Yes, that was an Islanders cap you saw on the head of the director if you happened upon filming of the Netflix movie “The Week Of” last summer in locations around Long Island.
And yes, it might partly have been a strategy to win over the locals.
“It was an element of kissing Long Island [expletive], I will confess that, the fact that I wore that particular cap every day,” Robert Smigel said, laughing, in an interview to promote the film’s premiere on Friday.
But it was more than that. Even though Smigel, 58, who co-wrote the script with Adam Sandler, grew up in Manhattan and was a fan of the early 1970s Rangers, he adopted the Islanders during their 1975 run to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
“I had already possessed the cap long before I had the [Netflix] job,” he said, recalling in detail that 1975 team, the late ’70s playoff disappointments, the four-Cup run of the early 1980s and the “challenges” of later seasons.
“The Mike Milbury years, they did not warm up to the process,” he said. “I enjoyed Pat LaFontaine and enjoyed some of the players, but I kind of got disillusioned.”
Smigel later moved on to the Devils, of whom his late father, Irwin, was a fan. He said centrally located Manhattanites have the luxury of fluid fandom. He said he always has been a Mets fan, with some on and off with the Yankees periods.
To make a lengthening story short, the guy is a passionate and knowledgeable sports fan, even if his loyalties waver.
“The Week Of” has nothing directly to do with sports. It concerns a father of the bride, played by Sandler, who insists on paying for the wedding despite being of lesser means than the father of the groom, played by Chris Rock.
But sports long have bonded Sandler and Smigel, back to their days working at “Saturday Night Live,” and Smigel found a way to inject some local sports flavor into the film.
On several occasions, Sandler’s character turns on his car radio to listen to WFAN’s midday show, and one can clearly hear co-host Joe Benigno, whom Smigel considered a good fit for a regular-guy sports fan on Long Island.
“My favorite radio voice,” Smigel said of Benigno. “I would have used [Mike] Francesa, but I knew he was retiring so I decided that what I love about Joe and Evan is I love the passion.” (This was Monday, before news broke that Francesa was un-retiring from WFAN.)
“There are certain people that just get me and I can’t stop laughing when I listen to them. Stephen A. Smith is another one. I used to write the Stephen A. Smith sketch on ‘SNL’ that Jay Pharoah used to do.
“I just love when people are screaming passionately about things like a LeBron tweet where they just have so much time they need to fill that they will get on their soap box about the most trivial things and run with it for five minutes and get emotional and there’s nothing funnier.
“Joe and Evan just have a really funny rhythm, where Evan does most of the talking, and Joe is like one of the Pips sometimes. Gladys Knight is doing most of the talking and Joe is like, ‘Absolutely. You got it right there, bro. No, definitely, no doubt about it. That’s not going to work, gotta trade him, gotta trade him.’
“He’s just got the funniest voice for a guy who Adam would be a devoted listener to.”
In one scene, Sandler’s character drives to pick up Rock at a high-end Manhattan hotel, and he turns the radio from WFAN to NPR for fear of embarrassment when he sees hipsters standing on the sidewalk outside the entrance.
There is a Little League baseball scene in the movie, filmed at City Stadium Park in Glen Cove, but for a guy with as extensive a writing and acting experience as Smigel, he has relatively little sports on his professional resume.
He said the most “sports-y” thing he has done was the classic “Saturday Night Live” skits featuring heavily accented, avid Chicago Bears fans who worship coach Mike Ditka. He co-wrote those with Bob Odenkirk. He’s more well-known for the “TV Funhouse” cartoons and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
Smigel lived in Chicago for three years in the 1980s and learned the sports vibe when he attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and asked for the best available seat. He got one behind the dugout, only to discover that bleacher seats were the ones everyone wanted.
“It was really big in Chicago,” he said of the skit. “It’s one of those ones that people still are aware of because people use ‘Da Bears’ in sports headlines all the time.”
Smigel said the “SNL” writers’ room was light on sports followers. “It was almost a snobbery thing where if you’re too into sports you’re wasting time,” he said. “You should be reading books.”
But Sandler and Smigel found in each other someone to talk sports to, and also found that both were connected to sports through their fathers. Smigel’s dad died in 2016, not long before he wrote the script.
“He’s in the [Sandler] character; so is Adam’s dad,” Smigel said. “This movie came easily to us because one of the things we always connected with at ‘SNL’ is we were two guys who had very loving and close-knit families and parents and we both worshipped our dads and our dads were strong personalities.”
About that Islanders cap: Did he get many positive comments on it from the locals?
“I think when you’re out there wearing it and you’re not with the movie you’re just another guy in an Islanders hat,” he said. “When I was shooting the movie, I got [only] a couple of positive comments from people, maybe because people aren’t that psyched about the Islanders.”