Being a 21st-century comedy fan, I love nothing more than watching standup comics geek out on whatever esoteric subjects they're into -- the weirder the better. Establishing an audience for the niche topics of history, tabloid gossip or D&D is what living in the Internet age is all about, and I've always prided myself on being able to keep up with most any subject, no matter how arcane. But while watching the Sklar Brothers make insider references to Phillip Rivers and NHL haircuts in the '90s during their show at Comedy Works last Friday, I was, for the first time in my years as a comedy fan, completely lost.
Apparently sports-nerds actually exist, and they're tired of being defined as meathead bullies with no redeeming cultural value. Especially when it comes to standup comedy.
See also: - Randy Sklar of The Sklar Brothers on Seinfeld, sports nerds and Adult Swim - Sklar Brothers riff on Vonnegut, Bruce Jenner and Leno at Comedy Works - How Bill Maher and Russell Brand helped me nurse a broken heart
At one point in the Sklar twins set, a man in the back of the crowd conjured his inner Oscar Wilde when shouting the witty line: "YOU'RE NOT FUNNY!" He was quickly shouted down by the crowd, who were loving every joke about Steven A. Smith's breathing problems and Bruce Jenner's heroism on the cover of the Wheaties box. This guy just wasn't a sports-history geek.
"We've always taken on sports from a nerdy angle, looking at stats and history, the stories behind it," Randy Sklar told me in an interview earlier in the week. Although I was really enjoying all the non-athletic jokes of the night, after so many Allen Iverson references I was beginning to half-agree with the heckler in that these particular jokes weren't funny -- at least to me. Had I been a sports nerd, I'm sure I would've been falling apart with the rest of the crowd.
Since my days as a teenage outcast hanging out in libraries and devouring VH1 specials, there's nothing I've loved more than dropping murky references to subjects that no socialized human being should know about. Take me to any wedding or dinner party, and I'll always end up in the corner with some guy (it's always a guy) talking about the social issues of the Reagan administration, or why a basset hound's olfactory system is more complex than the Internet. I can keep up in conversations about Miley Cyrus as easily as those about Marie Antoinette, can discuss third century Christian history or modern atheist literature; I know the names of Noel Gallagher's cats (Benson and Hedges), as well as the indigenous term for transgender individuals of the Lakota tribes (wíŋkte).
But I couldn't tell you when basketball season is -- and have even been known to forget the name of Denver's team.
When I was younger, I took a weird pride in not knowing a thing about sports, thinking that my ignorance performed the double duty of both proving the triviality of athletics while also cementing my reputation as a culturally refined intellectual. And while being proud of a lack of knowledge is probably the greatest definition of idiocy, according to Denver comic and sports fan Adam Cayton-Holland I'm not alone in my nerdish, anti-sports snobbery. He says it surfaces all the time in the comedy world.
"A lot of comics were the sensitive, nerdy kids who were picked on by the athletes," Cayton-Holland tells me. "So this nerdist standup revolution has been all about comic books and movies, that's the stuff they'll obsess over. In the '80s comedy boom, it was all Tim Allen being about gruff masculinity, sports, tools, women are stupid, men, men, men, men. And then '90s comedy had a backlash against that, rejecting the classic male identity -- and so sports became a bad thing. But now it's gone so far in that direction that the nerds have become the bullies. If you make a sports reference in a comedy show, audiences will be like 'fuck that!' But if you talk to guys who are into fantasy football, it's the nerdiest thing on the planet, they're talking stats, crunching numbers. It's the same thing: just some people are nerdy about comic books, some are about sports."
I definitely don't agree with the Sklars heckler's assessment that their sports jokes are simply "not funny." Even without understanding what they were talking about, I could tell by the rhythm and grace with which the jokes were delivered, and the way that a select few would explode with laughter at the references, that these were top notch. And it would be hypocritical of me to deny the sports nerds their time in the comedy sun just because I'm completely lost.
I don't know how many times I've been told by a girlfriend during a breakup, "You should really find someone who shares an interest in all these weird things you're into." I am pretty confident this girl does not exist, but in her place there has always been standup comedy. Uncultured girlfriends come and go, but I know I'll always have Natasha Leggero to share tabloid gossip with, or Russell Brand to make esoteric jokes about Britpop, and Eddie Izzard for world history. Same for Bill Maher with politics, Bill Hicks with sociology, Sam Kinison with drugs, and Bill Burr with dogs. So who am I to tell Adam Cayton-Holland -- or anyone else - that he shouldn't have the Sklar Brothers?
So go ahead, geek out with your jokes about "The Fridge" doing the Super Bowl shuffle, or Wilt Chamberlain's promiscuity. Have at it. Just don't be offended when I'm the one guy in the audience with a stone-sober look on his face, the one that plainly reads: "I don't get it."
Chicago Bears - Superbowl Shuffleby jpdc11
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.