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Kobe Bryant Talks “The Punies”

Kobe Bryant has created a new podcast called “The Punies” aimed at teaching children life lessons through sports. Irvine Weekly Publisher Brian Calle caught up with Kobe at Children’s Hospital Orange County – where he was doing a surprise special reading of the series for the patients – to discuss Kobe’s new venture in the podcast space.

Each 15-minute episode of the podcast follows main character “Puny” Pete, as he tackles a different sport with his friends. “The Punies” can be found on Apple’s Podcast app, Google Play, Spotify and elsewhere and is currently the #1 family rated podcast in the market.

Photo courtesy of Children’s Hospital Orange County

Brian Calle: I’m here with Kobe Bryant, who’s got a new adventure in his life. Kobe, how exciting is this for you?

Kobe Bryant: It’s actually pretty exciting.

BC: It’s a super-cool new podcast called “The Punies.” What was the inspiration?

KB: Every 4th of July we watch “The Sandlot” at our house while we grill burgers. After watching, I was like, “We need a movie like this. We need a sports film for kids, again.” So at that point I started writing … and writing and writing and writing.

BC: So it wasn’t going to start as a podcast, it was going to start as a film?

KB: Well, it wasn’t going to start as anything, it was just some film ideas. Then, October came around, and we watched The Peanuts, “Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving,” which is a family tradition, and as I am watching, I just sat up off the couch and [gasped]. My daughter was like, “You had an idea, didn’t you?” And yes, yes I did. Because I had “Puny” Pete as a character already written for some short stories, independently. And I had B.B. LaBelle written for short stories as well, I thought put them together, right?! Good ol’ Gang, announcers and a podcast. Announcers are the lense into the world. And then we set the stakes. You set the stakes and it keeps kids interested. Got it! And that’s how “The Punies” were born.

BC: What’s the vision for it? What do you hope to accomplish with the podcast?

KB: Well the thing is, as parents, we’re in constant danger of becoming preachy to our children. And sports is the greatest metaphor for life.

It can teach you things about the emotional journeys that you have in life, feelings you experience like anxiety or fear of fitting in, dealing with pressures, working hard and all sorts of other stuff. Those lessons are inherently there in sports as well. So as a parent, we encourage our children to play sports because we hope that they can learn some of that stuff. So if we can seed that into our content so that when kids are playing softball, baseball, soccer or whatever sport, and they’re having those feelings, they can understand or learn or be more aware of how to navigate through those. So I hope that parents will trust the fact that the content I put on “The Punies” will teach their kids a valuable lesson that they don’t want to hear from me over and over and over again.

BC: Right, and it’s meant to be family content, safe content.

KB: Always, all our content will be that. I believe that the best way to change the world is to help teach kids who are going to carry our world forward.

BC: And it’s probably too early to ask this, but do you see this becoming a cartoon or a feature film or something like that?

KB: So when I came up with the idea for “The Punies,” I called my guy Glen Keane, who I worked with on “Dear Basketball.” I said, “Glen, I got this idea for this show, I need characters.” He goes, “Kobe, I’m directing a film, like I’m really busy.” And I was like, “Glen, I really need you to do these characters.” And he said, “Well, I can give you a couple of recommendations.” And I was like, “Dude, I can’t go backwards, you’re the guy.” And he said, “Alright, alright, give me a day.” So I sent him the characters and the history of the characters and he did the animation. So the characters that you see are Glen’s creations. So yes, 100% we’re taking it to an animated series. 100%.

BC: That’s awesome. Is there a timeline for it, or no?

KB: No. So … how we operate is very … obsessive. So, we’ll take our time. But that’s to say that we’re going to rush, but we’ll take our time while rushing to make sure that every detail is cared for. I’ll direct the series. I already see how the series should be laid out and where we’re going with it and it’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen for kids before.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein –
NBA Hall of Fame Photographer

BC: That’s awesome. I met with some of the voice actors and I’m gonna meet with them again.

KB: They’re awesome!

BC: And they’re really cool. Were you part of the process for selecting all of them?

KB: Yeah, so, the writer John Howard knew some of them from working at the comedy store. Then other ones were found through talent agencies. But when they came in, as soon as they read the first …. Like Diamond, the first time she opened her mouth, I’m like, that’s B.B. That’s 100% B.B. And then Rebecca, like, that’s Lily. She did Lily’s lemonade at our first table read, and I almost fell out of my chair. I’m like, this is crazy. But they just have leeway. We came in, and we practiced, and rehearsed for about four days. We had a practice plan and we went through everything because it was important for them to be so comfortable with the material that they’re conversing. A podcast can’t feel like a “you go, I go, you go, I go.” Especially with children. You need to feel like they’re just vibing. We gave them the freedom to listen to their own lines over in the studio, and say, OK, what would they do differently? If you say it’s cool, I’m cool. If you feel like you can do it better, do it better.

BC: What do you feel has been the most challenging part of putting this series together?

KB: I think it’s just not knowing if people will like it.

BC: People like it so far!

KB: But that’s the thing, though, you don’t know. When you’re playing sports, either the ball goes in the basket or it doesn’t. The ball goes in the net, or it doesn’t. You win, or you lose. It’s pretty black and white. But when you’re making content, you don’t know. And so what I always keep coming back to is we just make content that is truthful. Something that we can enjoy. Something that my family, our kids, find entertaining and meaningful. And you just hope and pray that other people will have that same connection.

BC: I know you don’t want to play favorites, but who’s your favorite character?

KB: That’s really tough. I kinda feel the need to say B.B., because she’s named after our youngest daughter. You know, her name is Bianca Bella, and we call her B.B. for short. But I just think her spunk and her tenacity .. she’s unapologetically competitive and I really felt like her character was important for my children because I want them to feel like it’s OK to be competitive, it’s OK to want a challenge and as a young girl say, “No, I want to be the best.”

Photo courtesy of Children’s Hospital Orange County

BC: There’s definitely, most certainly, a girl power element to “The Punies.”

KB: In all the stuff that you see coming out it is there because I have three daughters. So I’m a little biased. Every piece of content I try to create is something that I feel can help them.

BC: Yeah of course. And in each of the characters, is there a little bit of your daughters?

KB: Oh God yes. I put a little bit of everyone in there and how they talk to each other, like the little sarcasm. …That’s our house.

BC: Well that’s awesome. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.