Joe Buck is 46 years old today. We could celebrate by looking at some of the more memorable games he’s called (like Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when he echoed his father’s famous line, “we will see you tomorrow night”). However, it would be a lot more fun to review the most infamous moment of his career — the time Artie Lange absolutely destroyed him during the pilot episode of Joe Buck Live on HBO.
Joe Buck Live was supposed to paint Buck in a new light. Instead of being the stodgy play-by-play guy, we were supposed to view him as “One Of The Guys,” just bro-ing down and talking about sports with his pals. To do this, Buck brought in a comedy all-star team of Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, and Artie Lange for the pilot. The first two pretty much did their jobs, chatting casually about sports and cracking jokes, but Lange was about to sabotage the whole thing.
When Buck asks Rudd a question about handling paparazzi, he casually mentions that TMZ is his favorite website. Lange quickly jumps on this, asking Buck, “What’s your second favorite website? Suckingc***.com?” Rudd and Sudeikis laugh hysterically at this line, with Sudeikis yelling “Give it up! Give it up!” Meanwhile, Buck just sits there with a stilted grin on his face. You can tell he’s flustered.
Lange then discusses his immense hatred of the Dallas Cowboys, especially Tony Romo. He jokes that as a “well-known homophobic,” it’s a “white trash dream” that the Cowboys have a quarterback who’s last name rhymes with homo. He then notes that he’s “dating a fat chick,” referring to Romo’s relationship with Jessica Simpson. At the time she was being eviscerated in the tabloids for gaining weight.
On the surface, it’s hard to defend some of the things Lange says here. A lot of it is blatantly sexist and homophobic, without much room for interpretation. But what makes the whole experience so much fun is that Lange’s goal doesn’t seem to be taking down homosexuals or women; it feels like he just wants to make Joe Buck as uncomfortable as possible. And he succeeds. If the goal of Joe Buck Live was to make Buck seemed more relaxed and approachable, Lange nixed that idea in about five minutes.
Lange dominates the entire conversation, while Rudd and Sudeikis seem all-too-happy to stay on the sidelines and let the carnage continue. Lange attempts to smoke a cigarette on stage, and is rebuffed by Buck. Later on, in a segment that only appeared on the internet, Sudeikis encourages Buck to let him smoke in the studio. Sudeikis and Rudd aren’t going to rip Buck to shreds the way Lange does, but they have no interest in protecting him, either.
The good news for Buck was that Lange’s tumultuous appearance brought his show a ton of publicity. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons. No one really cared about Buck’s edgy new HBO show, they just wanted to talk about how awkward the entire scene was. It wasn’t surprising then, that the show would air just two more episodes before going off the air for good in December 2009.
Despite Lange’s efforts to sabotage Buck’s show, he and Buck are on surprisingly good terms these days. Buck wrote the foreword to Lange’s 2013 memoir Crash And Burn, in which Lange discusses how his history of substance abuse effected various moments of his life, including his notorious Joe Buck Live appearance. Lange praised the foreword as being “hilarious,” while Buck relished in getting to tell his own side of the story, stating that he was never angry with him, despite HBO’s statements at the time.
In Crash And Burn, Lange discusses the night in question, revealing that when the show was taping, he was under the influence of both vicodin and whiskey. He describes his mood going into the show as “loopy.” While Lange acknowledges the popularity of the segment, he also discourages anyone from viewing it as a great moment in his career:
I know a lot of my fans, plus people who don’t like Joe Buck, still think this performance was f—— genius, and I suppose some of it was, but let’s be honest, it’s a guy having a meltdown in an inappropriate way in the wrong place. That appearance represents what drugs had become in my professional life.
Taking everything into consideration, it’s hard to know exactly how we should view this bit. On one hand, it’s certainly a “Great Moment In Making Joe Buck Feel Extremely Awkward History.” On the other hand, it’s a rant riddled with sexism and homophobia that was heavily influenced by drugs and alcohol. No matter how much you dislike Joe Buck, it’s hard to view that as a positive experience.
Still, it was certainly a memorable eight minutes of television. It was also proof that, while Artie Lange certainly has his flaws, he’s the kind of person who can absolutely take over a room whenever he feels like it.