After a year mostly outside of the sports world, Julie Stewart-Binks is again covering sports. Stewart-Binks’ previous jobs include time at FS1, ESPN, and Barstool Sports, but after she and Barstool parted ways last May (a year ago today), she wound up taking some unusual paths, including exploring improv and stand-up comedy. Stewart-Binks now has several sports gigs again, including a daily TV show on SNY, a hosting job on CBS Sports HQ, and a NHL podcast on The Athletic, but she said those only came after a long process of personal reevaluation.
“I just started to go through the doors that were opened…and just sort of figured out what I want. I got a chance to reset basically my whole life, and while I don’t think I am out of the smoke yet, I think I know where I’m at going at least, or what I want. It was the hardest year of my life and I just had to figure out a way to get rid of the noise and just follow what felt good. And I’ve created a whole new path going forward.”
Stewart-Binks said while she was out of work in sports, she decided to start pursuing comedy, first as a way to improve her broadcasting craft.
“Honestly, I just kept getting drawn in. I started improv comedy last year here [in New York] with UCB [the famed Upright Citizens’ Brigade group, which boasts alums like Amy Poehler and Adam McKay], and I did it for broadcasting to get better at listening and responding. And it was kind of funny; that’s the one constant I’ve had this entire year, improv, when improv is not constant at all. So I started doing it, and then when I wasn’t working anymore, I just really realized with improv, I just liked performing, and loved the ability to create something. It’s not scripted, it really comes out of nowhere, and all it is just listening to the last thing said and responding. Which is so much of what we do in broadcasting, what we should be doing in broadcasting.”
She said her improv work and her Instagram posts led to suggestions for her to try stand-up comedy, and while she didn’t like the idea at first, it wound up being valuable for her.
“So I was doing that, and a lot of people in my improv class were like ‘Oh, you should do stand-up.’ I’m like ‘Oh, that’s so weird, why would I ever want to do stand-up? I’ve never wanted to do that in my entire life.’ ‘Well, you’re a broadcaster and you have really good stories.’ We have to tell monologues based off of our own personal stories. And then they’re like ‘Oh, you know kind of how to do comedy.'”
“And then I kept getting messages on my Instagram feed that were like ‘You should totally do comedy! You’re basically doing bits on your Instagram and and you should go down the path.’ I started getting all these people telling me to do stand-up, which was so weird and not what I wanted to do. And then I had an old friend from Fox who said to me ‘Hey, I took this class at Caroline’s, you should do it.’ I was like, ‘All right, that’s enough times, the universe is telling me to do this.'”
“So I did it, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. And it gave me and still gives me crippling anxiety. But it’s like when I get up, it’s amazing. Now when I get up on stage I’ll be so nervous, but as soon as I get up there I feel like I’m home. And I absolutely cannot tell you how much I just love stand-up comedy in that you get such a high from it. The adrenaline high is unlike anything else.”
Stewart-Binks said one of the most enticing things about stand-up is the immediacy of the response from the audience.
“You get a response from people. Whereas in broadcasting, my feedback is going online later to check mentions from trolls. You say something on TV, you don’t get anyone responding really. And that immediate feedback, oh my gosh, it’s like it satisfies a hunger that I didn’t even think was there. And so I became like addicted to it, I would spend four or five nights a week doing it.”
She said she was also inspired to head in that direction thanks to a discussion with MLS commissioner Don Garber, which led to her pondering what she wanted from work.
“Given the time off I had, a couple other things pushed me towards stand-up in a different way. MLS commissioner Don Garber and I had a meeting one day, just talking with him because he had said how much he really liked me covering the league. And I was like ‘You know, I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do going forward,’ and he’s like ‘You want to look back at all the jobs you’ve had over your lifetime and figure out why they weren’t The Job. Why wasn’t this the one that made you feel good, why wasn’t this one?’ And I was like ‘You know, that’s so true.'”
“As much as I’ve liked all my former jobs in different ways, none of them was sort of me. None of them satisfied my hunger. And in this time, I thought like ‘What is it that you want to do?’ And you know, I’m having no one answer my emails, no one answer my calls, I’m going into meetings and feeling like I was an intern trying to work for free at different places. And I just thought I had to start believing in myself more than I ever had because no one else did.”
“It helped me construct a different idea of what I want. Which is, this is a crazy-ass dream, but I want to host the Tonight Show. I want to have my own late-night show. I want to take over from Jimmy Fallon, take over from Kimmel, all those things. And what do they have that I don’t have? Well, a lot of things, but one of them is the ability to do stand-up. They can all do stand-up, they can all write jokes, they can do monologues, they can think comedically. Okay, well, I have to learn how to do that.”
“So that was another layer of doing stand-up. No one’s ever going to think of you as one of those people unless you do this. So I just started doing that as well. And I still will say, I’m piecing together a bunch of different jobs right now, and I love sports, I’m not saying I’m trying to get out of sports, but I think that there is a bigger world that sports does occupy. You can live in this world, but you have to be bigger than just the game.”
What’s so appealing about hosting a late-night show? For Stewart-Binks, it’s the ability to combine comedic monologues, reaction to the news, and interviewing.
“I think definitely the comedic aspect. I love the monologue, I like the instantaneous ability to make fun of what’s going on in the world. And I took a class in writing topical jokes based off of the news, and I think what we’re seeing in sports is that everyone is sort of getting fatigued of debate and the same old, same old. We have no attention span at all. So I find late-night shows, I mean, some of them are obviously better than others, I think some are still really old-school, but people like segments and people like things that are funny and different and weird. And I think that with The Tonight Show, with a late-night show, you can pull that out of your guests.”
She said while she’s enjoyed her different sports jobs, it always felt like they weren’t the whole picture for her.
“I love performing and I love reporting and I love being on the sideline, but I always felt like I need more than this. I mean, I would finish games and just be like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t want to kind of be the the side piece, for lack of a better term, of this broadcast.’ I want to be the center of a show. And I would gladly work with co-hosts and work with a group of people, but I think that kind of stems from stand-up; you want people to watch you, and that’s what hosting your own late-night show really is.”
While Stewart-Binks’ time at Barstool didn’t ultimately work out, she said that job got her thinking about exploring comedy more.
“I like bits, I like fun with different stuff. And I’ve consumed so much more comedy in the last year. And I will say, as much as Barstool was not the place for me, I do believe it played a role in the bigger scheme of my life. I know I was meant to go there, I know I was meant to move to New York, not to work there but to kind of open my brain up to a different way of thinking about things. And the way they think about things is different than I would, and I didn’t fit in there, but I think that they know ways to cultivate funny. And that’s why you see their content being so sticky for so many people because of that.”
She said she thinks that combination of comedy and sports could be useful for outlets well beyond Barstool.
“I think you 100 percent need more comedy in sports. This isn’t just ‘Oh, we need another Katie Nolan,’ this is ‘We need writers, we need everyone.’ Rather than imposing the same darn questions every day. Comedy is just another way of looking at something and making it more relatable to Middle America. Colin Cowherd does such a good job of ‘Okay, the Warriors are like this, this is what it means to Joe in Montana.’ And that is what comedy is like, comedy is a point of view and a relatable idea.”
Stewart-Binks said she never set out to leave sports, but her path through comedy and then back to sports has wound up working out for the best.
“I think at the end of the day, I never wanted to leave sports. And I had a couple people come up to me at Super Bowl week, saying ‘Oh wow, congratulations, what a real turn of events, you took everything and you left sports.’ I’m not leaving sports, I just learned new skills. First of all, in presenting information and an ability to think and perform and write, but in comedy, but that’s what I think you need in sports right now.”
“Sports is still my main love. The adrenaline I get doing comedy is like the adrenaline I would get playing a sport, or covering a game, or going live on TV for broadcast. They’re synonymous things; performance and and competition I think have that same gene. At the end of the day, it’s like I want to watch all the playoffs. These are things that are kind of just in your DNA. And while it’s really good to go out and and do this improv show, I still want to watch all these games. So I think you don’t have to leave one area for the other, I think it just elevates everything together.”
And she said the new sports gigs she’s landed have had a lot more to do with her comedy experience than her previous sports experience.
“The ironic part about all these jobs I got is that a lot of them were because of comedy, which is so fascinating to me. I have a master’s degree, I’ve worked in all these different places, national networks, and almost none of that really meant anything. I mean, it meant something, it gave me experience before this, but the interviews I had for these jobs were like ‘Oh, we follow you on your Instagram stories, we think you’re really funny. We’d really like you to be on the show. Oh, you’re doing stand-up? Well, we’d really like you to weave that into your on-cams and into your highlights.’ And then ‘Oh, you know how to ad-lib and improvise? Okay, we want to give you an hour-long podcast three days a week.'”
“And I found it quite fascinating…as soon as I got back in front of the camera or behind the mic, my confidence in myself and my ability to listen and perform…people came up to me and messaged me like ‘Wow, you just seem way more in control of who you are and you seem more confident.’ It’s honestly all because of the improv and stand-up.”
Stewart-Binks said she also figured out it’s important to focus on who she is and what she has to offer, not who else is out there.
“But at the same point, I just kind of learned in the year off to just get out of my head, stop looking at Instagram and comparing myself to someone who got a job, someone who looks so hot, all these things. It’s like ‘This is what you have, and you are amazing, and you can figure it out, so go forward with it.'”
She said she feels her path through unemployment is far too common these days, as the days of working for one media outlet for decades appear to be mostly gone. “[Now it’s] ‘I was working at this job forever, they didn’t renew my contract.’ People got bought out, people are getting cut left right and center, and they have to kind of mentally figure out a new path every four or five years.”
But while it’s not working for one outlet, she said she’s happy with the different gigs she’s been able to land, as they give her a wide presence.
“What I like is that I have a streaming digital presence with CBS Sports HQ, I have a podcast with The Athletic, and then I have a cable TV show with SNY. That one allows me to just be whoever I want to on whatever day I want. I approach that show like ‘I’m not an analyst, or an insider, or a reporter; how do I bring a different point of view? I’m going to bring a comedic point of view.’ And it’s a lot of work, but the payoff is so great.”