the statement that stands in for physicality
July 30, 2014 6:10 AM   Subscribe

The cameras faded out and wrestling fans exhaled. It was more than just a promo; it was a virtuoso performance for the ages. It was shocking on several levels: that a monologue could have so much more power than a match; that WWE was launching the promotion of the main event of its second-biggest show of the year without either of its competitors speaking; and, perhaps most surprising, that Paul Heyman was doing the heavy lifting.
David Shoemaker does a close reading of the WWE SummerSlam promo to try and explain the rise of Paul Heyman as the face of WWE.
posted by MartinWisse (34 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Basically everything Paul Heyman has done since mania has been gold
posted by smackwich at 6:21 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only thing Paul Heyman doesn't do well is write checks that clear.
posted by delfin at 6:27 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh we should get a full bio of how this guy developed his talent to the point of being plugged in as WWE's formulaic promo barker.
posted by surplus at 6:43 AM on July 30, 2014

Who says the Commedia dell'Arte is dead?
posted by jim in austin at 6:55 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh we should get a full bio of how this guy developed his talent to the point of being plugged in as WWE's formulaic promo shill.

Wikipedia has a good writeup of his career. Be careful to note the difference between "fired" and fired, "quitting" and quitting, and the like -- there are times where his character is "fired" from the corporation, and there are times where he actually left the corporation due to disagreements with ownership -- in particular, he's had a somewhat rocky relationship with Vince McMahon.
posted by eriko at 7:14 AM on July 30, 2014

Heyman is so good. SO GOOD.

PSA to wrestling fans who haven't noticed yet: We've been given the OK to talk WWE in Fan Fare and here's our first Raw discussion.
posted by misskaz at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only thing Paul Heyman doesn't do well is...

know when to shut up.

But since not knowing when to shut up has basically gotten him to where he is (and more than a few other people to where they are), there's no reason for him to stop now.
posted by Etrigan at 7:59 AM on July 30, 2014

Despite my near total lack of context for any of this, this was a fun read just for sentences like: "This malpracticing doctor of thuganomics is in for the beating of a lifetime."
posted by sparkletone at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

sparkletone, apparently Cena's schtick before his current day-glo "hustle, loyalty, respect" thing was being a (really, embarrassingly terrible) white rapper. And he called himself a Doctor of Thuganomics.
posted by misskaz at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2014

And before that, Cena's gimmick in OVW (the regional promotion that was the WWF's developmental league of the time) was "The Prototype", a bleached-blonde wrestling cyborg. Shit you not.

Part of me misses the days when that gimmick could work.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2014

Steve Austin did a series of, I think, 3 podcasts with Paul Heyman about his life's story that are really worth listening to.
posted by goneill at 9:29 AM on July 30, 2014

Holy crap.

This article and its associated videos have single-handedly convinced me that I enjoy this sort of thing.
posted by Mooseli at 9:30 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Part of me misses the days when that gimmick could work.

I don't really know much about wrestling, but it has been noted by Batmanologist and War Rocket Ajax podcast host Chris Sims how much he enjoys when, despite the generally realistic MMA fighters and such that make up most of the WWE nowadays, someone like the Undertaker will occasionally pop in, who I believe is canonically an undead guy with lightning powers.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2014

Yeah, Undertaker (and by extension, his "brother" Kane) are the last guys left in WWE whose gimmicks predate the Attitude Era and come from the time when every wrestler was a comic book hero or villain. I understand Chikara still positions their talent that way but I've never been to their show.

One of the things I like about the Wyatt Family is that their "hillbilly Manson wizard" shtick appeals directly to the part of me that wants to see heightened unreality and character work from ring personas, but the problem is aside from Daniel Bryan (out on long-term injury) and Cena (currently grounded in more realistic feuds), there isn't a babyface who can match the qualities of gothic madness Bray Wyatt's promos display. He's a Luthor without a Superman.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:10 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This article and its associated videos have single-handedly convinced me that I enjoy this sort of thing.

For those of you thinking "wait, what is going on? uh, this is kind of entertaining. what is happening to me?" you should know that until about January of this year I had never watched a pro wrestling match in my entire 38 years on this planet. I will merely say this: WWE is occasionally problematic, regularly eye-rollingly dumb, and often ENDLESSLY ENTERTAINING. It makes me laugh at my TV more often than any sitcom in recent memory. I cried actual tears when my favorite faction broke up in traitorous circumstances. I have regularly stared at the TV, jaw hanging, hands covering my mouth in complete surprise. I wrote an article on the internet lamenting the sexism that still exists and questioning whether I'd keep watching, but, well, I'm still here.

In some ways it's like a constantly running live-action comic book. Or a dramedy about athletes where the actors do their own stunts. I both don't take it seriously at all, reveling in the over the top ridiculousness of it (no one save the little kids believes it's "real"); and also take it waaaay too seriously, reading and and analyzing articles on Grantland and Cageside Seats and debating with friends. It's so fun.

One of us! One of us!
posted by misskaz at 10:11 AM on July 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

I understand Chikara still positions their talent that way but I've never been to their show.

Ohhh, indeed. Chikara is proudly old-school -- its current stars include a time-traveling drum major and multiple groups of human-sized ants. And yet, Chikara is the UFC compared to Kaiju Big Battel.
posted by Etrigan at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

And he called himself a Doctor of Thuganomics.

Oh my god.
posted by sparkletone at 10:50 AM on July 30, 2014

And he called himself a Doctor of Thuganomics.

Oh my god.

He's gone from that to someone who entirely unironically used "friggin'" at his most angrily ragetastic in a promo on this week's Raw, too. There is no more perfect evidence of Cena as the ultimate company man than that.
posted by Etrigan at 12:22 PM on July 30, 2014

I hate the "hustle, loyalty, respect" John Cena, but I loved Dr. of Thuganomics John Cena. (I guess we're going to ignore the in between stage when he starred in The Marine, and for a while acted as if he was a marine? Was that just a tweener stage for him to get from the Doctor to whatever he is now? That's when his salutes and dog tags started, btw).

As the Doctor, Cena would always wear a jersey from one of the home teams in the town they were in, usually a throwback jersey, and often take it off and toss it into the crowd before his match (far better takehome swag than throwing his HLR tshirt and wristbands, IMO). He regularly cut promos or interviews as raps. He even got himself a collaboration with Bumpy Knuckles and released an album (from whence came his current intro music). Obviously it was during this time he invented the WWE Championship spinner belt (may it rest in piece), here in case you joined us too recently to have ever seen it's full glory. Oh, but did you know that was only his second take on a spinner belt?

Before the CeNation there was the Chain Gang. I would never call myself a member of the former, would happily be included in the latter.

/and I feel completely terrible because why am I talking about Cena in the Heyman post? Heyman is terrific, I wish they would have more like him, I wish they would let many of the wrestlers talk far less and use manager far more. In the fantasy football league I manage (Money In The Bank), a guy named his team the Paul Heyman Guys last season. It was almost perfect to watch his team fall apart at the same pace the stable did. Led to some really terrific trash talking.

Before he's gone I hope he takes another shot at being a full time commentator as well. He was an amazing heel commentator. But then, maybe he did that in a time when the commentary was less scripted, and had fewer hit E! shows and amazing WWENetwork original content to promote during matches?
posted by jermsplan at 12:37 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

"And he called himself a Doctor of Thuganomics."

"I'm comin' for you, Steven Levitt!"
posted by klangklangston at 1:07 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I didn't intentionally ignore military Cena, I just forgot about it because I wasn't watching back then. His pseudo military ties actually REALLY piss me off. Wearing dog tags and saluting as part of your entrance when you haven't even served? Irritating as hell.

That spinner belt is AMAZING oh my god. I would be on board with Thuganomics Cena coming back too. At least he'd be more interesting.

I too feel bad that a thread about Heyman is focusing so much on Cena (who actually did a decent job responding this Monday) but it's so much fun to hate on the man.
posted by misskaz at 1:26 PM on July 30, 2014

Shoemaker has a weekly Grantland podcast, Cheap Heat. It's good, but I'm getting kinda weary of co-host Peter Rosenberg touting his hip hop journalist credentials ("I had a feud with Chuck D!") and dismissing his audience ("Oh, most of the listeners don't know what we're talking about...")
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2014

Paul Heyman is awesome, no doubt. But I feel like history has neglected the brilliance that was Paul E. Dangerously. RIP, Dangerous Alliance.
posted by cribcage at 7:12 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

and I feel completely terrible because why am I talking about Cena in the Heyman post?

Brandon Stroud, who covers pro-wrestling for Uproxx, makes the case for loving Cena despite his lantern-jawed earnestness and contractual invincibility:

"He’s THE WRESTLING BUSINESS in capital letters. People say they love it, but Cena’s given his life for it. When he says this is his “friggin life,” he’s not saying it’s the thing he cares most about, he’s saying it is his actual, physical life. He wakes up as WWE’s John Cena and goes to bed the same way. He comes back from injury via mutant power and indomitable will because the company might not be as successful without him. He barely has a social or family life. He’s green-ass shirt, green-ass wristbands, Makin’-A-Wish John Cena 24/7, 365. When he talks about passion, he MEANS it. He expresses it in a corporately acceptable way and starts randomly cursing because he doesn’t know how to express the furious power of love he’s spewing when he tells you he loves wrestling. He is a machine that makes wrestling love.

...[T]he Cena we saw for a moment last night felt REAL, and he was shockingly correct for pointing out that “soulless sellout manipulative walrus” Paul Heyman shares his same passions. It’s the truth. Heyman was the avatar for wrestling passion for YEARS, and his amazing heel work as a sniveling manager makes a lot of people forget it. When Cena’s “real talking” in a way that doesn’t involve the word “jack” he can touch a deeper, truer spot than most, because he understands it and absolutely MUST say what he means."

tl;dr: Pro wrestling needs Cena because (a) he gets the kids to love the show with all the intensity of youth, and (b) he loves his job as much or more than any "real" sportsman loves their sport of choice.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:31 PM on July 30, 2014

Both Shoemaker and Stroud are must-reads for me, even though I barely watch anything but the pay-per-views or the fleeting bits I see on Japanese cable (two weeks delayed).

As right as Stroud is about Cena, and the rare moments he is 'real' without the 'jack', the Doctor of Thuganomics (Word Life Y'all) was awesome. He started out as a heelish version of Vanilla Ice (WWE, where no references from more than five years beforehand can ever make sense), but managed to get over with it. He will never turn heel, sadly, until his merch stops selling, and by that time, it'll have been too late.

This could be a momentous time for the WWE. Along with the aforementioned Bray Wyatt, there's his real life brother, Bo Dallas, who is just about the perfect heel, spouting self help lines with the utmost sincerity, truly believing, sorry, Bolieving that the crowd loves him, but constantly employing dirty tricks or poor sportsmanship to win, all the while telling his opponents to keep trying their best. There's Sami Zayn, who came to NXT after El Generico headed off to Mexico to fight for those poor orphans, and who is ungodly gifted at wrestling, as well as managing to be a good guy without being an ass. And, somewhere down the line, KENTA and Prince Devitt will be bumped up to the main roster, and hopefully, Daniel Bryan will return to full strength, beat Lesnar for the title at Wrestlemania, then get savagely attacked by a well rested and happy to be back CM Punk.

I can dream, can't I? If not, then I can certainly Bolieve.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:04 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Heyman is currently doing a media circuit to promote both SummerSlam and, more immediately, next week's release of his DVD. He did an interview at Digital Spy that included some interesting bits, like encouraging Sting to wrestle in WWE ("I would be dramatically disappointed if Sting does not wrestle a WWE match") and addressing CM Punk's departure:
It's a very difficult break-up when an audience loses its ability to thrust its adulation upon their hero. CM Punk clearly established during his time as a Paul Heyman Guy that he was, as the billing suggested, The Best In The World.

So when he abruptly disappears and the audience doesn't have the ability to say goodbye or shower him with their affection, then it causes a situation. It causes the audience to miss him even more vociferously, because they never had the closure of letting him know how much they appreciate his hard work.
On a different but related (to Heyman) note, Ted DiBiase gave an interview recently where he speculated that Undertaker's loss at WrestleMania was unplanned. He apparently thinks Undertaker was supposed to have kicked out, but was unconscious. I dunno. DiBiase may just be working, and I'm not sure that version fits with Heyman's and Lesnar's reactions—Heyman slid into the ring really fast for that pinfall to have been a surprise—but it's an interesting idea.
posted by cribcage at 9:43 PM on July 31, 2014

I hadn't heard the DiBiase theory, but what I've read suggested that Taker was concussed pretty early in the match (accounting for how sluggish he seemed), and not, as that might imply, at the end.

I will freely admit to vaguely ignoring the match while I watched it, figuring he'd just kick out of the third F5, but when I heard the bell, I almost gave myself whiplash turning back to the tv.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:53 PM on July 31, 2014

My girlfriend was leaving the room for something, and I sensed the end was coming so I coaxed her back with, "Wanna see the Undertaker go 22-0?" She sat down and the pinfall happened maybe thirty seconds later.

...also, the 21-1 graphic went up pretty fast. I don't think I buy DiBiase's theory, but it's sure interesting. As wrestling conspiracy theories (so to speak) go, it's a pretty good one.

I kinda feel for the people in the crowd who got close-upped. The wide-eyed guy, the three or four guys holding their heads, etc. It would be interesting for a journalist to track them down after Undertaker retires (officially). How do they feel about having their shocked faces being featured in one of the most historic clips in WWE history?
posted by cribcage at 10:30 PM on July 31, 2014

If, say, the Undertaker wasn't supposed to lose, would it be easy for the graphics guy to just change to "22-0" to "21-1," or is it more likely that they would've just not put up anything at all amidst the backstage chaos?

Or, in that scenario, is there a chance they had "21-1" ready to go "just in case"? Do the performers have contingency plans for that sorta thing?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:55 AM on August 1, 2014

Evidently, the refs are directed to finish their count. If the wrestlers somehow don't manage to get their shoulder up, then that's the result of the match. This came up during discussion of Taker's loss, and the ref of the match purportedly had no idea what the outcome was supposed to be.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:46 AM on August 1, 2014

Oh, and as for the realism era, there is a tag team in NXT called the Vaudevillains (sp?), and one of the members is evidently a strongman from the silent film era, who, as far as I know, didn't actually speak in his first several weeks on TV.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:49 AM on August 1, 2014

Do the performers have contingency plans for that sorta thing?

Evidently, the refs are directed to finish their count. If the wrestlers somehow don't manage to get their shoulder up, then that's the result of the match.

For the majority of matches, that's the case, but for the big matches (and any Taker WM match of the last half-decade qualifies), then there will be shenanigans -- witness WrestleMania III, wherein Hogan couldn't quite get his shoulder up in time after having Andre fall on him. The ref counted three, Andre started celebrating the win while looking a little confused, but the ref waved it off and said essentially, "Yeah, my hand hit the mat three times, but Hogan got his shoulder up a microsecond before that third time and I just couldn't quite pull up in time."

If Taker hadn't kicked out of the first F5, I'd be more willing to believe it was an accident. But you don't kick out of three of the monster heel's monster finishers unless you're burying him on his way out the door.
posted by Etrigan at 4:51 AM on August 1, 2014

would it be easy for the graphics guy to just change to "22-0" to "21-1,"

It's an interesting question. On one hand, you'd think graphics would be told to prepare both scenarios (win and loss) every year. The match results are supposed to be kept secret, after all. If it was scripted then Undertaker knew, Lesnar knew, Vince knew, probably Stephanie and Hunter knew...but you don't tell the graphics person. That kind of lax information security is how you end up with Las Vegas knowing. (Which apparently happened, another bit of evidence indicating it wasn't unplanned.)

On the other hand, if you're Vince and it's planned, you want to tell certain staff before it happens. The crowd is going to be in shock, and everybody's first instinct is going to be like the Sopranos finale: "This is a mistake, right?" That doesn't work for a live event, so you want to reinforce the ending quickly: the bell has to ring fast, graphics need to go right up, etc. You can't have the people responsible for doing these things in shock themselves, wondering if they should go ahead and press the button or if they're going to get fired for screwing up a 22-year storyline.

I don't know. I've never worked for WWE and I have no inside information, but everything seemed to happen really fast for that ending to have been an accident. Heyman slides right into the ring, the bell goes, graphics go up, the camera cuts to Lesnar looking satisfied... To believe that was unplanned, you'd have to believe that WWE has an incredibly fast and professional production crew. They were able to react on a dime. Like, Sunday Night Football–level good. That hasn't been my experience as a viewer.
posted by cribcage at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Shawn Michaels told JR on his podcast that it was decided four hours before. But then that' Shawn Michaels, so who knows. What does seem to be true is that Taker was in a bad way and Vince was concerned enough to leave his show piece PPV to go to the hospital with him.
posted by vbfg at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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