Chris Van Vliet has built a successful career interviewing some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood. We're talking heavy hitters like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence. However, the Miami based television host is really gaining traction thanks to his insightful and buzzy conversations with pro wrestlers.
The lifelong fan is building a strong following on his YouTube channel, providing a comfortable place for men and women in the business to share their stories. Here I decided to turn the tables on Van Vliet to find out how he became so passionate about the business and "One of Us."
Take me back to your first wrestling memory. What got you into it as much as you are?
I remember being five or six years old and watching it at my grandfather's house. That was my first entry into wrestling and really understanding what it was. I'm talking Saturday Night's Main Event. I didn't really get into it as crazy as you and I are now until 15, 16 years old. It was the heart of the Attitude Era with "Stone Cold," The Rock, Vince McMahon, Undertaker, Triple H. It's funny because I was a high school wrestler at the time. You kind of look down at pro wrestling when you are an amateur wrestler. I remember I had a bunch of friends into wrestling, and I'd say it's fake.
Then one Monday night I started watching it and was so hooked. The funny part about it is my parents, my dad especially hated the fact I liked wrestling. My dad would do whatever he could to make sure I didn't watch it. I had to do that thing where you had another channel on recall. So, any time I heard my dad come near the basement, I had to hit the recall button and pretend I was watching something else.
It was almost like porn for you. I got to change the channel, so my dad doesn't come in and see.
I get it. The woman was having bra and panties matches. "Stone Cold" was flipping off his boss. And everyone was telling everyone to suck it. I get why you wouldn't want to your kid to watch it. It took a little a while until my parents were like, "Well if this is his thing. This is his thing." They also didn't like the fact that turned into me becoming a backyard wrestler with some of my closest friends in high school for two years. What kid didn't wrestle?
I didn't realize you did that. What was your character?
My name was Chris Sharp because I was sharp walking, sharp talking and sharp dressing. I did the Swanton Bomb as my finishing move, which when I look back at that and think about that, it's pretty crazy I was jumping off of whatever I could jump off of. Just at the last semi-second, I'm flipping so I wouldn't break my neck.
Take me through the first time you met a WWE superstar or WCW wrestler. What was the interaction like? Did you have any preconceived notions?
After I started watching, any time there was an autograph signing I'd go. And I grew up just outside of Toronto. There was a lot of wrestling stuff to come there. Any time there was an autograph signing, I'd line up and do it. I'd line up at this place in Canada called Pizza Pizza for hours to get autographs from the Hardy Boys, the Dudley Boyz. I remember they were opening this new arcade in Toronto downtown called Playdium. It was February in Toronto, so you can imagine how cold it was.
My friends and I skipped school that day to line up for six hours because Christian, Trish Stratus and Kurt Angle were there. We thought we were going to meet them. Then we realized we got into the event where they were going to be, but the autograph session was some VIP thing. We weren't supposed to meet them, but someone knew we were big fans and helped sneak us in the back. Six hours in the February Canadian winter to meet them.
So, how were they?
It was great, but as you know, these autograph signings they say hi, how are you, move on. I didn't really get a chance to interact with a wrestler until my first interview with a wrestler. It was 2007. I was hosting a show called 969 in Vancouver for MTV 2 in Canada. We'd review video games, interview celebrities, actors. When I found out WWE was in town, I'd do anything I could to get an interview. And it was with Bobby Lashley, ECW champion at the time. I couldn't get over how large of a human he was. That was number one. He was such a nice guy. I don't have that tape right now. I wish I did, but I think back to it, I cringe because I know I was one of those interviewers who just asked questions and waited for answers and asking for the next question I'd prepare. I knew it wasn't nearly as good how my interviews have progressed.
You mention how your interview style has progressed, one of the things people who follow you on social media find is connections you have within the business. One comes to mind is Dolph Ziggler. How did you build these connections?
With Dolph Ziggler, he came to town when I was in Cleveland and WWE was in town, he came by for an interview. I just did an interview with him. Then we started following each other on Twitter and kept in touch by just seeing each other's tweets. When he came back to town for Thanksgiving, I just reached out to him and asked if we can do an interview. He gave me his number and kept in touch from there. Any time he was in Cleveland, we have done an interview and stay in touch.
He has been so kind, so nice. I think the biggest misconception people have about these interviews is too many people are out for themselves. Too many are out for themselves and thinking about what is in it for them. Not looking at it the way you should be looking at it, which is what is in it for them? What makes it worth their time, which is super valuable. I try to position it to how this beneficial to the person I'm doing the interview with? Now that I've been doing bigger interviews that have been getting more and more views, they've been easier to get.
It seems people are finding out your reputation and are willing to open up maybe for the first time.
There was one I did with Rhyno, which was set up through a mutual connection. Rhyno called me up and said, "Hey, my contract ends on July 17. They are offering me more than double the money, but I don't want to take it because they just want me to sit at home." So, I went to Detroit for a couple of hours and did the interview. I can't tell you how much it means to me that people are reaching out to me, being I'm a journalist, a reporter, I'm going to tell the story. I don't have any sort of other motivation. I don't have any dogs in the fight. I'm a fan like everyone else is. I'm just asking questions in hopes of getting responses.
And you do this along with your full-time job at Channel 7 [WSVN in Miami]. You're doing these on your day off.
Yeah. I actually use my vacation days. I was actually in Arizona over a weekend because I had a chance to speak with Justin Roberts and talk about AEW. I love it. It's really cool watching my YouTube channel grow from me as a fan to fellow fans who are enjoying this content.
Is your ultimate goal to keep doing these interviews? Where do you want to see it ultimately go?
I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing. I have an amazing day job working for Channel 7. Deco Drive is a legendary show. It has been on the air for well over 20 years, which in local television is unheard of. The fact I'm able to do these YouTube interviews that I look up to in my free time. It's the best of all worlds right now. I hope that my YouTube channel continues to grow as people find it and enjoy my stuff. That's all I can really hope for.
You're also doing things with Cricket Wireless. How did that come about?
They host live-stream interviews at the big WWE pay-per-views like the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, Survivor Series and SummerSlam. It was through my YouTube following. They've asked me to come in and do these interviews for their live-stream Facebook page and my YouTube channel. It's an extension of my YouTube channel, going out there and reach even more people.
You're also working with a promoting called Blueprint Wrestling in South Florida. What has that experience been like for you?
I wanted to be a wrestler growing up. I went to wrestling school when I was 19 or 20. It didn't pan out with my schedule and college. I've been really fortunate to be part of that independent wrestling world. I've gone in there and taken bumps. I've been a ring announcer for 12 years in Toronto, Cleveland and now South Florida. It's awesome to be part of the show. I love performing in some way being on television. I can still work and don't' have to ice any bruises without taking a bump.
You're known for the style and your suits. Let people know, how many suits do you own?
I haven't counted recently, but I'd say around 20 suits. To me it's a matter of if I can dress up and show that I care about the way I look. I think it shows respect to the people on television and when I interview people from movies, I want to look the part and show people I'm serious about what I'm doing.
What is your most memorable interview? One you'll always remember.
The Rock was my favorite interview growing up. I remember doing the "People's Eyebrow" and yelling, "It doesn't matter! To people.' I had the chance to interview him for the first time in 2012. He was everything you'd want him to be charismatic, outgoing, makes you feel special in a way I've never really experienced with any other celebrity. I've now had the opportunity to interview The Rock nine times. My most memorable one happened three years ago for The Ballers season two red carpet premiere. We were live on television. During a commercial, The Rock came up to us. It's not like you can tell The Rock, "Can you give us a minute before we get back on TV for this interview?"
"I was doing whatever I could to drag on the interview so by the time the commercials were over, I was talking to The Rock. I was successful. Then when I told The Rock we were doing it on live TV. He was like, 'So, I can do whatever I want and say whatever I want.'" I suggested we do a People's Eyebrow off. When it was my turn to be on camera to do the 'People's Eyebrow,' The Rock gave me the middle finger in front of my head on live TV. I didn't know it happened. I turned around and thanked him for the interview. As soon as we got off the air, my boss was very angry that The Rock flipped me off on live TV. And I didn't even know it happened. If that was anyone else, I might have been upset. But because it was The Rock, it was awesome. It's great. Like a badge of honor."
Our full interview with Van Vliet was on Wednesday's episode of our WINCLY podcast on Wrestling Inc. Audio, which you can listen to below. You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here.