He is a singular marketing tool who never seems to be hawking a product. He does not want to be the face of the brand, just the face of the bit.
He takes it seriously that he's playing a character who takes himself seriously Manning favors the confident clueless guy, a staple of the stooge, which is appealing and disarming. But there is subtle versatility to even that thumbnail. Alan Zweibel, an Emmy Award--winning comedy writer, gets closer. " Peyton Manning makes me laugh," Zweibel explains, "because he's just as good at playing someone who doesn't get it when people are being nasty toward him as he is playing someone who doesn't care when people are being nasty toward him." There is an uncompromising earnestness, forever propped up by questionable logic. I don't want to rewrite anybody's script, but Manning could have easily tagged a line like "So if sports are shot with a Sony, shouldn't you watch them on one?" with "I'm just saying ..." instead of the surreal "Chicken, no!"
He distances himself from himself It starts with the outfit, usually unlogoed blue shorts and a gray T-shirt. It continues with the pursed-lip pauses. It ends with the curtain-pulling snatches of wry candor. ("You know what? I'm bummed too." "Yeah, you're feeling me." "Weather here's sweet!" "Pffft, soccer...." "Chicken, no!") Each performance is relentlessly minimal, which wouldn't mean much until you contrast it with the other Peyton Manning we see on TV: the flapping, screeching, spinning, nodding, gesticulating, yammering presnap-count lunatic, $99.2 million-armed genius. It doesn't add up.
He distances himself from his roots I once heard a story about Tom Murphy, a journeyman relief pitcher acquired in the mid-1970s by the Red Sox. Murphy had an identical twin. Identical, except for that strand of DNA that enables one to effectively pitch a baseball. When the team would travel to Anaheim, Murphy would dress his twin in his uniform and put him in the bullpen. The pitching coach would call over manager Don Zimmer before the game and tell him, "Come quick. Something's wrong with Murph," and they'd run out in time to see this guy, who looked and sounded exactly like Tom Murphy, shot-putting 50-foot, 30-mph Chicago-style arcs to backup catcher Bob Montgomery.
This is my way of saying, "Nice try, Eli."
So, bring on Peyton. God knows, he's got the time right now. Scratch the kicking Clydesdales and blot out the talking stains and keep him coming. Manning will be the first to know when the joke's over. When it's not happening anymore. When it's time to buy some bigger shirts.
Bill Scheft is a writer for Late Show with David Letterman. His new novel, Everything Hurts, comes out in April.
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