Al Michaels made a joke about high taxes on national television, which one must never do, because, in its beneficence, Washington generously allows us to keep far, far too much of its money.
“He made 25 bucks a week,” Michaels relayed about Bill Belichick’s first year coaching in the National Football League on last night’s Sunday Night Football broadcast. “Twenty-two after taxes, he told us,” interjected Cris Collinsworth about Belichick’s 1975 stint with the Colts. “Today, it would be about eight,” joked Michaels.
But. You. Just. Can’t. Do. That. NBC’s The Blacklist can photoshop a villain into a picture with Ted Cruz. Its Law & Order franchise can non sequitur namedrop Mumia Abu-Jamal in scripts and depict Paula Deen as Trayvon Martin’s murderer. But the most respected sports play-by-play man on the air today can’t make a throwaway joke implying that the government takes too much from our paychecks.
It’s kind of like when Tim Meadows called Will Arnett a “JT” in Semi-Pro. One doesn’t call another man a jive turkey and nobody, not even a 70-year-old guy who uttered the most famous line in sports broadcasting history, can say anything save “thank you” to the IRS.
“Al Michaels is one of sports broadcasting’s best-known conservatives,” Deadspin claims (news to me), “and the NBC announcer cracked wise with one of the right’s most classic myths: that income taxes these days are extraordinarily high.” Considering that for most of American history the federal government levied no income tax, Washington’s take remains pretty high, historically speaking. Just don’t tell that to the Twittericans.
Did Al Michaels just imply that taxes are over 70% on the #SNF broadcast? Ugh. I bet he’s a GOP bundler or something.
— David Plunk (@DavePlunk) October 19, 2015
@DaveOnTheAir Al Michaels does not understand how taxes work
— Scoops Maroun (@ejmaroun) October 19, 2015
Of course, 1975’s top marginal income tax rate of 70 percent exceeds today’s 40 percent IRS take. But Michaels said that the government takes about eight bucks for every $25 we make. And if you add the money the states collect atop the federal government’s haul and divide the GDP by that, you see that the government takes about eight bucks for every $25 we make. This underestimates Michaels’ tax bill since, as a high-earning resident of California, he pays a 13 percent state rate atop his 40 percent federal bill. In other words, most of the money Al Michaels makes goes to government. A third way of looking at it, and what I initially interpreted Michaels as saying, relates to inflation rather than taxes. Bill Belichick’s $25 check amounts to, depending upon who you ask, between $5.20 and $5.56 today. In this interpretation, which, after re-watching the clip appears wrong (the broadcaster sounds like he referred to taxes and not inflation upon further review), Michaels underestimates the draconian nature of government grabs on privately-held money. And inflation, after all, is the cruelest tax of all.
In a world in which Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert’s audience laughs more out of ideological solidarity than the inherent humor of a crack, one might think Al Michaels spoke on safe ground when uttering a tangentially political joke on national television. Alas, the man behind the mic must punch the right people in the punchline. On that all-important point, not on his calculations of marginal tax rates, Al Michaels erred.
It’s tempting to conclude from all this that we live in a humorless society that demands that jokes come with footnotes and flow charts adequately explaining the premise behind the punchlines. But my takeaway relates to the sensitivities of insensitive people. The same folks who brought you Captain America beating up Donald Trump and thank Planned Parenthood when they win an Academy Award cry foul when a punchline contains a political message, however oblique, that offends their outlook. Now they know how the rest of us feel when Bruce Springsteen launches into a “Jungleland”-length political harangue about affirmative action in between numbers.