Jerry Seinfeld had a great joke about professional wrestling that went something along the lines of: "The one thing I wonder about professional wrestling was if it didn't exist, would you be able to come up with the idea? Could you imagine pitching this? 'I'm telling you it will be great we'll get these huge guys in their underwear, but here's the thing, they won't really fight. And millions of people will watch it.'"
Wrestling no longer exists under the same terms it did when Seinfeld was telling this joke (1992ish). While at it's heart this will always be about two guys pretending to fight, it's not the comic playground of superheros versus treacherous villains. Wrestling personas today, discounting the Great Khalis and the Kanes, are extensions of real life. One of the changes guys like Steve Austin and Mick Foley brought to the game was that if you’re going to sell the fans on your character, you have to sell them on you. What was unbelievable about Foley was that he took on so many characters and presented them all as a side of himself. Mankind was the tortured Mick, Cactus Jack the deranged, and Dude Love the 18 year old who dreamt of being Superfly Jimmy Snuka. We've been given a glimpse behind the curtain, we're aware that these people exist in the same reality as we do and for us to truly get behind Randy Orton the wrestler, we have to feel some connection to Randy Orton the dude, dad, Cowboy Bob's kid, whatever.
A personal connection has been garnered between one guy and hundreds of thousands over the past few months, and the entirety of this relationship has been formed not only without the use of a wrestling ring, but without the use of WWE television. Zak Ryder's Z Long Island Story has not only brought us laughs, catch phrases, and brilliant segments, but it's provided insight into the personal life of a guy whose simply pleading his case for tv exposure. We've learned about Zak's taste in music, from his extensive collection of action figures and memorabilia it's safe to say the guy's been a lifelong fan, we've met his dad. Over a couple of months we got to know a guy playing a goofy, slightly self-deprecating character whose trying to make his case that he can do more than just make us laugh and when he walked down the aisle this past Monday, we were cheering for both Zak Ryder the character and Zak Ryder the broski.
Ryder can appeal to every member of the audience, from the casual fan to the little kids to the spiteful internet curmudgeons. His attitude is bright and contagious, watch Randy Orton on Episode 29, even he's smiling. My hope is that WWE will begin to rediscover the value of comedy in building that personal connection because I think it's become a lost art. Wrestlers are rarely given the chance to do comedy bits now, talks of conspiracy and "whose running the show?" have brought this overly serious air into every show, and while its important that those questions are answered, there is always room for this is your life.
I'm wondering, with wrestling's veil slightly removed, with that access that we have been granted by guys like Foley and Austin and The Rock, is there room for wrestling to be ironic? Clearly it's self-aware. When Jim Ross says "how do you learn to fall off a 20 foot ladder," he's acknowledging the public perception that wrestling is not real. But can a business that must take itself seriously to sell you on the whole "two guys in their underwear pretending to fight" be the butt of its own jokes? I feel CM Punk is pushing this when he's bowing at Triple H and referring to Kevin Nash as "Super Shredder" but it's hostile, I think that there is a place for this sort of comedy. I'm not sure it will ever happen, but for now, I'm stoked for my broski Zak Ryder.