LIONS PUNTER HOPES FOR HAPPY RETURNS

Comedy is not pretty. But it does not usually wear a helmet.

It does now. Lions punter Jim Arnold, who sings like Sammy Davis Jr., laughs like Pee Wee Herman, and leaves a message on his answering machine in the voice of Robin Leach (“The men of the house are NOT AT HOME! They’ve gone to the fabulous vacation island of . . . ARUBA!”) will be taking to the stage. Thursday night. At the Comedy Castle.

Hey, Tom Hanks.

Nyah, nyah.

“I’ve been going there for a while now, and one night a friend suggested to the owner that I emcee a show,” said Arnold, 27, who usually gets his kicks on fourth-and-long. “The owner said OK. I said OK. And Thursday’s the night.”

Arnold will tell jokes. He will do imitations. He will introduce the other struggling comedians, who, unlike the Pro Bowl punter, do not have a six-figure income to fall back on.

And he will hope people laugh. His material will come not only from football, he says, but from the world of entertainment, including “Bill Bonds and Charles Manson,” although what those two have in common is beyond me.

“Hey. I don’t consider myself a blockbuster comic. If everybody has fun, then I’ll be happy.”

It may seem odd that a member of the Lions, arguably their best player, should be working as a comic in the middle of the season. Then again, maybe not. Many people consider the Lions pretty comical.

And it was Arnold, you may recall, who was involved in the infamous
“Mayday!” play earlier in the season, in which he fake- punted and threw an incomplete pass from his end zone, ensuring a victory for the New Orleans Saints.

That was pretty funny, right? Failure could rough the punter Still, I am concerned. Comedy is a tough business. It is filled with sad stories: has-beens telling jokes to strangers;

men who never make it, working as waiters.

I could not bear to see this happen to Arnold, who is a bright, funny, cheerful fellow from Georgia, and who is also capable of booting the ball halfway to heaven. His punting statistics are, once again, among the best in the NFL. That is something the Lions cannot afford to lose.

But what if this happens Thursday night? JIM: I just flew into town. Boy, are my arms tired! AUDIENCE: (Yawn). JIM: Man goes to the doctor. Says “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor says
“Don’t do it, then.” AUDIENCE: (Zzzzzzz).

You can see the problem. Arnold will bomb, he will be depressed, he will come to Sunday’s game with no life in his leg, and the Lions will lose 47-3, instead of 27-3.

Better he stick to the guaranteed material. Stuff that works week after week. For example: JIM: Lions try to run! AUDIENCE: AHAHAHA! JIM: Lions try to pass! AUDIENCE: AHAHAHAHAH! JIM: Darryl Rogers is a great coach! AUDIENCE: HAHAHHAHAHA!

This way, the crowd will love him, and the owner will ask him back. Soon, we may see the “Jim Arnold Comedy Special: Sammy, Pee Wee and Me” on CBS.

And speaking of CBS, they are coming too. Yes. To film Arnold for an upcoming halftime feature.

“They came to the Lions,” Arnold said, “and they were looking for a story angle. They asked our PR director if any of the Lions did anything peculiar.”

Boy. Talk about a set-up line.

Have they looked at the offense lately? Where other men have gone before

Arnold, of course, is not the first football player to try his hand at entertainment. O.J. Simpson, the running back, now makes a living as an actor. Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers quarterback, cut a record, although I think they gave it away at gas stations.

So why not Arnold? After all, have you ever heard him do Sammy Davis Jr.?

“This gig is kickin,’ babe, and I mean that!”

Or his Charlie Manson?

“You can’t kill meeeee — I’m already dead!”

Besides, many of his teammates will be in attendance Thursday night, and so, for at least a few hours this season, they will have a reason to smile.

And who knows? Maybe he will click. Maybe the crowd will love him, and a scout from “Late Night with David Letterman” will be in the audience, and next thing you know, Jim Arnold will be doing stupid pet tricks.

“The thing is, as a punter or a kicker, you have a heck of a lot of free time. You’ve got to be able to make that time light- hearted, or you’ll go nuts. . . .

“Besides, you know me. I like to have fun. I’d rather be smiling and laughing than walking around serious all the time. So why not try this?”

I asked Arnold how much tickets would cost. He said he wasn’t sure. Maybe around eight bucks.

“Would you pay $8 to see yourself?”

“I don’t think so. I see myself everyday.”

Ba-dum-bump.

And so it goes. A star is born. Or nudged. Or tackled. Whatever. From the Pro Bowl to the fish bowl. Still, it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up there and clown around, especially with a 2-8 record. So give him your applause. Your cackles. Your eight dollars.

Of course, if Arnold doesn’t work out, there is always a comedy alternative:

The Lions play Tampa Bay on Sunday.

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