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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, August 10, 2001

Good comedy is hard to find

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Monday Night Raw, this week, was overflowing with comedy. Or if not comedy, then at least attempted comedy. I'm a frequent advocate for comedy as part of wrestling television programming, but like everything else in life, it's only good when done right. Bad comedy is worse, even, than bad drama and bad action because you can at least laugh at poorly executed drama or action. Really bad comedy is more like torture.

If you have never seen Good Morning, Vietnam, then do yourself a favour and go rent it. Having done so, you will see what I mean when I say that one of the antagonists in Vietnam was a perfect example of what I'm talking about. For those who refuse my suggestion to rent and watch Robin Williams's best film, it's about an American soldier-DJ who's transferred to Saigon, Vietnam during the hostilities to DJ the army's morning and afternoon radio program. He's funny, he's edgy, and he's controversial.

One of the antagonists in the movie is a man who supervises Williams's radio show. This man knows that he's funny. He's sure of it. The joke is that he's not funny, not funny at all, and despite the thousands of soldiers who voice their support for Williams and disdain for this loser, he still thinks he's funny. After being removed from the air by a superior, he even says "in my heart, I know that I'm funny." That's the joke, of course. Funny is relative, and it usually only matters if other people also find you funny. It doesn't matter how certain you are of it yourself. You've got to prove it every time you open your mouth.

This week, the WWF proved that in the comedy department, they are anything but consistent.

Before I proceed, I'd like to remind everyone that of course, opinions will differ about what we all find funny. I'm sure I find some elements of WWF television funny that you do not, and vice versa. I'm not suggesting that everything I think is funny (or not) here is also so for you. Still, the reactions to this week's television speak loud and clear. All in all, not funny.

Let's review. Chris Jericho and two apes (from that summer blockbuster whose name escapes me) interrupt an endless and directionless promo by Stephanie McMahon, all to throw a pie in her face and set up a match. A match we've seen in other incarnations eighty times before, no less. Not funny. Chris Jericho continues to subtly suggest that Stephanie McMahon is a whore and has fornicated with every man on the planet. Not entirely funny.

Lita innocently chats with Debra and Steve Austin, her words getting back to each other like some twisted game of inexplicably broken telephone, all to set up a brief squash match. Not funny.

Tajiri offends X-Pac into a match when Commissioner Regal interprets his crazed ramblings as "X-Pac sucks!", setting up a match later in the show. Admittedly, funny, but not given a fraction of the time of these other hilarious gags.

Terri Runnels loses her beloved but insane Saturn to a mop. Not funny. Paul Heyman talking over her for her entire segment, not entirely unfunny.

"Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!" Hijinx ensues in Regal's office as the Dudleyz complain about Chris Jericho. Not funny, despite the presence of Regal and his seemingly genuine laughter over the situation.

Christian cons Lance Storm into posing with him, allowing Edge to pull down said uptight Canadian's pants. Perhaps worth a chuckle, but beyond juvenile.

Rock and Kurt Angle's segment, consisting of a humourous situation involving a glass of milk. Well acted, but lacking substance or much of a punchline.

Kanyon, donning a wig, attacks Undertaker and allows Diamond Dallas Page to get the upper hand. Well, Kanyon in a wig is funny, but the rest of the segment was lame.

All in all, that's eight humour bits from Raw. Some lasted several minutes, and others were repeated multiple times throughout the night. All in all, it was not a successful attempt at comedy. I'm not sure what network comedies were playing opposite Raw, but if you want funny, it probably makes more sense to go there. Comedy has its place, but it should complement the action, not replace or outshine it. Oh yeah, and it should be good.

I recall reading, months and months ago, that the WWF had started to hire more and more former television writers to join its staff. If so, it's really showing now. The WWF's comedy has been really hit or miss. The strongest stuff really blends well with the wrestling, taking advantage of the uniquely humourous situations that tend to pop up in this sport. The bad comedy is usually the result of artificially infusing very alien forms of humour into the wrestling broadcast, like Jericho's apes.

Of course, there was one ongoing comedy sequence that I have omitted to mention so far, and that's because I think Monday's Raw Variety Hour did have a silver lining: Booker T.

Don't get me wrong, his skits were silly. Some of them were stupid. All in all, though, they were the highlight of the night, for me, if for no other reason than that it has finally been discovered that Booker has a personality! I suppose in WCW all those years, his character was so buried that he never had a chance to act or to shine. In the WWF, he's getting that chance, and so far I am very impressed.

Here's the mailbag.

Stephen Wood, from, writes:
"I was not sure who to ask, but while watching the whole Jericho/Stephanie bit I became convinced that the two 'apes' were Edge and Christian. I said this to my buddy immediately due to the difference in height and the history with those two and Stephanie. Do you have any ideas/thoughts on this? Thanks and keep up the good, informative work!"

I'm pretty sure that the apes were not Edge and Christian. I actually don't think that either of them were tall enough to be Edge, and I don't really see what the point would have been of making two of your best wrestlers sit in a chair for five hours to get made up as an ape, then not reveal their identities during the show. Best as I can tell, and from what I've heard, they were just regular folks. writes:
"Eric, insightful as always, but I must disagree. The WWF could use Shamrock for one big reason -- KURT ANGLE! Here we have an amateur wrestler and a shoot wrestler, two men with impressive mat skills. For that reason alone Shamrock is an asset. Also, I would strip Shamrock of any 'trying to act' acting. When he played himself the day Billy Gunn challenged him (first appearance), he seemed quite natural and believable, not to mention funny in his own way.

Honestly, Angle is not very believable in character, but that's half the fun. Shamrock's wrestling skills had improved by the end of his tenure, and I think he can be valuable in the long term."

If the WWF were to bring in Ken Shamrock, minimize his appearances but maximize his hype over four weeks of television, then have Kurt Angle destroy him at the pay-per-view, then that would border on acceptable. And I mean Angle would have to pulverize him, a total squash. Then I would approve. Else, Shamrock just sucks. I remember that Billy Gunn angle, and he didn't seem particularly natural to me. He became more and more stiff (out of the ring) as time went on in the WWF. I'll never be a salesman or a surgeon, and equally, Ken Shamrock is just not suited to being a pro wrestler.

That's all for this week. Thanks for writing in and have a great weekend!

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