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Shannon Sharpe Talks Club Shay Shay Podcast, Kat Williams Interview

Shannon Sharpe Talks Club Shay Shay Podcast, Kat Williams Interview

Shannon Sharpe arrives promptly at noon at the South Beverly Grill, a short drive from his home in Holmby Hills. He is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, a wall of muscle sheathed in black athleisure wear. He slides into his favorite booth, orders a cranberry ginger ale and offers a hello — friendly but guarded — to an awaiting journalist.

It’s usually Sharpe asking the questions — whether on his blockbuster podcasts Club Shay Shay (3.17 million YouTube subscribers) and Nightcap (1.26 million subscribers) or on ESPN’s First Take, where through the NFL season he spars good-naturedly with host Stephen A. Smith.

Sharpe, who turns 56 on June 26, shot to fame as a tight end for the Denver Broncos. He’s an NFL Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champ. But his other calling, it turns out, is talking — about sports, yes, but about many other things, too, from social issues to politics to celebrity gossip. The only thing he doesn’t like talking about is himself.

However, he has agreed to have the tables turned on him in a rare sit-down with THR. Over the course of a two-hour lunch, he will candidly weigh in on various rivalries with the likes of his mentor turned competitor Skip Bayless as well as Shaquille O’Neal; those persistent rumors about his private life; and, yes, that earth-scorching Shay Shay interview with Katt Williams, which recently overtook Joe Rogan’s chat with Elon Musk to become the most watched interview in YouTube history, drawing more than 68 million views.

“I’m doing anywhere between seven to 10 tapings a week,” Sharpe says of his breakneck schedule. “It’s hard to turn my mind off because I have so many things going on.”

First Take has been steadily adding viewers since Sharpe joined the roster twice a week in September. Undisputed, meanwhile, the Fox Sports 1 show he once co-hosted with Bayless, has hemorrhaged viewers since Sharpe was fired from the show in June 2023. In April, First Take averaged 482,000 viewers, compared with Undisputed‘s 45,000. Smith gives Sharpe a lot of the credit for that. “There’s no question that Shannon has brought incredibly added value to the franchise,” says Smith, 56. “ESPN knows this. I make sure they know it because he deserves that level of appreciation.”

Says Sharpe: “I’m bigger now than at any point in my career. I’m 10 times what I was. I won Super Bowls. I’m in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I’ve never been as big as I am right now.”

Before the Williams interview, Sharpe wasn’t given to that type of bragging. But the record-breaking Q&A has turned Sharpe into a household name — and he has already made peace with the fact that he’ll be associated with Williams for the rest of his life. (Case in point: Two fans interrupt this conversation to discuss the Williams interview.)

A three-hour, cognac-fueled conflagration of the biggest names in Black comedy, the Williams episode was shot in January in front of a fireplace at The Wellesbourne, a British pub in West L.A. that serves as the studio for Club Shay Shay (the show is named for the room where Sharpe and his Broncos teammates played dice, cards and video games back in the early ’90s). Williams arrived with an ax to grind, wanting to set the record straight on something comedian Rickey Smiley had said on Club Shay Shay a year earlier — a story about swapping roles with Williams in the movie Friday After Next.

So Williams called Smiley a liar. But that was just the beginning. He said Smiley, like Tyler Perry, can’t act unless he’s playing a woman. He called the comedian Earthquake “illiterate” (which Earthquake later denied). He suggested Steve Harvey lied about his homeless past and was “not funny.” He leveled joke-stealing accusations at Cedric the Entertainer, then added insult to injury by calling the Barbershop star “a walrus” who “can’t sing, can’t dance and don’t write his own jokes.” He alleged that Ludacris softens his art at the behest of the Illuminati. (Really.) And Williams accused Kevin Hart of stealing a long list of movie roles originally offered to him. Williams declined to comment for this story.

Sharpe (left) and comedian Katt Williams filming the Club Shay Shay episode that would become the largest video on YouTube and net its host millions.

Jordan Baber (2)

“I remember thinking, ‘If I get 10 to 15 million views, that’s going to be a damn big interview,’ ” Sharpe recalls. “I look back at my producer, and he’s shaking his head. He was like, ‘Shannon, this is going to blow up the internet.’ I’m like, ‘Really? You think we’re going to hit 15 million?’ ” In two months, it racked up 63 million views. And that’s not including the 1.7 million audio-only podcast downloads of the same show. “We did one three-hour interview with ads every four minutes,” says Sharpe. “I’m very happy.”

The show is produced by sports podcasting company The Volume. “There’s a split with the revenue,” Sharpe explains. “But I get the lion’s share.” Asked how much he made off the Williams episode, Sharpe says, “A lot.”

“I’ve seen you quoted saying, ‘If you think it’s $2 million, it’s three times that.’ Was it $6 million? It’s hard to imagine making $6 million off one podcast,” I tell him.

“That’s OK,” Sharpe says with a smile. “Let it be hard to imagine.”


Sharpe was raised by his single mother, Mary, and her parents in Glennville, Georgia, a small town about 60 miles east of Savannah.

His older brother, Sterling Sharpe, was a star wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers until a neck injury ended his career in 1994. In college, Shannon, too, was an athletic superstar, excelling equally at football, basketball and track and field. He chose to focus on football and finished his pre-NFL career with 192 receptions and 40 touchdowns. Despite this, he was not a highly rated prospect in the 1990 NFL draft.

“I was a seventh-round pick,” he says, selected 192nd by the Denver Broncos, a team he’d win two Super Bowls with in the late ’90s.

He’s been underestimated his whole life, he says. “But see, I never let it stop me. I know I got a lisp. I know I have a very heavy colloquial dialect. It was Charles Barkley that convinced me to be who I am. Because when CBS hired me [in 2003, as an analyst on The NFL Today], I went to these speech therapists and all this stuff. But I watched Charles, and I was like, ‘He ain’t doing none of that. He talked just like he’s from Alabama. What the hell am I doing? Why am I trying to be something that I’m not?’ “

As the team’s Hall of Fame tight end, Sharpe helped the Denver Broncos win two Super Bowls.


CBS was a broadcasting boot camp for Sharpe. “They used to send me out on the road to interview players,” he recalls. “Boomer [Esiason] had a radio show. Dan [Marino] had small kids. So whenever they needed someone to get on a plane at the last minute, I was like, ‘I’ll go do it.’ “

A longtime 60 Minutes fan, Sharpe asked his producer to gather video of Ed Bradley interviewing subjects on the show. “He probably sent me 50 hours,” says Sharpe, who studied it like game tape. “I listened to his cadence. I liked his calm demeanor.”

In 2015, CBS opted to part ways with Sharpe. He decided to self-tape his analysis and post the videos to Facebook, “because I still wanted people, execs, to be like, ‘Hey, he can really do this.’ ” That led to a call from ESPN, asking if Sharpe would fill in for a vacationing Stephen A. Smith on First Take, the network’s sports pundit debate show.

Sharpe (right) with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take

Al Powers/ESPN Images

His sparring partner was Skip Bayless, 72, a veteran sportswriter and lightning rod. The appearance led to an invitation to join Bayless for a full week. On the second day, Bayless motioned for Sharpe to join him in the hallway. “He said, ‘If I leave here, I want you to be my partner.’ And I’m looking at him. How do you make that determination after one episode? I was like, ‘For real?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah. You got the chops for this.’ “

Bayless did leave ESPN for Fox-owned FS1, where his rival show Undisputed premiered Sept. 6, 2016. Sharpe moved from Atlanta to L.A. to join him on the show, earning about $3 million a year (Bayless reportedly makes about $8 million). The pair — journalist and Hall of Famer — had chemistry, and viewers noticed: Undisputed saw a 45 percent ratings increase in its second season, averaging 155,000 viewers an episode. Meanwhile, Sharpe continued to grow as a presenter. His monologue defending Colin Kaepernick’s right to take a knee in protest during the national anthem was posted to Occupy Democrats. “Two days later, it had 8 million views,” Sharpe says.

Eventually, however, egos interfered, and good-natured rivalries gave way to real hostilities. If there was a turning point, it was in a 2022 debate about Tom Brady, during which Bayless suggested Sharpe, who was critical of Brady’s performance, was jealous of the Patriots quarterback. (Bayless declined to comment.)

Another tense exchange came in January 2023, when Sharpe called out Bayless about a tweet regarding Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who suffered cardiac arrest on the field. Bayless questioned how the league could postpone a game so “crucial to the regular-season outcome.” The tweet earned huge backlash, accusing Bayless of being indifferent to human life.

“Skip tweeted something I disagree with, and hopefully Skip will take it down,” Sharpe said on-air, to which Bayless responded: “I’m not going to take it down. I stand by what I tweeted.” Sharpe shot back: “I cannot even get through a monologue without you interrupting me.”

Sharpe says, “There had been a lot of things that I had overlooked, and then in that moment, there wasn’t any coming back. I wasn’t cool with the disrespect. And as I told [Fox], ‘I refuse to be a slave to loyalty.’ ” At that point, Fox “made it clear the direction they wanted to go,” Sharpe says, which meant Undisputed would continue without him. After seven years, he bid the show adieu on June 13, 2023, and soon joined ESPN.

He says there are no hard feelings toward his former home. “I was happy with the [financial] arrangement that I got. I don’t have any bad things to say about Fox. Fox gave me an opportunity to be in this space. I got popular — way more popular than I was in the NFL. I’m forever indebted to that.” As for Bayless, the last time the two saw each other “was the day I walked out of the studio,” Sharpe says. “It wasn’t like he and I had this relationship.”

His arrangement with First Take host Smith could not be more different. “Stephen A. knew what was going on with Fox before I did,” Sharpe says. “He said, ‘I’m not telling you if, I’m telling you when: I got your back.’ “

Says Smith of Sharpe: “I absolutely love working with him. I think he’s a star in this industry. He never disappoints, is focused, committed and just does an incredible job. I’ve grown to have a lot of love for him. I’m really, really proud to have him as a partner of the team.”


Sharpe theorizes the Williams interview went viral because it offered a glimpse inside Black comedy’s backroom dealings — the stuff publicists work overtime to conceal. “Katt shined a light on a world that nobody ever knew, unless you were in that world,” he says. “You hear this all the time when you’re on a team — you don’t air the laundry out. Well, Katt says, ‘I’ve never been on your team, so I can say whatever I want.’ “

And yet despite the Williams triumph — a broadcasting coup so wildly successful, it elicited a personal call from Bob Iger to discuss Sharpe’s future at Disney-owned ESPN — Sharpe finds it difficult to fully embrace his good fortune, particularly because he’s suddenly found himself a popular target, both online and within the Black creative community.

“Katt said what he said,” Sharpe notes. “But I got blamed because he said it on my platform. I got a lot of the vitriol that they were afraid to aim at Katt.”

“Has there been any blowback from that interview that particularly hurt?” I ask.

“Have you not seen the media? Now, all of a sudden, since Katt did the interview, I’m gay. Since Katt did the interview, I’m Wendy Williams. I’m a gossip columnist. Katt did warn me. He said, ‘Be prepared, because it’s going to come.’ When I played sports, I expected the opposing team’s fans to dislike me. But [in Hollywood], I had no idea it would be like this. I would be lying if I told you I expected this.”

I point out to Sharpe that he’s succeeding on every level. Not only is he raising ratings on linear TV like ESPN, but he’s built an independent digital media empire and it’s thriving — something that has eluded so many other talking heads looking for careers beyond cable TV. “Who really cares what lesser podcasters think?” I ask.

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“See, that’s easy for you to say because you’re not in that position,” Sharpe answers. “If every time you turn on your phone, the TV, they say, ‘You’re a pedophile. Seth is a pedophile.’ “

“Did someone accuse you of that?”

“I’m just asking you,” Sharpe says. “When you question a straight man’s sexuality continuously? Social media is so influential. We had a guy make it to the White House in 2016, repeatedly saying things over and over, and people started to believe it. If you say things enough, people will believe them as true, even though they’re not.”

The truth is, Sharpe has three children, all in their 30s, all conceived with different women throughout his NFL years. “Two live in Atlanta,” he says of his kids, with whom he maintains good relationships. “And my daughter is about to do a residency to be an anesthesiologist.” His son had a baby recently — a boy. “It’s crazy,” Sharpe says of being a grandfather. “Just crazy.”

“So who cares, if you know your own truth?” I ask.

“It’s not OK to say somebody is gay. You can’t convince me that it’s OK. It’s not.”

I ask if his distress has to do with gay jokes made about him in the wake of the Williams interview by comedians like Mike Epps and Eddie Griffin.

“There have been others,” he says. “But here’s the thing: A lot of times, people disguise things in jokes. Envy, jealousy. I don’t have anything against gay people. To each his own, and whatever you choose to do, that’s your life.”

“Hey, I believe you. I’m not —”

“There’s nothing to believe. It’s factual. I’ve been carrying a man purse since 2000, when it wasn’t cool,” he says, gesturing to a Tom Ford alligator bag beside him.

Club Shay Shay has continued to make headlines since Williams’ appearance. A few weeks later, Mo’Nique showed up and called out perennial targets Oprah Winfrey and Perry in addition to Hart and Tiffany Haddish. Then, in a recent interview with Insecure‘s Amanda Seales, she confirmed rumors of tension between her and series creator and star Issa Rae. After Sharpe said he heard Rae’s sets are “empowering,” Seales responded, “She wasn’t empowering to me.”

But Sharpe earned critiques for that episode. He pushed back on everything from Seales’ revelation of an autism diagnosis (“Just because you have a special gift, that doesn’t mean that you have a spectrum,” Sharpe said) to a story about experiencing racism working in a Christmas show at Walt Disney World (“Isn’t that just kids being mean?” he asked). Seales later took to Instagram to complain about her experience on Shay Shay, saying she felt Sharpe was “interrogating” her about her diagnosis and felt “absolutely zero love” from him.

Sharpe also found himself on Shaq’s bad side, after he suggested on a podcast that O’Neal is jealous of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić, who just won his third MVP award (O’Neal won once).

“You say anything to get clicks,” the Lakers icon wrote on Instagram. “So here’s some click bait for you. if you ain’t ranked in the top ten in your profession then you can’t speak on Me.” Shaq then added cryptically, “Don’t forget, I know what you did to get where you at.”

Then, perhaps caught up in the diss-track mania that has swept the nation, Shaq released his own diss track: “Shannon Sharpe, man, you’re way beneath me. You’re not in my spot — you’re like a peewee.” Sharpe has already extended an olive branch, saying May 13 on the Webby Awards red carpet, “I don’t have no problem with Shaq. I’m ready to move on.”

Smith says there’s not much to the Shaq-Sharpe beef. “It’s not a rivalry,” he says. “Over the course of time, you’re going to ruffle feathers and you’re going to upset people — and they’re going to upset you from time to time.”

I later ask Sharpe if having a thick skin is the best course of action. “I called Shaq ‘Shrek’ to his face,” Sharpe replies. “It’s a joke. That’s not the same as calling someone gay.”

“What about that situation in January 2023 with the Memphis Grizzlies?” I ask. (Sharpe jumped out of his seat and got into a courtside screaming match with multiple players.)

“That was me forgetting who I am,” he says. “In a situation like that, I’m supposed to lower the temperature. I turned it up.”

Changing subjects, I ask him for a list of his dream guests on Club Shay Shay.

“Oprah, LeBron, President Trump, President Biden, Denzel, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Rogan, Tyler Perry, Dave Chappelle,” he rattles off. “Eddie Murphy — I don’t think Eddie Murphy’s done an interview in 20 years.”

“What do you make of the other people trying to do what you’re doing and stumbling in the indie digital space — people like Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson?” I ask.

“People think that all you need is a microphone and a camera, but you got to have a niche,” Sharpe says. “And you got to be interesting. People want to be entertained. People want to laugh. People don’t want to be serious about everything. And so you have to appeal to the audience and give what they’re looking for — or they’ll go elsewhere and get it.”

This story first appeared in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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