Comedians get together with their buddies just like everyone else. They go bowling, play poker, maybe even try out new material. But for a group of women actors, writers and comedians, a funny thing happened when they formed a pick-up basketball team.
Frame contributor Elyssa Dudley has the story of the Pistol Shrimps — an amateur team that began as a pastime. But because of who plays and where they play, this casual hoop dream has spawned a podcast, a documentary and more.
If you Google “pistol shrimp,” the top results are about a little-known sea creature, but the seventh hit down is a GQ article titled, “Aubrey Plaza’s Basketball Team: Meet the Pistol Shrimps." From afar, the Pistol Shrimps seem like a bizarre publicity stunt, or an SNL skit that spilled over into real life.
After all, Aubrey Plaza was on NBC's "Parks and Rec" and she's just one of a handful of professional comedians and actresses on the Pistol Shrimps. "It’s pretty much split half-and-half — comedians and people with real jobs," says Maria Blasucci, the founder of the Pistol Shrimps. She is a regular on the Comedy Central show, "Drunk History" and will be in the upcoming Christopher Guest movie, "Mascots." But Blasucci says the team was formed for fun not for a stunt.
BLASUCCI: One day a week, you get together with friends. You play some basketball. You go out for pizza afterwards and then you, you know, go home.
That's sounds simple but the origin of the team wasn't. In fact, in order to have the team they first had to create the league.
Here's the story: When Blasucci went to sign up on the L.A. Parks and Rec website for a women's league it appeared there were only co-ed or men's teams. And it was only once she looked very closely that she found the place to mark if she wanted to play in a women's league, "It was like super small." But she thought, Alright, it exists. She started recruiting friends to be on her team and they started practicing and she even asked a friend to coach them. But then...
BLASUCCI: A couple months later, I went to the park with my application. And they said, "Oh, the women’s league hasn’t existed in many years. Every year, we hope that women will come sign up, but they never do.”
But Blasucci wasn’t buying it. They told her it would reopen the league if she could round up enough women to form enough teams to make a league. So the Pistol Shrimps sprung into action. Blasucci asked the parks office if anyone else had tried to sign up for the women’s league, and it turns out, a lot had.
BLASUCCI: It was like a five-page document of girls’ names and emails and what positions they played.
She emailed all of them. And then, her teammates sent out mass emails to their comedian friends — at Upright Citizens Brigade and iO West — saying, You don’t have to be good at basketball, but we need teams. Start your own team. And lots of people responded. Both experienced players and women that had never set foot on a court.
BLASUCCI: It grew super fast. So it was us, two free agent teams and three improv teams...The dance team came in that first year.
Then the Pistol Shrimps started posting about games on Twitter and Facebook. For the comedians on the team, it was second nature.
BLASUCCI: We just made this social media presence about ourselves that was funny to us because, on the court, we would get annihilated. People started following us. People started liking us.
And things kind of snowballed from there. They became the stars of a fake Burger King commercial floating around online. They became the subject of Pistol Shrimps Radio, a podcast hosted by two comedians who set up a folding table in the gym to record a play-by-play of the game.
BLASUCCI: We take basketball very seriously when we’re on the court, but off the court, we like to have fun with the personality of the team.
But it’s also inspired a flurry of media coverage.
BLASUCCI: We’ll just be playing basketball and we’ll get a Facebook message and it says, Hey, this is ESPN and we want to do this thing on you. And we're like, Yeah, come on down. We’re just playing ball.
Blasucci says they’re amused by all this attention, but it was never the point of the team.
BLASUCCI: This basketball team has not affected my career [laughs]. No, I gain nothing from it. It’s all to make us laugh.