EAGAN, Minn. – It's been a while since Matt Birk lined up at center for the Vikings, but recently he took center stage to benefit his former team.
Birk, a six-time Pro Bowler who played in Minnesota from 1998-2008, hosted a "Do Good Comedy Show" Saturday night to raise money for three charities dear to his heart, including the **Minnesota Vikings Foundation**.
From quips and cracks about politics, sports and weight loss to witty lines about parenting eight children, Birk delivered plenty of laughs for a crowd of 200 at Union 32 Craft House.
"It's a pretty friendly crowd," Birk said after the show. "Most people come out and they're Vikings fans, or they're supporters of the charity, or they just want to have a good time – or all three."
"It was fun to see some of my former teammates. I'm appreciative that they came out to support it," he added. "We can all go home with a smile on our face."
Vikings Legends Jim Kleinsasser (1999-2011), Chris Liwienski (1998-2005) and Brooks Bollinger (2007-08) were on hand to laugh with their former teammate. Chuck Foreman (1973-79) also was in attendance.
"He's a quick wit. He's a Harvard grad; I'm sure he's told you that before," Kleinsasser ribbed good-naturedly of Birk. "But he's just a great guy. Our hangout was the locker room, but we'd come into the equipment room and grab our coffee, sit down and just shoot the breeze with [Equipment Manager Dennis Ryan]. It was basically just a back-and-forth. Everybody tosses jabs at each other, and it was just a straight comedy fest every time you came to work. And Birk was one of the top ringleaders, you know?
"I mean, you could go down the list and pretty much pick a guy on the roster, and there's some comedic value to him," Kleinsasser continued. "But nobody has the cojones to get up there on that stage and do it in front of everybody. So that was pretty cool, seeing him get up there and do that."
Saturday was the fourth Do Good Comedy Show hosted by Birk. After leading with his standup routine, he was followed by comedians Pete Borchers and Tim Bedore. KFAN personality Paul "Meatsauce" Lambert rounded out the evening.
Proceeds from ticket sales, a raffle and a silent auction benefited the Minnesota Vikings Foundation; Mike Ditka's Gridiron Greats, which supports retired NFL players; and the After the Impact Fund, which supports military veterans and professional athletes, along with their families.
"I think it's great that Birk always gets out in front of things like that," Kleinsasser said. "If he's thinking about something, he takes care of it and does it. It's just awesome to see him do that and to see the Vikings come [alongside this] – it's been a great night."
As it turns out, Birk never imagined himself actually performing in a standup capacity but a while back was dared to tell his jokes on stage.
"I have an ego, so I was like, 'Oh, of course I'll do that,' " Birk said with a laugh. "I did it, and it didn't go horribly. So then I thought, 'Hey, this would be sort of a fun way to maybe do some good and raise money for charity.' "
Birk said that, during his time in the NFL, humor was often a way to deal with long days of training camp or tough stretches of the season. He explained that teammates "really let their personalities shine" during downtime in the locker room.
Asked who had been his funniest teammate, Birk thought for a moment and had a difficult time naming just one.
"Chris Liwienski – which nobody would ever say, if I gave you a hundred guesses," Birk said with a smile. "He and I played together for so long, came in the same year. I mean, he could make me laugh like nobody else. Korey Stringer was known, I mean, he would even perform sometimes if you could get him to do it. He was just unbelievable. And the list goes on and on."
Added Birk: "People always ask me what I miss about football. I don't miss the game that much, because I got to play for a long time and was very fortunate, but I miss the locker room – and specifically what I miss about that is the laughing. I don't know if I'll ever laugh as hard as I did in the locker room with those guys."
After years of playing football at the highest level and performing in front of thousands, Birk said it's the "more intimate" groups of a couple hundred that get his nerves going.
"Comedy's hard. The worst is when you think you're building it up, and you're going to deliver the punchline and think it's going to hit, and it doesn't. And you're like, 'What now?' Yeah, it's scary," he said. "But one of my things, one of my sayings, is, 'Do hard things.' Comedy's hard, but at the end of the day the advantage that I have over other standup comedians is that I'm not a standup comedian; I'm a former football player. So I think people's expectation levels are really low, and generally they know me when I step out on stage.
"I give comedians a lot of credit to go out there when nobody knows who you are, and people are sitting there like, 'Make me laugh.' That's gotta be the hardest thing in the world," Birk continued. "So I've got it easy."
Birk said he often tries out his jokes on his and wife and kids.
"They never laugh," he quipped. "Dad's not funny."
Topics for his jokes often come organically through everyday life.
"Definitely being a husband, dad… I kind of think a lot of people can relate to that," Birk said. "I try to just find things in everyday life that people can relate to. Don't take yourself too seriously. Make fun of yourself. That's kind of my approach."
Birk was grateful for the support of not only former teammates but also current and former staff members from the Vikings organization. He credited those relationships and the stability of the franchise for making Minnesota such a special place to play.
"It's part of who they are. They care," Birk said. "They care a lot about, of course the team and they want them to win, but they care about the brand, they care about the organization and how it faces outwardly into the community."
He added that the Vikings were responsible for his early involvement in the Twin Cities through Dennis Green's Community Tuesday initiative, and he hopes to continue that model.
"I still want to do whatever I can, use whatever gifts I have to give back, whether that's volunteer time or, in this case, raising money and trying to do good things," Birk said. "We'll keep doing it as long as people keep showing up."