Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Fun at the MVP Awards

Loyal readers of The Ninth, you have been shameless. You have begged, pleaded, and cried out for the story. You have yelled from every hill, mountain, and hamlet: "Tell us of the MVP awards!." "You who hold great tales, please bestow upon us your grand fables!". But The Ninth held strong. The timing had to be right, the perfect moment had to be waited for. I needed free time at work. But fear not, sweet children. That day is finally here. Here is the story of the MVP awards. (Disinterested silence from reader.....)

At first, it looked like The Ninth itself would be at baseball's MVP awards in New York City, but that died a quick "not shelling out for a tuxedo" death. So instead, there was my buddy Mike. Mike is a stand-up comic, and was hired to provide some "entertainment" at the gala. They wanted a speech that bordered on a roast, but wasn't actually insulting. Of course, that is logically impossible - but they asked for it anyway. Everyone wants to see Don Rickles, they just don't want to be made fun of themselves. So Mike had a difficult job, be biting - but only in a general, "hate you, but boy do I really love you" sort of way. Not easy, especially when baseball humor isn't really a cornerstone of your act. But Mike is a fan, and thought it would be fun to tell jokes to famous ballplayers, so he took the gig.

Mike's expectation was, as seems reasonable, that he would sit somewhere in back, make a speech, get some laughs, maybe ask for an autograph or two, and head home. Imagine his surprise then when he was informed that he would, in fact, be sitting on the dais. With the honorees. Whicked famous ones. Mike steps up to his chair and, in order, it's Alex Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Mike, and Dontrelle Willis. It's like one of those Friar's Roast tapes where you have Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. laughing it up by the podium and next to them is some dude you've never seen before -- that's my buddy Mike. Wondering where the water guy is and if it's weird to asks for more rolls. And Mike recognizes the absurdity of his placement, but at the same time, knows these players, and plans to enjoy it. Being a Red Sox fan, he immediately hits it off with Eck, chatting about Boston, golf, and the presidential election (believe it or not). Occasionally he throws Dontrelle a bone and asks about being new to this stuff and congratulating him for the great season. Let's be honest, there's only so much you can say about a quirky wind up. By all reports, Eckersley is a fantastic guy, very down-to-earth, and just as relaxed as he seems on NESN. The real prize here however is Roger. Any kid who grew up in Boston in the 80's has a potent feeling for Clemens. It might be love, it might be hate - but he was the face of the Red Sox for our childhood. You notice when you're sitting two seats away from him. So Mike wants to tread carefully, but at the same time, would love to talk a bit. All that "traitor who really was in the twilight of his mother-f'n..." stuff dies away when you're face to face with someone, and you kind of just want to make an impression. So Mike wades in slowly, but gets a very pleasant surprise. Turns out they randomly know someone in common (show biz, man). Very fortuitous. Anyone can handle a chat about a common acquaintance, even if it is with Turncoat Rog. Nothing earth-shattering, no "man, that Wade Boggs really was a jerk" stuff, but Mike has a nice, solid convo. With Roger Clemens. A nice thing to have done in your life. So far, this is a pretty good time. For a guy who expects to be sitting in the crowd somewhere, things have taken a very pleasant turn. And he hasn't even made his speech yet.

But this is part of the problem. Mike is an excellent comedian, and he has some great jokes sitting in his pocket, but this is a room of 1,000 people. And many of them are ballplayers he has admired or writers he has read. Plus, they've asked for roasty, but not too roasty. Hard to do -- especially when some of the people he's going to make fun of are sitting right next to him. So Mike is a little nervous. But it's his job and he's good at it, so with a pat on the back from Eckersley, Mike heads up to the podium....."I'm very happy to be here at the MVP awards," he begins "looking out and seeing fans, writers, and players. Baseball writers are funny," Mike winds up, "because most of them don't know how to play baseball, and some of them don't know how to write." He comes out swinging, and gets a good laugh from the crowd. (Editorial Note: The Ninth apologizes for destroying the wording of these jokes.) Mike's starting to feel the flow a little, so he turns to the dais and goes for some retirement humor. "Nice to see Roger Clemens here tonight. At first Roger said he definitely wasn't going to come, and then said maybe he would but he'd have to think about it, and then, at the very last second, Roger showed up." Clemens is displeased. "It's amazing being up here, because I grew up a Red Sox fan. I remember paying Roger eight dollars for an autograph at a card show when I was kid. And things have really changed, because just now he asked me for twenty five." A quality zinger, and the last moment Mike would be chatting with Roger Clemens for the rest of his life. "And here's Alex Rodriguez. Being from Boston, I'm either a really big fan of Alex's, or I don't care about him, or I kind of hate him. I'm not sure yet." Little did he realize. A timely joke that the audience was all over, and Mike was doing well. Pretty exciting to be lighting up the house at the MVP awards. So he's feeling confident, and he tells a few more baseball barbs and then goes into his regular material. Mike uses some of his staples, and they do well, as they should. As he's getting ready to finish, Mike feels like maybe he's losing the crowd a bit, so ends on topic. "Well that's pretty much my time," Mike says, "but I don't really have a closer. That's ok though, cause neither do the Mets." Big laugh, big applause, Mike heads to his seat. When in doubt, make fun of the Mets. Works at parties and funerals. The crowd is very pleased, and Mike can relax. It was a tough gig, but he nailed it, and now he can enjoy the rest of the night. So what if Roger refuses to make eye contact, he has done his job. All that was left was a speech by some old baseball writer. Nothing to worry about there.

Only thing was, this wasn't just some baseball writer. This was Murray Chass, the grandfather of baseball at the New York Times. Easily one of the highest regarded men in the business. Chass was receiving some kind of lifetime achievement award, and from the looks of him, he earned it. Ancient and beaten-down, he made his way to the microphone. A respectful silence overtook the room as he cleared his throat. Murray launched in to some classics; old harrowing tales of his early days in journalism, working his way up from nothing etc. The whole speech had sort of a Moses on the mountain feel to it. The crowd wasn't necessarily riveted, but the reverence was palpable. Sure the guy is old, but you listen to what he has to say. He spoke for about ten minutes, and by the end, everyone was pretty much in awe. Then, as he rambled toward his conclusion, Mike's ears perked up. "Let me just say in closing," Chass mumbled, "that while some baseball writers do not know how to write, some comedians do not know how to tell jokes." Uh oh. Not good. Clearly Mike had insulted the important old guy. Never smart. And now the entire room was staring at him. And Chass hadn't offered a funny little roast jab, it was more of a "I'm not taking any crap from some standing vaudevillian" punch. In about ten seconds Mike had gone from fun-loving comedy hero to obnoxious kid who pissed off grandad. Chass shuffled off the stage leaving Mike alone in the room's gaze. There's nothing really you can do here. If you laugh you look disrespectful, if you get angry you look like a jerk. Mike was on his own, and he was screwed. He considered standing up, heading to bathroom, hugging Dontrelle. Anything to cut the tension. Then, right as he was weighing the value of ducking under the table, he was saved by an expert. Dennis Eckersley, having been quietly seated next to him the whole time, leaned over and whispered "you know what, Fuck 'em."

That's right Eck, fuck 'em all.