Almost 40 years after he began portraying one of the most iconic barflies in history, Kelsey Grammer was the one slinging the suds Sunday afternoon at TD Bank Ballpark in Somerset, N.J. — where everyone knew his name and, he hoped, would soon know the pair of beers he’s spent six years developing and brewing.
“What tends to happen is they go ‘Hey it’s you, wow that’s great, may we have a picture?’” Grammer said in a voice that is just as instantly recognizable as expected to anyone who’s watched any television at all over the last four decades. “And then they have a taste of the beer and they say ‘Oh. Oh. It’s good.”
“That’s what I expect people to do,” he said while sitting in a suite during the Double-A game between the Somerset Patriots, a Yankees affiliate, and the Reading Phillies. “You get a little hook — and arguably I’m that hook — but then they have a beer that tastes really good. And it’s a good beer.”
His spot as one of Sam Malone’s favorite customers on “Cheers” inarguably set Grammer — an accomplished stage actor who had just a handful of TV credits before landing the role of Frasier Crane in 1984 — on the path to afternoons such as Sunday, when he merged two of his off-screen passions.
The Faith American Brewing Company was founded in 2015 by Grammer, who hoped to utilize a property in Catskills area of upstate New York to help generate some economic activity in the area.
“(He) got in touch with a couple of brew guys and got a recipe from a buddy and we did a little slipping and sliding and a little improvising because yeah, there were a few manifestations and a few things I didn’t really like,” Grammer said. “Finally we hit on this one, the ale, the Faith American Ale. And I thought that’s just right, just like Goldilocks.”
Grammer began brewing the beers — in addition to the Faith American Ale, he’s also brewed the Calico Man IPA — in 2019, though he shut down production during the pandemic. With production ramped back up, the beers are being distributed in New York and New Jersey and Grammer plans to begin hosting events at the tap room he’s built on the Catskills property.
“If it sucked, I’d be another celebrity brew that went by the wayside,” Grammer said with a grin. “This is beer that I expect people to drink for a long, long time.”
The 66-year-old Grammer throwing out a perfectly fine first pitch — to Patriots manager emeritus Sparky Lyle, who won the 1977 AL Cy Young Award with the Yankees — in between serving his beers and posing for selfies along the concourse served to remind him of his late grandfather, whose advice still rung true Sunday.
“I haven’t worked up speed,” Grammer said. “So I thought, well, I hope I get accuracy. Because my granddad used to say ‘You’re going to need accuracy before you need speed.’”
Grammer is enough of a baseball fan that the mention of Jacob deGrom’s 102 mph fastball brought an immediate and emphatic shake of the head.
“No sir,” Grammer said. “I thought if I get 35 (mph) out of this, I’m in great shape.”
Grammer said he likes baseball so much that the mere playing of the National Anthem on an organ, as it was Sunday, gets him teary-eyed. He performed the anthem before the 1996 All-Star Game in Philadelphia and also sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch at a Cubs game in 2011. In 2015, he toured the Baseball Hall of Fame with his family, including the preteen children he’s hoping will soon turn into fans. Grammer also spoke fondly of the gentle prodding it took to convince his wife Kayte, a native of England, to watch “The Natural,” which he said she enjoyed.
Thirty-three years ago, Grammer saw the closest real-life thing to a Natural-esque moment when he was at Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the Dodgers-Athletics World Series, which a hobbled Kirk Gibson ended with a stunning walk-off homer against Dennis Eckersley.
“I just went ‘Oh (shoot), well, all right, we’ll see what happens,’” Grammer said while eating a hot dog as a glass of beer sat next to the baseball he threw to Lyle. “I’m talking to this girl I was with and saying ‘You know what, what the hell.’ (Shoot). Everybody just stands up (and says) ‘Oh my God!’ And so the next day he’s Roy Hobbs.
“Baseball’s just — it’s it. It’s the American Pastime.”
Grammer has at least one thing in common with a handful of the players he’s watched over the years — iconic, and surprisingly inexpensive, cameos on “The Simpsons.”
Or, as Grammer said regarding the roles for which he’s most recognized: “Sideshow Bob always sneaks in somewhere, because he’s kind of universal.”
As defining a character as Frasier Crane became for Grammer — the announcement of a Paramount+ reboot gives Grammer a chance to become just the fourth actor to portray a character for at least 21 seasons — he’s played the murderous, melodious and occasionally sentimental Sideshow Bob for the entirety of the record-breaking run of “The Simpsons,” which is at 32 seasons with at least two more to come.
Of the 15 Sideshow Bob-centric episodes, nine drew a higher rating than the show’s seasonal rating, including each of the last three dating back to the 2015 “Treehouse of Horror”, which included the vignette “Wanted: Dead, Then Alive” in which Bob actually kills Bart (and brings Bart back to life after getting bored without him).
The highest-rated Sideshow Bob episode was the first one — season one’s “Krusty Gets Busted,” in which Bob frames Krusty for a convenience store robbery in order to take over Krusty’s show and give it the high-brow treatment he thinks it deserves. Bart, of course, exposes Bob’s plan, thereby setting into motion the latter’s never-ending search for revenge.
An audience of 30.4 million people tuned in for the episode the night of Apr. 29, 1990. But Grammer — who was asked to voice Sideshow Bob by the late Sam Simon, who wrote for “Cheers” before helping to develop “The Simpsons” — didn’t need to see the ratings to know the character delivered an immediate impact.
“I had a buddy who was a teacher in Illinois, in Evanston when the first one came out,” Grammer said. “And that week, whatever group of students took it upon them — God bless them, they painted an entire building with Sideshow Bob’s head on it. And it said ‘Free Sideshow Bob.’
“He sent me the picture and I said, well, I guess this thing took off. He’s cast a very long shadow since.”
But as two of Gibson’s teammates on the 1988 Dodgers, Mike Scioscia and Steve Sax, learned when they guested on the 1992 classic “Homer at the Bat,” the Screen Actors Guild residuals from reruns and home don’t exactly add up for non-cast members.
“I’m afraid the show isn’t in profits yet,” longtime “Simpsons” showrunner Al Jean said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, during a “Homer at the Bat” roundtable at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I have several checks in my room right now that I brought with me that I actually forgot to bring here,” Sax said. “I was going to show you. I got three checks and it was a total of a dollar and 18 cents.”
Told Sunday of the ratings boost provided by Sideshow Bob, Grammer grinned.
“Good to know, because I’ll tell you what I said to them: ‘It’s about time you guys started paying me a little bit of money,’” Grammer said. “I was getting SAG scale through the first 10 and I thought OK, please, come on guys, it’s the most successful show in history.’”
Grammer said he’s seen every Sideshow Bob episode except the Treehouse of Horror installment. His favorite one, not surprisingly?
“The best one is honestly the H.M.S. Pinafore,” he said, referring to the season 5 classic “Cape Feare,” which ranks among most all-time top-10 lists compiled by critics and diehard fans alike.
(At this point, the seven other people in Grammer’s suite began nodding or murmuring in agreement, proving there is at least one thing that still unites Americans)
A parody of the “Cape Fear” movies as well as other horror and suspense films, “Cape Feare” brings a paroled Bob closest to his objective of murdering Bart while also unveiling the franchise’s best and most absurd gag: Bob climbing out from underneath the Simpsons’ car — the family was placed into witness protection, renamed The Thompsons and moved on to a boat along Terror Lake to try and escape Bob — and stepping, one at a time, into eight rakes. The clip was played during Sunday’s game.
Bob eventually climbs on to the Simpsons’ boat in the middle of the night, ties up the rest of the family and is about to murder Bart when he asks his foil if he has any last requests. Bart, seeing a sign that the boat is 15 miles from Springfield, asks Bob to sing the score of H.M.S. Pinafore. Bob performs the request and is about to finally kill Bart when the boat crashes ashore at a brothel, where the Springfield Police Department is conveniently gathered.
“We’re in the recording session — because I never really read ahead, just said ‘What are we doing today?’ — and they said, ‘Well can you sing this?’” Grammer said. “I said ‘Well I can, oddly enough.’ And that was really funny.
“And when I was doing buttercup — ‘I’m poor little buttercup’ (and here Grammer actually sang the line), I thought, OK, this is it. This is going to be one of my most famous moments.
Jerry Beach’s recommends “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” (season 7) and “The Bob Next Door” (season 21) as the second- and third-best Sideshow Bob episodes. Also, his eight-year-old daughter asked him Sunday night if he asked Grammer to do the Sideshow Bob rakes voice. She was disappointed to learn he did not make the request.