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Committing a Chortle Sin
Chris Ballard
December 11, 2006
We are�a nation of lonely football fans, bereft of mirth. Fortunately, the people on the NFL pregame shows understand this. From Howie and Terry to Cris and Jerome to Shannon and Boomer, they all know that what we crave most is not analysis, but levity. You find it everywhere. Shoulders heaving, diaphragm contracting, NFL commentators cannot stop giggling.
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December 11, 2006

Committing A Chortle Sin

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Bradshaw: "Is that what it is? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Tee-hee-hee. Bless your heart."

As with any art form, there are those who just don't get it. Football is a complex and often brutal sport, these humor-haters say. Randy Minkoff, a media coach who's worked with more than 1,000 athletes, says of the studio analysts, "They have to realize that the reason they're there is because they're experts, not because they're Jerry Seinfeld." Andrea Kirby, a media coach who's trained Peter Gammons, Jim Kaat and Young, says, "When they're actually having fun, you can tell, but when they're not, it's deadly obvious. I've asked guys why they were laughing on the set, and some will admit they have no idea."

Here's a theory. Humans are social animals, and we need cues. It's why television began using canned laughter in 1950, why cartoons such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons had laugh tracks, despite the obvious impossibility of their being taped in front of an audience. It's why local TV news entered its Stepfordian happy-talk phase at the end of the 1960s, trading relevancy for personality, Walter Cronkite for a sea of Ron Burgundys.

Perhaps pregame commentators represent the natural evolution of this concept. They provide the solitary American male, stranded in his domestic prison, with the camaraderie he craves. Flip on Fox, and you can join a virtual fraternity—and my, what accomplished, athletic, well-dressed buddies you have!—while the commentators interrupt each other and crack jokes, just like real guys do.

Irvin: "If [ Eli Manning] wins this game Sunday night, it says, I have MATURED, I am HERE, I am amongst the elite quarterbacks in this league, and in New York City, that's a huge statement to make."

Jackson: "Are you retarded?"

So, complain all you want, skeptinistas. Go ahead and question why pregame shows that once took 30 minutes now require an hour—four for the Super Bowl. Go ahead and grumble about how ever since Charles Barkley arrived on Inside the NBA and displayed some genuine wit and charm, a legion of imitators have crowded the airwaves, like so many ball-hogging Michael Jordan clones souring the game.

Sure, take your shots at the minds behind Monday Night Football for their failure to understand that 1) every comic ( Tony Kornheiser) needs a smart straight man; and 2) no football game needs a comic. Feel free to wonder whether real football fans are turning off their TVs and going instead to the Web, where they aren't subjected to manufactured joviality, Hannity & Colmes--like canned theatrics and crass innuendo aimed at some elusive demographic known as the "casual fan." Go ahead, but be forewarned that if you do, you will be missing out on some high comedy. Even if it is unintentional.

Steve Rushin is on vacation.

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