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Out of Bounds: An interview with Nick Bakay

Monday, March 25, 2002

By Seth Rorabaugh, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Usually, the Angry Young Man asks the silly question; not today (or tomorrow). Angry has passed the proverbial tape recorder to WebMaster, who scored serious national creed for One of America's Inside Pages by convincing a certain comedic genius to go "Out Of Bounds." Enjoy.

Part I ...

On a voice mail normally reserved for the likes of the East Monongahela Sportsmen or the Mars Rod and Gun Club a different voice was heard. No, this voice didn't want information about turkey shoots or fishing with larvae seminars placed in One of America's Newspapers. This voice wanted something else.

(Click here to see Part II of this interview)

"Hi, this is Nick Bakay getting back to you much belatedly. I clearly need a hot young assistant to organize my life. If what you're interested in stands, give me a call."

We had e-mailed Bakay, a contributor to the many forms of ESPN and probably best known as the voice of Salem the Cat on the show "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," some three months before requesting an interview. After a week of no response, the assumption was that he was just another typical big-time cat-voice guy blowing us off.

Bakay, who showed some incredible coordination by talking to us on his cell phone while driving to work in the madness that is Los Angeles' traffic, has quite the resume. In addition to his regular role on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," he has appeared in sitcoms such as "Coach," "Ellen," "Grace Under Fire," "Murphy Brown," "That 70s Show" and "Seinfeld." A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is a former writer for "In Living Color" and the "Dennis Miller Show".

He was one of the first personalities with ESPN2 and he also contributes to ESPN Radio and ESPN.com's Page Two, primarily with his "Tales of Tape." Next month, he will add his talents to ESPN's coverage of the NFL Draft. As if all that weren't enough, he is also currently a writer for the CBS sitcom "King of Queens." Bakay, 43, resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Robin.

Q: How does one go about getting into the sitcom business, specifically as far as being the voice of a cat?

A: The best way I know of to become the disembodied voice of an animal is fail over and over on camera and slowly be moved to the minors. The market teaches you what you are. ... I'm a puppet.

Q: You're mostly behind the scenes as a writer. Do you still plan on being on camera?

A: I get opportunities; believe it or not, they still call me at pilot season. I've found writing is just so much more proactive. You're not waiting on other people to write it and to call you to be interested, to go through that whole gauntlet. At this point, other than the ESPN stuff, I think if I end up writing a show and selling it myself there's always interest in me acting in it and that way I'd be happy to do it. If something blew me off my feet, I'd be interested in doing an acting role. But for the most part, I'm not focusing on that so much. I just try to keep the rust off by doing a little bit here and there.

Q: You've worked with Melissa Joan Hart and now Leah Remini. Is there a method to your madness?

A: Yeah, it makes my long days on the set a lot more delightful. And I consider them friends. They're really, really cool people. And your life especially as a writer/producer is decreed by the attitude of the cast, especially when the show has a long life span. I've been very lucky that both the "Sabrina" people and the cast of "King of Queens" are really great people to work with.

Q: Is Melissa single?

A: Yeah.

Q: Can you give out her phone number?

A: Yeah, I'll give it right to the stalkers' hotline.

Q: Which episode of "Coach" were you on?

A: I was on an episode after they went to the pros. It was called "Coach's Corner." I was the co-host of the Orlando Breakers' local TV show. The local guy who co-hosts with the coach and I got [canned] in the episode because I'm just harassing him on how they lose every game. It's rerunning somewhere.

Q: It might be on our local Fox affiliate. You don't have any Minnesota State Screaming Eagles or Orlando Breakers hats or jackets or anything?

A: I don't have anything like that. But, as a matter of fact, Bill Fagerbakke, who played Dauber, he and I went to grad school together at SMU, and we roomed together in our pathetic, humiliating, salad days in New York for about four years, so I have a lot of history with that show through Bill.

Q: SMU? Southern Methodist right?

A: Yeah, we were there during the death-penalty years. We were there with the Pony Express, when they were earning, literally, the death penalty for their football program. So it was high times in Dallas.

Q: You were in the "Smelly Car" episode of "Seinfeld." Are you scared that if you go out and do a "Bob Patterson Show" or "Michael Richards Show" you might be doomed, too?

A: I was there briefly, so I hope the curse didn't hit me, too. Although, God knows, to this point, I may have been the carrier that infected them because most of the shows I've started were in and out quick. The funny thing about that was that my wife had never gone out with an actor or anybody in this line of work, and one of the things she asked me in the early going was what's it going to be like if you have to kiss somebody. And I said, "God love you, but nobody's asked me to do that since the college play and even then it wasn't pretty. So you really don't have to worry about it." Then, of course, I came back from the table read, and said, "Well, the good news is I got a job. The bad news is I'm making out with Elaine."

Q: It could be worse.

A: Exactly. There's not hazard pay for that.

Q: Making out with Michael Richards doesn't have the same appeal to it, not that there's anything wrong with that.

A: But the check's the same.

Q: No hopes for a "Salem the Cat" show?

A: I don't think so.

Q: Salem the Cat isn't going to be in Maxim?

A: You never know. We could make a lot of jokes about that.

Q: You work for two giant evil corporations.

A: Don't we all?

Q: We only work for one.

A: It's definitely the conglomerate era.

Q: How do you manage to spread your soul around?

A: I think the real secret is to spread it around as little as possible in those domains. I pretty much lock it in a little box and put it in my pocket and say, "I'll see you when I get home."

Q: They still pay you?

A: Yeah they do. It's beautiful.

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