Last Thursday afternoon, a few minutes after Baylor lost to Yale, Bears forward Taurean Prince won the NCAA Tournament. Though Prince scored 28 points, he’d had a rough day, getting into a shouting match with his teammate Rico Gathers and shoving his fellow senior in the chest. In the postgame press conference, a reporter asked Prince an obnoxious question: “You said you got out-rebounded—I was surprised, you did, 36–32. How does Yale out-rebound Baylor?”
Prince’s reply was simple and ingenious.
Here’s the transcript:
You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off, and then you grab it with two hands, then you come down with it, and that’s considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did.
Prince’s literal-mindedness—his explanation of how rather than why Yale out-rebounded Baylor—calls to mind a couple of jokes from the movie Airplane! In the two scenes below, the characters get tripped up by ambiguous syntax.
A hospital is a big building with patients, and a rebound is when you grab the ball off the rim. But that’s not important right now. What’s important is to get one of the co-writers and co-directors of Airplane! to review Taurean Prince’s performance.
“I loved his answer,” says Jerry Zucker. “It made me laugh, and I think the only thing you can say is, ‘Dumb question, good answer.’ ”
Airplane! is full of really dumb questions and really good answers. Zucker says Prince’s rebounding rejoinder reminded him of a different scene—a back-and-forth between Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen.
The genius here, as in the rest of the Zucker Abrahams Zucker canon, is in the delivery. Graves and Nielsen recite their lines with great solemnity. The joke is that they’re not joking.
Prince wasn’t playing around either. “He totally was straight,” Zucker says, and despite the Baylor player’s obvious disdain for his interlocutor, “his answer was not nearly as mean-spirited as the question.” This was an insult in the guise of an inquiry—“How does Yale out-rebound Baylor?”—and Prince gave it all the consideration that it deserved. “You’re just out-played in that aspect [of the game],” Zucker says. “What is an answer to that? It wasn’t like, Well, we were wearing the wrong shoes.”
Zucker doesn’t consider himself a sports expert, though the University of Wisconsin graduate does root for the Badgers basketball team. He is a scholar of comedy, having fallen in love with wordplay as a kid thanks to Mad magazine and the Marx Brothers. In his early 20s, he found a more unlikely comedy hero: Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas.
On Jan. 16, 1972, Thomas ran for 95 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cowboys to a victory in Super Bowl VI. Thomas, the Marshawn Lynch of his day, had refused to talk to the press all year. After the game, he was cornered in the locker room by CBS’ Tom Brookshier, who asked Thomas a meandering question:
Duane, you do things with speed, but you never hurry, a lot like the great Jim Brown. You never hurry into a hole. You take your time, make a spin, yet you still outrun people. Are you that fast? Are you that quick, would you say?
Thomas’ reply, in its entirety: “Evidently.”
Zucker again puts this in the category of dumb question, good answer. “What can you say when someone says, ‘Are you that great?’ ” Zucker says. “It’s not like Peyton Manning could’ve had a much better answer.”
Five years before the first Zucker Abrahams Zucker film, Kentucky Fried Movie, Thomas’ good answer to a dumb question became a touchstone for the comedy team. Jerry Zucker says it’s still an inside joke between him, Jim Abrahams, and his brother David Zucker: “We frequently just say, ‘Evidently.’ ”
Let’s hope “and that’s considered a rebound” will have the same kind of staying power. Though Prince is not a professional actor (yet), it’s hard to find any false notes in his performance. Despite the fact that Baylor had just suffered a devastating loss, Prince’s timing is still lightning quick, his delivery is perfectly deadpan, and he even deploys a series of helpful hand gestures. “I thought it was perfect,” Zucker says. “When he’s feeling better he can write comedy for us.”