Inside the Mind of ‘The League’s Rafi: Jason Mantzoukas and Seth Rogen on TV’s Craziest Dude
He is, in the words of The Joker, “an agent of chaos.” There is no more sick, twisted, obscene character on television than Rafi, the anarchic weirdo played by Jason Mantzoukas on FXX’s The League. Rafi, otherwise known as “Bro lo el Cuñado,” is the brother of the stunning Sofia, and stepbrother to Ruxin (Nick Kroll). The former altar boy (he was kicked out for raping a priest) lives in a decrepit apartment with a “toilet-kitchen,” keeps an endless supply of hot dogs on his person (“pocket dogs”), and occasionally pops what he calls a “murder boner” at the mere thought of extinguishing another man’s life.
Rafi’s partner-in-insanity is Dirty Randy, a librarian/porn producer played by none other than Seth Rogen. Last season, in the Mantzoukas- and Rogen-penned episode “Rafi and Dirty Randy,” the two maniacs stole Kevin’s car and embarked on a Grand Theft Auto-like road trip to L.A. to avenge the death of their pal.
“Jason is hilarious and insane,” says Rogen, who met him about five years ago on the comedy-writing circuit. “He truly pushes things farther than anyone I’ve worked with. The character is just the worst dude ever. No limit to the grossness. And Dirty Randy is just as bad if not worse, which makes for a wonderful dynamic.” He adds, “Jason makes me laugh hard as fuck.”
On Sept. 24, The League aired the episode “When Rafi Met Randy,” a wacky origin story set in a mental institution involving a trident dildo, electroshock therapy, and multiple homicides that seeks to explain how Rafi and Dirty Randy became the crazy bastards they are today.
The Daily Beast spoke to Mantzoukas, who in addition to his work on the fully-improvised series The League and various other comedy projects has become a very in-demand comedy writer (he co-wrote the box office hit Ride Along), about the birth of Rafi: The most insane character on TV.
The “origin story” episode of Rafi and Dirty Randy is insane. Seemed to be heavily influenced b One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
For sure One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a lot of it, but there was also a lot of it that were from prison break movies—for instance, the section where we make a porno movie and show it to everybody we wanted to be like that scene in Shawshank where he plays the record and everyone gets to listen to it while he’s in the administrator’s office.
You guys just love torturing Jorma Taccone. He really gets it in that porno video. Where did you even find that… dildo trident? Is that what you call it?
He’s so game for anything. But that shit we didn’t even do! That’s The League’s props department, who I feel are the happiest in the Rafi and Dirty Randy episodes because they make the craziest shit. That was a handheld, drill-based dildo trident, and last year, we had a dildo trident that was a big, Poseidon-like spear. Dildo tridents are a real central part of the mythology of Rafi and Dirty Randy, apparently.
How did you guys come up with the idea that Rafi and Dirty Randy became the crazy bastards they are through electroshock therapy?
In one of the improvised scenes in the Dirty Randy episode last year, we said we met in a mental institution in a throw-away, so as we were approaching this one, we knew we wanted to do an origin story and that’s how we got to Cuckoo’s Nest. And then it really cracked us up that it was the mental institution that made them the monsters we know and love.
What do you think is the most awful thing Rafi and Dirty Randy have done?
Oh man, I don’t know. From making horrible porn with homeless people to committing multiple murders… and there’s been stuff that we haven’t even seen that we’ve just talked about that sounds really horrible. In the last Rafi/Dirty Randy episode, there was a scene where I fell asleep while driving and then I woke up and Randy says, “Oh yeah, you caused a huge pile-up.” We’ve done some really terrible stuff. If you think about it, the fact that there are two characters who routinely commit wanton acts of murder, revenge, vigilante justice, possibly-consensual pornography on what is ostensibly a normal sitcom about guys who play fantasy football is pure madness.
Have you ever pushed the envelope too far and FXX came in and said, “That’s a bit much”?
They’ve let us do everything we wanted so far, and there’s stuff I was surprised they did that we didn’t even try and do. For example, when we shot the porno in Andre’s apartment, we got real porn stars, the porn stars really got naked, and they had real, crazy sex scenes. They got about as close to having real sex as possible. I just remember thinking, “Can we do this?!”
There’s a scene in the Rafi/Dirty Randy origin story where Rafi dies… but is brought back to life by essentially grabbing Lizzy Caplan’s breast.
[Laughs] Correct. As it should be. That benefitted from the fact that she’s a very good friend of mine and is very game for all of the shenanigans. She also knows Seth from doing The Interview and Freaks and Geeks. There’s something that happens on The League which is great, and both Lizzy and Seth are examples of it: In the second season, I improvised the concept of Dirty Randy—that if I was a nightmare to the guys, there was a guy that was a nightmare to me; Rafi’s Rafi. So I started talking about this guy Dirty Randy, and then the next season they wanted to cast the character and we got Seth, which was perfect. And with Lizzy, [Nick] Kroll and I were improvising a scene about me taking baby Jeffrey to swim class and I say, “I want to have sex with your sister,” and he says, “Fine! She’s super Jewish and has IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome),” and I say, “Fine, I’ll do it!” And then the next season, they said they’d introduce that character—the super Jewish sister who has IBS.
Rafi made his debut in the second season premiere, and it always struck me as a bit similar to what the It’s Always Sunny fellas did with Danny DeVito, where they introduced this total maniac into the mix to shake things up a bit.
Well, originally I was only supposed to be on three episodes and they didn’t have the character in mind, but they wanted to introduce Sofia’s brother as a guy who Ruxin reluctantly brings into the league in order to curry favor with Sofia, and that the league guys would hate him, and kick him out. Originally, they had named him “Sheldon.” I had originally auditioned for the show’s main cast and didn’t get it, but they liked me and wanted me to play the part, so they were cool about it and brought me on and asked, “What version of an unlikable guy do you want to be?” and I was like, “Oh, I know exactly who I want to be: I want to be a total maniac who is so excited to be a part of the group that he thinks they’re best friends, but he’s a completely out-of-control lunatic… but lovable, in a weird way.” And that was Rafi.
How did you develop Rafi’s wardrobe?
That was the wardrobe department. At the time, Andre was wearing all the douchey Ed Hardy-type stuff, which is where I could’ve seen Rafi going, so they went for the tank tops and medallions look. He almost seems like he’s from a foreign country, but he isn’t; he’s from another planet. He’s meant to be Sofia’s brother, which is hilarious because I don’t think we look anything alike.
But the fact that they look nothing alike makes the incestuous vibe between them all the more funny.
Exactly. That’s another thing that just happened—the incest stuff—and nobody stopped us. We were just improvising and everyone thought it was so funny but that it would never make the show. The volume of jokes that we improvise in takes for a scene is huge compared to what they actually then use, so every time I watch a scene and I see what they chose, I’m also mentally crossing off all the jokes that they didn’t use. But with the incest stuff, once the precedent was set and we were given the green light, we just ran with it. All of Season 2, Rafi had a lot of crazy 9/11 theories, almost all of which didn’t make the show. A lot of them were Loose Change-type conspiracy theories—like very misinformed inside job stuff, that all the Jews were told to leave the buildings, etc. He participated in all of the craziest conspiracies.
Rafi and Dirty Randy love to masturbate together, and they do it everywhere—even the Grand Canyon. In this episode, they introduce heavy eye contact, which was hilarious.
[Laughs] “It’s a jerk-off party!” I don’t know why that started. The first time that might have started was that scene with Kroll and I where he’s trying to convince me to take baby Jeffrey to swim class, and then he says, “I’ve got an idea…” and I just finish his sentence and say, “…jerk-off party? That’s great, let’s go!” and I start taking my pants off. So, that started this idea for me that Rafi just jerks off with his bros. It’s just what he does. And I feel like Rafi and Dirty Randy have a very intimate sexual relationship. Rafi and Dirty Randy is basically an insane romantic comedy for two male characters on television.
Do you have favorite Rafi lines, or expressions? The “Murder Boner” is a classic.
“Murder Boner” is a great one: “The thought of extinguishing a human life really makes me aroused.” A lot of the ones I love are because of the way they were shot. I love the line, “Let’s all get the same girl pregnant tonight!” because when I said it, it just destroyed everybody. When you watch it now, I’m not on camera when I say it because we couldn’t get it without everybody laughing, so they just ADR-ed it over me walking out of the scene. One of my all-time favorite scenes we ever shot was the scene where Kroll and I are sitting in armchairs, and I say, “I’ll be your ballsy guard. From now on, I’m Kevin Costner, your balls are Whitney Houston.” And then he says, “R.I.P.,” and Rafi didn’t know Whitney Houston was dead and loses his mind and says, “How’s Michael Jackson taking it?” That was the most difficult scene to shoot ever because we could not stop laughing ’cause none of it was in the script.
My favorite Rafi scenes are probably the one where the two guys are wrestling on the ground and all of a sudden a knife appears and Rafi is standing over them yelling…
… “Dive for the knife!” Oh yeah. [Laughs]
…And then the other one where Rafi steals Andre’s brand new Lexus SUV and then the fellas exit the party and see Rafi getting nailed by Russell in the backseat.
[Laughs] By Huebel? Yeah. That’s the cocaine toilet seat one!
What’s next for you?
I’ve got the rest of the season of The League, and the character Dennis Feinstein I play on Parks and Rec is coming back for an episode. I just did a bit in Rogen and Gordon-Levitt’s new movie X-Mas, and now I’m just writing. I wrote a movie last year for Imagine Entertainment that I’m putting together now hopefully to shoot next spring in New York. We’re going out to actors right now, and I’ll be directing it. It’s one of those “one long night in New York City” movies, sort of like Scorsese’s After Hours. It’s about a guy who disappears down the rabbit hole of New York City chasing after a girl.