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A conversation with Matt Iseman of 'Sports Soup'

Matt Iseman, host of the new sports-comedy show Sports Soup, wonders why people take their sports so seriously. It’s supposed to be fun, he says. That’s the main idea he hopes to get across when Sports Soup premieres at 9 p.m. CT Tuesday, Oct. 14, on Versus. “The whole purpose of this show,” says Iseman, a standup comedian turned TV host, “is to hold the mirror up to sports and show some of the things are just worth laughing at. Because if you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry.” The half-hour, two-nights-a-week program (Tuesday and Thursday) aims to skewer the sports world -- players, fans and media alike -– in much the same way that The Daily Show pokes fun at news and politics. “We don’t have an ax to grind,” Iseman says. “We’re not trying to make anyone look bad or get anyone fired. But we’re giving them the rope. If they want to hang themselves, we’ll let them and we’ll let you laugh about it.”

Which will be the focus of the comedy? Will it be funny sports highlights? Bad sports interview segments? Weird fans? Bonehead announcers?

“All of those things. We’ve done test shows, and I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to be different every week. We’re certainly keeping our eyes on all of it. The way it works is we find all these clips. We have about 20 people watching around 100 hours of sports every day, and we pull the clips. And whichever clips make us laugh the hardest, we start thinking of some funny lines for them.”

How about a specific example of a laughably weird sports clip?

“We found footage of Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach’s show when he was actually giving dating advice, what to do on a first date. He talked about taking your date to a steak house, because there isn’t salad and you want to see a girl eat. I thought, ‘That’s good, Leach.’ He also used the word ‘conversate.’ Which I thought was a testament to the educational standards at Texas Tech.”

Basically, you like it when sports makes an unexpected turn and veers way off course, right?

“Yeah. The other night, I went to Detroit and Joe Louis Arena for the Red Wings’ opening game when they hoisted the championship banner. They had a concert afterwards with Def Leppard. Darren McCarty of the Red Wings rode the Stanley Cup in on a motorcycle. And the lead singer of Def Leppard picks up the Cup, takes it over to a podium and places it upside down. McCarty races over, trying to correct the sacrilege that was just committed and avoid 20 years of bad luck, flips the Cup upright. And the singer is like, ‘Aw, well, we’re soccer fans.’ Well, we’re all glad you’re here at this hockey concert!”

Who is likely to become Sports Soup’s favorite over-the-top, wild-man sports announcer?

“Jim Rome. It took me a long time to figure Jim Rome out. But I will tell you that, as a standup comedian, I have a great appreciation for what Romey does. Because he’s really doing standup comedy on his show. The way he performs it, he’s completely over the top and bombastic, but he’s got a strong point of view. He’s a guy who’s very firmly tongue in cheek, which I think Sports Soup is. I love Bob Costas, but he doesn’t give us as many good quotes as guys like Terry Bradshaw, Tony Kornheiser, Steven A. Smith. Those guys are really going to give us a lot of mileage on the show. Unfortunately, people have realized that by being extreme, you get a lot more attention. So sometimes, I think, they’re embracing points of view that they don’t necessarily believe and getting upset about things that they could not possibly be that upset about. So I’m glad to have a forum where we can hold up the spotlight and go, ‘Seriously?’”

How did you wind up as host of the show?

“When I heard Versus was doing a show that had sports and comedy, I was very excited. I played sports my whole life. Football, basketball and baseball in high school. I was a starting pitcher at Princeton for four years. After I became a doctor, I was doing residency and I decided to quit to do standup. And for the past 9 1/2 years, I’ve been making people laugh. So when I saw something that combined comedy and sports, I got very excited and I auditioned. Other than that, it was just a whole lot of praying and some luck.”

Is there a team that you live and die with?

“The Denver Broncos probably are going to be at the top of my list. I remember Craig Morton losing to the Cowboys back in the ’70s, but John Elway was my guy. I’m excited with Jay Cutler, who looks like he could be the second coming, as long as he keeps his diabetes in check.”

Who, in your opinion, are the most obnoxious fans in sports?

“I was a Game 4 last year when the Red Sox swept the Rockies in the World Series. And I’ve got to tell you, as much as people knock the Yankees fans, the Boston fans have become far worse.”