This story appears in the Nov. 24, 2014, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A twentysomething Boston-based bartender of Italian and Irish heritage develops a cult following while riffing on sports and pop culture from some little-known corner of the Internet, then gets snapped up by a major sports media conglomerate for an unusual role. But this isn’t 2001, and Katie Nolan’s voice is an octave or two higher than Bill Simmons’s. In No Filter, her daily video series for foxsports.com, she’s saltier and saucier than cable sports’ usual fare. And the show’s D.I.Y. aesthetic -- she works from a small studio, with two producers -- would hardly fly on TV either. On a recent Wednesday we caught up with the 27-year-old Framingham, Mass., native at a bar near New York City’s Union Square.
Dickey: What do you usually tell people you do?
Nolan: I don’t know. I make funny videos. I hate saying I’m a comedian, because then people stick their finger in your face and demand you tell a joke. But the other thing people call me is “a YouTube sensation,” which is even worse.
How’d you get started?
I was bartending in Boston five, six nights a week, living in my grandmother’s condo. By the way, I’m a really good bartender -- that’s the only skill I can confidently say I have. At the time I was really into Barstool [an aggressively impolitic Boston-centric sports and lifestyle site], and I thought I was good enough to write for it. So I started my own blog, called Bitches Can’t Hang, with my takes on pop culture and the news. It was so stupid. Have I mentioned it was so stupid? But somehow the blog Guyism found me and wanted to publish my posts.
And how’d you get into video?
Guyism wanted a daily video series. They told me they were planning on hiring a girl, and then hiring someone to write all her jokes. Then they figured it would be easier just to get me, so they offered me $750 a month to do it, which turned into an offer to move to New York and do it full-time for $30,000 a year. So I moved to Hoboken [N.J.] with two girls I found on Craigslist. Two or three months into that, one of my bosses came to me and said Fox wanted me for their new 24‑hour sports channel, and that if I went, the company that owned Guyism would get money. It was like a dowry. Oh, you’ll give us a cow, and we’ll give you Katie.
Do you know how Fox found out about you?
I have no idea. My YouTube videos weren’t even getting that many views. Maybe they thought, Oh, she’ll be cheap! Four different people at Fox have come up to me and said, You know, I’m the one who found you. And I think, Uh-huh, yeah, I’ve heard that. But you have to just smile and scream, “Oh, thank you! I owe you my life!”
How’d your start go at Fox?
They flew me out to L.A. for an audition, which I bombed. I had never read off a teleprompter, and I didn’t know I needed glasses. They told me I bombed it too. But they still wanted me. I had another screen test that went a little better. And then they told me they wanted to put me on a show with Regis Philbin. [Crowd Goes Wild, which ran from August 2013 until it was canceled last May.] I was like, What the f---? He’s still doing TV? I Googled him and found out he was 82. My grandmother is 82, and some days she doesn’t even put her teeth in.
What’s Regis like?
He’s exactly the person you see on TV. He came into my dressing room and said, “This tweeter you’re always talking about, what is it?” I told him it was on the Internet. He said, “Oh, they have it on there? How long would it take to teach me?” I said I could teach him, but it would take an hour a day for two weeks. He said, “Forget it, no thanks.”
Any memorable interactions with athletes while doing the show?
[Knicks guard] J.R. Smith was so nice. I’m a Patriots fan, so I wanted to hate [safety] Bernard Pollard and tell him he ruined my life. [Pollard’s hit in 2008 ended Tom Brady’s season.] But he was such a nice guy. The only guy who was really, really awful was [former NHL winger] Sean Avery. The most surprising thing was that I really never got hit on.
What was it like when the show got canceled?
The show had always been chaotic. On Mondays it felt like we were doomed. Tuesdays we felt we were getting the hang of it. By Wednesday we thought we had a hit. On Thursday someone was threatening to quit. And by each Friday, I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. The day we got canceled, I got three calls from Fox -- they all went to voice mail -- saying, “We’re picking up your option. We just want you to know we see a bright future for you.” I didn’t even know they had an option! I was flattered.
Now you’re doing No Filter for foxsports.com, and you’ve had some hits, like the video you did about Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. How did you chug six beers?
I saw some people write that the video was good up until I faked being drunk at the end. Boy, I wish. It happened so fast. We got the idea, and my boyfriend, Dan, brought the beers over, and in the 40 minutes it took me to drink them, I just kept looking at him off-camera, saying, “You’re so handsome, you’re so supportive. Am I slurring my words?” We were supposed to go on a date night. Instead he got me four pieces of pizza and put me in bed.
You got a lot of pickup, too, for the serious piece you did about Ray Rice. Do you want to do more serious commentary?
I make silly videos, that’s what I do. I don’t want people to get confused. But with the Rice thing, it had been on my mind. And I thought, as a woman in sports, I had to say something. I’m happy I got my point out there, that women should be represented more in sports media. They really should be. But some people thought I was saying I should be an analyst. And I can’t do that.
So what do you want to do?
I want to do something like what Jon Stewart does, for sports, something for college students to watch when they get home from the bars. They have shows like that in New Zealand and in England. But it’s never worked here -- people take their sports too seriously. So we’re stuck with ESPN reacting to the news in the same five ways, all day, morning till night. But really, I’d just be happy writing jokes about sports and beer for other people.