Opinion

Jeff Foxworthy Proves the Boring and Lazy 'Participation Trophy' Joke Needs to Die

Jeff Foxworthy released his first new standup special called (cringe) The Good Old Days on Netflix.
Jeff Foxworthy released his first new standup special called (cringe) The Good Old Days on Netflix. courtesy Netflix
Reviewing comedy of almost any sort is difficult because it's just so much more subjective than other artistic mediums.

Take horror, for example. Some people like seeing guts, gore and carnage when it comes to splatter-core horror movies, and some simply don't. There are nuances among a film's story, characters and cinematography, but you might just be the kind of person who can't appreciate an ax murder movie no matter how well it's made.

Comedy, however, can be incredibly brittle. The way a person says a certain word or delivers a line can completely change how an audience will react. And there are even ranges of responses among audiences depending on their mood, viewpoint or cultural influences on what's funny. The challenge and true beauty of comedy is doing your damndest to reach those people without sacrificing who you are on your own terms.

Anyone can give the audience what they want. But comedy is always better when a comedian can give an audience something they didn't know they wanted.

There's a moment in Jeff Foxworthy's new Netflix special that does the former, and it's been done so many times that the joke has itself become a joke for mimicking the kind of person who still thinks this joke is funny. This joke has folded over itself so many times that it's become an origami paper statue of the phrase "OK, boomer."

It's the old and cranky "Everyone gets a trophy these days" joke.

Normally, we don't like spoiling comedians' jokes, but Foxworthy's version of this joke has been put out into the world online by Netflix's meme marketing team where it got sucked into a worm hole of social media shares.
Around the 16-minute mark of Foxworthy's latest special, Foxworthy devotes a chunk of his performance to a bit about his childhood and how he was chosen to play every sport he could down at the local rec center.

"I had a great childhood," Foxworthy says. "I played every sport for the recreation center. My parents didn't make me pick one sport because they thought I was gonna play professional whatever. I played every sport, and it was weird back then because if you wanted a trophy, you had to finish in first place."

Naturally, the Twitter-verse reacted with division. People either loved the joke and shared with it flame emojis for speaking what they perceive to be as the truth they've heard a million times on right-leaning cable news and AM talk radio or knocked it as yet another baby boomer lambasting this new generation for rewarding participation over excellence. You know your joke sucks when Barstool Sports calls you out for it.

Foxworthy may be throwing a curveball with the joke but the landing is still tired, boring, been done to death and sent to wherever the souls of jokes go when they die. It screams "The Simpsons did it!" because The goddamn Simpsons actually did it in 2017 (see Season 28, Episode 18 called "A Father's Watch"). And at least that one's a set up to an actual joke that says something beyond what people who have Eric Clapton ringtones want to hear. Homer rails on to Marge about how "I never got a trophy when I was a kid and I turned out just ..." and interrupts himself to squeeze an entire tube of cookie dough into his mouth.

The "participation trophies are a thing, waaa" joke practically built the career of podcaster and Dollar Store-Jeremy Clarkson, Adam Carolla, for his post-Man Show period. The same goes for Steve Harvey and Joe Rogan.

Comedian Gary Gulam has one similar joke but at least his is about why the tired cliché of the spittle inducing participation trophy trope is so misguided and repetitive: because it takes more than a faux-gold trophy to teach kids that life is mostly about losing.

Of course, one joke can't sum up a comedian's entire body of work or talent. The great George Carlin has a trophy joke hunk but it doesn't represent the spectrum of his artistry. He did at a time when it wasn't repeated ad nauseum for laughs or sympathy at someone's mortality and Carlin's entire career was an exaggerated semblance of himself onstage, whereas the others sound like Jordan Peterson if he had a personality.

To be fair, it could be argued that Foxworthy is doing the same thing in a loooong line of jokes, self-help books, Prager U rants and ironic-but-not-really-ironic Walmart T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and engraved Zippo lighters worn and used by post-modern Archie Bunkers who express the same sentiment.

It's just that we get the joke already. We hear you, baby boomers. You had lower college tuition rates and wide access to financial aid before federal regulators stripped it to the bone in the 1980s and higher living wages with adequate health care access that in turn created a higher standard of living. You also didn't have a "monetary policy and changes to labor law that make it easier for workers to bargain for raises combined with family-friendly polities that reduce the motherhood earnings penalty" or an economy that "has not rewarded young workers for achieving the highest education attainment of any generation and working in a more productive economy," according to a 2016 report from the Center for American Progress.

But by gum, you ain't never did get no trophy for just participating. Good for y'all! 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.