CHICAGO — “Ted Lasso” co-creator Brendan Hunt calls himself a soccer missionary.
It’s a sport the Chicago native had little knowledge of — or interest in — before moving to Amsterdam in the late 1990s to join the Boom Chicago sketch comedy troupe. Jason Sudeikis, another expat from the Chicago comedy scene, would join him at Boom Chicago not long after, and between shows the two would convene to the green room to play FIFA on PlayStation, planting the seeds for a TV series that scored 20 Emmy nominations last week, including one for Hunt as supporting actor.
The Apple TV+ comedy is back for a second season on Friday, this time with Sudeikis’ aw shucks American football coach better acclimated to his job as the manager of an English soccer team. By his side, as always, is his semi-taciturn, surprisingly offbeat right-hand man, Coach Beard, played by Hunt.
Ted’s big-hearted embrace of the world contrasted with Beard’s weirder, quieter approach would first come to life in a 2013 promotional spot the pair made for NBC’s coverage of Premier League Football, as the sport is known outside the United States. “In that first spot, when I’m holding up flashcards to help him learn, was exactly what I was doing when Jason came to Boom Chicago,” said Hunt. “I was always ready to do that. Any time I’m at a bar, I’m hoping somebody asks me about the offside rule. Give me four bottles of beer and one bottle of ketchup and I’m going to explain this to you so well because I love explaining soccer.”
Soccer wasn’t part of his life growing up. He described his childhood in Chicago as nomadic.
“My mom and dad were very young when they had me,” he said. “They were 20 and 19 when I was born. My dad had just come back from Vietnam, and I think he had PTSD that he never treated, in that sort of macho-denial way. So they were divorced by the time I was 2, and my mom tried to raise me and my younger sister by herself. That proved very taxing, so there was a lot of moving around.” He and his sister lived with his grandmother for a time. When his mother remarried, the family finally settled in Lakeview.
It was an eighth grade field trip to Second City in 1987 that set Hunt on his path as an actor.
“The show was called ‘Jean-Paul Sartre and Ringo.’ Bonnie Hunt was in the cast and she made the biggest impression on me. That show just blew me away. I couldn’t believe these people were doing this. So that had a big effect on me. But also the same year, on another field trip, I saw ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Court Theatre, and I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. That’s when I started doing school plays and started an improv group.”
He attended high school at Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park — “incongruously, for someone who lived on the North Side” — and then studied theater at Illinois State University, before returning to Chicago, where he was one of the founders of a theater company called Wax Lips.
At the same time, he was also performing improv at ComedySportz, which is where he and Sudeikis would first meet. “One day at the theater, this Volvo station wagon shows up and two guys get out; they were ComedySportz guys, too, from Kansas City. One of them was Jason, and he was hilarious and immediately made an impression. Like, this guy’s for real. So we would see each other off and on in Chicago, and then when he joined Boom Chicago and came to Amsterdam, that’s when our friendship really cemented.”