“Funny doesn’t equal money.” Vince McMahon is credited with that quote. I find that to be an odd comment from someone who made a lot of money off DX, Mick Foley, and The Rock. The Attitude Era was a perfect blend of in-ring, high risk and on-mic risqué humor. The Rock in his heyday was funny and talented in the ring. You can’t have one without the other and that I feel 100% confident about. No wrestler can make an entire career out of being just funny and mediocre in the ring. You can trick the fans for a while with the humor and you’ll get a good run out of it if it truly is funny and entertaining. However, eventually you have to be able to back it up in the ring or, like a loose thread on a sweater, the whole thing can unravel.
Santino Marella is a perfect example of this. Santino at one point seemed to be a rising star; he was intercontinental champion; he was one of the final two in a Royal Rumble; and hell, he was even in an Elimination Chamber match. He got huge because of just comedy (mediocre comedy but still, it worked) but ultimately to get to that next level, you have to show you can bring it and Santino never showed us he could bring it. Two years later, he is an afterthought and relegated to,“send Santino out to get beat up again”.
Wrestling fans will embrace comedy if two things happen: 1) You aren’t making fun of them or the business they love. 2) You aren’t all sizzle and no steak. Mick Foley was the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. Before he became the guy who pulled sock out of his pants, he was an established bad-ass who could bring it every night. That was part of the humor; this hardcore legend was acting very much anti-hardcore legend and the fans ate it up. Foley never got to the top of the mountain on skill and in-ring exploits alone but once he got comedy, he was arguably the third biggest star of the Attitude Era.
Today’s WWE – at times – uses comedy too much as a crutch to try to entertain the 12-and-under demographic and unfortunately, it alienates the core of the fan base. Hornswoggle and Khali are nothing more than novelty acts and frankly, a complete waste of time. They are cheap comedy that takes away from actual talent that could be used in their place. That is an example of, “funny doesn’t equal money”.
A great example of modern comedy is Team Hell No. They are equal parts Vaudevillian show and wrestling. Their odd couple routine is as old as comedy but it still works and doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. Both guys were established stars and former champions but they were somewhat lost in shuffle. So, like Mick Foley, comedy helped them reach even bigger heights than before and become relevant again. Their comedy helped bring tag wrestling from exile to a major part of the program again.
However, comedy rarely makes its way into actual matches in the WWE. Sure, there are a few exceptions but for the most part the comedy stays on the mic and on the mic only. This is where Indy wrestling differs and why I enjoy Indy wrestling so much. Not every Indy match needs comedy, that would just be ridiculous but when done right it can be amazing. At a recent Northern Outlaw Wrestling show I attended, I witnessed an entire crowd of grown-ups turn into giggling kids. The match was between Horace the Psychopath and Udo; two characters that used their “not all there” gimmicks to perfection. At times wrestling with the referee and other times losing focus and talking to each as if they were old pals. This was mixed in with care between great athletic moves from two large men who had no business showing that level of athleticism. Again, it was the just right blend of bring it and comedy that worked the entire crowd.
Have I seen comedy matches go horribly wrong? Why yes, yes I have. Chikara Pro Wrestling does comedy matches better than any other organization I’ve ever seen. They use every in-ring comedy wrestling gimmick you can think of but at the same time they show a level of athleticism that leaves you in awe.
My theory of equal parts “bring it” and comedy seems to hold up nicely…I think I’ll put it in my pantheon of brilliant ideas. Okay fine, it’s pretty much the only thing in there but hey, at least I have one now.
In his latest “Wrestling Reflections” video Darin Corbin makes a great wrestlers perspective on comedy in wresting here:
You should watch all his Wrestling Reflections videos but this one is pure gold. He basically made the rest of my column useless because he made the same argument in three minutes instead of three paragraphs…that’s why I put it at the end. There you have it; my comedy in wrestling column. If you wish to heap praise on my genius or attack me and call me names, you can do so by commenting below or via twitter @JaredGebhardt and by email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Darin Corbin on twitter @DarinCorbin.