For some readers, this one name could stand-in for this entire article. A case of “If you know, you know” as strong as any. You’ll always remember your first ‘Orange Cassidy Moment’, but where it leads you became even more memorable. In a lot of cases, I’ll bet you and he began to walk together.
For one, that was definitely the case for me. Who I am as a person is largely unimportant to the point but who I am as a wrestling fan has significant relevance in illustrating my point of view. My identity as a fan is a long rope tangled into a series of tight and sturdy knots.
The first is my pupal stage; a child of the 90s entirely enraptured by the narrative and characters presented on television in a time when it was ‘cool’ to be a wrestling fan. When it was a prime-time family event, a dinner table conversation, and the height of trying to give that kid who won’t stop bugging you on the playground a piledriver in spite of all the times you’d heard “Don’t try this at home, kids!”. “This isn’t home,” mumbled in defense. “We’re at school.”
I’d grow and grow until I was too big for my britches and become larval, and so too would wrestling—Unfortunately its direction was ‘out of favor’. Maybe it was one too many bedroom tombstones, maybe it was a mother growing disdain toward all the violence she was allowed into her home, or maybe it was the quality of the storylines deteriorating in quality and the characters getting stale. No one wanted to talk to me about wrestling anymore. I turned it off.
From then a decade would pass before I’d give wrestling much more than a glance. I’d meet friends through other interests and it was still real to them. For my best friend and gateway to a broader understanding of wrestling on the whole it had never stopped. I’d watch the occasional pay-per-view of the promotion I’d once known as WWF, enjoy it well and fine, but feel fatigued by the sport for a couple of months until the next one. I’d come to like the NXT Takeovers a little better, but something in me wasn’t convinced. Not until Joey Janela’s Spring Break… And even then, it took all three of them to pass until I really opened my eyes. It never occurred to me much that WWE had to be getting the wrestlers from somewhere.
If you’re still awake after all that, this diatribe has reached its cyclical end. After the idea being pitched to skip out on WrestleMania 35 and give a try to everything else offered via Livestream that weekend after enjoying JJSB3 so much, I was told to keep my eyes peeled. “This guy named Orange Cassidy was going to change the way you looked at wrestling for sure,” my best friend purported. “I think you’ll really start to get it.”
And she was right. I reached my chrysalid stage that weekend, and hand over fist I climbed my series of knots and all of me spilled out with the desire to drag myself up the rest of the rope whether there were knots or not.
I connected with a character and then two more. I connected with a style of wrestling I didn’t know existed, with more characters after that, and through it I fully connected with the sport over time.
Painting a Veneer Over An Uneven Surface
If you’ve ever tried to be funny and only received a bouquet of blank stares for your troubles, it’s probably safe to say you know how hard it is. Timing becomes wit, wit becomes timing, evaluating your audience becomes a second job while selecting material appropriate for the occasion acts as your first. Your paycheck is a modest dose of dopamine paid by the notes of laughter wafting around your efforts.
Daring to be funny in the company of strangers is daunting. The more you amuse the better it feels. Deafening silence sticks like daggers. Your crowd converts you into a pincushion. Your confidence might take a hit that aches like an old wound during any future attempts.
It takes bravery to be funny just as much as it takes skill.
Luckily, the human experience is a funny thing. It’s also fairly relatable to other humans. You can game that in countless, countless ways. The way each comedy wrestler presents themselves is a story of trial and error, laughter and sorrow; a microcosm of their very identity… if you’d like to wax poetic.
There is, however, something more difficult at play for them in this equation. And that’s wrestling.
On the surface someone more cynical may see comedy wrestling and think of it as a farce. As an insult to the sport. Not ‘real’ wrestling. But the comedy is gravy—The meat and potatoes are still under it.
At every comedy wrestler’s core lies simply a wrestler. Years of training, honing, timing spots, finding what works. To combine the two takes insanely hard work and a keen eye for both the art of wrestling as well as the bravery to be funny.
And what endears you more to someone than their ability to make you smile?
The Magnetism of Gimmick
Even before Orange Cassidy, funny characters always caught my eye. Hell, my first ever favorite wrestler was Val Venis for some reason. Why my parents allowed that to happen while I was barely able to talk is beyond me—I’m proud to report that phase passed me by quickly and I moved on to a long and attached history with Mankind.
As an easily frightened child, it’s surprising that I found myself so drawn to Mankind. Perhaps my memories of his fantastically acted instability were smothered out, or maybe I never even got to witness it. Either way, I was drawn to face-turned Mankind and found his promos to be the most anticipated parts of my viewing experience. I wondered what happened to Dude Love. I didn’t know they were the same guy. Simpler times. I brought my memories of Mick Foley along with me for the rest of my life, using them as inspiration toward my writing on occasion.
The other wrestler from my childhood I carried with me was… Eugene.
I fully bought into Eugene as a child who saw herself. It completely flew over my head that he wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, that he was an insensitive stereotype brought into storylines simply to be the butt of the joke. To me, at the time having no idea what autism was or that I was carrying that with me also, he was a mirror. He was an inspiration. It felt like people who were like me could actually make something of themselves and be successful. He made me laugh, he made me cry, and through empathy, he made me angry. Before I fully returned to watching wrestling I still had hatred toward Randy Orton’s character stemming from the way he treated Eugene nearly two decades ago. This taught me the importance of chemistry between comedy and serious characters. Like the Japanese stand-up comedy formula of Manzai, one character plays at the fool while the other acts as foil.
When I poked my head out from under the covers every now and again, the characters that made me invested in their arcs were all a little silly. Bo Dallas, specifically the hyper-positive main roster iteration, made me Bo-lieve enough to keep coming back. Stardust beefing with an actor he mistakenly believed to be a superhero from his television show was bizarre enough to turn my head. Swoggle, Vickie Guerrero, Hurricane Helms. Goofy just stuck. Goofy kept with me even after the wrestling bug had passed and kept me when it inevitably bit again.
We don’t live in the 90s or the 00s or the 2010s anymore, however. A new decade of humor has kicked off, whether they dug their heels in years before being of no consequence. Media changes, social media evolves, tastes are acquired… And oftentimes being funny has proven to be a taste-maker. Comedy wrestling stars are on the rise in big new ways and we have no choice but to ride the lightning with them.
2020 and The Great Need to Laugh
They say “You need to laugh, otherwise you’ll start crying.” I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but I’m inclined to agree. So who are we laughing not at but with in 2020?
I couldn’t tell you with confidence.
Your sense of humor is as unique as your fingerprints. The beauty of comedy wrestling is that just as there’s varied styles in its non-comedic form, there’s variety with who’s out there looking for your dopamine hit.
But what I do know is that after eight-twelveths of the year we’ve been having we all need a pick-me-up.
If you’re looking to enter the realm of comedy wrestling, or looking to bait a friend into wrestling on the whole, I’d like to spotlight a few wrestlers who really make me laugh.
Colt Cabana has been anywhere and everywhere for longer than most of us have been out of high school and he’s always delivered in the laughs department. Whether it’s an ancient match found on a dusty DVD or recent work with All Elite Wrestling, you’re going to enjoy his one-of-a-kind charm.
Orange Cassidy is an obvious choice and a major inspiration for this very article. If you don’t know him, you will. But if you’d kindly look to the left and right of him these days you’ll usually find his Best Friends, Chuck Taylor and Trent?. Their oddball dynamic was step two toward falling face first into love with wrestling. Funny dudes, palpable friendship chemistry, and still very seriously in the title picture.
Another example of a tag team who likes to have a laugh but still could knock you down for three can be found in Team Tremendous. Detectives Dan Barry and Bill Carr have taken a more serious route in recent months but could formerly be found wielding invisible guns and entering the ring in Miami Vice inspired garb as Axel F piped from the speakers behind them. Dan Barry does stand-up and is an amazingly funny Twitter follow, a testament to the fact your funny wrestling favorites can keep you laughing outside of the ring too.
In the way we’re all glued to our phones endlessly refreshing our feeds in anticipation of more bad news getting yourself over via social media has become a necessary skill for every wrestler. An enjoyable social media presence gets your name in the public’s mind. Like how a fast-food commercial doesn’t get you rushing out of your home to get some chicken nuggets right away, the idea lays dormant in your mind and influences you at different and more convenient times.
Not just with the public, but also with promoters. Provided you have the skill to back it up, your newfound celebrity will book itself. The greatest instance of this is undoubtedly Danhausen, who’s charm, endless quotability, and easily adaptable ‘-hausen’ suffix all amount to an incomparable social media presence. More ‘serious’ wrestlers who aren’t afraid to be a little casual or make fun of themselves also benefit from this, such as EFFY, WARHORSE, Faye Jackson, AJ Gray, Allie Kat, Willow Nightingale, Joey Janela, RJ City and so on.
There are more of those with oddball gimmicks, some living them through the web in the way Danhausen does and some not. From Twitter to the ring to the IWTV Talent Show, Dan The Dad is irrevocably… A dad. He’s brought together all the elements of quintessential dad-ing. Really, putting out the garbage isn’t that hard. Luigi Primo is, in my opinion, an extremely underrated pick. A pizza chef first, and ‘a best wrestler’ next. Kris Statlander is both an alien and a threat. Still Life with Apricots and Pears is a masterpiece. Space Monkey is a space Monkey. Shockwave The Robot is an honest to goodness robot.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg! This is to say nothing of the comedy wrestling of days gone by, of other countries, or of up-and-comers that just haven’t gotten a chance to make me crack a grin yet.
Portal To Immersion
Both comedy and character can play an extremely important role in connecting us emotionally to our favorite wrestlers, the snapshots of their lives laid end to end in the form of a bout. From there other characters will play foil to your loved gimmick and reveal parts of their personalities that may draw you in. Before you know it you’re invested, watching without the expectation of laughter. It’s a journey you take yourself on, but don’t hesitate to bring along a friend. You’ll be surprised with all the information you absorb over time.
I know I am.