Move over Seth Rogen: Sir Charles is the new funny man in town
With the NBA playoffs in full swing and the Lakers moving into the next round after winning a mercifully brief five-game series with the Utah Jazz, the sportswriters have all gone on to other topics -- notably, if Andrew Bynum has recovered enough from this season's knee injury to be a factor in the next round of the playoffs. But I have a more show biz-oriented question: Why can't Charles Barkley get a gig in a Hollywood comedy?
Forget about Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, no one has better comic timing than Barkley, a former NBA star who now provides brilliant comedy relief as TNT's studio analyst during the network's NBA broadcasts. Barkley is like a modern-day W.C. Fields, a natural-born rabble-rouser who's deeply suspicious of authority, contemptuous of political correctness and always willing to say exactly what's on his mind.
As anyone who watches basketball on TV can attest, Barkley is especially at home in the series of T-Mobile cellphone ads he does with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who plays his comic foil, always eager for his basketball elder's approval. The ads are 30-second comedy masterpieces, always plugging the product via a cellphone conversation, but never missing a comedy beat.
In the latest ad, Barkley is making a video game with NBA Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Dr. J -- all three stars looking like pudgy bumblebees in the traditional black tight-style garb worn for shooting video game effects. When Barkley phones Wade, the young star asks what kind of video game he's in. Its called "Old School," Dr. J explains. "You get to play the old-school legends when they're old." This cracks up Wade. Barkley warns him: "Hey, man, quit laughing. You're getting old too." But just when he thinks he's salvaged a shred of dignity, a doddering old octogenarian totters by, propelled by a walker, who gives a raspy bellow: "Hang up the phone, Barkley. I'm taking you to the hole."
In another T-Mobile ad, Barkley and Wade are at a Chinese restaurant, sampling Houston Rockets star Yao Ming's favorite soup, which has live shrimp wriggling out of the bowl. When Yao calls, he says:"Hey, Charles, how do you like the shrimp?" Barkley grumbles: "It's moving and it got eyes on it."
Barkley is so irrepressible -- he even did a "Wolverine" impression on a recent TNT broadcast -- that he deserves to have his moment in the big-screen spotlight. Paging Judd Apatow or John Hamburg: Can't you write a good role for this fabulously funny guy? He's ready for his close-up.
Here's Barkley's best T-Mobile work, first with Magic Johnson and Dr. J, then with Yao Ming:
Photo: Charles Barkley. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press