Thursday, 5 May 2016

Opinion: WWE Funny vs Standard Funny or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Just Watch the Product Damnit (Jozef Raczka)

ADVANCE WARNING: I make no bones about this but I've only watched wrestling properly since 2012. So if I have missed out something that happened during your beloved attitude era, please tweet me and I will add it to the list of things I invariably don't watch and just re-watch Daniel Bryan anger management sessions

Wrestling funny is different to standard funny. It's hard to describe how but it is. It's different in the same way that watching a great wrestling match is different to watching a great fight scene from a film. It would make sense that wrestling would have comedy segments, I mean it is a ridiculous art-form. Take the very idea of The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt, we have an undead necromancer (and one time hell's angel) taking on the leader of a southern voodoo cult but in a ring in front of an audience and with no actual magic but no one bats an eyelid because this is wrestling things like this happen, it gets silly, one time a man fell in love with a mop. But wrestling funny is a complicated thing, especially WWE funny as Vince McMahon seems to love a good body fluid gag. Sorry when I say a good one, I mean he probably loved it when Roman Reigns spiked his daughter's coffee causing her to vomit profusely on Vickie Guerrero in what is perhaps the most apt metaphor for how the WWE treated Vickie after Eddie's death.

Currently WWE, I feel, is trying to change certain reactions to this. I mean look at the big pieces of 'original programming' they've been pushing: The Edge and Christian Show that Totally Reeks of Awesomeness and Camp WWE. The interesting thing is comparing the two. Just before we continue, this isn't going to be a review of either show, not because they don't deserve it but because if they are or aren't funny is far too subjective a discussion for this occasion. But the simple thing is, Camp WWE is the new collaboration between WWE Studios and Seth Green of Robot Chicken and Oz the dreamy werewolf from Buffy fame (not Oz, the failed gimmick of Kevin Nash. Though he'd make a great werewolf). It's kind of your standard post-Seth McFarlane animated show for 'adults': a combination of mildly racy gags (Ric Flair fucks everything) with well-timed swears and occasional cartoon violence. Whether that's your cup of tea or not, the interesting thing about the first episode is how little it needs a knowledge of wrestling to be enjoyed, it's a product that could probably slot in next to Family Guy with little or no difficulty. I want to also take a moment to note that Vince McMahon already after one episode might be one of the greatest missed opportunities for the voice acting world, when he says he's going to hunt Cena down 'like a sexy dog', you believe it.

When you put it next to Edge and Christian Show, it couldn't be more difficult. The main difference is that Camp WWE is the wrestling equivalent of a 'what if...' Comic where they take loose versions of wrestler characters and translate them to a summer camp comedy environment but Edge and Christian are these days, basically Adam Copeland and William Reso. They are just two good friends who used to wrestle and now like to make jokes about it, it is a programme that is 100% built on knowledge of the product and fits in as many in-jokes as it can. As it happens, Edge and Christian's show, if taken entirely by the first episode, feels a lot more forced, it is entirely alienating to a non-wrestling fan. It is as much a show where everything is about wrestling as Camp WWE is a show that is attempting to make wrestling about everything. 

See I think that the Camp WWE approach has the ability to bring in new fans. I mean, Robot Chicken has an entirely different fanbase that can get eyes on the main show, if it worked for Total Divas, it could in theory work for this, if it wasn't hidden away on the Network where only 'we', the beloved few can find it. And herein lies the rub of 'wrestling funny', it's why Edge and Christian Show works if its for you, wrestling funny is only for wrestling fans. Have you ever tried to explain to someone who doesn't like wrestling why Ric Flair is awesome? It's impossible. Even I don't really understand it but then as I've acknowledged, I've heard about all his great matches, I've only seen I think one match of his pre-2004. Wrestling is a thing that you either get or don't and in many ways, the humour goes with that, sure you can have great spectrum crossing segments like Sheamus meeting Beaker or Drew Carey in the Royal Rumble (I still secretly wish they'd have him win) but for the most part, wrestling funny comes under 'it's hard to explain why, but it is'. 

But there are weird exceptions to all rules and just focusing on recent years, there has been one major exception to the rule of 'wrestling funny is only funny to wrestling fans' and that is of course, The New Day. There have been many articles (and many better ones than this) written about how the New Day have managed to get where they are purely off starting to do what they want to do but it is worth noting, they are just genuinely funny people. I defy anyone to not draw even the slightest amount of glee from their Wrestlemania entrance this year, they fell out of a giant box of cereal dressed as Dragonball-Z characters. It's genius, it's the perfect mix of nerdy, stupid and endearingly bonkers. But what works about them is their comedy isn't based on their abilities as wrestlers (in fact it has far more of a link to Xavier Woods' side job as host of YouTube gaming channel, UpUpDownDown), it is just about them making each other laugh more than even playing to the audience. Compare that to whatever the fuck they've been doing with R-Truth for the last few years and it's clear that they're light years ahead of a lot of others.

I'm not trying to say that wrestling isn't funny and can't be funny, it's just a peculiar kind of funny and frequently an alienating one. WWE's attempts to mine that are confusing. Is Camp WWE meant to be a casual animated show for wrestling fans or a casual wrestling show for animation fans? No one knows. All I know is that when I saw NXT Live at Sheffield Arena last year, there was a comedy match between Tye Dillinger and Bull Dempsey. Not only did Tye out-wrestle Bull but he also was funnier, unrelated, but at one point the crowd started a 'This Is Wrestling' chant. Ignoring the fact that no actual wrestling was going on, what we were watching was wrestling. It was a ridiculous, confusing charade that was designed to delight those who got it and baffle those who didn't but I'll be damned if those who got it, didn't seem to be having a ball.

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