The first time I saw him, I knew he was the one. Tall, dark, and, well, crazy, Rafi (played by Jason Mantzoukas) barreled on screen in The League and straight into audience’s hearts. Now, the FXX show about a group of friends in a fantasy football league is brimming with slackers and unwanted hanger-ons, but Rafi towers above them all. The man is legitimately psychotic: he’s constantly wild-eyed and screaming, has committed murder, had to quit being an altar boy because of a sexual encounter with a priest (Rafi was the aggressor), casually roofies entire parties, and hints at an incestious relationship with his beautiful sister. He spouts off about his bowel movements and boners constantly.
And he is the most spectacular character to have ever graced a television screen.
Rafi’s main appeal is what Mantzoukas refers to as his “unbridled Id.” But much of Rafi’s immense success as a cult character can be chalked up to Mantzoukas. The League is, by and large, an improvised production—and Mantzoukas is one of the best improvisers in the game. He excels at raising the stakes in each scene and spouting one-liners like “I am day drunk. Get ready to see my dick!” No other character on television has the ability to make you to laugh so hard while simultaneously wondering “what the fuck just happened?”
Jeff and Jackie Schaffer, creators of The League, say they set out to make “the worst possible person to have in your league”—and they succeeded. But they also succeeded at making one of the most memorable characters of all time. Rafi is the platonic ideal of depravity: beautiful unhinged. We’ll always have another tortured antihero. We will never have another Rafi.
To be fair, if we knew Rafi in real life, we’d lock our doors, block his number, and possibly even flee the country. But from the safety of our couches, Rafi is refreshingly honest and criminally funny. He might be deranged, but ultimately he’s kind-hearted, caring deeply for his family, the other guys in the league, and his sidekick, Dirty Randy.
When The Leaguehangs up its fantasy cleats this season, we’ll be losing one of the most fun shows on television. But most of all, we’ll be losing a friend. Farewell, El Cuñado.
Photos by Patrick McElhenney/FXX