Nearly a month ago was when my friend Bee watched her first wrestling program with me. It was the go-home RAW to TLC that we mostly talked and laughed through as we split a mushroom pizza. She let me explain things to her that were really unimportant, and tolerated me ignoring her at certain points so I could interact with y’all on Twitter. I guess it must have been entertaining enough of an evening, because she even allowed me to talk her into returning that Sunday for TLC and Mexican food.
That’s where the change happened.
I could probably turn anyone into a wrestling fan simply by bombarding them with gifs of Roman Reigns sticking his tongue out, but Bee really took this and ran with it. TLC was a wild show to watch as your first PPV, as it was both showy and substantive. There was a great deal of shouting at the TV and by the end of it she was hooked. When I texted her in all caps the next evening to let her know there was a new WWE World Heavyweight champion, she seemed genuinely distraught to have missed the greatest main roster comeback of 2015.
By the following Wednesday, she was sending me texts asking about attending a SmackDown taping at the Verizon Center on the 29th. So I worked a little magic and made tickets appear for us and two other friends, who I will appropriately refer to as “S” and “A,” in keeping with the theme.
A is an actual wrestling fan, whose claim to fame is that this was his first live wrestling event because he turned down WCW Nitro tickets in his youth. He is a little snarky, but completely fun to be around. S smiles and nods when I begin to talk about wrestling, but enjoys watching me turn from my normal state into The Lady J, so she joined us as well. This was also a first time at the Verizon Center for Bee, S, and myself (not sure about A, who has lived in DC much longer) so it really was a night of exploration.
I spent the better part of three hours trying to find a solid balance between explaining anything that required some background information for Bee and S, and not talking through every single segment (this is very hard for me.) A and I shared a pretty stellar moment of high-fiving when Heath Slater came out, and there was a lot of dancing done to New Day’s entrance theme. Everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves, which was my biggest concern. There is really nothing better for me than finding a strong balance between friends who speak my language and friends who want to learn.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, now is it? I’d like to talk about what I find so fascinating about live events, and the DC audience experience.
I’m not entirely sure what my companions expected that sitting in the audience of a WWE show would be. When you watch the program back on TV, you notice that the cross-section of the audience that actually appears on the screen is so small. The group of people who pay a great deal of money to be dead-on from the hard camera is not always an accurate representation of what the rest of the arena looks like. What I think my favorite part about this event (unlike my previous two experiences of attending RAW episodes in both Brooklyn and on Long Island) was that it was a very family-heavy audience. The smarky jerks like me were mostly sitting closer to the ring, though we were not that far ourselves. When you spend most of your time as a WWE fan interacting with people online who are like-minded, or at least of similar age, it’s easy to get jaded and bored. But there is really nothing like having a tiny child screaming for their favorite wrestler behind you to remind you why you got into this in the first place.
I like to think that attending SmackDown, for me, was not unlike watching TLC was for Bee. I got to watch thousands of other people get really excited about what was happening in the ring, and that kind of passion and genuine fun are contagious. There was a very small girl sitting directly behind us, couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, who was so excited to see Goldust that I feared she may spontaneously combust on the spot. She, like a multitude of children in the audience, was wearing a Roman Reigns t-shirt. Come to think of it, I can’t stress enough how over Reigns was with the crowd before he even set foot in the space. I might even go so far as to say that on that night, in our nation’s capitol, there were more Roman Empire shirts in the crowd than there were John Cena shirts. I particularly enjoyed two teenaged girls sitting just ahead of us, apparently the best of friends, one in full Reigns regalia, and the other a member of the Ambrose Asylum (girl after my very own heart.) We saw a group of older gentlemen (guys of retirement age and older) all sporting sheep masks (both Braun Strowman’s black mask and Erick Rowan’s white one) on the backs of their heads as they meandered to their seats. And yes, I have even been witness to actual human beings wearing unicorn horns on their heads in real life.
“That’s great, J, good to know DC is a city of marks not yet old enough to vote.”
Two and a half months ago, I returned to this blog and did a post about re-dedicating myself to WWE and pro-wrestling. I ended up writing this post about re-learning how to watch wrestling. I realize I made things harder than I really needed to, but it was a good exercise. If you want to rededicate yourself to having fun and getting lost in wrestling, go to a live event. In fact, go to a live show that’s not televised. (NOTE: If you live in a major market, please stay home and far, far away from those people. BROOKLYN, I AM LOOKING AT YOU.) Sit in an audience with little kids who don’t understand what a “work” is, who haven’t learned to use the word “bury” yet. Or sit at home with a friend who loves you enough to catch your excitement like a cold in February. Talk about wrestling with people who are still drinking the Kool Aid. (Hell, talk to me, I’ll talk to anybody.) Be the first person at a party or social event to admit you like wrestling and see how many heads swivel in your direction. You can bring people out of the woodwork. You might even bring something out of yourself.
Remember to have fun. And that you’re already getting worked, so you might as well enjoy the ride. I sure do.