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What Can Sports Radio Learn From Dave Chappelle?

Demetri Ravanos

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Ramie Makhlouf is a multi-faceted entertainer. The former SKOR North and 105.7 the Fan host is also a stand-up comedian. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Ramie about comedy and how he has used being on stage to help him behind the mic.

Ramie Makhlouf - Insult and Batter, March 23rd, 2018 - YouTube

We shared thoughts on our favorite comedians. Both of us like Dave Chappelle. Both of us like Patton Oswalt. We talked about what makes good radio. It was an easy conversation with someone that definitely knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.

I asked Ramie to take a look at Dave Chappelle’s new special from a different perspective and write about his experience with comedy. What can a sports radio host learn from watching a great comedian? Enjoy!


In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and ensuing protests, Dave Chappelle released 8:46 on YouTube; a set largely focused on the Floyd murder and on the movement for social justice we’ve since seen. It’s powerful and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Not only because it’s just great and poignant and timely but also, as Bomani Jones points out, there is plenty you could pick up from Chappelle that will make you better at what you do. 

I’m a sports talk radio host by day and stand-up comedian by night and I can tell you, they’re very different animals. In my time doing both (about 10 years as a host, 7 as a comedian), in fact, I’ve only met one or two radio hosts who I thought should try stand-up comedy, and only one or two comics who I thought could cut it in radio. Only because the element of working with or without a live audience is such a game changer for most performers in both lines of work.

Bomani is right though, and there are plenty of things a radio host could pick up from watching a great stand-up comic, or vice versa, to make them more effective, more entertaining, and more engaging communicators.

You may have heard the “laughs per minute” rule of stand-up comedy. It’s one of the principles that many stand-ups live by that states that you need to draw 4-6 laughs per minute. There’s some science behind it that indicates that’s what you need to do just to hold the attention of an audience. Even if your 5th minute of a five minute set is your strongest material, it doesn’t matter if you’ve lost the audience in minute two.

The same holds true in radio. Obviously it’s not always a laugh that you’re going for, but there better be a handful of attention grabbers of some sort packed into every minute of your show. Whether it is a laugh, a bold or outlandish take, a change in inflection or the volume of your voice, a funny drop, or the use of a highlight or other audio, there has to be something that keeps the audience hooked the whole trip before you do get to the payoff. Speaking of the payoff, don’t waste any time in getting there.

An understanding of word economy is an important tool to have in both the world of radio and stand-up comedy. In other words, use your words sparingly. Obviously you have to talk enough to fill your time on the air or on the stage, but in both radio and comedy you better get to the payoff as quickly as possible. If you watch Chris Rock, he’ll often start a bit with a statement; sometimes it’s unclear what exactly he means, sometimes it seems controversial or something with which you might not agree, but he’s hooked you because you’re asking “what does he mean by that?” or “how could he possibly say that?”. Then the joke is explaining what he just said, and often the punchline is repeating the very statement with which he started! 

Chris Rock talks porn addiction, cheating on wife in Netflix ...

As a host your payoff may be a punchline, or it could be a “hot take”, or a set-up for your co-host, or a question to draw callers and interaction with the audience. Whatever it is, get there with as few words as possible. Maybe even use the Chris Rock method and start with your statement or question! It’s okay if you leave something unsaid on your way to the payoff, especially in radio. Assumedly, a discussion or debate will ensue, and you’ll get the chance to circle around and still get off other points that you may have initially left unsaid. So how do you get to your payoff quickly, but also effectively?

I’ve spent a lot of time watching and listening to Jerry Seinfeld talk about writing comedy. Like…A LOT! Probably too much! It’s just so fascinating! It’s like watching a musician’s creative process, and trying to find just the right note. He talks about the rhythm of words and sentences, and how some words just sound funnier than others, searching for the funniest sounding word to perfectly make his point, using the fewest words possible to say it, and get the maximum effect from those words. 

Stephen A. Smith is probably the best at this in the sports talk world. Yes, he does it by having a vocabulary that would make Webster’s jealous, but also with word selection. It’s not an accident that he has a few go to words or phrases (That’s preposterous! That’s blasphemous! The gall! The utter temerity!). Stephen A. knows there’s something about those words and the way he says them that gets people to react and stay tuned in to what he’s saying.

It’s not just the words themselves either, but the punctuation around the words. Great communicators of all kinds speak with punctuation. When Chappelle or Rock or Stephen A. emphasize something, you can almost see the words come flying out of their mouth in all caps with three exclamation points. If a comedian writes a comma or an ellipses in their material, it means to take a beat or a pause. There has to be an end, or a stop, to your thoughts and sentences.

Run-on sentences don’t work any better in spoken word than they do in writing. They lose audiences. You probably aren’t writing your rants or monologues, and you definitely don’t want to sound like you are, but you should definitely consider the punctuation. Where is a pause required? Where and how does a thought end? Does it end with a period, or is it an exclamation point, or a question mark, and can I tell that just by hearing you speak?

Punctuation Marks List, Meaning & Example Sentences - English ...

The trick to doing all this, whether in radio or comedy, is to make it seem effortless and like you’re not really trying to do any of this at all. Chappelle is the best example of that in comedy. Dan Le Batard is probably the best  example in sports talk. Howard Stern may be the best example in the media, period. All are very meticulous and plotted in what they do, what they say, and how they say it, but you would never know it.

The great ones effortlessly speak the language of comedy or radio, rather than coming off as “performing”. That type of mastery is something we all can learn from, whether you perform on a stage or in a studio.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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