Chris Gethard is a consummate entertainer who is thankful to have grown up a fan as the ‘Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection’ of the 1980s took the world by storm.
“Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, those became cultural sensations during the formidable years,” the comedian, podcast host, actor and writer said, remembering the roots of his fandom.
“I remember coming-of-age and how wrestling was a part of my life. My brother was a huge fan. Like many things, he got me into it. I also remember the first album I ever owned was ‘The Wrestling Album’ that had Roddy Piper singing ‘For Everybody,’ and Jimmy Hart saying ‘Eat Your Heart Out, Rick Springfield.’ I was lucky enough to be born at an age where pop culture-wise you couldn’t escape wrestling. I’ve been on board ever since.”
The 40-year-old New Jersian realizes all this time later how much wrestling impacted him. Fans saw the influence in “The Chris Gethard Show.” It was through the experience he got to know Colt Cabana, who appeared regularly.
“You realize you write your show in a way that mirrors wrestling. I’m the face for most of it, but then there would be some episodes where there are some heel turns and a bad guy. We had run-ins and characters that had to be established. I had to play it like I didn’t know they were coming and take over the show. A lot of that,” Gethard recalled. “Colt Cabana became a big part of our show. He and I became friends over the years. He was one of the first people to call me out on it where he is like, ‘You just write in a wrestling style.’
“Even with standup, one of the main things you learn how to do is control a crowd, control their emotions, manipulate them where you want them to go without them realizing they’re being manipulated. I actually think a lot about guys like Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase. I feel like those were people who really managed to work crowds up and control them. Then you have the final match that was the payoff in those feuds they drive. I felt like it’s similar. As you’re setting up a joke, setting up a story. That’s the stretch where you’re starting to control the crowd. Then the punchline is the payoff. The punchline is the payoff match where everything comes to its conclusion. As far as crowd control and crowd manipulation, I don’t think that you can find any better examples than the cream of the crop of heel wrestlers.”
One memory he looks at fondly is meeting Mick Foley before reaching the top of WWE. Someone who, like others, has hosted speaking and stand-up shows. Gethard can see the crossover between wrestling and live comedy in terms of mentality and lifestyle.
“I’ve befriended a few wrestlers over the years. I think this idea that you travel from gig to gig, scrap it out. Sometimes you have to corner a promoter after a show to get them to pay you,” he said. “I think wrestlers and stand-up comedians are definitely two of the last professions that have some of the old carny lifestyle to them. You travel to the next town and spend a lot of lonely nights. There are a lot of meals at Waffle House by yourself. It makes sense to me that a lot of wrestlers look at comedy and think, ‘I recognize this. I feel comfort in this.’
“At the end of the day, a lot of the people who made that crossover are fantastic storytellers. Mick Foley, Jake ‘The Snake.’ I don’t think anybody would argue that they aren’t good storytellers. In the case of Mick, he makes a lot of jokes about the fact he doesn’t have the physique of the Ultimate Warrior. But he knows how to tell a story and crowd psychology. That’s kind of what comedy is.”
On infusing comedy in wrestling, Gethard believes it’s a delicate balance. The “Class Action Park” star names comedy as a part of why he fell in love with the unique form of entertainment.
You look at Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, and he is supremely funny. Back when he and Gorilla Monsoon would effectively run a talk show on USA Network. I look at Roddy Piper, who was incredibly funny. You had those vignettes with Mr. Perfect where he would throw a football and catch it himself. Those are really funny. Some of them being outright comedy…I kind of feel like one of the things that probably helps the comedy in wrestling go down smoothly is where the main event stuff and top level stuff is really going well and engaging in its own right. If you have someone like Steve Austin at the top of the food chain and The Rock, people can watch them and say, ‘These are the legit bad asses.’ Then I think you can get away with Mr. Socko after that.
“Sometimes the comedy might stand out more and feel like it was going past the tipping point when the rest of the show isn’t balancing it out as much. I mean no disrespect to WWE about that. It’s a matter of thinking of how things are balanced. If the comedy takes too much focus or the stuff above it doesn’t grab the viewer as much, it’s going to stand out as weird. There is also the kind of thing of comedy wrestling…I think Colt Cabana pioneered that in many ways…It’s been cool to get embraced by AEW. I feel like Orange Cassidy went off the ladder to a degree where he has turned a corner where people are actually rooting for him beyond comedy. He deserved that where he got over through the comedy, which is one of the first times I’ve seen that happen.”
Gethard was able to combine his skillset and love of wrestling by hosting the “Dark Side of the Ring: After Dark.” Although it wasn’t what was planned as his Brooklyn set was shut down three days before the shoot was supposed to start due to the COVID outbreak. He found himself adjusting to hosting on his laptop propped on Tupperware to get the right shot on his webcam. Gethard hopes he gets another crack at the gig and sees his vision for the show through when seasons three of the doc-series, currently under production, airs.
“I interviewed Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine after the Jimmy Snuka episode,” Gethard said. “He revealed a story where he claims Vince McMahon helped Jimmy Snuka get off the hook for smuggling an intense amount of drugs from Israel. I don’t know if that had been out there before. That’s a scoop and should be going around.”
Check out all things Chris Gethard on his website. Gethard’s full interview aired as part of today’s episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it’s released Monday – Friday afternoon by clicking here.