With a beguiling chemistry and sharp wit, Alexis Guerreros and Christian Polanco, aka The Cooligans, are quickly becoming two of the most compelling personalities in American soccer. Unfiltered, genuine, and most of all, funny, the comedic duo are on a journey to showcase the beauty of American soccer, no matter how many naysayers get in their way.
Alexis Guerreros sums up what The Cooligans are all about in one sentence: “You worry about what happens on the field, we’ll worry about what happens in the DMs.”
Since 2015, Guerreros and fellow co-host Christian Polanco have been doing what they’ve seemingly been put on Earth to do — making people laugh while talking about soccer. Stand-up comedians by trade, the duo have grown what started as a podcast that was recorded in either Guerreros’ kitchen or Polanco’s living room to a semiweekly TV show, The Cooligans, on Fubo Sports Network.
Amassing a cult audience along the way, Polanco and Guerreros have charmed a nation of soccer fans with their New York/Caribbean Latino demeanor, spicy takes, and uncanny knack of squeezing an impossible amount of jokes (both brilliant and cheesy) into small timeframes. Their TV show is an extension of their podcast, with added production value, camera angles, and everything you’d imagine that comes with a jump from online radio to the silver screen.
The Cooligans’ glow-up is one that you love to see. Guerreros and Polanco are passionate about the game and never cowered in the face of doubt and naysayers (of which they faced plenty of). They’re unapologetically themselves — they continue to put on for MLS and American soccer in a time where it’s so easy to dismiss them. Don’t get them wrong, they’ll roast whoever if it’s warranted, but through it all they’ll always fight towards one of their biggest goals: showcasing the beautiful game’s cool to a country that has been loath to embrace it.
We sat down with both Polanco and Guerreros, discussing the Cooligans’ origins, their jump to TV, and the New York City comedy scene.
Urban Pitch: Let’s start from the beginning. How’d you two meet, and what made you start the podcast?
Alexis Guerreros: We formally met five years ago. We each had our own podcast, his was called “Offstage” about relationships and I had one called “Show Me Your Bits” about breaking down a comedian’s joke. We did a joint episode together and released it on both of our podcasts. He was at my apartment, and I was like, “Hey I know you’re into soccer, let’s play FIFA.” He just destroyed me, in front of my wife too. It was wildly disrespectful, which was really the moment I started to like him. If you could be that disrespectful then I think I can get along with you.
That relationship grew from there, and once NYCFC came out, I wanted to get more into MLS. We both got season tickets, and we started standing next to each other, joking around, and doing what comedians do. People began wanting to stand near us to listen to us because we were funny.
I had always wanted to do a podcast about soccer because I didn’t hear anyone in the soccer world that sounded like us. There were no Latinos that sounded like we did, and there were certainly no Caribbean Latinos talking about soccer.
There wasn’t anyone that sounded like where we were from — that knew hip-hop and talked about it in that way. I thought there was a real opportunity. There was nothing out there that I thought connected with me, so like any comedian says, “Be the change you want to see.” And here we are.
Christian Polanco: Before The Cooligans had started we were both doing stand-up for about five or six years, and I was in a place where I was working on things outside of stand-up, whether it was sketch shows or video content, just things to bolster my comedy resume. My dream had always been to write for SNL or The Daily Show. When Alexis and I were talking about doing some kind of soccer-related project, my motivation was like, “OK this is just another cool thing to do,” without knowing where it would go or what it would become, but it ended up working out.
Alexis: I didn’t want the podcast to be me having to defend American soccer. I wanted someone else to be in that trench with me. And from the moment Christian and I stood next to each other at the NYCFC games just riffing, I saw that we came from the exact same point of view. We don’t know this league as well as we should, but it’s ours. There’s a phrase in Latin America that comes from a small town in Cuba, which translates to, “The wine is bitter, but it’s ours,” in English.
That’s how I always represented American soccer. If no one was willing to clap back for it, we will. Christian also had that mentality from the get-go, which is why I think it works so well.
Have you seen a response to your “clap back for American soccer” mentality?
Christian: What MLS has always been lacking is that personality, that way to connect to people and you sort of see it in the strategies they use. From a marketing or entertainment standpoint, the hope for MLS is, “Let’s try and get Premier League fans to start liking Major League Soccer,” which is nearly impossible. If you go online and pay attention to soccer Twitter — or “football” Twitter — if you even call it soccer you’re going to get Premier League fans being like, “It’s called football.”
It’s short-sighted to try and convert people to start liking a new soccer league, as opposed to showing everyone that the league has something to offer. Let’s try and convince people that the sport is dope in this country.
We’ve been able to interview superstar players — your Ali Kriegers and Jermaine Joneses — and they’re incredibly entertaining. People want to know what they do outside of the 90 minutes on the pitch. That’s where I feel American soccer and MLS have a little bit of a disconnect.
Alexis: I think one of the biggest issues I’ve always had with American soccer is this feeling of needing to be validated by fans of other leagues. I’ve never been thirsty in my life, and I never want to be thirsty. If you don’t like me, a’ight bet. I’ll move on.
To me it’s like you rep for your own. I grew up in Newark and nobody cared about us, but we were proud of it. We made fun of it but if you made fun of it I go after you. I feel like I’ve taken that mentality and used it on American soccer. It’s not perfect, but we all want to make it better.
American soccer fans are so weird because not only do we get ridiculed by European and South American fans and everyone else around the world, but we get ridiculed by fans of soccer in our own country as well. It’s like we have no home. Alright, well let us be your home. We’ll defend it. We’ll ride for it. And we’ll do it in a cool way.
During your early days, what was the moment where you realized that you had something viable with the podcast?
Alexis: Comedians make fun of us all the time, because to them, talking about soccer is like yelling into a forest. Our two big moments were when we got a television show, and when we got verified on Instagram. We’ve had to trumpet our own cause for so long, and now we’re at a point where people are starting to yell for us.
— The Cooligans (@SoccerCooligans) August 28, 2019
None of us thought we were going to find success or fame from this. As comedians, what you hope to do is create something that people like and then for those people come out to see you perform in their city. That’s the biggest you can hope for. To have people that are now begging us to come to their city or teams asking us to get involved and offer to fly us out, we did not expect that and we’re so happy that it’s here. We started off as two dummies in a kitchen!
Christian: One other moment that sticks out is the first time that we got approved for MLS credentials in 2016. We couldn’t believe it. A friend of ours told us to apply for a credential, and we thought there was no way we’d get approved. We were just a podcast that hadn’t been around even two years.
But we requested anyways, and while we didn’t get a rejection, we didn’t get an answer either. It was about two days before the MLS Cup, with all of the events and press conferences happening. Alexis had his wife call the MLS rep on the phone and pretend to be our assistant to double check, and I guess because they heard an assistant they approved the press credentials. So we went to Toronto for the MLS Cup — no one was paying for this, we were spending our own money. We had to figure everything out on our own. We networked at events and parties, met Alexi Lalas and Rob Stone, and that was the first moment where I was like, “Oh man, maybe there’s a real opportunity here.”
In contrast to those “I think there’s something here” moments, have there been any “Mama, I made it” moments?
Alexis: When that direct deposit hits! (Laughs.)
Christian: Last year when we did the World Cup Comedy Tour, which was a stand-up and live podcasting tour with Total Soccer Show and Michael Magid. We went to eight different cities, and were doing stand-up and interviewing different soccer players and guests, and seeing how many people really came out to those shows was amazing. Soccer fans at comedy clubs — that’s niche on top of niche.
? I am forever shooketh. I stan for @AOC and how she reps NY at all times. Keeps it mad gully in DC. I donated to her campaign even though she wasn’t in my district because I believed in her and wanted to see a Latina voice in DC who’s ideas resonated with me so sincerely. ?? ?? pic.twitter.com/WrRuGHjHYy
— Christian Polanco (@chrispolanco) January 14, 2019
There’s that now famous picture of both of you and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the “Gulliest” t-shirt. Can you give us a little backstory on how that happened?
Alexis: I think when we first started using the term gulliest, there was a show called Soccer AM that had an MLS player on it, and all the hosts and the player were joking around and making fun of the fact that there’s a playoff system, and there’s no promotion or relegation, and the player just kind of laughed along. I clapped back in a rant, and we started saying that we’re not just the funniest soccer podcast, but we’re also the gulliest.
The term gully hadn’t been used in a while, but it sort of fit perfectly. We’ll be the ones to say the things no one else is brave enough to say. We’ll call it out when we see it. From that moment, we decided to hand out these “Gulliest” shirts to whoever represents gully.
So Christian and I are coming back from spending time with FC Dallas, and we’re at La Guardia waiting for his girlfriend to pick us up, and all of a sudden past Christian I see AOC. My mind draws a complete blank on her name, and I go up to her and say, “You’re that lady! Do you know what gully means?”
And she’s like, “Yeah of course!” She’s from the Bronx.
I told her, “You’re the gulliest congressperson on the world,” and I asked her — maybe I didn’t ask her, I was like, “Yo, would you take this? You represent this to a T.”
And she took pictures with us, she took a picture holding the shirt, and she loved it. It was almost perfect timing to meet her.
Christian: It was such a ridiculous moment. She’s a role model and an absolute hero, and when we posted the photo and she retweeted it, it went pretty wild. It was cool that it happened, and my dream is to have her on the show one day.
Both of you are veterans of New York City comedy clubs. What makes the comedy scene in New York the best in the world, and how does it compare to other places like Los Angeles?
Alexis: What LA has that New York doesn’t are the more uber-famous comedians, because they’re doing TV and movies and they need to be there. But most of them cut their teeth in New York.
New York is like boot camp. You come here to be great at comedy. If you want to be a star, a blogger, a reality TV host, you go to LA because you have an opportunity to do both. New York is a place for stage time. It’s like anything else — if you want more muscles you do more reps. Again, this is the fat guy saying this so I don’t know if it’s true or not, but from what I hear, the more reps, the better you get.
It’s like in soccer. You hear about those Ajax kids in the Netherlands, they’re doing 10,000 touches per day. New York is like the Ajax Academy of comedy.
Christian: There’s nothing like New York comedy. I forget what comic said it, but the saying goes if you want to be one of the greatest comics on Earth, at some point you have to go through New York. There’s no way around it.
Who are your biggest comedy influences?
Christian: I’m a huge fan of words and language, and George Carlin was the master of that. People who manipulate the language like that and have a mastery of it are the people that I lean towards.
View this post on Instagram
I think the reason our show works so well is because Alexis isn’t a fan of the comedians that I’m a fan of. We’re different comedians. There’s a healthy balance in our styles, and people who listen tend to find things that they relate to Alexis on, and become fans of him. Or they appreciate my calm demeanor and think Alexis is ridiculous. And that’s what I really think the show is. Realistically we could probably be talking about anything, but the chemistry that Alexis and I have as comedians is the main draw.
So what you’re saying is Alexis thinks George Carlin is trash?
Alexis: Garbage, dawg! (Laughs.)
Actually, one of my biggest comedy inspirations is something George Carlin did that he hated — The George Carlin Show. I always sort of had this fantasy of sitting at a bar with George Carlin like in the show. I’m a big fan of his and I love his standup.
View this post on Instagram
But my inspirations are very different. My inspirations are more like Greg Giraldo, Patrice O’Neal, and guys that still use language to their favor, but it was a more aggressive style of stand-up. I only started getting into the sage style of comedy recently. But when I was younger, you had to hit me over the head with it because I wasn’t going to pay attention, which I think my mother has told my teacher during PTA meetings. For me it had to be aggressive. I grew up watching shows like Martin and In Living Color. That was always so over-the-top, and to me there’s something beautiful about that.
What I love is that if there were two Alexises on the show, no one would understand what’s happening. If there were two Christians on the show, no one would understand what’s happening. You can hear Christian’s frustration when I say something stupid or incorrect, and you can hear me always trying to get a joke in while he’s trying to get a joke in, and those kind of things allow the audience to pick a side.
Rapid Fire Round
Best place in New York to get a slice of pizza?
Alexis: Right now I’d say L’Industrie in Williamsburg. What they’re doing with pizza dough is incredible.
Christian: I don’t know where you get pizza — that’s Alexis’ thing.
Outside of New York, what city is your favorite place to perform?
Christian: Atlanta has been like a second home for us. It’s definitely this growing comedy city. They’re really supportive of their local comics and the comics that come through, and we’ve had an absolute blast performing there.
Alexis: I’d completely agree. We’ve done the Laughing Skull Festival, and as a podcast we did the Red Clay Comedy Festival and the World Cup Comedy Tour all in Atlanta. Each of those shows have been some of the biggest highlights for us. Atlanta has a really special place in our hearts, and we would not be what where we were if it wasn’t for the soccer fans and the Cooligans fans in Atlanta. Atlanta has been absolutely essential for our success.
Favorite guest on the show?
Alexis (Before I even finished the question): Ali Krieger.
Christian: Yeah it has to be Ali Krieger. She is the funniest soccer player we’ve ever had on the show. She’s funnier than comedians we know. To this day we still get comments about it. Who knows, after she retires she could get into something comedic because she’s totally capable of that.
Alexis: She’s wildly hilarious. We want to be invited to her and Ashlyn’s wedding so bad. We’d love to have them both on the show, but their schedule has been pretty busy with World Cups and Championship Tours and all of that.
Who is the Gulliest Player in MLS?
Alexis: I would’ve said Jermaine Jones but he’s out of the league. This is tough.
Christian: Probably Zlatan.
Alexis: Yeah. Unfortunately as much as I’d rather give it to someone who’s a little younger and more hardcore, he gets wild with it. It’s either Taty Castellanos or Zlatan.
Christian: As far as who’s messy and can back it up Zlatan definitely takes it right now.
Photography by Sebastian Ramirez for Urban Pitch.
Interview edited for clarity and brevity.