Letterman Baseball Joke in Play

Filed Under Late Night

It’s a bit after the fact, but I wanted to point out this post about an “Ill-Timed Baseball Joke” by David Letterman on Huffington Post’s “Eat the Press” blog. Essentially, it says that the writers for Letterman should have considered triming a segment once they knew that Yankee’s pitcher Cory Lidle had been on the single engine plane that crashed in Manhattan last week. There’s really no reference what about the joke was offensive, just that it was about baseball.

I’d missed the segment myself but after doing some digging on Letterman own site, I found their “Wahoo Gazette” which describes the bit as:

ALAN KALTER’S MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL MINUTE: Alan grabs the microphone and starts singing Fergie’s “London Bridge.”

“All my girls get down on the floor
Back to back, drop it down real low.
I’m such a lady, but I’m dancing like a ho,
Cause you know,
I don’t give a ‘givl’, so here we go!

How come every time you come around,
My London London Bridge wanna go down like
London London London wanna go down like,
London London London, we goin down!”

So first off, it’s pretty specious to claim that a bit should be censored because it’s about a sport a victim played - particularly since at least one playoff game (Detroit vs. Oakland) was played that night. It’s a fair target. The bit leads one to think it’d be about the day’s game highlights. But on top of it, the bit isn’t even really about baseball! It’s not in “poor taste” or “tacky and tone-deaf”, it’s just a bit of nonsense that wonderfully silly.

The post even evokes the silliness surrounding the Conan’s Emmy bit - which not one family member of a plane crash victim complained about, but rather an overanxious local broadcaster. For now on, if there’s a chance someone might get upset a joke, let’s let one of the actual victim or victim’s families complain about it first before we jump in, OK? Maybe they’ll see the humor when you can’t. I understand the need for comics to be sensitive about recent tragedies, but this is horseshit.

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Posted by Diesel on 10/20  at  01:08 AM

There needs to be some kind of guideline for acceptable jokes based on degrees of separation from a tragedy.  I’ll let somebody else work out the details.

Posted by Mackenzie on 10/20  at  01:16 AM

Great blog, keep up the good work. 

Just wanted to second your thoughts on calling this criticism off the mark.  As a long time Letterman fan I have to say one of the many things I’ve admired the Letterman crew for is their ability to continuously come up w/biting commentary w/out slipping into bad taste.  Not an easy feat on a program that does 200+ shows a year.

I still can recall a Late Night show done the day of the Challenger tragedy where Dave made a quick reference to the day’s event and the struggle of doing a show and then proceeding to do a tremendously funny hour that represented at least a temporary escape. 

To criticize a bit that used the playoffs as a stepping off point for some classic Kalter absurdity as inappropriate is probably too ridiculous for either of us to have spent this much time even thinking about it.

Posted by Rachel Sklar on 10/20  at  02:48 AM

Hi, I wrote the post under discussion and stand by my point, which I’ll now clarify: Dave introduced the segment as the “Major League Baseball Minute” promising “all the action from the world of baseball.” That day, THE “action” from the world of baseball was unquestionably the death of Lidle. Perhaps I would not have made such an association if I were more of a baseball fan (er, sorry ‘bout that whole Game 7 thing, Mets) but given that it was all over the news and internet in the hours leading up to the broadcast, I found the bit to be in poor taste. This is very different from taking a moment to allude to something tragic and then going forward with a show as planned; this is frankly about poor temperature-taking. One of the most important things in comedy is to keep it simple, and clear: Your audience has to know what the joke is about. On that particular day, “Major League Baseball” was about two things, baseball and high-profile tragedy. As such, the bit had an extra dimension to it with an extra association that, considering the events of the day, rendered it somewhat off-color. That, at least, is how at least one viewer saw it. Hope I’ve clarified my position somewhat.

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 10/20  at  03:17 AM

Rachel, thanks for the comment on the blog. I kind of feel bad that I called your post horseshit now, but I truly feel that you’re mistaken here.

Your description that they’d bring “all the action from the world of baseball” and that would encompass Lidle is ridiculous. It’s a common sports phrase - “all the action” - it’s commonly used to describe the highlights from games. Here’s a google link, showing how common it is - 179,000 results:

“all the action” + baseball

Your assuming that by using that phrase that that would necessarily encompass talking about Lidle. But this is only a reference to highlights from games. It’s used all the time on ESPN and was probably used that night on Sports Center (if they weren’t using “Jumanji!” or “Turks and Cacaos” or something else ridiculous like that).

And here the joke is a complete misdirect. It promises “Hey, we’re going to talk about game highlights” and then it’s something completely ridiculous. It’s not even about baseball.

Baseball is connected with a tragedy, yes. But just because somebody is a baseball player doesn’t mean that jokes about baseball aren’t funny that day. And particularly jokes that reference baseball but aren’t about baseball are still funny.

You have every right to feel what you feel. If that’s your gut level reaction so be it. But I always err on the side of intentions. No one was making fun of a tragedy here. They were promising to show all the highlights from the play around the league and then cutting against that with a very silly rap. I think you’re on shaky ground here.

(Otherwise I enjoy Huffington Post. Keep it up!)

Posted by Rachel Sklar on 10/20  at  03:49 AM

No worries, Todd, I’ve been called worse. I hear you re: intentions and also re: “all the action” having a clear connotation I may have missed (damn, I thought my Game 7 ref was totally credible). I knew they weren’t mocking the tragedy, I was just surprised they ignored it completely in the making of a joke that, to me, implicated it. But otherwise I get why the bit would have otherwise been funny, even though I confess that the Fergie reference was totally over my head. I’m hip.

Okay I’m pretty sure this has travelled far into wonk territory. Thanks for the airtime - totally agree with you re: Studio 60, by the way. Strindberg? Commedia Dell’Arte? Writing 90 minutes of TV all alone? Aaron Sorkin’s egotism is off the charts. Too bad his sketch comedy isn’t.

Posted by Jack on 10/20  at  04:00 AM

And also—to get this out of this way—this is no personal comment towards Rachel Sklar or anyone in particular, but it seems that the general atmosphere is that of a weird hypersensitivity that’s basically the media equivalent of “The sky is falling…”

The problem is ultimately when you live in today’s modern fast-paced world (NOTE: which sounds like a joke, but I’m serious) and you have a media culture where others annointed themselves as the gatekeepers of taste, you get nontroversies like this.

News happens.  People react.  People say things.  And then people overreact in their assessment of the “impact” of what was said.  And this all usually happens in less than a 24-hour-period after something happens.

Sometimes it can be interpretted as being “politically correct”, but it’s far weirder than that.  And it’s really annoying.  Because in many ways it’s an insult to the intelligence of the viewers/readers of these reactions.  And for the people out there who don’t research what actually happens, it just gets them to repeat the “panic” without any just cause.

And I think that ultimately why sites like Gawker and The Onion have succeeded in many ways is they simply call things for what they are.

Ultimately I think this is the side-effect the ultra-conservative climate we live in nowadays and the fact that people are getting upset at a comedian telling a joke more than they are about elected officials lying and causing real headaches.

I’m not a really political kind of guy—if you can believe it—but it’s amazing to me that U.S. politics are as bad as they are nowadays… In many ways worse than Nixon and Vietnam…  Yet things like this become headline news…

Oh, and as far as Letterman goes, when he was on NBC he often slipped into what Mackenzie describes as “bad taste”.  That’s why he was loved and people watched the show back when few people watched late night TV at all.

Posted by Sportswear on 11/07  at  04:33 AM

Just wanted to second your thoughts on calling this criticism off the mark.  As a long time Letterman fan I have to say one of the many things I’ve admired the Letterman crew for is their ability to continuously come up w/biting commentary w/out slipping into bad taste.  Not an easy feat on a program that does 200+ shows a year.

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