Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, known as Men in Blazers, are two very funny English dudes on TV, who, like a couple of sports-mad John Olivers, rant about soccer [which we shall henceforward call "football"] and goof off with a lot of verbal fireworks, nutty guests, and silly business.
Men in Blazers are coming to Philadelphia on July 6 for a TLA show that, as I write, is sold out. That speaks to the crazy, unlikely popularity of this comic duo in the United States. They are indeed, two guys who wear blazers (Latin motto: Viri Recte Vestiti, "Men Correctly Dressed"). They first came to wide notice in the United States in 2014, when they provided smart, hilarious commentary for ESPN's coverage of the World Cup.
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Men in Blazers is a website, a show on NBCSN, and a weekly podcast. Extending their media domination, they now have a new book titled Encyclopedia Blazertannica, which has been both the number-one sports book and the number-one encyclopedia on Amazon.com. ("To be quite fair," Davies said, "it's possible that the Amazon encyclopedia trade is perhaps less than robust.")
Nor is Men in Blazers the only gig for these two. Bennett makes documentaries, and Davies is an Emmy-winning TV producer, now in L.A. "doing what half the people in L.A. are doing," he says, "producing a show for Netflix."
So, explain the show? "The main point in the show is to make each other laugh," Davies said. "Beyond that, yes, we've been known to touch on football now and again." Repartee, off-the-cuff jokes, wordplay (suboptimal is a favorite theme-word), pop references, and a lot of bald-guy jokes (since Bennett is one and Davies will be) punctuate knowledgeable, indeed obsessive, football talk. Meat pies are consumed for their magic powers. They and the aforementioned Oliver bit into pies and made predictions about 2018:
And the blazers? "We were amazed, when we came to this country, to see the authority, for absolutely no reason, accorded to TV guys who wear blazers," said Bennett. "On ABC, it was red, and CBS, it was powder blue. Wear a blazer, and even if you talk utter crap, people will say, 'Now, that man knows his stuff.' So we said, 'Right. That's for us.' "
And the book? Why an encyclopedia?
"So we could write about whatever we wanted," Bennett said, "and make it seem organized."
Davies said, "Because we thought, 'It'll be easy. Each of us writes short little bits, organized alphabetically. What could be easier?' It turned out to be massively difficult. Each little entry turned into a major treatise. But we have it cut down now, and there's something for everybody in there somewhere." He adds that "the biggest kick in writing this is to call Roger and tell him I've been reading his stuff and laughing myself absolutely hoarse, and having him call me and say exactly the same thing."
When reached, Bennett was about to board a plane for Russia, to go to the World Cup, only hours after England's national team, playing with verve, had shellacked Panama by the rare score of 6-1. So Bennett was on top of the world, or any other planet. (England plays Colombia on Tuesday, in the "knockout round" of 16 teams in the tournament.)
"This is easily the greatest World Cup in the history of the entire universe!" he said, with characteristic understatement.
Davies, reached two days later, was also whirling in delirium, since only minutes before, mighty Germany, the 2014 champ, had just fallen to South Korea in the game's twilight moments, one of the great upsets in the sport's history.
Of the German departure, Davies said, again understated, "I'm with Roger. It's like Darth Vader is dead, and it's only the first act."
These guys may be Brits originally, but they love the United States, especially the men's national soccer team, which so ignominiously failed to get to the 2018 World Cup at all. ("That's the real reason we're doing this tour," says Bennett: "to make people feel better.") Davies was in the class of 1985 at Mercersburg Academy in Franklin County, Pa., for one of his teen years. His love affair with America was already well under way: "I was a kid in love with American pop of the '60s and '70s, Etta James, Al Green, Sam Cooke. I was trying to grow up as an inner-city American kid." He calls his year at Mercersburg "the year that changed my life. It was perfectly acceptable to have a positive outlook on life. In Southeast London, where I grew up, if you were cheerful you got hit in the head, quite hard."
Bennett can beat that. He has tweeted that his long U.S. love may have been started by "the fact my first ever duvet cover was Scooby-Doo-themed." Actually, it's far more serious than that: On June 1, Bennett became a U.S. citizen.
"Can I say how super-excited I am to be coming to Philadelphia?" he says. "It's a town that reminds me of my home town, Liverpool, a working-class town which has had to defer to the bigger cities like New York and L.A., and with the Eagles winning, and Villanova, it's now fought its way to the top."