Molly Qerim is in the hot seat.
It resides in Bristol, Conn., at ESPN headquarters, in Studio E, between two characters with a penchant for verbosity and searing-hot flamethrower takes. This is Molly Qerim's seat. And as the person in that seat, it is her responsibility to moderate daily debates between some of the most powerful voices in sports media.
First Take, ESPN2’s morning debate show featuring Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith with host Molly Qerim, has been setting the airwaves ablaze since 2007. Tomorrow, the First Take team will premier a new opening theme song by Wale entitled “Every Word Great,” as well as a video that gives us a glimpse into how all three hosts prepare for live television.
Molly Qerim was kind enough to discuss the show's new theme song, as well as what her life is like as the voice of reason between two of the biggest personalities at The Worldwide Leader. She also gave us a glimpse into her personal pre-show playlist and opened up about what her controversial co-hosts are like when the cameras aren't rolling.
This is a little bit of a joke but how has the lack of a "U" in your last name impacted your life?
[Laughs.] If we're going to get technical, it's not even "Qerim"...it's already been Americanized once. I can't tell you how many times—I literally spell it out and I sound so obnoxious because I don't know any other "Q" words so I'm like "Q as in Queen" and then you have the woman looking at you like, "Oh she's feeling herself." [Laughs.] I feel for people with crazy names. It's been a challenge but if that's my struggle, I can live with it.
Overall, how has your experience on one of America's most popular sports TV shows been so far?
It's been awesome. I was working in L.A. at NFL Network and I actually got off the air at 7 a.m. because I was working a morning show, so I'd come home at 7 and I would DVR [First Take]. I've always been a fan of it. I think when I had my initial first show with them I was like, "Okay, this is cool. My morning's still the same." I started it with them always but now I'm really here front and center in person.
What I like most about it is what we cover. I like that we don't shy away from controversial topics, racial topics. We're really NFL-heavy; I love the NFL, I love the NBA. So the sports that we tend to focus on are sports that I'm passionate about. With Skip and Stephen A., they are just so hilarious and intense that...I don't know how else to say it except that I love it. I think the best part is when they go off on their rants, their tangents, and I'm just dying laughing. Sometimes we just have those moments and you feel like the kid in the back of your class and I'm just like, "Molly, you're a professional, you need to be serious right now."
It's never forced and I think that's why the show works. Because they truly believe it. No one is saying anything just to say it. It's not clickbait.
What are your favorite "hot takes" from the show? What is a moment you remember that sticks out?
Oh my gosh. When they don't even mean to be funny [is the best]. After they go in on certain subjects I'll sit back like, "Gosh, they're so talented." They work so hard and their delivery—everything. It's so on point. I can't think of any off the top of my head but today...all of a sudden in the middle of a segment my phone goes off and it's like some Pandora trap music [Laughs.] I was mortified. Just those little moments, I can't even explain it.
I'm curious if Skip and Stephen A. have ever gotten into their debates when the cameras are off. Have you ever caught them continuing something after the commercial break or does it just stop—?
No! Every commercial break Skip will usually get up and walk over to the other side and maybe go through some stuff. He never sits at the desk. Stephen A. will stay at the desk and it gets heated. It's REAL. Just like if you were getting into it with someone that is real, it's not staged. It's not fake. [But] even though they're from such different backgrounds and they have such different views, because there's a respect, it works. You know, certain lines aren't going to be crossed. At the end of the day, after the debate's over, it's like, "Okay cool, we're good. We need to move onto the next one." So there aren't those lingering hard feelings.
The one thing that really did surprise me, normally when [I was] in production meetings in the past, it might be "Okay, Maurice, you played for the Eagles and Billy played for the Giants, and they're playing each other and we're gonna debate the matchup. You gotta take the Eagles." And you might be like, "Well, I really think the Giants are gonna win" and they'd be like, "No, you gotta take the Eagles. It's better TV." They do not do that. It's never forced and I think that's why the show works. Because they truly believe it. No one is saying anything just to say it. It's not clickbait. It's not, "Oh, we're gonna get picked up on the internet." They genuinely believe it.
I was doing a bit of Googling earlier today and did a quick video search and noticed that three of the top 10 clips with your name are about your legs—
I'm curious as a woman in a male-dominated space do you find it hard to flourish? Because it's weird to see your work belittled in that way, no?
I'm gonna be honest with you—since I started First Take, I don't Google myself. The other thing I even stopped doing is I stopped reading my Twitter [mentions]. I'm making this up but say there's 100, and maybe only 10 are bad and sometimes I feel bad because you're ignoring people who are saying positive things...but I just don't want any part of it. It's kinda like that Bill Belichick old school way but, not to be cliché, the most successful people it's not that they're more focused than other people, I think that they ignore the distractions. So I just try to ignore that stuff. Obviously I'm a female in sports, you work really hard, you prep really hard, you put a lot into the show so when you have certain comments and people are saying, "Oh you add nothing" or "You got your job because of this." Really? Why don't you look at my master's degree? [Laughs.] That's all negative energy, there's nothing positive about it, so I just ignore it. I don't know if that's the best but that's what works for me personally.
A photo posted by Molly Qerim (@mollyqerim) on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:29pm PST
I think [the legs clips] was the same user name. You have one huge fan out there—
It's so sad! It's like so pathetic. Like, God, I went to school for so many years, you work so hard and like, that's it? You don't even see my legs on the show. C'mon.
Glad you're able to Belichick your way out of those situations.
I just Belichick it! That's what I do! "Whatever dude, I'm onto Cincinnati."
When you're on the show and you say something wrong as a woman sometimes you feel like you have to step it up another level because people already question your credibility and it's like, "Alright, c'mon. We're onto Cincinnati." Belichick style.
Word around the campfire is that you like to listen to a playlist before the show like a boxer getting ready for a fight. What's on that playlist? What do you like to listen to before First Take takes off?
Every morning my alarm—I have two phones. And it's not a sketchy two phone thing one like works as a house phone—
I understand. You're a drug dealer. I get it.
[Laughs.] It's like a safety phone, it's not like a clean and dirty phone. Anyway, I have four alarms go off and one I've had forever is "Stronger" by Kanye. Another one is "Drunk in Love (Remix)". I listen to a lot of Pandora. I listen to the Hot 97 app. This year I've been listening to The Weeknd a lot, and also Meek Mill's album.
Oh, and how could I forget! I got the new Wale! What you know about that? "Every Word Great"! That is the new one!
Be sure to check out the rest of Molly Qerim's playlist below, and catch her on First Take weekdays on ESPN2 from 10 a.m.—noon ET.