At its most basic level pro wrestling might appear to be a battle of wits and strength between two individuals. There’s far more to the one true art than simple grappling or striking, though, as even the most casual observer could tell you. Larger-than-life personalities have been a cornerstone of the sport for as long as it has existed, but some of those characters have taken it so far that they’ve transcended the confines of humanity—at least in storyline. Sometimes that means “serious” wrestling personalities having to solemnly react to lightning strikes and cartoonish special effects wizardry as if it’s real; other times, though, it can become a fun, winking nod at the inherent unreality of this very physical, very dangerous form of entertainment. Think “Broken” Matt Hardy, whose wrestler-as-Creature-Feature-host character could break the spacetime continuum in the middle of his postmodern deconstructions of wrestling matches, or those goofy indie spots that go viral, like Chuck Taylor’s hand grenade or the Osirian Portal’s hypnosis.
The trick to a good non-human wrestling character is context. When these unreal elements are treated with utter sincerity, they undermine the more earthly and realistic storylines happening elsewhere on the show. When they’re presented as comedy, though, the audience is better prepared to accept them as part of the show, and can also form a sort of conspiratorial bond with the wrestler, as they’re all in on the joke together. And once the audience has that bond, they’ll become even more invested when the comedy wrestler faces the serious consequences of a wrestling match.
Not all comedy wrestlers are supernatural, but the best supernatural wrestlers are ones with comedy in their DNA. That’s because comedy can be a secret weapon in any wrestler’s skillset. If you can make the audience laugh, they will almost always be on your side, and when you reveal there’s more to you than comedy, their reaction will be loud and passionate. He doesn’t have a supernatural element, but the success of Orange Cassidy in All Elite Wrestling is a perfect example: fans love his absurdly laidback, too-cool-for-school persona, so when Cassidy gets angry or serious and reveals that he’s actually an extremely talented, incredibly agile and athletic wrestler, it gives his matches an extra depth.
It’s important for you to know all of this before I introduce you to Danhausen, a very evil, very mysterious, very ridiculous wrestler taking Ring of Honor by storm.
Danhausen has been an independent wrestling sensation for a couple of years, and now that he’s a fully signed member of the ROH roster he’s about to get even bigger. With a permanent grin painted on his face in black and white, a red and black cape, and a big demonic tattoo on his chest, Danhausen looks appropriately devilish—like a cross between the Joker, Dracula, and a roadie for a death metal band. It’s almost too perfect—like he’s somebody playing at being evil, and dressing up the way he thinks that’s supposed to look. And although he acts like he has various supernatural powers in videos he makes for YouTube, he’s never effectively shown any during a wrestling match. Outside of his appearance, the only thing about him that actually seems all that off or evil is his obsession with teeth—he carries a jar of them to the ring, always threatening to feed them to his opponent.
The secret to Danhausen is that, deep down, he’s pretty clearly a good boy. He might say he’s very evil, and that he wants to conquer the world, but you can tell that he doesn’t really have it in him. Still, when we spoke to Danhausen recently, the focus was squarely on his evil plans—and why wrestling is the best outlet for them.
Oh, and after talking to Danhausen, we then got to meet the real man inside: Donovan Danhausen, a seven year veteran who’s seen the biggest success of his career after getting in touch with his very evil alter ego. Find a full transcript of our conversations with both men below, and watch Danhausen in action on Ring of Honor’s weekly TV show.
Paste: Your plan is to get rich and famous and conquer the world, right?
Paste: So why do that through pro wrestling?
Danhausen: Well it was, ah, very easy for Danhausen to just go down to the street to get into a wrestling school and make way through the independent circuits of some sort and make his way to television. Because each show Danhausen can bring more and more fans in, which is hypnotic gaze, if you will, and ah yes, it’s quite easier than traveling to Hollywood by blimp, to try and get into the movies.
Paste: So I heard during a match that you’ve been around since 1932. Is that correct?
Danhausen: Sure, that sounds good.
Paste: I think I heard Ian Riccaboni say that on an episode of Ring of Honor.
Danhausen: Yes, Danhausen says many things.
Paste: So you’ve probably seen a lot of wrestlers in that time. Who do you think is the best pro wrestler since 1932?
Danhausen: Definitely Danhausen, one. Two, let’s see… what’s his name. He’s very famous. He’s… Rock “The Dwayne” Johnson. He’s very good, have you heard of him?
Paste: I’ve seen his movies. He’s pretty talented
Danhausen: That is the plan. He was a wrestler, and then he became a very famous, very evil Hollywood star, so Danhausen is following in the footsteps of them.
Paste: I guess he’s maybe competition then. What if he conquers the world before you’re able to?
Danhausen: Then well maybe Danhausen will offer an alliance of some sort.
Paste: Before you, who was the most evil wrestler of the last century?
Danhausen: Ohhhh. Let’s see. Most evil wrestler of the century would probably be… this one is hard. It’s puzzling Danhausen. Most evil… Danhausen always says Kane but Kane is quite nice, too. What about Triple H? He hits people in the groin with a sledgehammer. And then takes over the companies. Now he takes handshake photos with everybody.
Paste: Do you think Danhausen will be getting one of those handshake photos in the future?
Danhausen: Who knows? Perhaps he will see him on the street and he will say [raspy voice] “hello, Danhausen, it is time to take a photo!” And then you know he’ll take a photo with him and make his day.
Paste: What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you take over the world?
Danhausen: We shall take over the world. One of those fountain drink machines right in his lobby—Danhausen will have a lobby. Castle with a moat, of course. Hot air balloon is a new one. Hot air balloon would be good, with the blimp, but of course. He’ll have a side mansion for his assistant and camera boy, Davis and Nicholas. Sacks of money, but of course. And he will dive into it, much like Scrooge McDuck as people have pointed out.
Paste: What’s your favorite thing about being evil?
Danhausen: Oh, you can do whatever you want! You just have to be very nice, though. You have to mix it in very nice. That way people will throw you the sacks of money.
Paste: What’s the most evil thing you’ve ever done?
Danhausen: Ohh, people keep trying to trick Danhausen with this question. A way to get Danhausen caught in being evil, and he’s not going to fall for it. Not for your, and not for anybody. Probably stealing people’s teeth, though, and feeding them to people.
Paste: Do you ever find yourself accidentally doing something good?
Danhausen: Sometimes. And then the fanhausens decide to point that out and say “maybe you’re not so evil after all!” And then Danhausen must remind them how evil he is.
To distinguish between Danhausen and the man who plays him, we’ll credit Donovan Danhausen’s answers to his full name, abbreviated to DD.
Paste: Do you have a background in comedy or improv?
Donovan Danhausen: No. I actually get asked this all the time now. I don’t have any background in comedy or anything. I used to be terrified to speak in front of people up until about two years ago.
Paste: It’s hard to be a wrestler if you can’t talk in front of people.
DD: Exactly. Once I switched over the character to really just be more of myself, which is weird that that’s what broke the barrier down. Then I wasn’t nervous anymore.
Paste: So you think the paint helps you be yourself.
DD: I think so, yeah. It’s like wearing a mask. I would say it’s the equivalent of wearing a mask, as if people can’t see me. But obviously they can.
Paste: What are some of the specific characters from pop culture that inspired the creation of Danhausen?
DD: Definitely just The Simpsons in general. The idea of… not necessarily Nosferatu itself, but the idea of Max Schreck thinking he was a vampire, that inspired it. What We Do in the Shadows, definitely. That movie’s one of my favorite comedies to come out in the last 10 years. Just horror comedies like that, Shaun of the Dead, Army of Darkness, Texas Chainsaw 2, which is like a dark horror comedy… that stuff inspired me. Even down to The Venture Bros., characters like The Monarch, where he’s the villain, but he’s hilarious, because it’s a parody of a villain. Things like that. And then Conan O’Brien I always cite as one of my main inspirations, just his style of comedy is not vulgar. It is, in a way, sometimes, but it’s also not? It’s very digestible for everybody.
Paste: It’s not cynical. It’s not mean-spirited.
DD: Exactly. It’s not mean-spirited. Anybody can enjoy it. I think I was 16 when I started watching that show and generally I think a late night talk show is for adults, but I was able to connect to that and enjoy what he was doing, even if I didn’t get everything at the time. Which I think is part of the Danhausen character—a lot of people are like “I don’t really get it, but I enjoy it.”
Paste: Now that they’ve put so much of Conan’s NBC era on the internet, have you gone back and watched some of the stuff from before you were watching his show?
DD: I really only get to see whatever’s on YouTube. So I’ll just go through that, binge-watch it, like old interviews and stuff. In Canada I don’t think we have the streaming [channel]. I don’t have that, but the Conan Without Borders show, where he travels, I love watching stuff like that. Any of his skits where he travels with Jordan Schlansky, those are huge inspirations, for sure, like my whole Davis assistant is inspired by Jordan Schlansky and Mona Sovsesian.
Paste: What do you think of the What We Do in the Shadows TV show?
DD: Oh, I think it’s great. I was nervous going in to watching it, because I thought there was no way it was going to be as good as the movie. And then the show is actually as good. I was worried also after the pilot episode because, like, “oh, this is the movie, but crammed into a half-hour.” But I understand that because they want to retell what that was to a new audience, so they had to do that. I think the show is hilarious.
Paste: That first episode was like watching the U.S. Office when it started, with the first episode line-for-line redoing the British one.
DD: Yeah. Exactly. Jokes from the movie, but condensed down into a half-hour. I was like, “I get it, I understand, I just hope they turn it into its own thing.”
Paste: I don’t want to say the show’s better than the movie, but it’s so great, and because there’s so much more of it it seems better to me now, you know?
DD: The movie is so good, but the show… I like them both the same I think.
Paste: I’ve talked to a lot of wrestlers who use comedy in their act. I know it can sometimes be a divisive thing for the audience. What do you like about being a comedy wrestler, and being able to be funny while wrestling?
DD: I think a common misconception when you first see what I do or see it out of context is that it’s, like, wacky and outlandish. It is, but every single thing I do is based in some form of reality, to where if you really think of the logic behind why I’m doing something, you’re like, “oh wait, that actually makes sense.” I was talking with [wrestler] Jake Something about it, and he summarized it pretty good. He was like, “it seems with you, or your character at least, the idea is you were raised on television.” Almost like The Cable Guy. Just constantly referencing things, he’s attacking people with Star Trek moves. He’s delusional. But everything’s based in reality, so I try to, as far as the comedy goes, obviously it’s not for everybody, and I know that, but I do try to make it digestible by anybody.
Paste: Yeah. And I think, as we’ve seen with Orange Cassidy’s success, there’s more of an audience willing to get into that kind of wrestling than some people think.
DD: Yeah. I’ve talked with him about this before, because a lot of people are like, “he does those kicks, they’re fake.” Yeah, but he’s not trying to trick you into thinking they’re devastating kicks, or that me yelling weird stuff is like… when I yell that I have a power, or something, I don’t have that power. That’s why it never works. When I feel videos with my friends and I use “mind control” because I ask them to grab me something from the fresh, it’s like, just me sticking my hand out and going, “see, mind control works!”
Paste: Yeah! So you’re in Ring of Honor now. You started before the pandemic, right?
DD: I was doing shows for them. I started, what was it, 2019 was my first show with them. It was supposed to be a dark match and then they rewarded me, I feel like, because I posted about it on social media and it did well, and I think it sold some tickets, so they were like, “good on you, here, you’re going to wrestle Shane Taylor for the TV championship.” And I was like, oh, okay, this is cool, also I was not expecting this. And then I’d periodically do some shows for them here and there whenever I was available.
Paste: How accepting or understanding of your character has ROH been? Have they had many notes for you?
DD: They give me notes and stuff on how to improve, but they’ve been fully accepting of it, which was surprising to me because there’s more a lot of “pure” wrestlers there, and when I came in and asked if they wanted me to change anything, they said no. “You’re here because you’re different. We need that. We have a lot of great wrestlers, but they’re wrestlers. We need people who can do other things beyond just the wrestling. We need somebody to do weird stuff and stand out, because that’ll bring in a new audience.” They’ll give me notes—“hey, maybe try this, maybe do something this way”—in terms of the weird stuff I do, but they’re always very open to my ideas, and usually, nine times out of 10, they’ll be like, yes, let’s do that.
Paste: They’ve gone even deeper back into the old code of honor, serious mat-wrestling stuff since you started there.
DD: Yeah, exactly. Which is great because it helps them stand out.
Paste: So you’re a wrestler who has a really good connection with the crowd. That’s a big part of wrestling for all wrestlers, but I’d say especially for your character. How has it been wrestling without an audience?
DD: It was a little weird to adjust to at first. But really, I can just play it off as Danhausen is wrestling for the camera anyway. Because his goal is to be on TV and be the number one television star. So at that point I just play up to the camera even more. I don’t have an audience to look for, so really that’s kind of what we should be doing, to an extent, anyway, is wrestling for the camera. Now my focus is basically just on that. It makes it a little bit easier, but also harder, because I don’t have to split my focus between wrestling for the camera so people at home see what’s going on, and also emoting at the same time so that the audience notices as well. And I feel like I talk enough during my match where there’s no dead air.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.