These Sports Are(n’t) Funny
And I Can(’t) Prove It
Some sports got it; some sports don’t. It’s hard to say why, but I’ll try.
The Funny Sports
Hockey is funny. First, it’s mostly Canadian, with Tim Horton’s ads on the sidewalls. They’re on ice skates. It’s 99% white guys, and only a small percentage of them are from the United States. It is so pathetically in last place among professional sports leagues by all measures it is just a tragedy, eh? They have sticks. Missing teeth. Enforcers! Fucking GOONS! Icing. Russians. Goalie gear. Zzzzambonis. Penalty boxes. Coaches in suits and slicked back hair.
Everything about hockey is funny. Especially the fact that they actually fight. Frequently. Over hockey. And it is basically part of the sport. I mean, they’re trying to tamp it down, but it is still essentially an officially tolerated part of the game.
I also enjoy driving hockey fans nuts by emphasizing to them how little I and the vast majority of other people care about their sport. It drives them insane that no one can see how great they think hockey is. But obviously, it’s not that great or it would be football… or just about any other sport.
To illustrate: In pro hockey’s early days, a television executive was asked why he had passed on buying the TV rights to the NHL. He is said to have said, “There are twenty thousand hockey fans in New York and when the Rangers play they’re all in Madison Square Garden.” That quote is perfect because it is both a backhanded compliment and an exquisite insult. The fact that such a small group of people care so much about a sport that most people either only vaguely know exists or actively loathe is part of what makes hockey funny.
Proof, of course: Slap Shot.
Golf is funny. The above pictures of a top-tier pro golfer, Henrik Stenson, hitting a shot in his underwear happened at a World Golf Championships (“WGC”) tournament in 2009. For those who don’t follow the sport, WGC tournaments bring together the best players from all over the world. They’re a big deal. And a guy hit a shot damn near naked in one. And this happens on a fairly regular basis, including this one:
The origins of the sport are equally absurd: Bored Scottish shepherds hitting rocks with staffs while watching sheep eat.
The aristocratic mien of the sport is completely risible, with the country clubs and the etiquette and the dress codes and the exclusivity. The absolute pomposity surrounding the whole affair of knocking a ball into a hole while outside is ridiculous. But what makes the sport funny is that, they all kind of know how ridiculous it is.
I know golf comes with a lot of baggage too, and I don’t mean to make light of its exclusivity, but the outright triviality and dorkiness of what golf and its country clubs have tried so zealously to guard over the years is part of what makes the sport funny. That and caddy races, which also happen during officially sanctioned tournaments.
This is all to say nothing of the fact that because they don’t directly compete against one another and aren’t on teams, the PGA Tour is basically a travelling caravan of rich, talented, privileged young guys darting around the world making money by doing one of the least physically taxing sports on the planet, as putt buddies. This is why you hear tales of the drinking, the affairs with spectators, the ping-pong tournaments, the John Daly. Some of that has died down in the era of social media leaks and changing social mores associated with the crumbling patriarchy, but still…it is downright farcical.
I know golf is funny as well because I once wrote half of a sitcom spec script about a tourist-trap pitch’n’putt in Florida. The main characters included a head groundskeeper who was a Ph.D. economist and Marxist who was trying to lead a revolution by the grounds crew against the course owners, but all the crew wanted was beer. And it was funny. I just can’t find it anymore.
The Tao of Golf
I was playing more golf back then, I suppose. I like this one. In a lot of stuff, I tried to take real Taoist sayings…
Proof: Caddyshack. Tin Cup. Happy Gilmore. Dead Solid Perfect.
My favorite form of humor is the absurd. The idea of people taking something seriously that is so demonstrably a trifle is genuinely hilarious. Baseball is this phenomenon. Baseball is absurd.
People “bat” this around lightly, but the fact that most of the players in baseball spend the vast majority of the playing time literally standing there — doing nothing but waiting — is funny. The bullpen takes this idea to its extreme. These guys are essentially riding the bench, but they might go in. If some old guy calls them in. But in the meantime, they chew sunflower seeds or tobacco and scratch their nuts.
And as far as danger, golf is not exactly rugby, but baseball is so easy they’ll play two games in the same day!
Stupid signals. Designated hitters. Pitchers trying to bat. First baseman’s mitts. Superstitions. Rally hats. Tobacco chewing. Stirrups. Flippy sunglasses. Hey, battah battah! Keeping score. Talking to the pitcher. Pine tar. Beaning. Bunting. Balking. The Infield-Fly Rule. Pickles. Sacrifice flies. Interminable games. Taking a lead. Stealing bases. Statistics. “The book.” Minor leagues. Substitute runners. CHARGING THE MOUND!
Of course, the whole “manager play-fighting with the umpire (or opposing mascot) and kicking dirt on him” is the kind of theater that really only survives in hockey fights and political umbrage. Oh, and grown men engaging in bench-clearing brawls.
Proof, if you needed it: Sandlot. Bad News Bears. Bull Durham. Homer at the Bat. A League of Their Own. BASEketball. Major League.
What the F*#k is a Balk?
A disquisition on that most arcane yet essential rule of baseball and life.
NASCAR (a/k/a Drivin’ Fast)
Not much to say beyond it’s funny.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Smoky & the Bandit. Cannonball Run. Stroker Ace.
Also Rans: Basketball (Semi Pro, White Men Can’t Jump, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, BASEketball, Space Jam), Dodgeball (Dodgeball), and bowling (Kingpin).
The Unfunny Sports
Without a doubt, the least funny sport is Formula One racing, or, as it is known in America: …? (It isn’t known in America. I am even explaining the joke to further illustrate how unfunny Formula One is.)
(Fascinating in a way that NASCAR and auto racing in other contexts can be funny (see above) but Formula One can be the anti-humor. But there you have it.)
Formula One has it origins in the earliest parts of the 20th century, but it didn’t become the organized series we (don’t) know today until after WWII, when it became one of several ways for Europeans to channel their nationalism into something that doesn’t result in the deaths of 125 million people. See?
As if it weren’t funny enough, the sport is plutocratic, utterly flooded with corporate money, hopelessly corrupt, elitist, and is plagued by byzantine rules and insurmountable costs of entry. If that weren’t enough, it also has a general lack of real competition, suffers from a small field, and turns a blind eye to human rights abuses by holding events in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
And almost worse than all that, it is completely dominated by a Mercedes team that has won the past three constructors championships in a row and regularly dominates the vast majority of races in any given season by and through its driver, the indefatigable and terribly boring corporate-shill android, Lewis Hamilton. Hay-O!
It has also played host to several spectacular crashes that have killed dozens of its own drivers and spectators over the years. (See Niki Lauda’s burnt up face, and the burned up bodies of James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, et al.) Ha ha!
Modern races are affairs of drudgery, featuring pitifully few passes and duels, offering only hour after hour of screaming engines and precise, mechanical, automatons guiding things around. It’s a loud version of watching twelve people racing chess pieces from one end of the board to the other, and back, for three hours. [*rimshot*]
And finally, just because the sport was absolutely awesome from the ’70s through the early ’90s doesn’t mean it’s funny.
Proof: There is not a single (intentionally) funny movie about Formula One. There are good ones (e.g., Senna, Rush, the dozens of documentaries about the history and glory days of Formula One) but they are only sad or interesting.
Let’s just point out the elephant in the room: The sport exploits a talent base that is largely composed of men of color from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, paying them the equivalent of $40,000 a year or so (In tuition and room and board. I’m not counting free gear and plane or bus rides to Madison, Wisconsin or Manhattan, Kansas and an occasional trip to Miami.) to place themselves at great risk of physical injury for an approximate 3% chance to play maybe a year in the pros (where the vast majority will not play more than a season or two for the rookie minimum) all while generating millions for the 20–30 top college football programs in the country and billions for the networks that televise the games. It is to laugh.
But it’s also insufferably full of itself. You can’t get through a game without announcers, coaches, athletics directors, fans, the PA system, and the Dr. Pepper guy celebrating the “pageantry” and the “spectacle” of college football. We get it, there are flags and a band and an old stadium. Yuks for days.
Then there’s the arcane lore. It is too much to take. Even for a dedicated fan (like myself) you have to be raised in the game to be considered a fan, by the fans. It is nearly a cult. Did you not know that Nebraska’s overtime victory over Penn State in 2013 was an act of DIVINE recompense for Penn State’s 1982 win over Nebraska (that was made possible by an egregious out-of-bounds no-call)? No? Remember Wide Right I? II? III? IV? Well, why do you even watch the games then?
Yet it is the greatest, purest, best sport played in America today. It’s just not funny.
Proof: I could not find any funny pictures of college football. At all. Also, The Waterboy and Necessary Roughness are the only college football movies that even try to be funny.
The only way college football is even halfway funny is when you’re making fun of its fans, as here:
You Don't Root for My Team?!
You Don't Root for My Team?!
You Don't Root for My Team?!phatphree.tumblr.com
I’ll just do some cut and paste from the Formula One part above…
[Soccer] has it origins in the earliest parts of the 20th century, but it didn’t become the organized [sport] we . . . know today until after WWII, when it became one of several ways for Europeans to channel their nationalism into something that doesn’t result in the deaths of 125 million people. See?
Yes, also: No hands, low scores, ties, mononyms, interminable seasons, indecipherable leagues, cups, conferences, and continental championships. The horribly and indefensibly corrupt World Cup (which makes the International Olympic Committee look like the March of Dimes) holding the event in Russia (for bribes to its executives) and Qatar (using slave labor).
Oh, and dives. Oh, the dives.
Has anyone ever laughed at soccer? Well, of course we’ve laughed at it. What I mean is, has soccer ever made anyone laugh? No. Especially not those souls living in El Salvador and Honduras in 1969, when those two countries fought a war triggered by a World Cup qualifying match. Such ribaldry!
And we haven’t even gotten to racist hooligans, the Hillsborough disaster, vicious hooligans, Russian hooligans, Polish hooligans, playing to empty stadiums to punish hooligans, uniforms with Persian Gulf airline logos as essentially the team logo, and David Beckham’s smug face. Verily do we chortle at its frivolity!
Proof: There are barely any movies about soccer, let alone funny ones. Kicking and Screaming seems to be the only example.
Also Rans: Professional football, MMA fighting, bull fighting, bear baiting, coursing, and Australian Rules football.
For research, I asked my wife what sports she thought were funny.
She said, “They’re all funny because it is funny that people waste their short lives watching a bunch of people drive or move a ball. It is all so meaningless. That’s funny.”
Aaaaand I suppose she’s right. In that way, maybe all sports are funny. But then again, so is life.