Two Hollywood actors are moving a decades-long game over who has a better baseball announcer "voice" into a courtroom.
On one side is Hank Azaria, who is most famous for performing the voices of Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy and more on The Simpsons. Azaria has also starred in Mad About You, Godzilla, Shattered Glass, The Birdcage and other TV shows and films.
On the other side is Craig Bierko, who has had his own solid career on the stage, in films like Cinderella Man and TV shows including Sex and the City.
Azaria is now suing Bierko over rights to the "Jim Brockmire Character," which was featured by Azaria on a popular Funny or Die video. He says there's interest in adapting this character into a feature film, but Bierko is purportedly claiming some credit for coming up with the voice of this character. Azaria says that if he isn't given a declaration by a judge that a copyright on "Jim Brockmire" is his, he and his company, How to Pictures, will be permanently damaged.
When most people think about what copyright protects, it's things like movies, TV shows, music, and books -- not character voices.
But Azaria vs. Bierko sets up an interesting showdown.
Azaria says he came up with the voice of an old-timey baseball announcer who speaks with peculiar speech inflections as far back as 1983 when, according to his lawsuit in California federal court on Wednesday, "he performed it on the quadrangle of his college."
He says he met Bierko in 1990 and shared the baseball announcer voice with him, too.
But had Bierko already come up with his own baseball announcer voice?
The two actors are said to have had a mutual acquaintance, who before 1990, had heard Azaria's voice and knew of Bierko's voice. This third person arranged a meeting between the two so that Azaria could perform his voice for Bierko, and Bierko could perform his voice for Azaria.
The two actors became chummy and traded their development of the voice.
The lawsuit states, "After Azaria met Bierko in or around 1990, they started fooling around with the Azaria voice and the Bierko voice. Azaria and Bierko used to put the Azaria Voice and the Bierko Voice respectively on voice messages for each other for a period of about 3-5 years."
Azaria has now become famous for his Simpsons voices, but he's been particularly keen on the baseball announcer voice. In 2010, he created a video for Funny or Die that features the voice in the character of "Jim Brockmire." The viral video is a mock documentary of a legendary baseball announcer with a penchant for obscure cultural references. Testimonials are given from real-life sports announcers including Dan Patrick, Joe Buck and Rich Eisen. There's also a story about how Brockmire caught his wife cheating on him, had a breakdown on the air and was consequently fired.
Azaria wants to turn "Jim Brockmire" into a film, but Bierko allegedly is getting in his way.
According to the lawsuit, Bierko has "demanded that Azaria cease and desist from exploiting the Azaria voice and, by inference, the Jim Brockmire character. Bierko is erroneously stating that he (Bierko) created the Azaria voice and, by implication, the Jim Brockmire character."
Azaria is represented by Michael Plonsker at Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi.
Bierko couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Here is the Funny or Die video:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner