From this week’s critical success of director Ben Affleck’s com-adic or drama-de-ic Air, we are reminded, in a big way, that the art and game of mixing comedy and sports works. You can get a rigorously sweaty workout from laughing at sports jokes, and the rough and tumble skill of making people laugh at sports humor deserves a Super Bowl ring. Or at least a colorful pennant.
“Have you seen our teams play? There is plenty to laugh at,” said stand-up comedian, voice-over artist and impersonator Joe Conklin whose impersonations of sports figures Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley are as heralded as his takes on politicos such as Trump, Obama, Mitch McConnell and Elizabeth Warren.
“I think because we’re so invested in the experience –our time, money, our heart – that level of intensity needs some relief. Most of the time that relief comes through booing or throwing snowballs. But if you listen closely, most Philadelphians are pretty creative in how they respond to poor play, poor effort. The jokes, the rips, the jeers allow us to be part of the experience.”
Conklin is one of the best examples of a stand-up comedian who bleeds Eagles green in the autumn, Phillies red in the spring, and orange when its time to 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey. And when it comes to exploiting that love of sports and all of its humor, Joe Conklin, several members of the comedian’s family and The City Rhythm Orchestra salute local sports teams and the best sports fans in the world on Friday, April 14th at the Xcite Center at Parx Casino.
“Our show is a salute to the fans. All Philadelphia asks is an honest effort. Today’s players are making millions of dollars for playing a kids’ game. To the commoner, sometimes comedy and ridicule is our only way to return fire! Fans will enjoy our talent, enthusiasm, loyalty and criticism. We’re bringing the same kind of energy to this show that Philly sports fans bring to an Eagles or Phillies game. I’ve done sports satire and parody (impressions) in my stand up for 30 years. Now I’m bringing a team of the most talented musicians and singers in the city to further express that point of view. The best part -we’re all Philly sports fans: demanding, critical, informed, enthusiastic, loyal, adoring. Best of all, many in our ensemble are my family members -my 2 brothers, daughter and niece all perform. It was growing up as a sports fan in a row home in Olney where that passion and spirit were instilled from my parents, siblings, the whole neighborhood…. It’s moving and fun.”
“Moving and fun” is the most apt description for what happens when uproarious, smart comedy and pulse racing sports collide.
When it comes to stand-up comedians who mix sports with giddy, goofy pleasure, there is The Sklar Brothers, Randy and Jason, who long seem to make themselves a part of every sports television and streaming program for any network and streamer that will have them. Stand-up comedian Jay Mohr forever hosted a sports talk comedy podcast, and as of this weekend was making baseball trade jokes at the expense of the NY Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. Kevin James doesn’t do a lot of stand-up comedy routines any longer, but when he returns to the live stage this summer, expect his usual, broad, sports oriented witticisms.
When it comes to sports comedy films, Adam Sandler takes the big wide championship belt, the red or the blue ribbon and the cinematic Stanley Cup for flicks from his recent Netflix basketball dramedy, Hustle, to a string of gamer films such as Happy Gilmore (1996), The Waterboy (1998) and The Longest Yard (2005) where sports were the centerpiece of his comic conceit.
Like Sandler, another SNL alum, deadpan Bill Murray – a noted golfer in real life, and a rabid a fan of Chicago professional sports teams like the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago Bears, and the Chicago Bulls, has appeared in many a sporting film, from a documentary on one-time Cubs player Ron Santo, This Old Cub. In 2006, to 1980’s Caddyshack, to the bowling comedy Kingpin and the mix of animation and live action that was the basketball-filled (Michael Jordan starring) Space Jam.
Though the Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci boxing film of 1980, Raging Bull is hardly a comedy, it does indeed contain some of the mostly darkly comic script reading in all of cinematic history.
My vote for the absolutely best sports comedy with real emotion happens to be the football/sports agent film, Jerry Maguire (1996). Here, in director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s film, Tom Cruise is likably desperate and raging throughout, while baller Cuba Gooding Jr has an equal dose of balls and heart to keep the play moving downfield.