Hey! It’s Michael Barkann! Again!
IT WOULD BE IRONIC, if true, because boredom is Barkann’s Kryptonite. To keep Philadelphians tuned into local sports chat on television, he has to keep things constantly hopped up. “If guests are plodding along,” Barkann says, “I’ll interrupt, make a joke, change the subject, use sophomoric humor if I have to. Whatever it takes.”
Sometimes, though not often, that means knowing when to be quiet.
Take the day I observed “Daily News Live,” which Barkann hosts weekdays with a rotating cast of Daily News sportswriters.
The panel this day is a veritable 50-year-old-white-guy extravaganza. With no big story to focus on, the talk revolves around such low-buzz fare as contract renewals, the hiring of Eagles’ assistant coaches, and how the Flyers might do that night against the Washington Capitals.
Just when I figure Barkann’s got to come zinging in, Mark Kram Jr., the headiest of the Daily News sportswriters, accuses the NFL of being a pack of greed merchants for wanting to add two more games to the regular season. Kram cites all the concussions in the NFL, and he sounds angry. “Seriously,” he says, “how much more abuse can these bodies take?”
Barkann, thrilled that a topic with some juice has landed at last, sits back and lets Kram riff uninterrupted until the subject drifts away of its own accord.
“I love moments like that,” Barkann explains later. “Kram will land on a hot-button topic, and I’ll let him just go, because his passion will carry the audience. Sometimes we’ll play a gunshot sound in the middle of one of his rants, like he’s a madman that has to be stopped, just to keep him honest.”
WISE-GUY HUMOR PLAYS BIG in Philly, and it’s one of the reasons Barkann, who grew up in central New Jersey, has had such a long and successful run in this town.
Exhibit one: his whoopee cushion story.
“So I went and got this whoopee cushion that I can control remotely,” he begins, the start of a smirk already creasing his lips. “And right before the start of ‘Daily News Live,’ I place the cushion right behind Stan Hochman.”
Barkann pauses — do I get the picture?
I do. Stan Hochman. Sportswriter. Institution. Elder statesman of the Philadelphia sporting community.
“So we’re live on the air, and I push the whoopee remote, and what you hear is pfffffft coming from right behind Stan.”