The Lady J’s American Dream

About ten days ago, I had started writing a post on RAW, as well as NXT. Nothing about what I was writing was coming together for me, though, so I scrapped the piece and took a break from my laptop. I went to the wedding of two dear friends of mine. I saw Dashboard Confessional and Third Eye Blind play an outdoor arena on the ocean in the pouring rain instead of watching Money in the Bank. Life just kept going.

In the year since I created the Lady J persona, I have been attempting to toe the line between fan and analyst. Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I am a passionate person who is prone to fits of all-caps ranting about the product while watching a live show. Anyone who follows this blog knows I take a lot of time to do research, to listen to podcasts and read other articles, and keep myself educated about “The Business”. It is often difficult for me to find balance between these two things.

I watched the Money in the Bank PPV on Monday afternoon, took a break for dinner, and then watched Monday Night RAW. I must say I wasn’t terribly impressed with either of these shows, though it did end on a high note for me when Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman returned to TV. It’s hard not to become frustrated as a fan. But isn’t that the point? Your “guy” isn’t always going to win. Your “guy” has to be beat down, so that when he rises up, it is triumphant. I think the Royal Rumble is a perfect illustration of how the fan base responds to quick ascents in this business.

On Paul Heyman’s DVD Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman, he talks about interacting backstage with younger talent, who have yet to become jaded by experience and what he can take from their perspective as newer individuals to the pro-wrestling/sports entertainment business. I am sure those young people are also taking away from their interactions with him the wisdom of his years in this business as well. There is no greater recipe for success than a happy marriage between experience and innovation. This business, which has been built on time-honored traditions, now exists in a world where the audience is smarter, and the competition on TV is not other comparable products, but rather television programming in general. Being an individual who understands both the contemporary broadcasting industry, and the traditional wrestling industry is where the dollar signs are.

It’s not easy for me to check my “fan” tendencies when watching a WWE program. When I returned to the product in 2013, it was as an escape from what was going on in my family, as my Mom’s condition battling Alzheimer’s Disease deteriorated. I became sucked in, and when RAW or SmackDown was on, I wasn’t thinking about anything else. As I became more and more interested in what was going on behind the curtain, trying to apply what I’d learned through writing and theatre training, I realized how hard it is to relegate the fan in me to the back burner and try to view the product with an educated eye. I tried to watch, read, or listen to anything I could that was being presented by individuals with decades of experience in the business, and marry in with what I knew myself about live performance and story writing.

All of this came to a head last night. I started at 8pm EST, watching the hour-long Tough Enough preview that aired on the WWE Network to introduce the audience to the 13 participants. It was a well put-together program, not only giving us insight into the contestants, but also into the perspective of the coaches and why those 13 people were chosen, as well as what personal obstacles they would have to overcome. I followed that up with an episode of The Steve Austin Show podcast, and The Ross Report podcast, both of whom took a significant amount of time to reflect on the passing of the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes.

I won’t get into memorializing Dusty, if for no other reason than I’m not sure I could make it through writing about him without breaking down into tears. They’ve shown the same video package on the PPV, Monday’s episode of RAW and all over the Network, and I still cry every time. What I think was most important about what Austin and JR had to say about Dusty, besides all of his accolades, his promos, his style, the kind of father he was…the thing that stood out to me was how he had dedicated his life to the industry. Even after his in-ring career was over, he began to work with the next generation. None of the tweets or blog posts about Dusty were more moving than those posted by the kids down in NXT, who were being supported, tested, encouraged, and pushed by Dusty. What a gift for them to have him as a resource as they begin their careers in WWE.

As I listened to Austin and JR (who, in particular, I love to hear break down matches and booking on The Ross Report) talk about what Dusty offered to the younger generation, my thoughts wandered to the crop of contestants on Tough Enough, who will never work with him. And then I thought, as I often do, how lucky they are that wrestlers are offered so many opportunities to get into the business today. As someone who knows her body could never withstand the demands of an in-ring career (nor have I ever aspired to have such a career) I know there are no clear paths for a writer in professional wrestling. There are no camps, no reality shows, no schools. There is only the individual, blessed with whatever talents they may possesses, and the product. That is why I continue to struggle each week to balance out the fan with the writer and the analyst. I remember every time I get excited about a story line, whether I am thrilled or furious, that the story is successful, because the only thing in professional wrestling that is poison is silence. I continue to study those whose careers I admire, and try to break down story lines and promos to understand the method behind the madness. Dusty is known for his brilliant promos – an art form many say was inherently a part of him – but one can sit and watch his “Hard Times” promo and see the things that made it connect with fans besides his natural charisma. There was a cadence, a rhythm to the way he spoke, a natural and sometimes barely noticeable rhyme scheme that made his words easy to remember and repeat. It’s these things that I try to write down, do remember, and hopefully use in the future, should an opportunity ever present itself.

Some WWE fans just want to be fans. They live their lives, raise their families, and remain loyal from their seats in the 12th row or on their couches. Some fans hope to one day be the guy with the belt. I am a pro-wrestling and sports entertainment fan who one day hopes to be Dusty Rhodes – not the Dusty with the Bionic Elbow, or the one in the polka dots, but the man sitting in promo class, helping to develop the next generation of talent. The Dusty with the book, the guy giving Steve Austin a chance in WCW. So that’s what I’m going to keep working towards, that’s what this blog is all about. Nothing worth having has ever been easy, but that’s what makes it special. One day, I’ll get there. But until then, that’s my American Dream.

-The Lady J Says

 

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Sit Down and Shut Up – Paul Heyman on the Steve Austin Show

(If you’re looking for a round-up on Sunday’s Elimination Chamber, stay tuned. I am still recovering. If you’re stoked for tonight’s NXT – you should be. More on that tomorrow!)

For those of you who live in the back, I am a huge Paul Heyman fan. I don’t like to use the term “mark” when it comes to Paul, because I am generally a fan of him all around. Paul was the writer for SmackDown when I was first introduced to the WWE product, so my respect for what he does, and what he has given to the business, goes back a long way. I am, however, a mark for Steve Austin, and love his podcasts. I could listen to Steve interview anybody and eat it up, but some of the best episodes of The Steve Austin Show are the ones where he interviews Paul Heyman.

On Monday, following RAW, The Steve Austin Show, featuring Paul Heyman as Austin’s guest, was broadcast live on the WWE Network. I wasn’t on social media while it was happening, because I like to just sit back and listen – when you try to live tweet something, you inevitably end up missing something. When I went back to check twitter the next morning, I couldn’t believe how many people said they were bored by what they heard, with the exception being the last five minutes. I am so disappointed that so many people completely missed how much knowledge was dropped during that interview. But hopefully the talent was listening.

Steve and Paul start off by talking a bit about their back story, which is always interesting. Paul doesn’t do a very good impression of Good Ol’ JR Jim Ross (no one does) but he does an EXCELLENT Dusty Rhodes. There is also a great story about Rick Rude if anyone is interested in just some good old-fashioned nostalgia.

The second section of questions touches on Brock Lesnar and where he’s been and where he’s going. (There’s a weird little stop off where Austin and Heyman awkwardly become political. I imagine many of the points throughout the interview that they hit on are pre-planned, but this part seems to tumble over itself and I am sure Vince gave them both a lashing for it. {However, Heyman’s history of The Jews is not, you know, wrong.}) What I think is really key here is how Paul Heyman handles his explanation of how Lesnar got to the contract he’s on now with WWE. He speaks candidly about Lesnar’s enjoyment of his last run in WWE and why he decided not to defect back to UFC – but still manages to paint Lesnar as a beast in both companies by referencing the way Lesnar beat both John Cena and Randy Couture.

Along with the section on Lesnar, Austin asks Heyman about taking on more clients besides Lesnar so we can have more Paul Heyman on TV. Heyman explains that his personal relationship with Lesnar makes their on-screen relationship work, the same as it did with CM Punk (though their personal relationship as well as their on-screen dynamic, are different from the ones Heyman has with Lesnar). This goes a long way to explain what happened with Heyman and Cesaro, without directly referencing it. Heyman also takes a minute to put Punk over here in a really genuine way – sorry, Vince.

Austin and Heyman talk the state of business today – in particular Austin has a bone to pick about selling. What the two of them have to say about finishing moves makes perfect sense to me – if people kick out of your finisher, it’s not a very good finisher, is it? It should be not only the job of the wrestler whose finisher it is, but the job of the commentators AND the rest of the roster to put that finisher over. This way, as Heyman illuminates, when someone kicks out of it at a PPV (his example was Wrestlemania) it’s a huge deal.

In the fourth section (about halfway through) Heyman drops what I feel is the most important knowledge of this whole interview – his outlook on promos. He tells a great story about an early promo he cut where he put everyone over and wears himself out just being Paul E Dangerously and when it’s all over, Dusty says “that was so very entertaining, but where’s the money”. And this is something no one seems to remember anymore – a promo is a tool, something you need to have in your arsenal as a performer to be successful. And when you use that tool, you shouldn’t be waving it around wildly. Stay focused. What are you trying to sell. A match? A feud? An incident? Just you in general? Someone else? Your team? That is more important than anything else.
Well, almost anything else. Austin and Heyman go further with the promo breakdown, and Paul explains the method behind his madness. He explains how he developed his patented introduction “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman, and I am the advocate for the beast incarnate, Brock Lesnar.” He refers to that here as “engaging the audience”, which is precisely what it does. He lets everyone know who he is, what he does, and then tells them what he’s doing there that night. He goes on to say that many of the promos we see, night after night, are pontificating, are talking at the audience, instead of engaging them. JUST AS A SIDE NOTE: just prior to writing this post, I checked out the Steve Austin Show Unleashed podcast with Sam Roberts. In it, Steve refers to Monday Night Raw as “wrestling for morons,” which is a pretty dead-on label to how I have been feeling lately which watching. Considering what Heyman says about current trends in promos, it’s no wonder the audience feels like the Powers That Be consider us stupid – they’re talking to us like we have no idea what’s going on. Things are repeated 100 times, beaten into us, and because of this story lines never get past the surface level.

Austin and Heyman go on to discuss more wrestling history, and Heyman explains how TV syndication works. Let me just state for the record: if you have any interest in the business side of pro-wrestling, you should know something about this. I recommend listening to what Heyman says here, as well as what he says on his first Steve Austin Show appearance, and what Eric Bischoff says on his appearance. There are a few things on the network that also tell the story of how the territories of pro-wrestling became what we see now on cable TV.

There’s also some juicy tidbits for those of you who love behind-the-scenes gossip, including Heyman denying he ever used cocaine, a story about Austin and Rick Rude, and a frightening story about traveling while in WCW. He also discusses his dynamic with Vince McMahon. I have a lot of respect for the fact that Austin asks Heyman about the “Infamous Plane Ride”, and Heyman doesn’t give details. He even says “Vince has never spoken about it publicly, so I don’t know if I’m in the right to violate that confidence” so he just vaguely explains that they had a bad show, followed by a fight, and things ended right after.

Then they cut a promo. Heyman asks Austin if he wants to fight Brock Lesnar, and Austin (at first) casually says he’d “beat his ass”. Heyman even goes on to remind Austin that Wrestlemania 32 is in Steve Austin’s home state of Texas. They seem to be working off-the-cuff, and Heyman reads things on his phone and cracks jokes before Austin finally says “three words: Texas Death Match“. This is where it becomes clear it’s a promo, because everything that comes out of either man’s mouth afterwards is perfect. Austin becomes the Stone Cold Steve Austin we all know and love, Heyman becomes the spineless jellyfish who tries to save himself by throwing up his arms and proclaiming “I’m just an advocate”, to which Austin replies “you’re about to advocate yourself an ass-whoopin’.” They leave things hanging, the air palpable, and the audience beside themselves, as Austin signs off.

The entire podcast was brilliant. There was enough technical stuff for the nerds like me, enough juicy tales for the historians, and a promo that will go down as one for the ages. I highly recommend checking it out on the WWE Network if you haven’t already, and heading over to PodcastOne.com to listen to Paul’s other appearances on The Steve Austin Show.

That’s it for me for tonight, cats & kittens. Check back tomorrow for thoughts on tonight’s NXT.

-The Lady J Says