SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, July 20, 2001

Comedy doesn't draw money

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Just about every wrestling persona has a half-life. Even the wrestlers with the most staying power, Ric Flair for instance, has to turn face or heel or tweak his character every once in awhile. It's the only way to stay fresh and hip in fans' minds. Better talents can stay face or heel longer without needing a turn tune-up, but eventually everyone turns, especially in this day and age.

Now, no one enjoyed Steve Austin's comedic clown act more than I. It was a fresh change for him, a good way to salvage his failing heel turn, and an entertaining addition to a too-serious WWF Raw program. That, though, does not change the fact that his recent change of face was absolutely inevitable.

Comedy is great. One of the best attributes of former WWF announcer Jerry Lawler is that his less-than-serious attitude helps to keep wrestling fun. The same can be said of many of the comedy players in the WWF, including Saturn. Comedy, though, does not sell pay-per-views. It may encourage people to tune into Raw, or the following Smackdown!, but it won't get people buying InVasion or Summerslam or anything other non-free show. That includes house shows, since house shows don't feature vignettes or announcing anyway.

Pay-per-views are and have always been the culmination of storylines into matches. Sometimes, they are also the source of new storylines. Still, the emphasis on pay-per-views is generally two-fold: wrestling and stories. And the big stories in wrestling aren't funny. Funny is not compelling. Funny does not keep viewers locked in as long or as regularly as serious drama. Sure, a very funny comedy show can keep viewers tuning in, but they generally appeal to a more casual, less-frequently-watching crowd. Even then, dramas are normally twice as long as comedies on television, and that's no accident.

The WWF may incorporate elements of both comedy and drama into its programming, but comedy is purely secondary. People may love it, but it's not what gets them to buy their tickets. Drama sells tickets and pay-per-views. So no matter how funny Steve Austin's character was, and he was very funny at times, it wasn't the wisest choice for him to lead the WWF crew into InVasion. Instead, turning him serious makes him a much more compelling character and makes the main event match advertised for InVasion that much more interesting.

Few wrestlers are capable of mixing funny and edgy sides. Many are purely comical characters, like Saturn, who have almost no upside potential even when they get very hot. Fans simply aren't conditioned to think of them as credible threats.

The best wrestling talents are able to combine humour with edge, and the result is something pleasing on all levels. Chris Jericho was excellent at this as a heel in WCW, but his comedy now seems to be giving him trouble as a face in the WWF, where as much as I love him I still have trouble suspending disbelief during his matches. Kurt Angle, though, excels at mixing funny with serious, as he's serious in the ring and funny backstage. One of the WWF's newest and youngest superstars has created a formula for a humourous, dramatic wrestler who can sell pay-per-views, hold titles, and still generate laughs bantering with Steve Austin or Edge and Christian backstage. He's a huge asset to Raws and Smackdowns, with his backstage vignettes always worth watching, while he puts on invariably strong matches on pay-per-view. The combination is tremendous, and I don't think it's something I've ever seen.

Jerry Lawler recently said that he thought the WWF was too serious, and this was before Austin became funny and Saturn became a raging idiot. Clearly, WWF officials agreed, and they have added a funny component to their shows. That's a smart move, but it's also smart to keep the moneymaker Austin a serious contender, especially giving the grave manner they have been depicting the important matches at InVasion. Austin just doesn't have the same edge in the ring when he's playing the clown, and that's unfortunate, because he's so good at both roles.

That very same curse may hamper Edge and Christian, who have gotten over as midcard wrestlers and tag team champs through comedy, but may find difficulty going alone because of that very success.

Maybe Kurt Angle should give a seminar.

Here's the mailbag.

Kathleen M Buhler, from, writes:
"I recently read in a magazine that the WWF was going to get rid of Chyna when her contract is up November 30th. I have been one of her biggest fans ever since I started watching her wrestle and I am going to be very disappointed if that is true. Do you know if that is true or just a false rumour? Well, how can that be possible if she owns the women's championship belt? The WWF probably will lose a lot of money and a lot of viewers because of it."

Gillberg was the WWF lightheavyweight champion, and somehow the World Wrestling Federation let go of him, too. Sable also falls into that category.

I don't think that it's the perception of the WWF or folks in general that Chyna is a real moneymaker. I can't speak for more than myself, but I don't ever watch WWF programming to see Chyna and in general I find her segments flat. I don't think she's an incredibly talented actress, and though her wrestling skills are as solid as I've seen in the WWF women's division, that's not the highest of praise. Her matches with Chris Jericho and others were disappointing to me. Her recent pay-per-view match with Lita, to me, wasn't much fun either.

I'm not sure there's really a place for female wrestling in the WWF per se, but that's a topic for another time. To answer your question, Jim Ross has announced what you read, that her contract ends on November 30th and that the WWF is no longer negotiating with her. Though the reasons she's departing aren't officially documented, it is said that she wants more money than the WWF is prepared to give (or the WWF is offering less money than she is willing to take), and that there is some disparity between the WWF's and Chyna's perception of her importance and drawing power.

I personally don't think that a large portion of people will stop watching WWF programming because of this, but if you feel strongly, you should write to them.

Carrie MacAdam, from, writes:
"It's sad that a man like Hulk Hogan, a man who helped make this great sport, is know longer to be found. Will he ever be seen again? I hope so."

Though I don't discount Hogan's contributions to the annals of wrestling history, I think we sometimes exaggerate just how much of an impact he had. Personally, I think that there may have been others who could have succeeded as well as he did, had they been given the opportunity.

Nonetheless, you will be happy to know that Hogan is not completely gone. He is apparently forming some sort of wrestling promotion in conjunction with Universal Studios, and that it may get off the ground within weeks or months. Other names synonymous with Hogan may participate.

That's all for this week. Have a fantastic weekend and keep the mail coming. Thanks for reading!

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