Milwaukeeans have long known that the city they call home is a wonderful place. A city faced with plenty of challenges, yes, but a wonderful place. But to many outsiders (and more than a few insiders), Milwaukee is nothing more than the butt of cheap, ill-informed jokes. Beer! Cheese! The Bucks! Ha! Even today, for every person who champions our ridiculously great music and/or food scene, there are two people who believe Milwaukee is a drunken urban hellscape populated by dead-eyed, brat-eating Morlocks. Or, you know, “Chicago’s Upper, Upper North Side.”
Still, Milwaukeeans are a resilient bunch, and are (usually) able to fend off these attacks and moldy generalizations with a shrug and a smile. In that spirit, Milwaukee Record has gathered some of the most outrageous Milwaukee insults of the past decade-plus, ranging from jokey pop-culture jabs to nasty political put-downs. (Note: Sports-related trash-talk has been kept to a minimum, because, let’s face it, we could devote an entire week to that noise.)
1. The Simpsons thinks Milwaukee is one of the world’s fattest cities
The exact location of The Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield may forever be a mystery, but in season 13’s “Sweets And Sour Marge,” it does receive a specific, if dubious, honor: “the world’s fattest city.” And what city does ultra-tubby Springfield displace, much to Homer’s glee? Milwaukee. While Milwaukee has landed on a few fat-city lists over the years, it’s standing as one of the country’s drunkest cities seems more in line with reality.
2. Justin Vernon calls Milwaukee a “dark, beer-drunk place”
Speaking of drunk cities: On Bov Iver’s 2011 self-titled album, Eau Claire native and future Grammy winner Justin Vernon name-drops Milwaukee during the song “Holocene.” “You’re laying waste to Halloween / You fucked it friend, it’s on its head, it struck the street / You’re in Milwaukee, off your feet.” On the surface, it’s a nicely cryptic nod; in an interview with Pitchfork, however, Vernon reveals that he chose to set the song in the Brew City because “it’s a dark, beer-drunk place. […] And guess what adults do on Halloween in Milwaukee? They get blind drunk and try to forget about their childhoods.” Ouch. That’s a burn no amount of woodland creature-tinged falsetto can soothe.
3. Sports Illustrated isn’t impressed with the 2002 MLB All-Star Game
No one would claim that the Milwaukee-hosted 2002 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was a game for the ages—it ended in a contentious tie after both teams exhausted their pitching rosters. But writer Tom Verducci took the sour feelings to a whole new level when recapping the game for Sports Illustrated:
“Keep the game out of Milwaukee. It’s a fine, friendly city, but let’s be honest. The only reason the game was held in Milwaukee was because Selig helped use it as a chip toward getting taxpayers to help build him a new park. […] Milwaukee might be equipped to host porcelain bathroom fixture conventions, but an All-Star Game? Forget it. The city was so eager to show the world its sophistication that it housed the international media contingent 15 miles away from downtown in roadside suburban hotels.”
To be fair, Milwaukee’s hotel situation has improved over the last 12 years, leading to the city scoring plenty of bathroom fixture conventions and pheasant hunting conventions.
4. Willem Dafoe’s Jim Beam commercial equates Milwaukee with shoveling elephant shit
Willem Dafoe’s decision to leave his hometown of Appleton for New York City certainly set him on the path to becoming one of the greatest actors of his generation. But in a 2011 “Bold Choice” commercial for Jim Beam, the alternate reality is puzzlingly dire. A young Dafoe is seen staring at two Greyhound busses: one headed to NYC, the other to Milwaukee. The spot then branches off, showing the fabulous, successful life that lies ahead should Dafoe take the NYC bus, and a life spent shoveling elephant shit in a circus and becoming a balding warehouse manager should he take the Milwaukee bus. (“Bold Choice” fudges a few facts, though, as Dafoe spent some formative years in Milwaukee after leaving Appleton, and before moving to NYC.)
5. Charles Barkley calls Milwaukee (and Cleveland) “dreary-ass” cities
NBA analyst and recurring SNL character (oh, and former basketball player) Charles Barkley is paid handsomely to say a lot of stupid shit. In 2009, while covering a Cleveland Cavaliers-Portland Trail Blazers game for TNT, he did just that when he compared Cleveland to Milwaukee. The comparison, of course, wasn’t favorable: “If you were to swap the people in Cleveland and Milwaukee, it’d be the same dreary-ass city. They are both dreary places. […] Cleveland and Milwaukee, other than Perkins Soul Food joint, they are the same dreary-ass city.” Well, the Mr. Perkins shout-out was nice.
6. Republic Airways CEO wonders why the fuck anyone would fly here
When Republic Airways acquired Oak Creek-based Midwest Airlines in 2009, Republic CEO Bryan Bedford made sure that the transition was as well-received as possible by…talking shit about Milwaukee? “I don’t care how cheap you make it, you don’t go there (Milwaukee) unless you have to,” Bedford said at an analysts’ meeting in New York City. Sadly, Bedford’s comment wasn’t just a case of jet-lag crankiness: Midwest merged with Frontier Airlines in 2011, and cut dozens of flights and hundreds of Milwaukee jobs the following year.
7. Gilbert Arenas claims every player in the NBA hates Milwaukee
Former NBA All-Star/handgun enthusiast Gilbert Arenas spent most of his career playing for the Washington Wizards; he did not, apparently, enjoy away games in Milwaukee. In a 2008 blog for NBA.com, Arenas shared these less-than-Milwaukee-tastic thoughts after New Jersey Nets player Richard Jefferson was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks:
“Richard Jefferson going to Milwaukee…HAHAHA! Oh man, now that is funny. When I heard that, I started laughing. Oh man, did I start laughing. You know why? Because every player hates Milwaukee. Nobody wants to live in Milwaukee. I’m sorry, Milwaukee, to come down hard on you, but no one in the NBA wants to play in Milwaukee.”
8. Scott Walker doesn’t want “Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee”
Universally beloved Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has done a lot for the Brew City—serving as County Executive for nearly a decade, showing up for the occasional tourism thing—but even someone as pro-Milwaukee as Walker has the occasional slip-up. Take his speech to workers as the Sussex Quad/Graphics in 2011, days before efforts to recall him came to a head. During the speech, Walker dropped this bon mot: “We don’t want Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee.” We can only assume this was an temporary lapse of judgement from one of the city’s greatest non-pandering champions.
9. Democratic spokesman shows his love for “rusting misbegotten city of strugglers and coupon clippers”
In the interest of keeping things fair and balanced, it should be noted that Democrats can be equally adept at insulting Milwaukee. Back in 2012, then-spokesman for the state Democratic Party Graeme Zielinski took to Twitter to fire off a typically bizarre, supposedly funny shot at Milwaukee: “Love @Brewers. You died hard and made our rusting misbegotten city of strugglers and coupon clippers proud.” Zielinski’s Brewers-love is admirable, but the rest of his tweet is nearly as tired and “edgy” as the time he compared Gov. Scott Walker to Jeffrey Dahmer, or when he suggested it would be funny if Sheriff David Clarke Jr.’s wife shot him.
10. Josh Smith can’t find anything to do in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is a bustling city filled with countless opportunities for both fun and leisure. Too bad no one told that to former Atlanta Hawks (and current Detroit Piston) Josh Smith in 2010, when he told an interviewer that “everybody knows there ain’t nothing to do in Milwaukee.” J-Smoove continued:
“There’s pretty much nothing to do. Miami has some really good restaurants. I never really did anything in Milwaukee. I would be happy to just find a restaurant. I’m not bashing the city, but I’ve never actually did anything in Milwaukee so I really don’t know what is around there.”
Looking for a restaurant, Smoove? Charles Barkley has a good recommendation.
11. Some mouth-breather takes a dump on downtown for the Journal Sentinel
A new downtown arena will likely be a heated issue for years to come, especially with Milwaukee’s regional neighbors refusing to support it. After all, why would anyone want to venture downtown to see a basketball game when (white) men, (white) women, and (white) children are under constant attack from (black) criminals, and it’s also really hard to find good parking? That’s what drooling simpleton Nathan Sass recently argued in an op-ed for the Journal Sentinel, giving new meaning to “suburban shit-bag.” Some of Sass’ howlers:
“Regional residents are not interested in downtown Milwaukee for recreation. You can call it silly and you can even call it racist, but you cannot deny it. It is what it is. People leave the city for a reason and have no interest in going back for fun. Downtown Milwaukee is not fun for most of us out in the sticks.”
The parking stinks. The fear of crime is more relevant. The attractions are not largely unique or compelling. The aura is not uplifting and positive but dreary, old and cold. Going downtown for most of us is something we do only if we have to (i.e. work, school, etc.), and we stay away otherwise. Most everything downtown can be found outside the city (bars, clubs, food, music, movies, theater, etc.), and we patronize those places near where we live.”
JS blogger Alex Runner nicely dismantled Sass’ brain droppings in his own editorial, though that didn’t stop the site’s commenters from adding some grunts of their own. Speaking of which, look for Milwaukee Record’s new weekly series, “11 classic JS comments talking shit about Milwaukee,” beginning next month, and running until 2056.