By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Stop. Just stop.
Accept the fact that you’re no longer hip or groovy or the tops or the cat’s pajamas. It happens with age. I’m only 30, and there are 15-year-olds every year who will never find me cool no matter how much I juxtapose Othello with gangsta rap or equate Ernest Hemingway to the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World.
You have your niche. Stick with what works—calling out injustices you see in the sports world with a bit of “that’s my uncle who probably smoked a lot of pot back in the day” humor.
Being funny is a fantastic way to attract and keep an audience. George Bernard Shaw supposedly once said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.” I learned long ago, much to my own teachers’ dismay, that if people are laughing they are listening.
So goes my professional writing career—albeit brief—my longer amateur writing career, and my always tenuous teaching career. If I want to make an otherwise thoroughly boring grammar lesson more palatable to a class of kids, I invoke the sophomoric hilarity of terms like diphthong, dangling participle, bare infinitive, assonance, syllogism, and logorrhea. Hey, look, guys—Julius Caesar has characters named Titinius, Clitus, and Trebonius. That stuff gets a rippling chuckle, and then we move on, attentions grabbed (in a similar fashion math teachers have long told students that they may touch their asymptotes but not those of anyone else).
I know what’s funny to my audience usually. I also usually know what isn’t (I’d be lying if I said that my stand-up act in class is always a killer). Just as I wouldn’t do in a column, I don’t use racial epithets or blatant misogyny as comedy. Sure, I might mock such silly conventions (I can’t avoid the n-word when teaching Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet’s or Iago’s obvious disdain for the ladies), but my mockery will be clear. I would never have my audience walk away thinking I endorse such ignorance.
Of late some of you sports columnists have tried to walk the fine line between hilarity and jaw-dropping stupidity. And you have staggered terribly. And that is ruining it for the rest of us.
Yes, us. The lowly of the pen with a readership a sliver of yours who are trying to carve our path by sometimes being, you know, actually funny. I’ve been told that I’m funny—more than I’m awful, but I’m never exactly sure about myself—but I then use that. Pushing the envelope with humor is a craft I’ve honed for a long time and has seemed to work for me. It’s gotten me out of many a deserved ass-kicking. It got me this glamorous job.
But I also know where the line is and not to cross it. If I believe Jay-Z is an idiot for what he’s doing with the Nets (and I don’t), I would focus on the idiocy, not “look how the black guy is blacking everything up! Oh, and let me include the most controversial, hurtful word in the English language while I’m at it.” If I’m angry at a delayed flight and wish to vent on Twitter, I’ll probably go the “pilot is likely drunk and needs some shut eye so she doesn’t crash and kill us all” route, not the “the pilot is a woman, therefore [insert female stereotypes and then hammer all counterarguments from female peers with crueler stereotypes].” Misogyny just for misogyny’s sake is not funny. A planeload of people dying is. Understand?
If you’re not a satirist, don’t write satire. It never works. You need to have a reputation as someone who can be genuinely funny about race, sex, or whatever before treading through that minefield. Why can I write something chiding you for offensive humor in a piece dripping with ageism? Because I’m an idiot, but one whose writing of something like this is sort of expected.
Do not walk the line of Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, or the late George Carlin—they are masters of shocking humor. I’m an apprentice of sorts. You are a sports columnist who happens to invoke humor now and then. Chappelle writing a sketch on a black white supremacist—ground-breaking and hilarious. You doing that—uncomfortable at best, incendiary at worst.
What you’ve done smears that fine line to the point where those with permanently puckered rectums demand a giant wall go in its place and helps recruit the moderately puckered to build it. A wall that tries to block out funny altogether. I need funny, and I need it a hell of a lot more than you do.
And let me say something to other holier-than-thou columnists taking the opportunity to further their often Puritan sports agendas by bashing guys like Joe Cowley and Phil Mushnick. Cram it. You who take the sports world so seriously that in your eyes all humorous doors must be locked do just as much harm as those you consider bad people for one awful column or rant.
Cowley and Mushnick tried to be funny—and I do believe that was their intent, though dumb as hell—and failed miserably. They’re getting their spankings for it, but don’t pretend you’re better because you force feed us the “kid with cancer on the football team” dreck or the “what happened to the grace of college athletics” trite over and over. We need the Black Knight just as much as the White Knight (but not Martin Lawrence movies). Sometimes more so. I can at least respect the stones on a guy who takes a risk and falls on his face a lot more than you who take the safe approach time and time again.
Back to you, out of touch old guys. You also need to apologize. Immediately. Even if you are not sorry. That’s the culture we live in, and if you’re going to try to both make the smart people laugh and the stupid people angry and only succeed at angering everyone, you need to do a mea culpa and promise to not walk the dangerous tightrope again.
See, you don’t have to be cool to be successful. Hard work and good writing got you to where you are now, so why fix something that isn’t broke? If you’re not absolutely positive you’re funny, don’t try to be. Unfunny people trying to be funny is utterly painful. I know you’ve seen Louie Anderson.
Unfortunately for you—and perhaps unfortunately for little guys like me—now you’re learning the pain is not solely inflicted on the audience.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.