Recently, I asked some friends what they felt the most divisive and/or controversial topic is in professional wrestling right now. There were some items that were obvious choices, such as WWE’s decision to run in Saudi Arabia and the level of violence in the Jon Moxley-Kenny Omega match at AEW’s last PPV. A few pointed out Joey Mercury and Jordan Myles making the decision to air their issues with wrestling organizations publicly on social media. However, there were three topics that I wasn’t expecting to be mentioned as often as they were.
Orange Cassidy, Joey Ryan and the WWE 24/7 Championship.
Apparently, some fans have a real issue with comedy in professional wrestling. Now, it would be easy to dismiss this as a segment of wrestling fans taking themselves too seriously (let’s be honest, it happens quite a bit), but I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at these three items that have resulted in verbal jousting matches on social media.
“Do the people laugh when you say what you say?” Yes. “Do you get paid?” Yes.
– Eddie Murphy on Richard Pryor’s response when he told him Bill Cosby had criticized his act.
The first time I saw Orange Cassidy’s gimmick of “not caring” and throwing ridiculously weak kicks to the legs of his opponents, I chuckled. The idea of a slacker gimmick was something different. The next time I saw it, I smiled. After that, to be honest, I sort of lost interest in it. I felt I had seen it, and it was time to move on. Now had that been the only aspect to his persona, I’m fairly certain a large majority of fans would feel the same way. However, the twist is that he can actually “turn it on” in the ring, and he does in short bursts… only to go back to sticking his hands in his pockets and shrugging. It is that aspect that makes a difference.
This character of the lazy millennial who actually has the ability to do so much more has generated a buzz and a following. The result is Orange working for AEW and getting over with a larger audience. Will his character evolve over time? I would think so, and he’ll get the opportunity to do so because he’s already connected with the fans. That connection is the difference between Orange Cassidy and three dozen wrestlers who are doing corkscrew 450s off the top rope to the floor. Throwing highspot after highspot into a match may get a crowd to pop for you but having something that sets you apart from the rest is what results in fans remembering you long after the match is over. I can see why some people feel it isn’t “serious”… but if he was serious you wouldn’t be reading about him right now. He has set himself apart of the pack, which isn’t easy in today’s industry.
“I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”
– George Carlin
Joey Ryan has spent almost two decades in the wrestling business. He was trained by incredible workers (do the names Daniel Bryan and Brian Kendrick ring a bell?). He worked all over the West Coast, worked enhancement matches for WWE, and eventually had runs with Ring Of Honor, TNA and Lucha Underground. He also worked on Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling and RuPaul’s Drag Race. He was more than willing to portray a comedic character and obviously has a lot of charisma.
However, his big break came because while on tour with the small DDT promotion in Japan, he did a ridiculously silly spot where his genitals apparently overpowered and flipped his opponent. For those that know the DDT promotion, it wasn’t a shocking moment. DDT is NOT New Japan Pro Wrestling, and often has a large comedic element to their shows. However, the clip of this move, which I guess we will refer to as the YouPorn Plex, went viral. I mean, beyond wrestling viral. He was all over pop culture websites and after all these years that stupid, silly move made him something of a star.
Now, will WWE or AEW bring Ryan in to display his trademark move? I’m going to say probably not. It isn’t exactly family friendly in the eyes of most. However, Impact Wrestling was more than willing to give Ryan a shot. On top of that, Ken Shamock was willing to sell it (granted, he squashed Ryan after it, but still, he flipped). After all, is Ryan’s maneuver any more shocking than the Impact angle where Allie was “killed” prior to her departing the company? Impact has shown a willingness to go into areas other currently televised promotions don’t (which is what makes you an “alternative” product). Is there a limit to the audience that will see Ryan’s work? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cater to that group. You can appeal to a smaller audience while making a living in wrestling and Ryan is proving that… albeit in a unique way.
“To be allowed to express myself and bring my comedy into a business that I often thought needed a kick in the pants and a couple of smiles, rather than a guy blowing his nose and belching and spitting.”
– Bobby Heenan, WWE Hall Of Fame
For long time fans of WWE, the 24/7 Title isn’t a new concept. It is essentially the old Hardcore Title gimmick, except they’ve amped it up a bit by having a constant mob of wrestlers chasing after it. Is it to be taken seriously? No, but why does it have to be? Why can’t it be funny? R-Truth, who has a history of taking almost anything he is given and getting it over with the crowd, has done it again here. The 24/7 Title isn’t going to pack an arena with fans… hell, most of the title changes aren’t held inside the arena anyway, but it will put a smile on their faces and give them a chuckle during the show.
Professional wrestling is one of the greatest forms of entertainment I’ve witnessed, and part of what makes it so great is the variety. If every match was Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles, as great as it might be, eventually we’d tire of it. If every song sounds the same, there’s no reason to go to a concert. If every movie were the same, we wouldn’t go back to the theater. Wrestling should be a buffet of things for the fans to enjoy, and part of that buffet is comedy. Just because you have something that makes you laugh during a show, doesn’t mean you can’t take things more seriously at another point.
ECW, the beloved promotion of many hardcore fans, was filled with comedy. One of the most memorable vignettes from the early day of the company was The Public Enemy “training” Mikey Whipwreck for a match with the Sandman by having him climb a ladder to pull down beers that Johnny Grunge had hung in a tree, with Grunge shotgunning each beer until he was drunk. Every heard of the BWO? The Blue Meanie and Steve Richards are beloved for their comedy, and were introduced alongside Raven, which was a very serious character. It didn’t take away from the rest of the show, it enhanced it. On a buffet of great wrestling, violent brawls and interesting storylines, it was another item fans could enjoy.
Bobby Heenan was right, wrestling needs a kick in the pants and a few smiles. Comedy is part of wrestling, and it is up to the viewer to decide what type of comedy they enjoy, if any. Just like some fans prefer highspots, some prefer strong style, and some prefer wild brawls. Ultimately, you decide what is funny for you. If you don’t like Orange Cassidy or Joey Ryan or the 24/7 Championship, then don’t watch it. Turn the show off, or just go to the fridge and get a snack during that part. If enough fans aren’t watching, these gimmicks it will go away, or be relegated to small shows away from the mainstream for those that will watch it. In the end, as always, the business is about making money and that is accomplished by entertaining the fans…. Including making them laugh.