Last month we looked at Couch Potato Workout, an aerobics instructional spoof for the home video market. It was one joke, the obvious one, immediately driven into the ground with a touch of Nazi. If there was any system in place to keep man from destroying itself, this was a mistake we should have only been allowed to make once, but at the end of that tape was an advertisement for something very similar called Dirty Tennis starring Dick Van Patten. There is nothing, No One watching over us, and 1989’s Dirty Tennis proves it.
Seanbaby: Dirty Tennis is a VHS guide to cheating at tennis written by Dick Van Patten’s son. It’s not exactly a spoof of anything and takes place in a universe without consequence or reason featuring Knots Landing’s Nicolette Sheridan. To think this is in any way describable is madness, though. These are the final imaginings of a tennis player’s brain as a wild animal bites through their skull. Nightmarish, unfinished ideas of senseless tennis, but hornier than I’m making it sound. I guess picture a tennis enthusiast’s head getting chewed off by a really hot bear.
Brockway: I’ve seen that bear. That bear can get it. And that bear takes it.
But to the point: The fact that one ‘mock instructional fitness video disguising a mean-spirited comedy vanity project’ to exist is lunacy. For pitching it, you should be laughed out of the room. For writing it, you should be lashed to a donkey and sent into the desert. For actually producing and distributing it to the market, you should be killed. No jokes. Just put down humanely with a boltgun because something is wrong in your brain that can’t be made right. But for two of these videos to exist? This is treason against reality.
Brockway: The tape opens with a brief biography of Dick Van Patten, but they figure you already know him from four seasons of Eight is Enough a decade earlier (you don’t). He looks like a sasquatch failing puberty and he has the personality of a wish-granting hobgoblin trying to trick you out of your children. The segment ends by saying he’s a nice family man (he’s not), but “beneath this warm exterior beats a heart of stone. A cold-blooded reptile loyal to no one! A man who plays… Dirty Tennis.”
So Wish Goblin. We’ve got confirmation of Wish Goblin.
Seanbaby: Dick gives a humorless, angry rant about how tennis players with skill and finesse can fuck themselves because tennis is about winning. If there’s some context that makes any of this funny, it was not included on the video. If this was called Carroll O’Connor’s Guide to Kicking Dogs (For “Whites” Only), it would have the same tone.
Brockway: Dick Van Patten, who looks like frame #12 in a no-budget werewolf transformation, opens his video with an insane assumption. You, who have purchased this tennis VHS for an exorbitant amount of money, hate tennis. But you are being forced to play it, perhaps in some kind of winner-take-all underground tennis tournament for the deed to a contested rec center, featuring a colorful cast of motley teens against an evil tycoon. Also, you’re the evil tycoon.
Seanbaby: Dick screams for a while about the piece-of-shit hotshots who are good at tennis. I think he did his own wardrobe and makeup because he is wearing a pink tank top and twelve pounds of gray shoulder hair. He looks like something Jim Henson would design if you asked him for a puppet who loves butchering prostitutes and outdoor concerts. They had to give an acting credit to the colony of termites feeding on his arm lice. He looks like a quilt in a home where twenty cats starved to death.
Brockway: I know we’re harping on this but it’s impossible to overstate how much Dick Van Patten looks like a bathmat with cancer.
Seanbaby: He’s like an ugly doll you would give a yeti baby.
Seanbaby: In Part I: THE DIRTY SET UP, Dick shows us how to get started on our day of deceit and unsportsmanlike behavior. He welcomes Olympic legend Caitlyn Jenner, who was of course Bruce in 1989, to his house for a friendly tennis match. It’s Caitlyn’s first time here and they have not met before, which means this world class athlete is showing up to a strange old man’s home who plans to pointlessly cheat in a private activity with no stakes. It’s already so annoying. The best case scenario is that Caitlyn Jenner leaves without kicking his ass.
Brockway: This is such an obvious man-trap. This was the 1980s, it was a decade full of man-traps. For you to be a successful young athlete — an absolute prime candidate for jaded debutantes to hunt — and willingly show up to this obvious murder is unheard of naivete. You stroll up to this blatant man-trap, this advertised man-trap, this absolute dare of a man-trap — “nobody will fall for this one, Dick, I shall bet my prize mount Sparklesham on it!” — and have the nerve to bring nothing but a tennis racket and brownface? That’s called moxie and I like it. Ten thousand Kruggerands on the fox this round, Van Patten!
Seanbaby: Dick’s advice is immediately dumb, yet mirthless and sincere. He tells you to dress like an asshole to annoy your opponent, so maybe displaying the white mold fruiting from his back and arms was a deliberate choice?
Brockway: He is without question waiting for a strong breeze to spread his Van Patten seeds on the wind like a musky dandelion.
Seanbaby: His next advice is to do a round of tequila shots and hope they don’t join you (because it’s secretly tea). This gives them the illusion you’re playing “just for fun,” a thing no one had any reason to doubt. Please believe me when I say this segment includes no jokes or attempts at comedy. The video is genuinely advising us to sacrifice our dignity and personal relationships for even the tiniest psychological advantage in an unranked tennis match. And he is so proud of himself for giving Caitlyn Jenner, gold medal-winning decathlete, a “false sense of security” against a furry Love Boat regular twice her age. Right out of the gate it is so stupidly psychotic, and I am terrified of how this may escalate.
Brockway: Why would you not join him for a drink? He’s established this is just a fun weekend game. It’s an insane gamble predicated on the idea that wealthy elites would never drink at an inopportune time, and I used to be a server at several private clubs: I have seen millionaires drink trash mimosas out of the bus tub at a child’s birthday party.
Seanbaby: Right? This either disappoints a confused person or does nothing. And dear God, there’s no possibility of this bit being funny to anyone, so maybe this is James Van Patten’s way of asking the cast and crew for help with his father’s drinking problem?
Seanbaby: Dick’s next tip is to ruin your opponent’s warm up by making them run for the ball while you stay in one place. Which requires you to both not know what “warm up” means and also be playing against someone who returns the ball precisely to you every time. It’s nothing. It’s not comedy; it’s not advice. It’s like saying the key to winning at poker is getting four aces and asking the other players if you can milk their ugly wives.
Brockway: Okay, but that is exactly how you win at poker.
Seanbaby: That’s a good point. Also, it’s worth noting Dick Van Patten fucking sucks at this sport. Caitlyn is cranking the ball from both sides of the court and Dick is dinking lobs over the net like a six-year-old who hates his first tennis lesson. Some of the other Dick tips include lying about the opening coin toss and pretending you can’t throw a ball so your opponent never gets a chance to practice their serves. Just humiliate yourself! Like a winner would! Look at this piece of shit:
Brockway: He throws like a billionaire’s child who just discovered somebody accidentally smothered his funnest slave and he absolutely will not be consoled until he’s allowed to crash a Ferrari into the pool.
And what is this supposed to accomplish? Look at Caitlyn’s reaction: stationary befuddlement. Even in the video this doesn’t wear her down or psych her out. She just kind of looks to either side and thinks for a moment. You could achieve the same result by asking her whether she uses her right or left hand to smother fun-slaves.
Seanbaby: In Part III: THE DIRTY GAME PLAN, Dick tells you to play the first few games normally, but badly, so your opponent does not suspect you of cheating. They’ll only think you’re terrible at tennis, a drunk liar, a bad dresser, and medically unfit to play outside. Dick mocks Caitlyn’s ability and confidence while he loses point after point. Caitlyn is being lured right into a trap, this unknowing fool who was more recently “the greatest athlete on the planet” than Dick Van Patten was a “celebrity.” Again, I want to emphasize this is not presented like anything you or I would know as comedy. It’s wholehearted cheating instructions for beginner and under players looking to make sports less fun for others.
Brockway: But we’re doing all of this to win! To win at any cost! To win nothing but bragging rights! This isn’t even about gambling, that’s reserved for woodland manhunts and saucy thoroughbreds. The whole premise of this tape is that you’ll cheat your way to an extremely minor victory: How does losing several games in an embarrassing way equate to victory unless-
Nope. Got it.
Dick Van Patten’s a tennis sub and he’s tricking Caitlyn into sport-domming him.
I now understand the demographic for this tape. Shit, they even called it “Dirty Tennis.”
Seanbaby: For a weirdly long time, Dick does little dances and frolics which he claims are “distracting,” which he thinks is “funny.” It’s worse than bad. If a military prisoner screamed this script under torture, it would be the greatest case ever made against enhanced interrogation. He has been intentionally bad at tennis for ten minutes to win at tennis! And there hasn’t been a joke yet!
Brockway: It’s been a while since we pointed out that Dick Van Patten looks like a withered 7-11 wiener fumbled at a dog groomer. So I thought maybe we could take a second and do that.
Seanbaby: You bring up a good point about how Dick Van Patten looks like something a worried Jimmy Carter would show his urologist.
Seanbaby: Part I was pretending to be a drunk invalid, Part II was being a dick, and Part III was intentionally losing three straight games. So now you’re ready for Part IV: BASIC DIRTY TENNIS. Dick starts with a trick he calls “IN OR OUT” where you ask your opponent if they breathe in or out on a serve. Just fuck their whole mind with a simple question they’ll probably be able to answer. I’ll show you how it works: do you read with your mouth open or closed? Now I’m in your head, and there’s a good chance you’ll asphyxiate by the end of Brockway’s next paragraph. It’s called Dirty Typing. And do you read with your mouth around a lover’s asshole? Because that’s also called Dirty Typing, naughty girl.
You breathe in leading up to a serve and out on the serve itself. It’s the reason tennis players famously grunt or yell as they hit the ball. I don’t play tennis and I know this. From just basic observation and also because that’s how all sports work. You exhale at the moment of effort. It’s why karates yell “hi-ya!” when they strike, or why soccer players yell “hola!” everytime they kick the ball.
Seanbaby: Caitlyn is starting to get pissed which means it’s time for Trick #7: “HE’S THINKING I’M THINKING HE’S DINKING.” It’s where Dick crowds the net, baiting Caitlyn into being macho and serving it deep “thus increasing his chances of making a mistake.” It’s a desperate gambit– hoping your opponent’s toxic masculinity short circuits their ability to play sports. It’s not impossible, but if they have the tiniest bit of self control or maybe some other reason for not adhering to strict gender identities, you’re fucked.
I should remind you I’m not leaving out any gags. The video long ago left behind the conceit of “comedy sketch.” It is now “unlikely tennis schemes for sociopaths.” And they’re not even clear. The “MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO” trick is to just hit the ball hard after the last trick “tricked” your opponent into serving it gently and right to you. Which means this was written by someone who can’t do comedy or tennis.
Brockway: We’re no longer trying to lose? This adds yet another wrinkle – if this isn’t for tennis masochists to cum to, and it is — then who is it for? It’s for people who love terrible jokes, baseless cruelty, and telling people how to do sports wrong? How is that a target aud-
Oh, it’s for gym teachers.
Seanbaby: Dick Van Patten finally gives us advice we can use. He suggests installing a sunning spot near your tennis court and “have your sons invite their most beautiful girlfriends over” to distract your opponent with their hot bikini bodies. This line made the writer, one of Dick’s sons, remember women exist, so he added the caveat, “Of course, if you’re playing a woman, you must adjust accordingly. Perhaps have one of your sons mow the lawn in a Speedo bathing suit.” The point is, whatever gender you identify as, nothing pleasant is going to happen to you at the Van Patten estate.
Brockway: It’s an equal opportunity nightmare. Every visitor leaves the Van Patten estate looking like they wrestled an alpaca, and smelling like they wrestled an alpaca, and quietly sobbing like they lost a wrestling match to an alpaca with very high stakes.
Seanbaby: Caitlyn watches the sunbathing woman get undressed and whimpers, and I quote, “I’D LIKE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING. I LOVE THE MOVIE THE SURE THING. I MEAN WITH YOU LYING THERE ON THAT BEACH WITH THAT… DARK TAN…” The pitch of her voice rises higher and higher, “… AND THAT GOLDEN HAIR BLOWING IN THE WIND.” Her words are coming out like a baby bird’s death rattle by the time she gets to, “…AND THAT SKIMPY BIKINI! *hhhsssssss* Ah, boy. And then slowly rubbing that hot oil into that luscious skin.” I swear this isn’t a trans joke, but Caitlyn Jenner spends all of Dirty Tennis looking and hissing at Nicolette Sheridan like she wants to carve her up for parts.
Seanbaby: So through sheer dumb luck, the first straight comedy bit in Dirty Tennis, “horny dude distracted by bikini babe,” is undercut by the already strange choice to cast Caitlyn Jenner as the tennis bro. Which means this video is bad in an almost supernatural way. It’s like if a character in an early John Landis movie screamed, “The Dean can’t kick us out of school for killing a couple kids with a helicopter! It’s not like we’re out here raising sexual abusers as sons!”
Brockway: Because John Landis would go on to direct the controversial horror flick Bad Touch Helicopter. I get this reference.
Senbaby: Oh, good. I’m glad the reference landed. I didn’t want everyone to leave our article about the cruel, unfunny cheating instructional starring a trans woman as a leering pervert to google “John Landis sex criminal son” and be like, “aww, now I’m bummed out.”
Seanbaby: The next trick is to not answer your outside tennis court phone– let it ring! That’s it! Caitlyn Jenner can’t play tennis near phones, and maybe your opponent can’t either! The next, “SHOE BUSINESS,” is to tie your shoe. I’ve left out zero details, and out of respect for these hilarious gags I’m not going to add anything to them. We’re going to simply sit here together and enjoy the zaniness of ringing phones and shoe tying. Wait, ha ha, I should let you know it takes Dick two or three seconds longer than you’d expect to tie a shoe. Ha ha ha ha
Brockway: It’s important to note that while the director artfully frames these shots and cutaways so that you never see them, everyone on set spent so long watching Dick Van Patten’s lax, fuzzy old-man balls dip out of his short shorts that they’ve got retina burn. They close their eyes and just see them swaying there, like rotten kiwifruit on a frosty morning.
Seanbaby: His balls must look exactly like smaller versions of himself in this outfit. I bet it all on this. Everything I have.
Brockway: Ten thousand Krugerrands on the testicles being mini-Dicks!
Seanbaby: There are quite a few variations on this idea of holding up the game and wasting everyone’s time. It’s the empty cruelty of a grade school bully applied to adult friendships. Dick could have saved everyone thirty minutes if he said, “Spit on your house guest the moment they get out of their car and tell them they’re not welcome in your home. This should affect their tennis game.” To be clear, Dick Van Patten would smear diarrhea on every chair in his home to get an edge in a game of Yahtzee. He would 1000% deliver you the exhumed remains of your parents in a burlap bag to get a mental edge on you in a sack race.
Brockway: Dick Van Patten is the kind of guy who would kidnap the prey’s kids just to give him a one-up in a manhunt — it’s not about winning, it’s supposed to be a test of man’s will to survive. Assholes like you are ruining the purity of the sport, Dick. You’re why we can’t manhunt in national parks anymore, and have to settle for hobo and drifter game only.
Seanbaby: I need everyone to understand: fuck this video. One of Dick’s tips, “OLDIE BUT GOODIES,” is to play music. This is apparently another one of your tennis opponent’s many, many weaknesses. Caitlyn asks him to turn it off, but Dick says, and I quote, “It’s my favorite new song,” and then “it’s the song that was playing on the night that I was married, also the night that my first son was born!” The fact any human could have this idea much less write it down should make us all embarrassed. If I was beamed before an alien council and asked to defend this clip, I’d tell them, “You’ve seen what we men have done; what we’re capable of. If you space monsters are here to judge us, let me skip to the verdict: throw the fucking switch. And may the rest of the galaxy witness what Dirty Tennis will cost them.”
Brockway: Yeah, I’m okay with us actually trying to get this going. Like maybe one of our stretch goals is to rent a radio telescope and beam Dirty Tennis to the stars in the hopes that we get the justice we need, but that God is too much of a coward to dispense.
Seanbaby: Look at what Earth has created, stars! This is what we’ve done with the cosmic miracle of life! Fuck you, stars! Fuck you!
Seanbaby: In Part V: ADVANCED DIRTY TENNIS, the gags go from “sort of annoying” to “criminal conspiracy.” Dick’s son, Vincent, who they introduce as a world-ranked tennis pro, uses his professional tennis skills to climb a nearby tree and shoot Caitlyn in the eyes with reflected light. It fucking wrecks her. She gets knocked off her feet squealing. She is losing her mind. Dick Van Patten has destroyed her, and I’m not even sure he’s dug his way out of the three game hole he intentionally put himself in. He did all this, all of this, to lose.
Brockway: Look, I realize I keep going back to this ‘hunt man for sport’ well, but I have seen that exact son fire a crossbow at Van Damme. There’s no way they’re not practicing these tactics for use in the palatial woodlands behind the Van Patten estate. The one with the hobo signs for ‘Most Dangerous Game scenario’ (running stick figure, tennis racket) scratched into the trees. If this video doesn’t end with them opening fire on Caitlyn, I’ll lick Dan Van Patten’s sick chihuahua of a neck.
Seanbaby: Dick’s other sons are dressed up like a racist with a leaf blower and a murderer with a shotgun. Because at this point they might as well start shooting at Caitlyn, which they do.
Brockway: I don’t even feel good about calling this. One look at the production quality told any idiot that this was a snuff film right from the very start.
Seanbaby: Yeah, this was at least nine Get Outs worth of warning signs. Caitlyn should have seen this coming by “SHOE BUSINESS.” Yet here she is getting blinded by one son and deafened by another, while Dick Van Patten’s third son blasts her serve out of the sky with a shotgun. With the strength and passion of an Olympian, she knocks herself out with her own bad acting. And after the white light… the first thing she sees is the Devil:
Outer Space, Future Civilizations, God… you’re all cowards if you don’t destroy us for Dirty Tennis. If the world exists tomorrow and we’re not opening our eyes to an expanse of only Dick Van Patten, you’re sending an unequivocal message that there is no answer, no justice for our evil deeds. You’re saying we, all of life and meaning, was beaten by Dirty Tennis.
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