Midnight Surprise! Comedy And Basketball Aren't So Different

Blake Griffin is funny

Blake Griffin is funny

From July 21st to the 30th, OFF-JFL presents Midnight Surprise at the Theatre Ste. Catherine. It’s a multi-comic show where you never quite know who will show up. Hence the name. Could be hot up-and-comers, could be legends like Dave Chappelle or George Wallace. And though each night offers a surprise lineup, one of the stars pegged to host is a huge surprise in and of itself: Blake Griffin.

For those of you who don’t know, Blake Griffin is an NBA All-Star. He is the starting Power Forward for the Los Angeles Clippers who gets paid approximately $20 million a year to make sure the ball goes in the hole (only during offensive possessions, mind you). So what the heck is he doing hosting 5 comedy shows?

If Saturday Night Live has taught us anything in its 41-year tenure, it’s that professional athletes and live comedy don’t mix. Though they’re accustomed to the spotlight, all-time greats like Wayne Gretzky, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s hosting gigs have ranged from stiff to stilted to downright unwatchable. But besides awkward performances, what do these famous athletes have in common?

None of them are basketball players.

The reason I follow the NBA is simple: it’s the professional sport with the best characters. From Charles "I am not a role model" Barkley to Dennis Rodman's boundary pushing eccentricity to Chris Bosh’s photobombs to the newly-minted king of the soundbite Evan Turner, basketball players can range from odd to borderline psychotic. This is especially evident when compared to hockey, which is so diluted with good Canadian boys that can only seem to say some variation of “Pucks in deep, hard to the net” whenever a microphone is pointed at them. 

The very essence of basketball—perhaps what attracts all the weirdos—can be broken down into three elements: rhythm, geometry and improvisation. However, for the purpose of the argument, let’s forget about geometry altogether.

The importance of rhythm, I hope, is self-evident. Setting up the release of a shot, driving when your defenders is just slightly off-balance for a split second, knowing when to jump for a rebound; it all requires a sense of timing to be successful.

As for improvisation, don’t be fooled by all the coaches you’ve seen scribbling on grease boards on the bench. While it’s important to have a game plan, there is improvisation-within-structure dictated by a million factors. If an initial play is unsuccessful, we see players read, react and adjust born out of something a team has rehearsed many times, while still being spontaneous.

The most obvious parallel, the one that’s been beaten to death, is that basketball is like jazz. Both rely heavily on rhythm and improvisation-within-structure, but I’d argue that stand-up comedy also relies on these things. An incredible joke on paper can die if it’s not said with proper timing. Meanwhile, in the moment, the comic must always be reading, reacting and adjusting to what the crowd is giving them within their rehearsed structure.

Is it a perfect analogy? No. It’s a stretch because there is no geometry in stand-up comedy. Or is there? Hm. Maybe that’s why no likes my jokes... Self-doubt aside, you don’t make it to the NBA if you’re not blessed with timing and the ability to read, react and adjust. That’s how I know Blake Griffin’s going to be just fine.

Oh and also it probably doesn’t hurt that Blake Griffin’s love for comedy is well-known. He’s always at UCB in Los Angeles, did a table read of Space Jam alongside greats like Paul Scheer and Nick Kroll, his KIA commercials are genuinely funny (the first time only) and he's an actual stand-up comic.

Though I am prepared to volunteer my time to workshop jokes with Blake before he takes the stage at Theatre Ste Catherine this July, I know deep down that even without my geometry-less understanding of comedy, Blake’s gonna be okay...