Offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger would like to be a comic once his NFL career is over.
Midway through the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders, Cardinals center Rich Ohrnberger settled over the ball.
The noise inside University of Phoenix Stadium grew to a crescendo as a sizeable contingent of Raiders fans tried to disrupt the Cardinals' offense. It worked. Ohrnberger couldn't hear the Ryan Lindley's cadence and jumped off sides.
In between the whistles, Ohrnberger is all business. Always has been. The fourth-year player started his career in New England and has been fighting for a spot on the Cardinals' roster since he was signed Aug. 1. Once the play ends, it's a different story.
Ohrnberger, known as one of the funniest men in all of football, didn't miss a beat. He immediately began re-enacting a scene from the movie Old School, when Will Ferrell's character shoots himself in the neck with a tranquilizer dart, starts stumbling and speaking in slow motion -- just how Ohrnberger looked on the botched snap.
"That kind of stuff is funny," guard Adam Snyder said. "He turned it into a funny situation and we were all dying laughing."
Ohrnberger, who looks like a middle-aged comic with a barrel chest and full head of gray hair despite being just 26, is far from a well-known comedian. But if he eventually finds his way on stage for a career as a stand-up after his playing days are over, we'll all know where it started.
The latest stop on Ohrnberger's comedy tour was Arizona. When he came to the Cards, nobody knew what was about to come out his mouth.
"I had no idea," fellow offensive lineman Scott Wedige said. "In meetings, it was just the old gray hair in the back of the room all of a sudden started cracking jokes and stuff. It was like, 'Holy crap, who is this guy?' And then it just continues every day, makes us all laugh and lightens the mood a little bit."
Humor has been Ohrnberger's natural ice breaker. A few one liners here, a few jokes there, and his teammates are rolling. The walls that come with joining a new team come crumbling down.
"It's definitely something I've developed over time to be more personable," he said. "It helps. I just enjoy making people laugh. When you think about somebody and what they add to whatever, I kinda like the fact that people think of me as a funny guy."
Fellow offensive lineman Russ Hochstein played briefly with Ohrnberger in New England, and knew what he what was coming when Ohrnberger signed with the Cardinals.
"I'll just say he has plenty of one-liners," Hochstein said. "I'll leave it like that."
Like most boys do, Ohrnberger inherited a few things from his father, also named Richard – one being a sense of humor.
"It's a natural progression, I would say," Ohrnberger said. "It was passed down through generations. Let's put it this way: My father, very funny guy. He always kept things light around the house."
The younger Ohrnberger has kept things light wherever he's been.
Almost from the moment he arrived as a freshman, Ohrnberger's witty sense of humor was known throughout the Penn State football team, but the public didn't get a taste of the tricks up his massive sleeves until October 2008. It was college football's version of the dog days of summer and another Penn State offensive lineman, A.Q. Shipley, was scheduled for a conference call with reporters. Unbeknownst to the media, Shipley tossed the phone to Ohrnberger, who imitated Shipley on the call so well that he tricked the reporters into thinking they were talking to the man they requested.
A couple months later, when Penn State was in Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions had a team function at the Hollywood Improv and Ohrnberger did a stand-up routine for the players and coaches. It was a hit. Even the owner of the Improv told a Pennsylvania newspaper that he'd have Ohrnberger back.
But that was just the beginning.
After his college days were over, after he was able to walk into a huddle before a crucial third down and crack a joke or imitate a coach, Ohrnberger had to grow up. And he did, if only in the professional sense.
He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft and he quietly worked his way through two seasons under the public's radar. But like he's worked to make the teams, Ohrnberger practiced being funny.
"If you don't do it, you, in fact, lose it," he said. "I guess it's practice. I take my job very seriously when I'm out here and I'm trying to practice and play as hard as I can but you know in the times in between, which you have plenty of, you need humor. I feel like I enjoy the responsibility. There's a lot of practice."
Like any good comic, Ohrnberger is collecting new material all the time. He's filled about 100 pages of a notebook with jokes, quips, one-liners – anything that comes to mind.
"I'll see something that I connect two things," he said. "You can draw from anywhere. Life's funny. Stuff that happens on a daily basis, just observe it and you can make a joke of just about anything."
Besides everyday life, Ohrnberger cites George Carlin ("He's hands down my favorite ever") and Louis C.K. ("Nobody can touch him. He's the funniest guy, I think, around") as his comedic inspirations. He's watched all their stand-up routines, read their books and doesn't miss an episode of Louis C.K.'s show.
Ohrnberger respects the fact that he has a ways to go to reach their levels. Yet he understands how to be a comedian in the digital age.He's considered among the funniest athletes on Twitter, getting rave reviews throughout the Internet. A quick Google search will turn up pages of posts about the offensive lineman tweeting.
To him, it's just another outlet to tell his jokes.
Ohrnberger's the most popular Cardinals offensive lineman on Twitter, by a large margin. As of Saturday, he had 23,132 followers compared to Snyder's 12,962, Daryn Colledge's 9,011, Jeremy Bridge's 5,273, Bobby Massie's 1,350 and Wedige's 652.
"I was shocked that an offensive lineman had that many," Wedige said.
Ohrnberger's Twitter popularity got a boost last year from an unlikely source. In July 2011, the Patriots acquired Chad Ochocinco, right around the time Ohnrnberger decided it was time to shorten his quips and one-liners into 140 characters.
Only a handful of people followed the back-up offensive lineman, until Ochocinco – now Chad Johnson – started following him. By mid January, Johnson was tweeting about Ohrnberger and off Ohrnberger went.
"I feel like Twitter is a good outlet because instead of just blurting out something inappropriate, I can think about it a little longer," Ohrnberger said. "And if it's still extremely inappropriate, I can poll the audience before I send something out there.
"I try to keep it light. I try to make people laugh. For me, it's just a good opportunity to connect to people who normally wouldn't know a guy who plays on the offensive line."
After the NFL portion of Ohrnberger's comedy tour is over, the bright lights of improve nights will be waiting anxiously. Ohrnberger has already reached a level of fame reserved for some comics – someone messed with his Wikipedia page.
Among his professional accolades, someone listed stints in the AFL, UFL and CFL – all untrue.
"Complete joke," he said. "I didn't do it, but I've seen it recently."
Performing in front of 200 might not be the same as playing in front of 50,000, but Ohrnberger has been on stage before. He's performed at team functions and banquets, and even performed during the Patriots' rookie skits, twice – once as a rookie and then once the next year because he was so funny the first time.
"I enjoy the instant gratification," he said. "Hopefully it's far from now for me. It's definitely something I'm going to pursue."