All Star Game and I said, ‘Are you good that I fly to Philadelphia? Nothing is set up. I don’t even has a press credential, but I’m going to try and land Stevie Wonder.’ Most bosses would’ve said not only no, but hell no. He said, ‘Yeah. I think you’ll do it. Good luck.’ So I got a flight. I got a hotel. I got a camera and we waited Stevie out for 14 hours and got him to say, ‘I can’t be at the All Star Game. I have a high ankle sprain.’ That was my entire mission and he ended up doing it. I count that as my greatest victory in my 15 years at ESPN.”
CY: You’re probably the most memorable 1st week exit ever on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Do you wish you could go back and get a second crack at it?
KM: “I still do the little Dance Center thing that airs next week. I lasted longer than most people even though I was one of the worst dancers they ever had. I never maintained that I was a good dancer. I never do. I thought I got kind of jobbed being thrown off on week one. I don’t think I was the worst. I might’ve been second worst or third worst. I think I was better than Master P and George Hamilton. I think that’s it. George turned out to be pretty good actually. I’m talking only about week one.
My dancer, I guess the only thing I’d do over again if I were trying to compete or trying to stay in it would be to do less. I know that’s not my usual look, view on life. Like try to shoot for the moon and accept something less, but she basically asked me to do too much. I’m not a good dancer so we were too ambitious. She thought wrongly that the judges would reward me for trying so hard and touching all the marks on the floor whereas some of the other guys Jerry [Rice] and George just kinda did a small number that they did very well.
Like I said to Jerry today, we got into a fictitious argument about it. I was like, ‘I didn’t say you sucked.’ I said, ‘You did well at doing little. There’s a difference. Like you weren’t bad. I’m just saying you didn’t do very much. You just kind of kept it.’ It’s like a quarterback doing a lot of check dump offs as opposed to the quarterback who throws deep. One guy might be 10 for 25 and get picked a couple of times, but he was trying to go big and the other guy played it safe and ends up being rewarded for being safe.”
CY: One of the episodes of Mayne Street for example has you at dinner with a few of your colleagues and there are some cameos from some of the Sopranos members in there. And of them says to one another, ‘Who is that?’ ‘Well, I think it’s Dan Patrick.’ Who do people mistake you most for when you’re out in public?
KM: “Dan’s one of them, but not the most. I’d say Rich Eisen, our former ESPN colleague who now works for the NFL Network. Once in a while I get a Trey Wingo. I get a generic ESPN guy once in a while. I’d say more often than not they actually get my name right and those guys in descending order. Rich being first I have to say.”
CY: Everyone likes to ask you about Randall Cunningham when you guys played football together at UNLV. Do you ever wish you would’ve switched lives with Randall and you would’ve been the NFL star quarterback?
KM: “Absolutely. I don’t know about switching lives entirely. I love the life and family I have, but as far as that opportunity, anybody who played the game, any game whether it was soccer or baseball or whatever game you play at a certain level you always had those dreams of playing at the highest level. While by no means did I think I was the next Joe Montana I think I was in the neighborhoods of the guys I was playing with and people often get that wrong.
To just correct the record, not to brag, Randall backed me up. Not the other way around which most people think cause it would only make sense that I backed up Randall if we played together. He was a freshman. I was second string. Randall was fourth string. Sam King was our starter and he actually had a contract to go to the Seahawks, but he turned it down to go to Canada. So my coach Tony Knap called the Seahawks and said, ‘The guy who played behind the guy you like is almost as good as the guy you like. Why not look at him if you like the other guy.”
And I ended up throwing for the Seahawks, signed a contract for virtually nothing and got even less than that. I guess you can’t get less than nothing but you know what I’m saying. I got $10 meal money. The way it was. The last dollar was in quarters. I failed the physical for my ankle, which I broken as a junior and I just had my eighth surgery on that one, but yeah, absolutely. My regrets I’d say were that I didn’t take it quite as seriously as say I take my job now. It doesn’t look like I take my job seriously but I actually do. I mean I take myself seriously or do serious work, but I’m serious about the lack of seriousness in my work if that makes any sense.”
CY: You have to provide entertainment value. You have to provide great entertainment value or they will say next and you haven’t been given the curtain call yet.
KM: “Well, no. I think I’m very diligent. I’m organized. We plan ahead. And sometimes we’ll work with a new camera man and he’ll think we’re a little haphazard cause I’m reading off of a yellow notebook what the next line and it’s not all printed out in final draft or something. I’m talking about caring about the product, setting it up, shooting it and take it out right. We do all those things correctly. Just because I’m not reporting on a steroids case doesn’t mean I’m not serious about my work.”
CY: You have great quality in your entertainment value.
KM: “I think if I have any good qualities is that perseverance would be a little bit of a bigger one because ESPN more or less told me to go away. Like I tried and tried to get on with ESPN for four or five years and several bosses kind of gave me the ‘you don’t need to call us.’ We know you’re out there kinda deal. And I just didn’t listen. Well, if I try with enough bosses and impress upon the fact – a good example is they would send me out. I was living in Seattle.
‘Hey! Go get Ken Griffey interview and we’re going to use just a sound.’ But I would in addition to sending them that send them a two page script. ‘Here’s the story I could’ve written had you hired me to be the full time reporter on this.’ Maybe some of them thought that was impressive that the guy cares that much and most of them though probably thought what a weirdo. Who does that?
Eventually ESPN 2 came about and Keith Olberman was on ESPN 2 for a bit and then he went crazy and went back to Dan over on SportsCenter. Stuart Scott moved up and they needed a guy to fill the small place called the Smash it was called. It was like a little two to five minute update and there I was. So not giving up is what got me to wherever that was and I guess wherever I am now.”
CY: It’s been a few rough years for your alma mater UNLV. Do you think they need to go in a different direction? Your football program has a very good season every few years and they’ve been to a few bowls nonetheless, but do you think they need to go in a different direction?
KM: “I think it’s more and like you said they’ve had some decent teams, individually some guys who broke through. Just by definition, UNLV is likely not going to get the cream of the crop for football. They’re going to go to USC and they’re going to go to Cal and Washington.”
CY: What about programs like TCU, Utah and BYU that are also in the Mountain West?
KM: “I was just trying to give you an example of California athletes.”
CY: Yeah. Sure.
KM: “The top ones, their first choice will be Pac 10. If you live out in Florida or the Southeast somewhere, you want to go to Florida or Alabama. UNLV just isn’t one of those schools. It doesn’t have the same history and the same record through the years. Now basketball might be a different story.”
CY: [Jerry] Tarkanian.
KM: “Yeah. Because of him and the legacy he left. That’s still a cool place to go play basketball. It’s just a little different animal. I don’t really know if there is an answer other than stringing together a couple few in a row that are really strong seasons, nine win seasons, a bowl game and all that. Then you get the kid that says, ‘You know what? Instead of USC, I’m going to go to UNLV.’ I don’t know if that time has come yet.”
CY: One episode of Mayne Street: Hotels had a plot that included how many different blogs just run with online rumors, allegations, things that aren’t facts. Does it surprise you anymore or have we become a society where anyone with public notoriety has to proceed with caution?
KM: “Yeah. Well, it’s bothersome. I don’t think I’m any big deal, but sadly enough even my minor celebrity, whatever little thing I am in the world and it’s very minor.”
CY: Enough to get on Dancing with the Stars at least.
KM: “Well, you know what I’m saying. If Tom Cruise is famous, I’m just a guy on ESPN. I guess that’s the best way to put it. You know what I’m saying? There’s no comparison. But like I say, even in my tiny little minor celebrity, good example the other day, I don’t drink. I maybe drink twice or three times a year, a bottle of wine with my wife. New Years Eve I might have one scotch in honor of my dad or something. By trade, I’m not a drinker. I hate drunks and it doesn’t do anything for me. So we went to Pearl Jam about a month ago in L.A. and some guys were sitting behind us. I could kinda tell they were, they didn’t say anything, but they recognized me and I think Neil Everett who was with me.
Somebody showed me later. I don’t remember what format. Whether it was Twitter, My Space, your space whatever, somebody’s space or Twitter or something. Somebody wrote up that they saw me at Pearl Jam and he was tipsy or he was a little drunk or something to that effect, right? I’m like well, I know I didn’t drink. Maybe I have a bad ankle. Maybe I was a little wobbly. Maybe that’s what he perceived as drunk. I don’t know. To your point, it is ridiculous that anybody can write anything about anyone. It’s a little bit like Wikipedia. You could go on there and say you invented the sun and that would stay up for at least a day.”
CY: Kenny Mayne was the MVP of a Super Bowl.
KM: “Yeah exactly. But at the same time we had a little, it was like a convention of bloggers or something ESPN had put together. I spoke about this on tape that by no means do I damn every last person that has an internet site and decides to be a broadcaster. If you get out to 20,000 people, that’s broadcasting. There’s lots of local TV stations that don’t have 20,000 people. What bothers me is recklessness whether it’s done by a guy without a building or a guy with a building.
Recklessness is wrong period. So I don’t put it all on the bloggers. I’d say generally speaking those that don’t have a building don’t have to live up to a big standard based on the history of the company or whatever. They’re probably in a position to roam more freely and say crazier things. That’s probably why some of that happens cause what do you do? Is somebody going to sue some guy who doesn’t really have a foundation? Like what are you going to get if you sue them? Just satisfaction?”
CY: There is no corporation or corporate backing for most of these places.
KM: “And by no means would I. I wouldn’t go try to sue a guy who wrote Kenny was a little tipsy. It just bothers me because I don’t drink and it’s just troublesome that they can do whatever they want.”
CY: You might get someone to go take it down or tell them that’s not true or issue a statement or something like that.
KM: “I think on something like that you just let it go. There are certain times where I would defend something. I think I brought it up earlier that the guy on my chat who accused us of ripping off another TV show. I said so. But it takes a lot to get me very riled up. Some guy wants to say whatever Kenny was this, whatever. I don’t read that stuff hardly anyways so I don’t even know about it. I guess to me it’s kind of immaterial what is said because I rarely look at it.”
CY: But it doesn’t surprise you as an individual that a site can go out and put out a possible rumor/fact with not all the facts together and that can get an employee fired for example like what happened recently? [Steve Phillips was recently fired from his position at ESPN after reports surfaced that he was having an affair with an intern.] Is that not a surprise to you anymore?
KM: “I don’t know if I’m surprised at all because that’s our landscape. We have this instant communication. I can get on if I owned one of those machines and say I’m talking to this complete jerk, he’s interviewing me and he’s totally drunk and he’s making an ass out of himself. If I wanted to I could just make up anything about you and I could do it anonymously, like not even be me.
That’s the other thing. People don’t always do it with their other identities. It’s not really surprising at all. We as a society have been given this new toy and we use it recklessly at times. Again, we don’t always do that. I was a guy without a building. I was freelancing trying to get back into TV to ESPN. So I lived in an apartment. I had no portfolio. I had no sanction to do whatever little independent thing I was doing other than I was trying to do it.
This is before the Internet had taken off. Had the Internet been taken off then maybe that’s what I would’ve done. Maybe I would’ve said Kenny Mayne’s Sports World or whatever the hell I would’ve called it. I don’t know that it’s surprising at all. I think it’s actually rather predictable that it goes that way because watch how people behave. Of course people would do something like that. They would be a little reckless with this new toy.”
You can find all the recent episodes of Mayne Street staring Kenny Mayne with Ben Stiller and Jimmy Kimmel at http://www.maynestreet.net
You can follow Kenny on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kenny_mayne
You can find more information about Kenny Mayne’s recent book at http://www.kennymaynehaswrittenabook.com