When I was a little kid my cousin Jonathan used to take me to see professional wresting at Maple Leaf Gardens and Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. At the time I was young enough to believe that everything was completely real. Certain wrestlers scared the living shit out of me. Two of them, The Sheik (Ed Farhat, not the Iron Sheik) and Abdullah the Butcher, were madmen foreigners that invented what is now known as hardcore or extreme wrestling. Their matches were filled with blood and mayhem (especially in Buffalo) and as an impressionable eight year old, my mind was blown, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that wrestling was really my introduction into show business…and I loved it. Wrestling at its core is theater with athletics mixed in; a passion play between good and evil…or at least that what it used to be. I won’t blather on about how wrestling has changed for the worst over the years, but I will demand that anyone interested MUST see the movie Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows. I can’t recommend this movie more highly. Its content supersedes wrestling and is, dare I say, a parable for what has become modern world. It’s a wonderful documentary. Enough said.
Wrestling for me was always scary but it was also comical. Managers like Ernie Roth (The Wizard, The Weasel and Abdullah Farouk) and Eddie “The Brain” Creechman were funny on par with the zaniest characters from SCTV. Even the matches themselves could become hilarious. I remember Adrian Adonis (when he was Adorable) caught up in the ropes being spanked, which got a laugh that Woody Allen or Will Ferell would envy. But the funniest match I ever saw was between Jessie The Body Ventura and the morbidly obese country bumpkin Uncle Elmer. The pre-wrestle posturing was interminable. It went on so long that the crowd, wanting to see some action, started booing. Finally, after what seemed like a half hour, the bell rung and Uncle Elmer ran to his corner, grabbed his cowbell and hit Jessie over the head with it. You could hear the flat dong of the bell in the cheap seats, and Jessie did a hilarious Chaplin-esque drunken head bonk dance before collapsing to the mat. The stretcher was brought into the ring and Ventura was laboriously carried away. I don’t know if one of the wrestlers didn’t show up and they had to kill time, but it was one of the funniest things I ever saw. And while I’m at it, Andy Kaufman’s foray into professional wrestling resulted in two movies: “I’m From Hollywood” and “My Breakfast with Blassie.” “My Breakfast with Blassie” is worth seeing if, like me, wrestling is in your blood. Blassie’s reference to the waitresses’ ass as a “keester” is in my opinion worth the viewing…but that’s me. “I’m From Hollywood” however is pure comic gold. Kaufman wrestling Jerry “The King” Lawler in a series of matches in Memphis is a high water mark for inventive comedy and classic wrestling. This movie is must-see! Period.
I have been to many live wrestling shows over the years. I’ve seen everything from WrestleManias to small, independent shows. But one of the greatest nights for me was in Keswick, Ontario, where I met the legendary Bobo Brazil. I couldn’t have been more than nine years old. Bobo was HUGE and amazing. That night I also met Hartford and Reginald, the tag team heels known as The Love Brothers. They reluctantly signed an 8X10 I had of them and were assholes about it. I realize now that they intentionally remained in character after the match for the fans. Years later I used to hang out at a Chinese restaurant called Sai Woo where many of the wrestlers would go to eat after a show. I once saw Andre the Giant there. Unbelievable. God I love wrestling.
I was lucky enough to experience wrestling first hand in Season 5 of KVS. I created a character The Nice Guy and got to train and wrestle with Textbook Tyson Dux as well as meet the insane The Iron Sheik. It was an amazing experience…especially getting suplexed. I got a taste of what it’s like to actually wrestle and I have nothing but respect for the craft/sport. In many ways I find KVS to be a comedic reality take on classic wrestling: Kenny being the heel and me being the baby face. The comparison brings a rare smile to my face. I still watch wrestling, but mourn for the days when the audience was unsophisticated, there was a clear delineation between good and evil and wrestlers were funnier psychopaths.
Spencer Rice starred in the hit show Kenny Vs. Spenny, which aired from 2003 to 2010. He’s also a writer, director, producer and comedian. Visit his website at http://spenny.tv, follow him on Twitter (@Spenny) or like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/SPENCER-SPENNY-RICE/216355453412.