Athletes in commercials: Jocks are the new comedians, sometimes
ESPN’s newest Monday Night Football commercial is amazing for two reasons: 1. Because it’s a reminder that football season is only a few more sleeps away, and 2. Because Arian Foster absolutely crushed it, which is really just a precursor to his inevitable pillaging of fantasy leagues this season.
It’s amazing to me that ESPN can consistently make such great commercials when you consider the dichotomy that is created by adding athletes into the mix. The line is very thin between being funny and essentially unwatchable when it comes to athletes awkwardly fumbling through scripts.
ESPN is smart enough to limit the “acting” and amp up the situational humor, understanding that Rob Gronkowski eating his wings while (literally) hanging like a total bro is probably funnier than anything he could ever say.
But now, we are seeing more and more the the guys who are making athletes look like comedians, knocking their part out of the park, like a Foster, or, continually putting on a show like the best-known professional athlete-backslash-funny man, Peyton Manning.
Some guys you didn’t really see it coming, like Steve Nash.
While others make waves from the moment they arrive, like Blake Griffin.
At this point you’re probably wondering if I even know the meaning of dichotomy given the fact I have yet to back up the ‘awkward to the point of painful’ side of athletic theatrics. So consider this: How could Griffin and friends leverage the campy nature of the commercial if there were no existing example to parody?
Yes, such examples exist outside of professional sports, but the reasons it plays so well for athletes is because for a long time it was the rule, not the exception, for jocks in ads.
And, for some sports, it still hasn’t changed.
For whatever reason, hockey has yet to move on from its 80’s New York Rangers Sasoon Jeans approach to making commercials.
Watching the progression of hockey commercials, the only way you’d know that the decade has changed is from the names and faces of the players since the production value hasn’t evolved at all.
Some of the commercials border on funny in an “I can’t believe this is real” kind of way. Alexander Ovechkin’s Eastern Motors commercial almost works because he is so bad it’s funny– as opposed to trying to be funny and failing—and he knows it.
In the ever-growing category for completely unredeemable ads there exists an example that ironically (in the most colloquial sense of the word) comes from the Great One. Wayne Gretzky had commercials that, by my best guess, are attempts at being funny gone terribly, terribly wrong. These capture attention in the same way one rubbernecks going by a car crash; many parts more shock than awe.
Take into consideration that the following Pittsburgh Penguins commercial is about three decades later, but still showcases the same terrible acting, poorly written script, and non-existent production budget. And just think: this is just part one of a series of four. Yes, more were made as an encore.
I’m not here to tell you what to think– you can be the judge of whether you find any of these funny or not– but I think we take for granted now that athletes in commercials are supposed to be funny. Yes, some athletes are proving to be part-time comedians, but at the same time, many are just as bad as we remember them.
I just think it’s important to remember that in every commercial featuring athletes, someone, somewhere, is doing things right behind the scenes. I’d like to thank them for that.