This is one of my favorite tweets. It’s aspirational and castigating in equal measure because no one’s really sure about Charles Barkley, or if Charles Barkley is funny.
i wanna be a fool forever like charles barkley— zaytoven ibrahimović (@paulycristo) February 17, 2013
Charles Barkley is funny but he’s not funny. Does that track?
Maybe it’s more accurate to say that Charles Barkley is not intentionally funny. But that also suggests Barkley has no idea about the hilariously blank expression that cascades over his face as he clings to the last word on the teleprompter, steadying himself to leap to the next. That could be true, seeing as how no one can see their own face when they’re reading. But if you have already seen your face on tape delay three times at minimum, and know just how puzzled you look, wouldn’t putting yourself in a situation where you might have to read from a teleprompter for a fourth time count as intention?
So, how did we get here? Charles Barkley hosted SNL for a fourth time last night with musical guest Migos, who performed two cuts from their trapping tome, Culture II. And it was … fine, even if Barkley was hosting “for no reason,” as he admitted in the opening monologue. He’s not running for office, he has neither a movie nor an album coming out, although he did have some bars for Fox News broadcaster Laura Ingraham.
Sir Charles, a very famous Alabama native, did his part to save face for his home state over the near-win of alleged sexual predator Roy Moore in the state’s senate race; Barkley endorsed Doug Jones and condemned Moore’s obvious shittiness when prompted. He too suffered the “stick to dribbling” peanut gallery, much like LeBron James did last month when James, Kevin Durant, and ESPN’s Cari Champion had an expansive conversation on Uninterrupted that touched on—hammered?—President Trump’s extreme lack of empathy. Charles and Co. had already used five minutes on Inside the NBA to address the importance of athlete activism and the out-of-pocket-ness of Ingraham’s comments, but Barkley continued the conversation on Saturday night, citing Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and himself as he made the case for not shutting up. “I’ve been saying whatever the hell I want for 30 years, and I’m doing great!”
There was a good joke in there about the resilience of LeBron’s hairline, too, and the monologue was slightly more moving than it had any right to be, but was it funny? Is Charles Barkley funny? I’m not so sure.
You could argue the answer is yes, when he’s put in the exact right position to succeed at it. This is easy, because he is game for everything. There was “Homework Hotline,” where callers take sexually suggestive jabs at Barkley and his felt puppet cohost, but the best example of Barkley’s comedic value is when he’s being himself. In “Doug,” when trying his demented best to win a dating show parody called Hump or Dump, Barkley doesn’t have to do anything other than loudly react as “Barkley, Forever Alone, With Hair.” He will kill himself if he doesn’t get to go on a date with Aidy Bryant, and he has the expandable hose he’ll attach to his exhaust pipe to prove it. If nothing else, it’s funny to watch him shake the hose over his head like a Tusken Raider.
He can acquit himself when the skits are pre-recorded, too, although stumbling over lines is still inescapable. Barkley plays Ned in an infomercial for Ned’s Roach Away (note the acronym), a deterrent that puts AR-15s in the hands of “God-fearing” roaches, because the only thing that can stop a bad roach “is a good roach with a gun.” The premise is too out there to be the flaying that the NRA truly deserves this week, but Barkley’s clumsy delivery is perfect for it—see “none of my roaches are gay” read as though Barkley somehow saw the cue card, forgot it, and remembered it all in the span of a half-second.
On either side of Migos’s phoned-in performances of “Stir Fry” and “Narcos,” Barkley also takes turns as himself in “The Champions,” a skit that takes aim at the NFL’s glaring CTE issue, and as an attendee at an award show for sexual misconduct called “The Grabbies.” The more deft sketch about sexual harassment, though, is definitely “Con Ed Repair Site,” in which construction workers start off by catcalling women as they pass by, and end up imagining, in great detail, what their spring or awards season lewks might be.
Barkley really shines, although it may very well be that Charles Barkley breathlessly fawning over backless dresses and lamenting boring, neutral colors would always shine: “Why is it that women get to echo the season in such playful ways?” This brings us back around to the initial question, which is: Is Charles Barkley funny? And if he is, is he intentionally funny? The answer isn’t so simple. He’s intentionally unintentionally funny. And whether or not that brand of comedy is strictly speaking for you—it isn’t, for me—you really have to admit, it might be pretty fun to be a fool forever.