By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
It probably wasn’t the first comedic-leaning act in professional wrestling, but it might have broken down a tiny door when it came to comedy gaining notoriety within the pro wrestling world. It’s not easy to break attendance records, but Starr was part of the package that made it work.
Well, these days, it feels like comedy in wrestling is as polarizing as anything else in the business. Sure, maybe some of that is a reflection of how we’ve become an “us vs. them” society that allows little room for nuance, but that’s also a product of how amplified such divisiveness is in the pro wrestling world — i.e., the thought that if you’re entertained by the WWE 24/7 Title silliness on WWE television, you have poor taste in quality wrestling.
Or at least that’s the general feeling when it comes to those who comment on such things. There’s almost an amount of shame that is attached to finding value in the nonsensical side of wrestling. If the work rate isn’t high or the punches don’t look devastating, it’s not worth anybody’s time. That’s why it’s hard for me to reconcile being entertained by some of this stuff. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures — if you like something, own it, and don’t provide a lesser-than caveat to try and save face — but I do wonder if it’s OK to openly like some comedic aspects of pro wrestling and still maintain any level of credibility within the eyes of other fans. The phrase, “It’s not for everybody, but …” has rarely been used more.
Pro wrestling fandom, in and of itself, is one big closed society anyway. We’re in on the joke and we love talking to other like-minded people about being in on the joke. But then again, it’s also like the largest high school lunch table in the world, where if you say the wrong thing, you risk getting banished to a seat that’s desolate, alone, and makes you feel humiliated. So, it comes down to the basics. What’s cool to like? What’s not cool to like? And should being funny be a curse?
Speaking of curses …
When I was at Ring of Honor’s Best In The World pay-per-view a few weeks ago, I was taken aback by the amount of people who appeared to be there for Danhausen. In fact, when I appeared on the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast the following week, I estimated that Danhousen was the most over thing on the card — and his match was on the pre-show. The thing is, he’s not having Funk vs. Brisco mat classics; instead, he’s walking around in a cape and talking in an odd voice.
Still, for months, I haven’t been able to take my eyes off him. If he posts a video on social media, I watch it. If he’s in someone else’s video as part of this endless catalog of wrestler vlogs, I’ll watch it. If he’s interviewed, I’ll listen to it. There’s something I find intensely compelling about whatever it is he’s doing. Do I always think he’s funny? No. But do I not want to miss whatever his latest piece of content is? Unquestionably.
What I wonder the most, however, is where an act like that fits in when it comes to the pro wrestling world. Ring of Honor, for better or worse, doesn’t seem like it quite knows what to do with him — and I don’t blame the company for that at all. I also don’t blame Danhausen, either (don’t fault a guy for being wildly creative and trying something new in a business that feels like it’s seen everything possible 50 times over). I just … don’t know how to view it, how to digest it, how to conclude anything about it.
I get a kick out of “The Rock ‘Dwayne’ Johnson” and “Chris Judas” and a lot of the other Danhousen-isms, but it also feels like there’s a ceiling for a character like that. It almost reminds me of the cruiserweight division and how so many of those wrestlers felt defined down by being in it because if they were in it, they knew they would never get a heavyweight title shot. If you are specifically going out of your way to be known as a comedy act, does that mean you don’t much care about working at the top of the card or winning a title?
I can’t imagine that’s the case, but I also can’t imagine that it’s lost on those who box themselves in with a gimmick that life might be a little harder on them to get that title or get to the top of the card because of the path they chose. Or, in other words, do you want people to paint their faces like yours, sell a ton of merchandise, and be on the pre-show? Or do you want to be in the mix for a world title shot, get a lukewarm reaction when you walk through the curtain and struggle to sell the one t-shirt you have available on the stand?
It’s not as binary as I just outlined, of course, but it’s also a reasonable consideration. That said, when you have any consideration for modern day comedy acts, there’s one name that’s probably going to be near the top of the list …
… and that name is Orange Cassidy.
But his case is one that deserves to be studied because of how high-profile his opportunities have been. Not only did he work a summer with Chris Jericho, but he also won the feud. He’s had TNT title shots and he even had a go at the world title earlier this year against Kenny Omega and Pac. He’s a good in-ring performer and yeah, much like I said about Danhousen, Orange Cassidy can make me laugh sometimes.
So, what’s the problem? Because Cassidy is on such a large stage in AEW, the spotlight is going to shine awfully bright on him when or if he ever decides to change it up. And, if we’re being fair, keep in mind that every wrestler who’s sustained longevity in the business has had to, at one point, evolve into something else. Maybe it’s a variation on the character, or maybe it’s a complete overhaul, but no matter what, things had to be tweaked.
And yet, I can’t imagine how that could happen with Orange Cassidy. I popped for the pockets spot the first 50 times I saw it. Ditto for the shin kicks. But outside of trading soft blows with Sting a couple weeks ago, it’s lost a little bit of its luster to me. And so it should be asked: Is there really anyplace that character can go from where it is currently and where it’s been since arriving in AEW? More so, is being that character hurting Cassidy’s chances to hold gold in the company? And, is holding gold even a priority for Cassidy?
It seems to me that it would be silly to pursue a career as a wrestler and never strive to be at the top of the card. Could a character like Orange Cassidy be at the top of the card on a consistent basis? A year or two ago, I would have said yes. But too much of a good thing is just that — too much of a good thing. And as Orange Cassidy has slouched his way back to the mid-card, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps the iron isn’t as hot anymore and if he’s ever going to be at the top of the card, he’ll have to add something to his presentation.
Such is the underlying problem with being a comedy act: If you’re good at it, it will define you and it doesn’t leave much wiggle room to expand, grow and maintain a spot in the business. Now, with that said, there is one guy who’s made the most of his career out of being funny …
… And that’s R-Truth. Granted, he was a serious wrestler light-years ago when he held NWA gold, but for the last several years, it appears WWE keeps him around solely to make Vince McMahon laugh, and hell, that must be great work if you can get it. Or at least, one would think it pays well.
Anyway, R-Truth has become the exception to the longevity rule. But he’s also done it in reverse, which probably suggests there’s a lesson to be learned here. If you’re going to be comedic, start serious and work your way to funny, so by the time you might lose a step athletically, you make up for it with entertainment. And entertainment is all R-Truth is about these days.
What’s odd to me is that the 24/7 Title seems to be the bane of so many people’s existence. I don’t understand why that is. The skits are always short. Sometimes, there’s even a funny moment or two in them. And it gets people on television who might not otherwise be on television. It’s a comedy title, yes, but I don’t think anyone is petitioning for the belt to be recognized by the Cauliflower Alley Club someday.
Still, it speaks to the larger issue at hand here: Does it take away any semblance of credibility I might have if I stick up for the 24/7 Title? Does enjoying R-Truth or Orange Cassidy or Danhausen make me less of a fan of Very Serious, Very Good Wrestling? Does that mean I can’t appreciate a Kenny Omega match the way others can? Does it mean that my taste in wrestling is too low-brow to be taken seriously?
Spend a few minutes on social media and it won’t be hard to find someone reminding everybody that we should all be able to like what we want to like and there’s something in wrestling for everybody. That’s all well and good, of course, but I do wonder what the role of comedy is in wrestling in the modern day. I wonder what it adds. I wonder what it detracts. I wonder if it’s unfairly dismissed or if it justifies the eye-rolls it oftentimes receives.
And finally, I wonder …
… if there’s any way someone can crawl out of the shadow of humor? There’s a difference between the people mentioned here and someone like Johnny Gargano, who only recently evolved into somewhat of a comedic presence with his faction. Comedy is only an element of his act now; it doesn’t and hasn’t defined him. People like Cassidy, Danhausen and even R-Truth? Well, at this point, their characters are designed to do much more than lock up in the middle of the ring. They’re supposed to entertain you. They’re supposed to remind you of the lighter side of the business.
And while I think there’s a place for that in pro wrestling, I worry that there might be too much of it these days. There’s having a little ga-ga, as the great Pat Patterson used to say, and then there’s berthing a character that doesn’t cut promos and makes up for it with half a thumbs-up. While Cassidy is unique, compelling and imaginative, he’s also someone who’s going to have to figure out what to do when the day comes that those soft kicks don’t draw as much of a reaction as they once did.
But then again, why so serious? It’s all entertainment in one form or another, so if Orange Cassidy gets into his 50s and is still popping crowds with a half-assed thumbs up, who am I to argue? Ricki Starr helped set an attendance record by bringing ballet into the ring some 70 years ago. If it works, it works. Danhausen landed on Conan. Orange Cassidy sold shirts faster than they could be printed. And R-Truth doesn’t have to worry about being among all these people getting cut from WWE every other week because somebody has to make the boss laugh and he’s just the guy to do it.
So, good for them. Now, if only the Question Mark was still around. Because of all the comedy acts in recent wrestling, his work with Aron Stevens was at the top of list, as far as I’m concerned. Mongrovian Karate for life. And that’s no joke.