Oh, so y’all got jokes about Baltimore.

Yawn.

Our city has long been a pop cultural fascination for people who have never lived here, barely been here, or imagine it to be all “The Wire,” all the time. Using us as a punchline for tired setups about violence and drugs seems like a fallback rather than having anything actually funny to say.

Just look at the examples.

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Earlier this year, Chris Rock came to town to drag a locally-born star for filth and threw in a couple of cocaine jokes, while opener Jeff Ross said Baltimore had three C’s: “Cal Ripken, crab cakes and crime.”

MORE EMPHATIC YAWN.

Around the same time, comedian and podcaster Theo Von — whose real name, Theodor Capitani von Kurnatowski III, sounds like a ruthless nobleman trying to marry Princess Anna for her money — tried to drag Howard County native and comic Druski into a Baltimore joke he had clearly prepared thinking Druski was from here. He’s not, but Von didn’t let facts stop him. Von said that Baltimore was “a good place to get oysters and murder” and that people “smoked rock” wearing “a lobster bib.” Dude: Crabs, not lobster, are our thing, and I have never worn a bib to eat them. I throw on an old T-shirt, cover everything in newspaper and let the Old Bay get all over my clothes and in my paper cuts, like the good Lord intended.

More recently, Matt Rife, previously popular with fans because he looks like a jock from a “Sweet Valley High” novel, opened his Netflix special by not only mentioning how Marylanders had to “go to Baltimore and lock all your doors” but called us “ratchet” and threw in a lovely tale of domestic violence. Gross. Also he was performing in D.C.! He wasn’t even here! Why are you talking about us?

Look, if you’re going to have our city’s name in your mouth, why not branch out from the seafood, substances and sin? We’re a quirky place that leans happily and comfortably into our eccentricities. There are so many other things here you could poke fun at. You could go on making cheap shots for cheap laughs, or you could actually learn about the other unusual stuff we got going on. It’d show you did some research and wouldn’t prove you to be uncreative hacks.

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Unless you want to be.

Here are a few things actually worth teasing us for.

Our weird food

You know about the crabs, but do you know about coddies? It’s like someone said, “You know what this fried fish patty needs? Mashed potatoes! And then we should slap it between some saltines! It’ll catch on!” And the funny thing is, it did! You know what else we eat? Something called lake trout, which is neither from a lake nor actually trout. It’s also fried and slapped between carbs, but this time white bread. Why? It’s tradition! And we like carbs! On carbs! And don’t get me started on how we shove peppermint sticks in a lemon and call it normal, walking around in public with lemon and pieces of candy stuck to our faces. Make fun of that.

One of our most famous tourists attractions could kill you

Remember those fake tourism videos for Cleveland from about 15 years ago in which they trumpeted “our river that catches on fire”? It reminds me of my then-5-year-old goddaughter trying to dip her little hand into the Inner Harbor from our paddleboat and her mother and I simultaneously screaming, “Dear God, NOOO!” There have been reports over the years of bodies that wound up in the water — of people that may have met foul play, or fell in drunk — but it’s always been public opinion that there’s something in that water, and we don’t wanna be in it. And yes, I know there’s been efforts to clean it up, and there’s a plan for an organized plunge next year. I hope it works out, but I remain skeptical. In 2019, people spotted a dolphin swimming in the harbor and it was later found dead. We may have killed Flipper’s cousin. Try writing about that.

That time the cops shot a runaway steer

In the same grim animal death territory, but more bizarre: In 2014, a steer escaped a city slaughterhouse only to be shot dead by police not far away. It’s so tough here, even cows trying to flee being dinner can’t make it out alive. There’s a very depressing joke in there somewhere. But at least it’s original.

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Our weird obsession with Old Bay

When my family moved to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, my father smuggled three things into the kingdom: A cross, his Bible, and a giant canister of Old Bay wrapped in tube socks at the bottom of his suitcase, the contents of which he hoarded on a shelf 11-year-old me could not reach. Daddy was not the only one; online food publication TASTE called Old Bay fans a cult. The paprika-and-magic-based seasoning is marketed on everything from popcorn to booze, with devotees getting into online fights about whether it’s better than any other spice. What kind of bozos scrap about that? Us bozos.

How no one can understand anything we say

Do you remember how John Travolta lovingly prepared his classic Baltimore-hon accent for the movie version of the “Hairspray” musical, and Kathy Bates did the same for “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” but everyone outside of the 301 and 410 area codes were so confused they thought they’d made them up? Nah. Some people actually talk like that. Our … unconventional vowel sounds may vary based on area and race, but they can all be equally unintelligible if you’re not from here. If you haven’t seen the clip of the Baltimore guys trying to say “Aaron earned an iron urn,” watch it and be horrified with the familiarity. I can’t stop watching it, saying that phrase out loud and laughing because it me.

OK, so some of these suggestions are, admittedly, not positive. Sometimes comedy trends negative, and we aren’t perfect; bad things can happen in Baltimore. But it’s not creative or funny to be like “Oh, chuckle chuckle MURDER!” Do better, hacks. (See? That’s funny.)

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop... 

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