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ESPYS gag uses Twitter to poke fun at star athletes

July 19, 2009 |  5:57 pm

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ESPYS host Samuel L. Jackson introduces a fake tweet for tennis star Serena Williams. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

A running gag during tonight's sports-centric ESPY Awards revolves around everyone's favorite social network, Twitter.

And by "everyone," we mean athletes, celebrities and news media -- not necessarily young people, as evidenced by a vocal Morgan Stanley intern.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson was the host of ESPN's awards show, which took place at the Nokia Theatre on Wednesday and airs tonight at 6 p.m. Jackson landed well-timed jokes about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps "smoking" the competition and about "how to treat a lady," referring to Dodgers power-hitter Manny Ramirez's consumption of fertility drugs.

But an ongoing joke that seemed to fall flat among audience members showed bogus Twitter messages from star athletes in the audience (although Times writer Diane Pucin called it "the night's best running gag").

Jackson himself supposedly Twittered throughout the show on his Blackberry, saying how bored he was. In reality, Jackson has many impersonators on the social network -- none of the accounts appear to be his own.

It has been well documented that athletes have taken to Twitter like a dime cover defense on a slow football receiver (meaning, quite substantially). ESPN pushes its own Twitter account regularly during news broadcasts.

So, it was a natural target for topical humor that allowed Jackson to poke fun at athletes, like controversial Buffalo Bills NFL receiver Terrell Owens, without ...

... directly calling him conceited. Owens'  fake tweet, for example, read, "I can't decide which Williams sister is more into me. Venus or Serena."

Tennis star Serena Williams got a particularly unfunny tweet attributed to her. "At ESPYS... Some seat filler keeps staring at me."

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Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

Cincinnati Bengals NFL receiver Chad Ocho Cinco -- formally Chad Johnson before a very unusual name change -- was repeatedly dissed, despite apparently not being at the show to defend himself. "Outside the Nokia Theatre, can't get into the show," his bogus tweet read.

"Still outside the theatre," a later tweet read. "This is ridiculous!"

One of the few genuinely funny ones wasn't totally original, but it drew big laughs from the crowd. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria's tweet read, "Next person who makes a "Desperate Housewives" joke gets punched."

The ESPYS aren't the only show to work a running Twitter gag into its program.

"The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" has a skit called Tw1tter Tracker. In it, the overzealous announcer highlights relatively ordinary messages from celebs.

-- Mark Milian [follow]

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