Once per year in late March and early April, the whole of the entertainment world allows itself to indulge and dive headfirst into the ridiculous world of professional wrestling. The reason, of course, is WrestleMania, the ultimate spectacle in sports entertainment. WrestleMania is the one day (which WWE has attempted to expand into a full week) out of the year when everybody, whether they are a fan of wrestling or not, at the very least will allow those fans to be as nerdy and fanatic as they want to be.
Although wrestling still has it’s many detractors, it’s hard to deny its fans one short week to be themselves as loudly as they want. In fact, it’s kind of strange they only have that one week, when World Wrestling Entertainment has made such a serious, concerted effort to do absolutely everything they can to earn mainstream approval. One facet of mainstream culture they have repeatedly tried and miserably failed at ingratiating themselves towards is comedy. Comedy is hardly the focus of WWE or their efforts to become mainstream, but considering how spectacular their failures at the genre have been, it’s worthy of discussion
Professional wrestling is a scripted sport, but that scripted sport is the subject of a seemingly increasing number of real TV shows, so it makes sense people who practice it would want mainstream appeal. Because the wrestling shows produced by WWE have by and large been successful TV shows, they must have some understanding of how to garner that mainstream appeal, too, at least in theory. In order to write compelling, long-term stories, they’ve hired past soap opera and dramatic TV writers. What you think of their work is directly related to how much you enjoy wrestling, so we won’t discuss the quality of it. What is we will talk about is that in that same vein, WWE has also hired comedians and sitcom writers in order to write hilariously compelling stories to match the dramatic ones, and regardless of how great some of those comedians and writers were, the comedy they produced with WWE ranges from a huge dud to some of the most offensive nonsense ever allowed on television.
WWE Attempts to Incorporate Comedy Into Wrestling
Some people reading this article might not be huge wrestling fans, so allow us to offer a brief list of a few of the more noteworthy attempts WWE has made at comedy over the past few decades.
These are the comedic stylings of a company that once actually employed all-around comedy legend Patrice O’Neal. Patrice was one of the greatest comedians in history, and was a firm believer in the fact anything could be funny in the right context, but even he would have had to know those were terrible, unfunny ideas. To Patrice’s credit, he only worked in the company for “a few weeks” (his words) several years before most of those examples, and his story kind of explains the whole problem.
Patrice never went too in depth on his time in WWE, but he was outspoken on multiple occasions, about the fact he was fired very quickly, for things that were entirely his fault. In particular, WWE wanted him available and on the road with them all the time. He was expected to show up to every Pay-Per-View, television taping, and countless production and writer’s meetings, adding his unique brand of genius to whatever segments the McMahons felt had a chance at being funny. Of course, the reason O’Neal was such a great comedian was that he was constantly working on his craft, performing shows at clubs around the country and engaging with all areas of reality in order to properly dissect, mock, and eschew them.
WWE didn’t want Patrice O’Neal, journeyman comedian and man of the world, though. They wanted Patrice O’Neal, comedy writer and wrestling fan. WWE exists in what is commonly called “the wrestling bubble,” named such for obvious reasons. Here’s another attempt at comedy we didn’t mention above—a wrestler named Paul Burchill started acting like a pirate in 2006. He quickly became popular doing an exaggerated Captain Jack Sparrow parody. It didn’t make the list for two reasons—one, it didn’t last long, and two, it was actually kind of clever and had mainstream appeal. Turns out these two things were related in a weird way: WWE owner Vince McMahon had never seen or even heard of Pirates of the Caribbean, and therefore didn’t get the joke or why people liked it, so he shut it down right away.
In WWE, the buck stops with Vince, and if he doesn’t get the joke, it’s not funny. And apparently, Mr. McMahon has a very bizarre, particular sense of humor. Or maybe it isn’t even that bizarre (it is), but regardless, his humor is so insularly focused on himself and on wrestling that an idea that actually connects with a mainstream audience doesn’t even make sense to him. Full-time WWE writers, and especially the boss, don’t have the time to engage themselves with pop culture and reality on the level required to properly satirize it.
This isn’t to say a few of the wrestlers themselves aren’t funny—there’s been a ton of genuinely hilarious men and women who also happened to be pro wrestlers. The best examples are Mick Foley and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who actually became standup comedians after retiring from the ring, and of course The Rock, who is now one of the most successful actors in the world in part because of his comic personality and natural charm. The WWE Network even has a new program called The Edge and Christian Show, hosted by the titular former wrestlers, and it has been getting rave reviews by comedy and wrestling fans alike (you probably have to be a wrestling fan to get the humor, but it’s a much more traditional style of comedy than anything they tried on Raw).
Comedy is a natural part of life, and a huge part of how people connect with one another. A wrestler’s job is to connect with the crowd, so if they’re a funny person, they’re going to use that to connect. Unfortunately, if they aren’t a particularly funny person, and they have an insane sense of humor that regularly crosses the line into the disgusting and offensive, it’s going to turn people away and might even cause others to think they’re a monster. Typically, that person wouldn’t become a comedy writer, but apparently he might hire a bunch of them and display their efforts towards making him and him alone laugh on national television every week.