Satirical wrestling news isn’t fake — it’s unreal

Kayfabe WEB.jpg

Kayfabe: (In professional wrestling) the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic: a masterful job of blending kayfabe and reality he’s not someone who can break kayfabe and talk about the business [as modifier]: I heard that AJ approached him to rehearse a kayfabe segment – Oxford Dictionary

Wrestling has given the world a lot of familiar phrases and words: from Hulkamania to WrestleMania; from the squared circle to The People’s Eyebrow; but none more insider than kayfabe – an archaic word that only this year made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.

And while those inside the business have been tossing around the word “kayfabe” for generations, a great deal of credit for its newfound place in everyday language may well belong to Canadian journalist and self-proclaimed bemused wrestling observer Colin Hunter, the man behind the ingenious and hilarious Kayfabe News.

Hunter, who lives in Kitchener, is the brains behind the laugh-out-loud humour of the satirical wrestling website, which has taken the world by storm almost from the time Hunter launched it in 2012.

Consider just a small sampling of the headlines you’ll find on Hunter’s brainchild,

“Injured Cena gets Make-A-Wish visit from self.”

“Squared circle ‘geometrically impossible,’ insist mathematicians.”

“Lone female at wrestling convention feels like Smurfette.”

“CELEBRITY SHOCKER: Hulk Hogan may be balding.”

Brilliant stuff, indeed.

The inspiration for Kayfabe News, Hunter said in a telephone interview, came as a result of his passion for writing and pro wrestling (he was a reporter for the Waterloo Region Record and also written for the Canadian-based SLAM! Wrestling and magazines such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, as C.F. Hunter) and a couple of conversations with some very influential people within the business.

“It started about three and a half years ago, and there were two sort of pivotal moments that solidified the idea in my head that I wanted to do something that combined comedy and wrestling and journalism,” Hunter said.

He interviewed Colt Cabana, an independent wrestling star and one of the originators of the wrestling podcast, for SLAM! Wrestling. “I had been listening to his podcast and I was digging it, but it hadn’t quite blown up yet to become what it became in the podcasting world,” he said, adding that he admired Cabana’s blending of wrestling and humour.

“We got talking about the combination of wrestling and comedy and the similarities of stand-up comedy to the indie wrestling lifestyle,” Hunter said. He filed the story to SLAM! Wrestling Producer Greg Oliver and left on a trip to the Middle East.

While in Qatar at a science conference (more on science later), Hunter logged into Twitter one morning to find Cabana’s name trending on the social media giant.

“I’m like ‘What is going on here?’ Hunter recalled. “It was the pipe bomb night. CM Punk had done the pipe bomb interview and waved hello to Colt Cabana (during live WWE TV). I emailed Greg at SLAM! and said ‘You should publish this story now, because suddenly Colt Cabana is sort of a household name among wrestling fans.’ That’s sort of incidental to the fact that Colt and I had started talking about the combination of wrestling and comedy.”

Following the Cabana inspiration, Hunter again found himself in the presence of another influential wrestling persona in Mick Foley, who had finished his in-ring career and been travelling with his stand-up comedy show.

“Mick Foley was doing one of his stand-up comedy tours and I went to see him do that,” Hunter revealed. “I kind of barged into his dressing room after the show and introduced myself. I had this idea. I wanted to something about wrestling and comedy. I kind of — he’ll insist that I invited myself to dinner, I insist that I was invited by Jason Sensation, one of his co-performers. I sort of tagged along for dinner because I wanted to pick his brain about wrestling and comedy because he’s the other sort of guru of it.”

Dinner with the very articulate and intelligent Foley only added to Hunter’s appetite to blend his passions for wrestling, writing and comedy in the vein of The Onion, the innovator of satirical news.

“I’m a huge fan of The Onion and I make no bones about the fact that Kayfabe News, in its style, is obviously inspired by The Onion. So I came up with this idea that I should do this straight-faced, journalistic-style satire of wrestling, sort of inspired by these conversations with two guys who were combining wrestling and comedy. I started it from there.”

Colin Hunter, the creator of Kayfabe News, with legendary wrestler/author Mick Foley, who was one of the inspirations behind the satirical wrestling website. (Supplied photo)

Colin Hunter, the creator of Kayfabe News, with legendary wrestler/author Mick Foley, who was one of the inspirations behind the satirical wrestling website. (Supplied photo)

Before Hunter was delighting wrestling fans with headlines like “‘Wrestling is fake,’ says die-hard Twilight fan” – and even before he was writing about wrestling at all – he was, like so many who follow the sports entertainment world, a fan.

“I got into wrestling pretty early in my life,” Hunter, now 39, said. “I was probably eight or nine years old. I was not unique. I was one of millions of kids who got into Hulk Hogan right in the lead-up to WrestleMania 2. I was on the Hulkamania bandwagon.”

Hunter considers his foray into pro wrestling fandom to be a bit unique in that he was tipped off early that what he was seeing might not be exactly on the up and up.

“It was on a friend’s television and I didn’t even know what I was looking at,” Hunter recalled. “The friend’s dad said ‘Oh, look at that stuff, it’s all fake, it’s all choreographed, it’s all predetermined.’ So before I even knew what it was, I kind of knew that the fix was in, so I never had that moment when you’re like ‘Oh my god, this might not be legit.’

“From the very beginning, I knew it wasn’t sort of a legit competition and I think that appealed to me more than it would have otherwise. I’ve always liked things that are not quite what they appear, like magic, things like comedy. There’s always some sort of subterfuge going on.”

The bite from the pro wrestling bug took hold in the young Canadian morphed into a lifelong fascination that exists to this day. Like so many others infected by wrestling’s bite, Hunter longed to be closer to the business he loved. But donning tights and adopting an alter ego isn’t the route the extremely intelligent and witty Ontarian went. He found another outlet to nurture his wrestling passion, as a writer.

“I grew up reading Pro Wrestling Illustrated and those (Bill) Apter magazines. So when I was working as a daily newspaper journalist, I actually did an assignment for the newspaper in Kitchener-Waterloo, The Record, whose editor-in-chief is a former Whig-Standard editor-in-chief (Lynn Haddrall). I worked myself into a nice position where I was sort of the guy who didn’t have a beat. My beat was finding the quirky, different, narrative features. I wasn’t covering city council or covering the cop beat. I was finding really unique, odd stories.”

Unique and odd might as well be the actual name of a wrestling company. Chasing one of those “quirky, different, narrative features” was precisely what Hunter had in mind when he set out for Florida while working for The Record in pursuit of a wrestling story that had local ties to the paper itself.

“I ended up going to Florida when (Total Nonstop Action) wrestling was just taking off,” Hunter said. “There were two angles I was pursuing. Christian had just made the jump from WWE, and I actually didn’t know this at the time, but he was going to win the world championship the night that I happened to be there, which was great for me because he was born in Kitchener. That was one local hook. The other one was Showtime Eric Young, who had spent some time in Cambridge, which is also nearby.”

To call that a turning point in Hunter’s career would be like calling Andre the Giant a large man.

“I ended up going to TNA and I spent three awesome days there. I poke fun at TNA sometimes on Kayfabe News, but they were so good to me … full backstage access for three days, no limits on who I could talk to. I hung out at Christian’s house. It was all very nice.”

Destiny would slap the proverbial full nelson on Hunter during that fateful trip, when an independent wrestler Hunter knew put him into direct contact with someone from Pro Wrestling Illustrated, which resulted in Hunter getting a writing gig.

“This is the long way of coming around and saying that I got a job sort of freelance writing for the magazines that I grew up reading, which was pretty awesome,” Hunter said. “They paid me — not much — but they didn’t have to pay me at all because having my own byline in these magazines that I used to go to the store and ogle every page of (was payment enough).”

Though he didn’t know it at the time, his writing for PWI was laying the groundwork for Kayfabe News.

“It was my first introduction to writing in the kayfabe style,” Hunter said. “Those magazines were the last true bastions of kayfabe, where they wrote about it as though it was a fully legitimate sport. They were like the Sports Illustrated of wrestling. I would write articles in that tone, not in the humorous tone that I use now, but taking it all extremely seriously. These feuds really matter and these wrestlers really hate each other and the stakes are high. So I had a few years of writing in sort of kayfabe style as sort of a primer for writing in the Kayfabe News style, which is the same voice, but taken to an absurd level.”

Obviously inspired by getting a taste of being a true part of the wrestling business thanks to his experience with PWI, SLAM! and The Record, Hunter finally decided to blend his passions – wrestling, writing and satire – after the aforementioned talks with Cabana and Foley. So, in 2012, he launched Kayfabe News, all by himself.

“I just figured I’d give it a try,” he said. “I told myself ‘I’ll write at least one article a day and I’ll try it for a year and see where it goes.’ If it goes nowhere, then whatever, it’s a fun writing exercise.”

Almost from its first headline – “WWE Hall of Fame closed for renovations” – Hunter’s brilliant blending of satire and sharp wit were embraced by the online wrestling community. Kayfabe News quickly established itself as the wrestling version of The Onion.

“It’s been more than three and a half years and it’s still fun,” Hunter said of his brainchild. “There’s an audience out there now that actually follows it and enjoys it and I get a kick out of that. And wrestling never fails to supply fodder for satire.”

Hunter admits that while he enjoys poking fun at the business he has loved since he was a boy, and its ever colourful characters, he makes a concerted effort not to poke fun at the people behind those characters.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time, I try to poke fun at the characters that these people are playing and not the people themselves,” he said. “I’m not poking fun at Terry Bolea, I’m poking fun at Hulk Hogan. Not Chris Irvine, but Chris Jericho. I try to make that distinction because I’m not out to belittle anybody. I don’t want it to be mean-spirited. I want it to be sort of playing along. As Colt Cabana said it once, he said ‘Let’s not make fun of wrestling, let’s make fun with wrestling.’ Whenever possible, I try to make the jokes about fictional characters that happen to be portrayed by real people.”

Make no mistake, while the articles themselves are fun, clever and witty, the headlines are what put Kayfabe News in a league of its own. That’s something Hunter, a journalist, takes special pride in.

“The same with The Onion,” he said. “I feel like the main joke has to live in the headline. If you can’t summarize the gag in a headline, then you haven’t clarified the gag well enough. I’ve seen people criticize online ‘Oh the whole joke is in the headline,’ but the stories are fairly short, usually five to six paragraphs, and I try to make a sub-joke in each paragraph. I try not to write a sentence that doesn’t have some sort of, either an obscure wrestling reference or some jab at pop culture or present-day society. I try to infuse the stories themselves with as much humour as possible.”

So popular has Kayfabe News become that its social media followers number in the tens of thousands and its most ardent supporters come from the business itself. For his part, Hunter says he can’t pinpoint an exact moment when he knew he had a hit on his hands, but rather several smaller moments over the course of time have kept reassuring him along the way.

“It’s great when someone like Mick Foley shares one of my jokes,” Hunter said. “Just last week he texted me with a story idea. He’s like ‘Hey, how about you do a story about this?’ I thought ‘Well that’s pretty great. The guy who sort of inspired the whole thing is now texting me out of the blue with story ideas.’

“I don’t feel like there was a moment when I thought ‘Oh, this was a great success.’ I learned early on, within the first year, maybe first six months, I thought ‘Wow, I’m getting a lot of Facebook followers, I’ve almost got 1,000 Facebook followers.’ So I was like ‘Oh, I’ve got to get to 1,000.’ Then I did and I was like ‘Oh, I could get to 2,000.’ And then it was 5,000, and 10,000 … it was never enough. There’s always more. I think I’m about to hit 40,000 or something like that. But then I’ll be like ‘Oh, 50,000’s within reach now,’ ” Hunter added with a chuckle, only half-joking.

For those worried about Kayfabe News drying up, rest assured, Hunter says. The material for his satirical posts is endless.

“WWE never stops providing me with material. If you count all of the programming, it’s just far more than I could ever watch,” he said, adding that he doesn’t limit the target of his humour to just material from the world of wrestling. “Sometimes it’s me using wrestling to poke fun at something in the real world. Some days I wake up and I think ‘Oh, gee, I don’t have anything remotely interesting to say about wrestling, but if I troll and look around the forums, usually something comes to mind.”

Beyond the pure joy of blending his passions for fun, the thousands of shares on social media from fans and wrestlers past and present, Hunter also draws inspiration from knowing his work is reaching eyes at the company that inspired it all, WWE.

“There have been a couple of times when I think I’m pretty sure that somebody at WWE is paying attention because I make a joke one day and then it’s a gag on Raw the next day,” Hunter said, proudly. “There was a day when I made a joke, something like ‘Mae Young’s baby hand all grown up now,’ and then I swear it was like the next day they had a Raw where a guy came out in a giant hand suit and he said ‘I’m Mae Young’s baby hand and I’m all grown up now.’ I’m like, ‘Well that’s pretty fun.’ They can steal my jokes all they want!”

Hunter even enjoys when he gets grief for his Kayfabe News posts.

“Paul Bearer was never a fan, bless his heart,” Hunter revealed. “There were a few times when I would post a joke about Paul Bearer, while he was still with us, and he would tweet back something like ‘Grow up,’ or ‘Get a hobby.’ The first time he ever replied, he said ‘Get a life.’ I just thought that was so beautiful that they guy who plays the pasty-faced mortician is telling me to get a life,” Hunter chuckled, adding that current WWE star Zack Ryder has been miffed at him for Kayfabe News posts on more than one occasion.

“A couple days ago, X-Pac was fooled,” Hunter said. “He thought one of my headlines was real and he got a little upset about it and went on a Twitter tirade before somebody, I think the Blue Meanie, chimed in said ‘Uh, you know this is a satirical story right?’ ”

X-Pac isn’t alone there, Hunter said. There have a been a number of occasions when his satire was mistaken for fact.

“It does happen,” he said of people mistaking the spoof stories for legit ones. “It depends on the story. Some of them are just so obviously unbelievable that people don’t fall for them, but I think the best satire sort of treads that fine line between believable and absurd.”

One time in particular was a story involving the late, great Eddie Guerrero, whose wrestling character was known for lying, cheating and stealing his way to victory, at any cost.

“The headline was ‘Eddie Guerrero returns after years of playing possum,’ ” Hunter said. “Without context, it actually sounds like a tasteless joke, but I made sure that it read like a tribute to his talents as a liar and cheater and thief … the ultimate possum player. That one took off and it actually kind of went viral, especially in the Philippines and I want to say Italy or Spain, and in a single day, it got like half a million hits. There were news organizations that picked it up as if it were real. There were other news organizations saying ‘Oh this is a satirical, false story.’ If people had actually read the story carefully, they would see first of all, that it was absurd, and second that it was meant as a loving tribute to his incredible ability to play possum. He would do the pretending to be hit by a chair and then the referee would turn around and it would look as if he had been hit by a chair and his opponent would get disqualified.”

The old adage with great power comes great responsibility also applies to Hunter. Because so many of his Kayfabe News posts are shared around the world, lauded and loved, it creates a certain amount of pressure to perform, each and every time.

Admitting that he does feel the pressure to deliver with every post, Hunter tries to post to his site daily.

“I try to post something every single day,” he said. “Nobody is holding a gun to my head, so if life gets in the way, sometimes I’ll just repost an old story that’s become relevant again. Everything is cyclical in wrestling so sometimes a story that I wrote two years ago has legs again.”

When not poking fun at the world of sports entertainment, Hunter is the head of communications at a major scientific research centre.

“It might as well be the opposite of writing about wrestling,” he joked.

That might explain some of the more witty and scientific headlines that can be found on Kayfabe News.

“If people pay really close attention, they’ll notice that there are probably a few more stories than one would expect about physics,” Hunter joked.

A couple of examples:

Like the masked wrestler, Hunter rarely reveals his true identity, never putting his byline on articles and rarely revealing he is the man behind Kayfabe News.

“For a long time, I never talked about it and I considered just being the anonymous nobody behind it,” he said. “For a long time, I kept it separate from the people I worked with. I didn’t sort of mix business with pleasure. I figure it’s all about quality writing and connecting with people.”

Those connections have included a number of others who also blend their love of professional wrestling with humour and social media. Through his site, Hunter has had the pleasure of getting to know others who dazzle wrestling fans with their sharp wits and interesting perspectives.

“There are a handful of very smart and clever and funny people out there who are doing their own variations on wrestling humour, Hunter said. “And the nice thing is, we’ve all kind of helped each other out and hung together. People like like the WWE Creative_ish Twitter account, he and I have corresponded. He doesn’t publicize who he is. He’s a great guy. Wrestling Memes, Heelbook, Top Rope Tuesday, Maffew of Botchamania – the people who are doing it well are all appreciative and supportive of each other. None of us have ever met face to face but we’re all sort of this little wrestling humour niche within a niche.”

The sky appears to be the limit for Kayfabe News, with supporters like Blue Meanie, Foley and others sharing Hunter’s unique and funny take on the globally popular business. Where Kayfabe News goes from here is anyone’s guess, Hunter admitted.

“As long as people keep enjoying it and I keep enjoying it, that’s really all that matters,” Hunter said. Just last week I had a cool thing happen where a screenshot and a headline from Kayfabe News, not only made it on Reddit, but made to the very top page of all of Reddit, in the world. I didn’t even know it was happening. Friends and co-workers who know nothing about wrestling were like ‘Dude, did you do that? Are you the top story on Reddit?’

While nothing lasts forever, there currently is no end in sight for Kayfabe News, according to its creator.

“I acknowledge that not every story is a home run,” Hunter said. “Sometimes I just do it because it amuses me and I know it won’t amuse a lot of other people, but it’s a great way for me to change gears mentally from my day job and from all of the other stuff in life. Life is full of things that are too serious and too real, and wrestling itself is this sort of form of escapism. For me, someone who enjoys writing and has a journalism background and would like to think that he’s somewhat clever or funny, it’s sort of a second layer of escapism: I get to make this satirical fiction about something that is already basically a satirical fiction. Wrestling is so close to satire or parody already – it’s already a social critique – so it’s fun to sort of experiment with that and play around with the language of it and perceptions of it.

In other words, as long as all the other news sites are scrambling to reveal the “reality” behind wrestling, Hunter is more than happy to keep it kayfabe.

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