If you're looking for something to fill in the hours over the christmas break, I've just finished my pal Colt Cabana's hilarious new documentary film "Wrestling Road Diaries 3". I've often harped on about the correlations between stand up and wrestling, yet this is the first film from the wrestling world I've seen confirm such parallels and to lengths I hadn't even considered. Right down to callbacks, its newfound, very knowing, hipster audience and even bombing on stage. These aren't wrestling matches per se but comedy gigs - Cabana and his travelling companions' matches have more to do with the Three Stooges than they do with a genuine sporting contest.
The film centres around three comedy independent wrestlers in Cabana, Glaswegian internet sensation Grado and Japanese masked comedy wrestler Kikutaro as they tour the midwest of America, trying to disprove the old wrestling adage: funny never equals money. The idea being that whilst it's all well and good making the audience laugh, apparently only the guys that really pretend to fight will ever be taken seriously enough to make the big bucks.
There are still plenty of guys throwing each other off ladders and into a lot of things they shouldn't (and believe me, up close, these stunts are way more impressive and wince inducing than they are on TV) but we soon learn that the smart money is on these comedy wrestlers. Firstly it's a style they can continue doing into their forties. But also, I've personally seen Cabana steal the show over and over with a mere flick of his wrist when the rest of the card is damn near killing themselves to get the same response. For instance, Cabana will often climb to the top rope and instead of throwing himself high in the air risking himself and his opponent considerable damage, he surprises everyone by jumping down and hopscotching across the ring and splashing onto his strewn foe from standing height. This simple variation on a wrestling trope can get the same reaction or "pop" from the crowd as two guys flying through the ring ropes into a skip filled with fluorescent lighting tubes. Yes, people do do that and no, no one laughs.
What's more, whilst their slapstick can be taken at face value, to fully appreciate the performance one kind of needs to understand the rules they're breaking. And the modern wrestling audience is utterly obsessed with inside information, so "inside" jokes go over big time. My favourite such moment involves Cabana trying to explain what a callback is to Kikutaro in very limited pigeon English. Making the matter even more complex was the callback was not even in reference to anything that had happened in the arena that night. Rather it was a reference to a viral video where Cabana tricked his opponent with a simple, "Wait! What's that?" as he points to the ceiling, only to slap him in the face. After pulling this off numerous times online, Cabana and Kikutaro on this day found an opportunity to give said joke a little twist. If you're having trouble following me, now try rereading that idea whilst Japanese.
There's even a massive comedy death. This is where the correlation between wrestling and stand up comedy is most apparent. They're the only two art forms where the performers adapt what they're doing based on the audience response. Never in the theatre do actors in a play go, "Wait, we're losing them. Somebody shoot somebody! You. Do an impression. People love that"
But in Grado's match with wrestling legend, Tracy Smothers the duo have to follow Cabana and Kikutaro after they've absolutely killed. And I mean, tears in the eyes, sore sides laughs. They've delivered the aforementioned callback so complex and so callbacky that I've failed to explain it properly. But, rest assured, everyone in the crowd totally understood the gag and on every level.
Grado's match looks a lost cause, the crowd are all laughed out. The match is going nowhere and every comedy spot is just eating shit. Then, like a gift from the comedy gods, a seven year old girl in the front row joins in. Tracy Smothers, as the heel, calls her a little bitch and Grado adapts their little soap opera as he being her honourable protector. Just when all looked lost, the pair's impromptu (and grossly inappropriate) decisions totally turn the crowd around and they both get to head to the locker room buzzing with excitement.
If the appeal of professional wrestling has always left you a little baffled, this will leave you thinking, "Ohhhh! Now I get it".
Wrestling Road Diaries 3 here
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