Matt Bonner is in Toronto this week speaking to players at Nike’s Americas Team Camp, which features 60 of the best high school-level players in this hemisphere. Not long after he delivered a welcoming address to the campers, I caught up with Bonner to talk about his biggest non-basketball passion, sandwiches comedy.
SN: Are you still in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen or has that ship sailed?
MB: The ship has kind of sailed. I wouldn’t say we’ve docked on the other side of the world yet or anything, but I haven’t really heard any new developments over the last couple of years. I think its been like five years since I started the process. You know, I did everything asked of me and obviously I wanted to get that done so I can play with the national team, but it never went through.
SN: Hopefully it can still happen for you.
MB: [Laughs] Hopefully soon. I’m not getting any younger.
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SN: Off the court, you’ve made some forays into the world of comedy, which got me thinking: From Coach Popovich on down, it seems a lot of guys on the Spurs are legitimately funny. Is that just a coincidence or does comedy play a role on the San Antonio Spurs?
MB: I think when you talk about our team and our players, you ask the question, “Is he a Spur?” When you go ahead and define what a ‘Spur’ is, most people would say hard-working, puts the team first, high character—everything you associate with the Spurs brand. But really, another characteristic of being a Spur is having a sense of humour. It’s a long season with a lot of ups and downs. Having a sense of humour is a good way to deal with stress and relieve tension and keep our team on an even keel. And just because you have a sense of humour off the court doesn’t mean you don’t have a killer instinct on it.
SN: Easily my favourite comedy bit I’ve seen from you is you’re recreation of Andy Kaufman’s performance of the Mighty Mouse theme song. How’d that come about and when did you become aware of Andy Kaufman and his comedy?
MB: Well, thank you. You know, admittedly it’s probably not the first thing people would have picked when asked to do a Saturday Night Live parody [note: the original Mighty Mouse performance served as the 'musical act' on the very first SNL episode back in 1975], but I’m a big fan of Andy Kaufman. My dad was a huge fan of Taxi and Saturday Night Live, and if Andy Kaufman was on TV he’d pull me over to watch it. I don’t know if they were reruns or not, but it was in the ’80s when I was a kid and those are some of my earliest childhood memories. I just remember thinking he was really funny and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I just knew he was funny.
And then I kind of forgot about him for years until the movie came out with Jim Carey [Man on the Moon]. It was like “Oh, yeah!” You know, you look at how far comedy has come and what’s hot right now, and a lot of it is that subtle, awkward humour. Kaufman was really a pioneer of that.
SN: And, save for his Tony Clifton character, he was clean and still funny, which is harder to do.
MB: Yeah, it’s easy to tell dirty jokes and be funny that way, I feel like anybody can do that. But to be unique, original, not offend anyone and still be that funny is a skill for sure.
SN: So how’d that video come together?
MB: The Spurs’ video people filmed it, but I set everything up and brought everything. I had an old record player, I brought that. I brought a record. Those were actually clothes that I already owned—I just tried to pick what would best look like him. I watched the Youtube video of him maybe, eight times, and then I went onstage and did my best impersonation. It’s funny, because I actually nailed it right on the first take. One take. Done. And then I remember the Spurs’ video people just looked at me like, “Is that it?” As if to say, “Is that what you were actually trying to do?” I said, “Yeah, I don’t think I could do it any better.” But they were professionals so they just said, “Well, how about we do it a couple more times, so we feel like we did our jobs.” But I think they ended up going with the first take.
SN: So growing up with your dad, I take it you were an SNL fan by proxy?
MB: Oh, absolutely. He was a huge Belushi fan. Huge Chevy Chase fan. I remember watching Animal House and Caddyshack consistently growing up.
SN: Ever been to an SNL taping?
MB: I have not. But I tried to go last year. By some stroke of luck we got four off-days in New York City. I had just had dinner with my brother and my parents, and we were like, “What do we do now? It’s Saturday, let’s see if we can go to Saturday Night Live!” We were a block away, walked over, but it turned out it was a night they weren’t taping, so we couldn’t go. We have a connection and everything to get in, but, yeah, didn’t work out. But you know, when I lived in Toronto, I used to live next door to Second City and I used to go there quite a bit. There’s also a stand-up comedy club called The Laugh Resort a block away, and I would go there every week. I never got up on stage, though. They talked to me about doing it—on Sunday nights they just had a freelance… whatever you call it. I said yes, but it was right near the end of the season and I ended up getting traded to the Spurs that summer.
SN: You did get to go on stage at the ImprovOlympic, the legendary comedy guru Del Close’s club in Chicago. And I take it that it the significance of that wasn’t lost on you.
MB: I remember showing up and it was just this sense of wow, thinking of all the people who have performed here. So I was getting kind of nervous and then before going on stage, I met with the team I was going to be working with and it was obvious that these guys were hilarious and I didn’t even need to do anything to be funny. I can just, like, be myself and they’ll be hilarious. So that was my strategy.
SN: Did you find you had to work harder to get laughs because you’re an ‘outsider’ in that world?
MB: No, just the opposite. I think people thought it was funny to see me up there and see how uncomfortable I was with everything. Honestly, though, the hardest part was not laughing, not breaking character. We were up there a while and I think I only broke character one time.
SN: So who are your favourite comedians nowadays?
MB: Louis CK and Bob Marley, who’s a stand-up comedian from Maine. He does a ton of New England humour—where I grew up—so it’s all local and regional. Even if you’re not from New England, it’s pretty funny. My favourite sketch comedians would be Tim & Eric.
SN: Have you ever gotten to cross paths with any of them?
MB: No, but I did cross paths with Hari Kondabolu in Portland at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. I caught his show and it was hilarious.
SN: Who’s your funniest current teammate?
MB: Oh man, that’s too hard. Like I said, all the guys are funny.
SN: Then who was the funniest teammate when you were with the Raptors?
MB: Chris Bosh was really funny. That was right around when Family Guy was coming on strong and he was a big fan, always quoting it, doing the voices, stuff like that.
SN: Which player would make the best stand-up comedian?
MB: I think it would be really funny to see Kawhi Leonard do stand-up comedy. Just because he’s probably the last person anybody would expect to get up on the mic. It’d be really funny a) to see what he’d come up with, and b) to see how uncomfortable he might be up there. I’d pay to see that.
SN: What’s the funniest thing you’ve heard on the court during a game?
MB: A lot of funny stuff comes from the stands. I’ll be taking the ball in and someone will yell, “Hey Bonner! You need to get a tan! Get some sun!” And I’m like, “It’s the middle of January and I’m a redhead! What do you expect?”
SN: So you’re in Toronto for a little while, are you planning on hitting any comedy stages while you’re in the city?
MB: No, I’m too busy and we have two little kids now. I’m more comfortable doing videos, like the “Red Mamba”, “Coach B”, and stuff like that.
SN: Those “Coach B” videos are great, and I love the way they’re cut together. Do you have any input in, say, the editing process for those?
MB: I do the editing myself! All of the “Coach B” stuff I wrote, filmed and edited myself [laughs]. I wanted to learn how to do video editing, so I decided to do my own web series to figure it out. And I realized quickly how hard it is, and how bad I am at it. So I’m like, “I just need to make this really bad so it’ll seem like it’s bad on purpose and everyone will think that’s funny!”
SN: You mentioned your kids. Are you trying to influence their comedy tastes like your dad did with you?
MB: Oh, I try really hard. When it comes to kids shows, I’m a huge fan of Phineas and Ferb and SpongeBob SquarePants, so I’ve been giving them a steady diet of those two because I think whoever writes for those two shows are legitimately funny.