In general, interviewing professional athletes is like trying to hold a conversation with your 13-year-old nephew. You might think you’d have a lot of topics to cover, but after a couple minutes, you’d be hard-pressed to get them to open up about anything other than sports, or video games, or dirt bikes.
Amidst the sea of ballplayers mumbling “we gotta go out there and play hard” with the glazed-over expression of a teen being asked how school’s going, sometimes a unicorn will appear, that rare athlete capable of just the bare minimum of adult conversation. Reporters, hungry for a good human interest angle, will assign personalities to these players like members of a 90s boy band. If the athlete’s read a book since high school, he’ll get a feature about how he’s The Smart One. If he has an acoustic guitar by his locker and can bang out the chords to a Sublime song, he’s The Sensitive Artsy One. And, God help us all, if an athlete ever says something with a vaguely joke-like structure with a reporter in earshot, brace yourself for The Funny One.
Joe Biagini is a perfectly capable rookie relief pitcher picked up in the rule 5 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Normally, Joe Biagini would not be any more or less interesting than, say, Drew Hayes, a rookie relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds who I just looked up as an example of a relief pitcher I’d never heard of. What sets Joe Biagini apart (other than a great 1.00 ERA this season, mostly in low-leverage middle relief, but still not at all shabby), and the reason why he’s been the focus of a dozen or so writers doing features on him in the past month, is that Joe Biagini may be standing before us as the world’s greatest comedian.
Don’t take it from me, though – take it from the people who’ve seen his razor-sharp wit in action. “Meet Joe Biagini, the former Giants farmhand now providing comic relief for Blue Jays”, boasts a San Jose Mercury News headline. “Blue Jays Rule 5 pick Biagini has a dry, different sense of humour”, according to Sportsnet. “Playfully irreverent”, says Fangraphs.
Let’s see those chops in action. From the Toronto Sun, in a preseason piece where the world was first introduced to the comedy stylings of Joe Biagini:
What was Biagini doing last December when the Jays selected him from the Giants’ double-A Richmond roster?
“Uh ... skiing in the Alps,” he said and after the writer scribbled it into his notebook, he added: “Just kidding ... I was sleeping.”
What’s the best thing about big-league camp, is it the major-league meal money, the food, we asked? Biagini thought for a second or two.
“Probably the pants ... they have a lot of options here,” he said, “that and the kindness of the writers.”
Hey, how can you not root a little for a longshot reliever with a major-league sense of humour?
Alright, so the material isn’t exactly slaying me so far, but a lot of comedians start slow. After all, Louis CK didn’t have his breakthrough until well into his 30s.
Let’s check in on Biagini again in a Sportsnet feature from April:
He has little job security, yet his most immediate concern upon arriving in Toronto was the “challenging little brain game” of finding his way from his hotel room to the clubhouse.
“There’s a series of checkpoints,” Biagini said. “You have to solve a riddle.”
Not really — it’s just a matter of finding the right elevator — but there’s that sense of humour again. Ask Biagini if he’s always been a pitcher, and he replies “After I was born. I wasn’t really a pitcher before I was born.” Inquire where his parents live, and he deadpans “In a dumpster out behind the (stadium).” Suggest that he and [teammate Gavin] Floyd, a fellow right-hander, are physically similar, and he says “We’re both very good looking.”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Floyd says. “Left field thinking? Left field humour?”
“I enjoy it,” Biagini says. “Whether I’m good at it or not, the jury’s still out on that.”
His parents live in a dumpster! Just great stuff.
Let’s check in again after a big walkoff Blue Jays win on May 3rd:
Joe Biagini was in a joking mood as he stepped in front of TV cameras for his first live post-game scrum on Tuesday night.
After earning the first major league victory of his career, a 3-1 walk-off win over the Texas Rangers, the Blue Jays rookie reliever kept his nerves in check by pulling reporters’ legs.
“I just wish the Raptors weren’t playing so we could have all the attention. No, I’m kidding,” Biagini said with a smile.
“It’s tougher than it is in Little League, for example,” the Blue Jays’ Rule 5 draft pick joked. “But yeah, I’d say it’s kind of a challenge because you want to be able to compete and be consistent. ... But it helps you develop a routine. I do my pre-game finger-painting exercises, just kidding.”
Alright, so a lot of great comedians’ material doesn’t translate on the page. It’s been said that 90% of comedy is in the delivery. Before we judge, let’s get a taste of his live set:
I know what you’re thinking - has he considered standup?
That’s too bad. We’ll never get to see him hit the stage at Yuk Yuk’s amateur night, and open with “So, monkey cheese ninjas, pretty random... just kidding” - followed by a beat of dead silence, and some heckler hurling a gin bottle at the stage.
Joe Biagini is absolutely funny, no, I’m just kidding.