Heel to Face: The Subculture Stepbrothers of the WWE and Comedy

Comedy Features
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TLDR: Wrestlers love comedy, almost as much as comedians love wrestlers. Both groups need a lot of attention and seem pretty okay with weight gain and airs of superiority.

Needless Extrapolation: Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and sometimes you sit bolt upright in the dead of night and remember that you never unframed the photograph you have with Bill Cosby as a child in your bedroom. Does your roommate think you are perverted? Does it matter?

Now, to the content.

In a packed 100-seat room at UCB Franklin at midnight last Friday, “always a bridesmaid, never a champion” Dolph Ziggler hosted a WWE Hell in a Cell variety show with Ryan Nemeth and a barrage of comedians celebrating their love for the WWE in a series of ill-fitting costumes and mock fights. If there was anyone in the audience who didn’t give a shit about wrestling, my prayers are with them, for they were once me, and me was once indifferent to this fictional oil-boy magic. For the rest of us, the show provided those strange shades of “oh, I know what that’s in reference to” laughs that make family dinners endurable and fans of Doctor Who publicly executable.

Also, these things happened. Also, there was a Cesaro section.

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Yes, Dolph Ziggler is very handsome. The kind of handsome where my body instinctively peeled my hoodie off thinking, “Maybe he will think I have nice arms.” It was a Big Show.

[Note: In this two hour show, there was no Big Show. I have filed a four million dollar lawsuit with the theater, as no “Show” can take place in this town without paying royalties to the biggest Show himself. Upright Citizens Brigade, shame on your omission of Big Show. Savages.]

Aside from the Big Omission, the UCB show reminded me why I’m writing this to begin with. The worlds of comedy and wrestling have entangled through the years like hideous, half-formed twins who desperately need attention. Ziggler’s foray into comedy is by no means a first-time leap. In no particular order, here’s a short history of the Wrestling-Comedy zeitgeist pact, cousins to the soap opera and the broken childhood.

THE COMEDY OF KAYFABE

In theory, any good business should cater to their primary demographic. The WWE doesn’t have the best track record of pleasing fans, but there is something to be said for the amount of solid storylines and performers that have kept their massive comic fanbase aboard for years.

Andy Kaufman was one of the first popular comedians to steep himself in the world of the WWE, first being rejected by Vince McMahon, or the Greatest Interaction Between Two Humans That We Will Never See. This spiraled into a false feud with Jerry Lawler televised on Late Night with David Letterman and My Breakfast with Blassie, a 1983 film with “Classy” Freddie Blassie that parodied popular art film My Dinner with Andre. The wrestling world had welcomed comedy’s strangest son with open arms in spite of ol’ Vincey, and the parade would keep on coming.

Why is wrestling so appealing to comedians in particular? For most it’s a habit picked up in childhood, but the personality profile makes sense—a well-rounded wrestler presents character work that most comics work toward, a physical fitness that comics will probably never possess and a coolness that can only be fostered with a lot of money and a megalomaniacal old man.

The trend ballooned beyond Kaufman, and today it stretches from local hopefuls at indie shows to otherworldly being Jon Stewart nearly creaming himself with excitement while hosting this year’s Summerslam. An (incomplete) list of notable comedians who unabashedly love the damn thing: Adam Sandler, Gillian Jacobs, Seth Green, Jon Stewart, Rob Corrdry, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, all of Weezer, the Lucas Bros, Patrice O’Neal, John Darnielle, Mike Lawrence, Judah Friedlander, Chris Gethard, Ron Funches, Marty DeRosa. (I know I’m missing some—email me, doofus.)

Then with the podcast boom came the comedic takes on sports entertainment, and there are more of them than there are Big Show heel turns (#BigShowVapes). A few worth mentioning: The Steve Austin Show, Talk is Jericho, We Watch Wrestling Podcast, Fans Talk Pro Wrestling, Cheap Heat, The Attitude Era Podcast, Solomonster, Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana. (I’m sorry I didn’t list your podcast. Email me, doofus.)

Am I suggesting that comedians and diehard wrestling fans may be, ahem, oh wow, I suppose, but maybe, stunted in some way? I would never. I’m just a sweet young lady who loves large vaping men.

COMEDY INFLUENCING WRESTLING

We could get into some theory here, some “laughter is a response to fear” type of stuff, but let’s leave it at this: the WWE tends to be funny because the WWE tends to hire comedic talent behind the scenes to keep the New Day well-paid in brass instruments.

One writer who comes up again and again in the wrestling and comedy circles is Matt McCarthy (who spoke at Friday’s show), who has gone on to enjoy a healthy standup career and host one of the most popular wrestling podcasts going. The other is Patrice O’Neal, best known for his prolific standup career, whose stint writing for the WWE was featured heavily in his 2011 eulogy though he parted ways with the company after two weeks.

Writing for the WWE has to be a number of things to be successful—well-informed in the history of the organization, surprising to its viewers and entertaining as hell. When you see moves like Del Rio returning with a racist manager (Zeb Colter) after being fired for assaulting a racist WWE staffer, you know everyone involved has a pretty good sense of humor. That, or Del Rio really wanted back in.

WRESTLING INFLUENCING COMEDY

Unlike other athletes, pro wrestlers are required to have a personality. Unlike other actors, they need to be able to perform their own stunts. Most will lean one way more than the other, but the result is often the same—those who shine in the WWE have a physical and performative timing that needs to match the bizarro storylines they’re assigned, and they often have to sell some weird shit.

Sure, you’ve got your dramatic Kane-Undertaker storylines, but even the biggest rivalries are sprinkled with elements of creativity that require some real chops to execute. Think of Demon Kane bursting out of that ambulance last month, or Undertaker and Brock blood-laughing at each other, or Seth Rollins’ decision to become a Power Ranger at SummerSlam, or almost anything The New Day manages to pull out. For some WWE Superstars, the skills translate to other comedic efforts.

Take a look at the recent track record of wrestlers in popular culture. John Cena is slotted to appear in new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie Sisters later this year, having already appeared in Amy Schumer’s comedy of the summer Trainwreck portraying an exaggerated version of Dolph Ziggler, who does standup, , and the list goes on and on. Big Show? Big Show sticks to vaping, mostly.

With the exception of Sir Dwayne, wrestlers attempting crossover success have fared best with comedy—Cena’s highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes is Trainwreck, Andre the Giant famously made the leap to comedy in The Princess Bride, Hulk has done more comedies than not and let’s not forget my personal favorite, the Big Show in Knucklehead. Most WWE stars don’t translate to the silver screen the same way vaudevillians couldn’t cut it in the talkies, but you can enjoy their weird, broad strokes of comedy around the clock for $9.99 a month, I hear.

Sure, the worlds of wrestling and comedy can be as mismatched a pairing as Schumer and Ziggler, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to make it work, gang. Throw on your copy of Beat the Champ and enjoy that two great things enjoy each other. Life is hell and your sentient being is the cell, and there’s no dress rehearsal for the Big Show that is the remainder of your days.

NOTES FROM THIS WEEK:

-Xavier Woods missed Hell in a Cell to get married. I’m never shaving again because what’s the point.

-Did anyone else catch themselves finding Roman Reigns compelling during his match with Bray Wyatt at HIAC this week? Was that a passing fever?

-Hoping that Charlotte’s defending the title means we can move forward with the story and get the Charlotte/Sasha match I so crave.

-Big Show did a PSA about drunk driving. For the record, he is against it. Therefore, if you do not endorse Big Show, you do endorse drunk driving, and if you think that’s a misinterpretation of the transitive property then honey, I have a ziptie and the right to conduct a citizen’s arrest to change your mind.

-Oh yeah, and here’s a picture of Big Show at a vape shop in Cranston, RI. Which shop, and what is the horrifying caption that accompanies it? Check back next week, if you know the value of a good old-fashioned surprise.

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Hours of Pro Wrestling Consumed: 120 hours
Days Until WrestleMania: 158 (!!!) days
State of Union: Always the Vaper, Never the Mrs. Woods

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