The man who fashioned himself a killer snake wants to raise your children.
Like most grand ambitions in 2018, it all starts with a podcast. But since the podcast belongs to Kobe Bean Bryant, it is a bigger production than the common download. Seven actors, two keyboard players and an Emmy-nominated writer sit around a conference table with bagels and LaCroix. They are on the second floor of a beige office building in Costa Mesa, Calif., but the space feels more like an Arts District loft: exposed pipes, Persian rugs, Manzanita trees, twinkle lights. Black-and-white photographs of J.K. Rowling and Walt Disney, Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, line the entryway. A story room, with writers lounging on gray sofas and scribbling across grease boards, is hidden behind thick curtains. A sign that reads zen as f--- leans against the wall in the production studio, waiting to go up.
One building over is the headquarters of the Chargers, arguably the most irrelevant institution in Southland sports, neighbors with perhaps the most popular. Between these bizarre bedfellows is a coffee shop called The Lost Bean. Bryant works at a black desk in a glass cube, scrawling notes on a legal pad because he doesn't like to type. He is preparing for a table read of The Punies, an ensemble podcast for children that he conceived two years ago while watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with his family, an annual tradition. He began jotting descriptions of characters for his athletically inclined Peanuts: Puny Pete, the lovable loser; B.B. LaBelle, the bossy leader; Gordo Lockett, the affable oddball; Kimberly Spice, the smart one; Lilly Sparks, the hyper one; Clark Mayhoff, the troublesome one. The crew has nothing in common except a passion for sports, from surfing to soapbox derby.
When Bryant is ready for the read, he rises from his desk in unlaced Nikes and pushes his swivel chair to the conference table. The actors, mostly twentysomething and talented, fall silent. The basketball player they watched score 81 points in a game and win five NBA championships over 20 seasons with the Lakers is now their director. "You're all kids at the park," Bryant announces. "Your parents aren't here. Have fun. Let it rip." He sinks into his chair and closes his eyes. It is a podcast, after all, so only the voices matter. They tell stories, sing songs ("Coaches Are People Too") and break for make-believe commercials ("Squeakless sneakers! Sneak up on your opponent without a sound!"). Bryant stifles laughs before the punch lines. He seems to have memorized the script, penned by Jon Haller.