Top V Promos: Celebrity Edition - The Good, the Bad, the Brilliant

Let me start this edition of Top V, with a controversial statement: Celebrities and wrestling go together like peanut butter and jelly.

*hears other wrestling fans angrily typing comments or tweeting at me*

No, seriously. Let's all calm down and approach this rationally. Yes, that also applies to you over there in Ryback t-shirt. Put down the chair. Yes, we can all "feed you more" after we are done here.

Like most fan subcultures, professional wrestling fans tend to vacillate between continually pleading for other people to respect or embrace wrestling, and condemning anyone who is either new to pro wrestling or any attempt to broaden its appeal. I see this frequently with hockey where fans bemoan the lack of national media coverage of the NHL (i.e. ESPN), but voice resentment toward newer fans and / or are openly hostile to any change by the NHL to grow the game.

In the world of professional wrestling fandom, such a dichotomy is perhaps best illustrated by a vocal resentment toward moments when celebrities from other media or entertainment enter the arena (both literally speaking and figuratively speaking). Case in point: at last year's Summer Slam, Jon Stewart was roundly booed by the audience in Brooklyn for his involvement in a match (at some point, Rick_City or I or both of us will write a piece on our general annoyance with wrestling fans).

I suppose if one thinks of wrestling simply as a fictional universe, then celebrities involvement can be be understood as a violation of the "rules" that the wrestling universe has established. I mean I hated cross-over cartoons as a kid, so I understand the reaction of "Jay Leno isn't in this universe!" Of course, professional wrestling has never really demonstrated any respect for its own rules, so I think people need to calm down a bit. Additionally, if one takes a look at the history of professional wrestling, celebrity involvement has long been a norm as promoters have tried to get local or national media attention to their product. And that's not going to change anytime soon.

So I decided to list the Top V celebrity promos in this post. I'm not necessarily considering these the best, but the most memorable in my estimation. Some are good, some are bizarre, but all point to the benefits of the occasional celebrity involvement.

By the way, Jerry Lawler figures prominently in this list.

5) Jon Stewart

First, can we all agree that we miss Jon Stewart? I've tried watching Trevor Noah and while I understand he has immense shoes to fill, but The Daily Show isn't the same. A good part of that reason is that Stewart was able to balance his outrage at news stories with a self-deprecating nature and an absurdist comic perspective.

So when Stewart had a feud with Seth Rollins in 2015, his skills at performing rage and being absurd came in quite handy. The clip above - which has been edited by the WWE for reasons ((I suspect because one of Stewart's original lines was mocking Rollins's Curb Stomp ("I'm from Jersey - that's how we greet each other for brunch.") and because I have a sneaking suspicion that Stewart referenced Brunno Sanmartino and the WWE still has a weird relationship with the legend)) - illustrates this. Not only does Stewart deliver his lines skillfully, but he also hams it up with "are you guys going to the wrap party?" And in addition, that's a solid kick to the crotch.

4) Dennis Rodman

Of all the celebrites to actually appear in the squared circle, one can make an argument that Dennis Rodman was perhaps the most athletically able in the ring. Go back and watch his tag-team match-up with Hulk Hogan against DDP and Karl Malone. Both he and Malone perform far better in the ring (in limited skill-sets of course) than I think most people anticipated. Indeed, I actually think that there's a lot to like about Rodman's run in WCW and I think it should be studied by bookers as a way to effectively integrate a celebrity into a storyline.

On the other hand, I also think Rodman's involvement reflects the cheapest and most cynical attitudes of the professional wrestling business. In a future post, I might analyze the racial overtones of mid-1990s celebrity involvement in both WCW and WWE. It's hard not to see in Rodman's WCW vignettes (as well as Mike Tyson and Lawrence Taylor's in the WWE) a stark undertone of racial other-ing at play.

But I think the best Rodman promo is pre-NWO when he appeared with Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach in 1995. To promote this event, a number of WCW stars had appeared on an episode of Baywatch (and someone may be doing a blog post on that next -- hint, hint) and Hogan lured Rodman to appear with him at the event.

What's great about this promo is A) Rodman's slap of Hogan's cheek (and who here among us hasn't wanted to slap Hogan), B) Hogan's response to the slap, and C) Rodman's completely incoherent promo. I've seriously listened to this five times in a row and I still cannot figure out what he's saying. And to be honest, I love that.

3) William Shatner

Rick_City is a good Canadian boy, and in an effort to appease him (because I might need a place to crash for a few months / years if Trump somehow wins the election), I'm putting good Canadian boy William Shatner on this list.

Shatner - or Shatner as I call him - has appeared a few times on WWE programming; most recently, he was a guest GM of Raw where he filmed this impressive segment where he parodied his infamous album of music covers. It's still the funniest thing the WWE has intentionally produced in years (and I would say 90 percent of the WWE's humor can be described, at best, as tone-deaf).

But I'm going to go with his feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler in 1995. Shatner's television series - TekWar - was being broadcast on the USA Network after Monday Night Raw, and he appeared on WWE programming that night to promote the short-lived series. Apparently, Lawler had been making comments about Shatner on the build-up to this confrontation and, Shatner responds in this clip above. Like Stewart, Shatner embraces both the absurdity of the moment and its cheesiness: his line reading of "if you'll forgive the expression, Warp Speed" is perfect in its unabashed lameness and his declaration that "I'm here to promote Tek War!" is somehow both the saddest thing and the best thing ever.

By the way, there's a longer video embedded on the WWE site where we actually see Shatner confront Lawler: Shatner again calls Lawler's the King's Court the "home of the Whopper," and then throws the former-Memphis star out of the ring. Then Bret Hart appears because Canada, that's why.

2) Batman meets Super-King

I really, really, really wanted to make this number 1.

As a kid, my first real exposure to camp, irony, and theatre of the absurd was the 1960s Batman series, featuring Adam West. One could write thousands of words on the brilliance of the show, but for now I want to focus on Adam West - or "Adam West." With the exception of William Shatner - who's also on this list because it's my list dammit - there is not another actor who blurs the line between himself and his persona more effectively. Where does "Adam West" the character begin and where does Adam West the person end? I have no idea. And while I'm mentioning it, let's discuss his brilliant cameo on The Simpsons "Mr. Plow" episode (I honestly say "Pure West" at least once a week). Or his legendary pilot Lookwell that he made with Conan O'Brien and Robert Schimgel.

Anyway, so in 1976 "Adam West," or Adam West, or both, went to Memphis and appeared on Mid-South Wrestling's Saturday morning television show. West / Batman was appearing at a local car show (I presume with the Batmobile in tow) and....well, you should watch the clip first.

Some stray observations:
-West is drunk yes?
-What is Lawler's box?
-Why is Batman wearing a track-suit?
-Why doesn't Batman dance anymore?

Actually, it's probably best if you don't ask questions about this and just think of it as an absurdist performance piece with Brechtian overtones. That's how I'm thinking about it anyway.

1) Andy Kaufman

Okay, there's no way this could not be number one.

As a college student, I cannot tell you how many times I watched a documentary on Comedy Central about Andy Kaufman's life (I swear the station aired it at least four times a week). Contained in this documentary was an in-depth account of Kaufman's feud with Jerry Lawler in Mid-South Wrestling during the late 1970s and early 1980s. And I found it fascinating that Kaufman would engage in this feud in Memphis during what was - for all intents and purposes - the height of his fame.

I'm not sure I can dedicate enough space to explaining the brilliance of this narrative: both men challenge each other's manhood, they both claim to be kings of the ring, they both threaten to sue each other, and they brought a lot of attention to Memphis wrestling (there's also chicken costumes, double-crosses, pile-drivers, and phone promos). And of course, they contributed to the greatest moment on Late Night with David Letterman (which I've included above).

It's also difficult to pick just one promo of this feud to focus on as there are some gems: I've always been drawn to Kaufman's personal grooming tips for the Memphis fans - everyone should use soap and ladies should use razors (it's classic cheap-heat stuff, but it works). But I've selected this clip above which deals with the after-effects of Lawler using flash-paper in Kaufman's face - which I think took place after a short-lived truce between the two men (honestly, it is a bit hard to follow the narrative).

But what makes this promo stand out to me is that if you ignore the fact that Kaufman is a comic and an actor - he makes mention of all the scripts he's had to turn down because of Lawler's actions and the subsequent damage to his face - this would work as a solid wrestling promo. In the end, that's what makes this celebrity involvement so memorable and important. It's not just that Kaufman and Lawler sold this rivalry like crazy - hell, the Letterman stunt was probably the first "viral" video - it's also the fact that Kaufman committed to this feud in ways that no other celebrity has. And to be perfectly honest, is that not what we as wrestling fans want? We want people to "like my sport" and take our entertainment seriously.  Reflecting on this list, these are moments where the "outsiders" embrace their roles (no matter how brief) and in the process, bring attention to professional wrestling in ways that with a few exceptions, most wrestlers and promoters are not able to do on their own.

So wrestling fans, let's stop the hate toward the occasional celebrity entering the ring provided that they commit to their role? And let's be honest: the more attention celebrities bring, the better off professional wrestling (and entertainment) is. I mean when has this combination gone wrong?

Photo courtesy Fox Sports

Oh fuck.

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