In pro wrestling, anything that is fake is referred to as "kayfabe", and anything that is "real" is referred to as "shoot". 

So a "shoot" interview is typically one that is done with a third party out of character, a geniune interview of the performer, past or present, This is in contrast to one in front of a camera during a wrestling show, an interview of the wrestler's persona designed to advance a storyline or angle that has been designed by the creative department. Some men were masters of the kayfabe interview: Macho Man Randy Savage was good at giving colorful monologues in his strangled gravelly baritone, illustrating his points with containers of UHT cream or pouring a bowl of candy over his own head. Dusty Rhodes simply strung together the most nonsensical sets of words known to man, amusing only for the sheer stream of consciousness weirdness. Jake "The Snake" Roberts, of Stone Mountain, Georgia delivered the kind of thousand-yard stare cool verbal warning that made people genuinely intimidated by him, even though he was one of the smallest men in the 80s era WWF.

But the thing that makes pro wrestling interesting is not the moves themselves, or the costumes, though they are the means to an end. Pro wrestling, in its purest form, is storytelling. Not just the bit where they stand in front of a camera and scream about tearing their upcoming opponent limb from limb, but in the ring itself. A good match has pacing, it has its up moments, and down moments. There's someone we identify with and someone who stands in his or her way. Sometimes the hero stomps the evil foreigner and grabs the American flag, waving it from ring post to ring post as the crowd jumps into patriotic fervor. Sometimes a cheating move robs the hero of the belt, and the crowd feels for the wronged man, the only one not to notice the infraction being the referee who awards the contest to the sneering, arrogant victor. The hero fights back against incredible odds and manages to pull a slick move while near unconscious - two guys beat the hero from behind and he is saved by his best friend who runs in from the back stage area, chair in hand to clear house. It isn't just the scripted story line, but there's always a conflict, and it goes through its plot points.

A good match has the crowd on its feet cheering even though everyone save the five year olds and the bussed-in folks from the home for the intellectually challenged know it's fake. Talented performers make the momentum of the contest go from one competitor to the other, playing the emotions of the crowd like well-oiled thespians. In essence, the thing we took away most from the light saber duels in the first two Star Wars movies wasn't so much the sword and sorcery glamor of it but the fact that when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader meet each other for the last time, it's clearly the culmination of decades of tension between them both. Kenobi tells Vader he cannot win this contest, no matter what the outcome. It's a fencing duel between a very old man and a bodybuilder in a constricting latex suit wearing a blinding mask, but we remember it as being more exciting than the few crackles of bashed sticks that it really was because it told a story.

And just as the emotional-content rich Star Wars movies turned into CGI extravaganzas with 20 minute long choreographed duels involving backflips and molten lava, truth be told it all became insanely boring and blase. And likewise, the old masters who found the medium itself to be the medium for storytelling gave way to a younger generation who jumped higher, came out stronger, took the scripted stuff to ludicrous limits (a 60something woman giving birth to a human hand, an anti-hero pulling a gun on a multimillionaire boss without being arrested and fired on the spot and facing decades in jail on weapons charges). The "Hardcore" wrestling replaced talent with using a staple gun on someone's forehead and turning the competitors into meat to be ground in being thrown through piles of fluorescent light tubes or suplexed into razor wire. Almost nobody realizes these days that the secret to fantastic matches was recognizing the medium for what it was.

And if you're a good storyteller IN the ring, and you've lived the kinds of colorful lives these folks led before wrestling became respectable - chances are you're a great storyteller OUT of the ring with some incredible stories to tell. Used to be if you wanted in to that business, they tried very very hard to talk you out of it. Scott Hall, aka Razor Ramon, told of being made with 30 other guys to run five miles, then do 500 free squats, then 400 pushups then run up the bleacher stairs of the stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina before being made to carry someone over his shoulders the length of the stadium, etc. and then when barely able to stand the 10 or so who hadn't dropped out were made to actually grapple with fresh, rested men twice their size who grapevined their legs, broke their nose or jaw, and/or did all manner of damage. When Hulk Hogan showed up to his first training session the man in question broke his leg. Many of those performers were basically outcasts but for wrestling would be in jail or worse - and they preserved their livelihoods by beating the ever loving shit out of anyone who wanted in. And if you could hang and came back the next day nursing that broken jaw but ready to do it again, you were respected enough to be given a chance. 

These guys lived hard lives in the days before pro wrestling became very big business. You had to draw crowds to survive and you did it by being damn good at making people want to come back week after week to see what came next. There were no schools, and the road was very hard. And what a colorful crew they were - from the double-ligamented Harley Race who had the natural finger strength to lock fingers with a man of any size and bend his opponent's hands backwards, causing him extreme pain - which he did in bars when people suggested he wasn't so tough. Captain Lou Albano wasn't satisfied with the ring rigors, and would remove the rubber band stapled to his face and go to the nearest bar looking for a bona fide bar fight, which he'd start and win. There were groupies, there were drugs, arrests, practical jokes, bad blood, locker room fights, a couple of guys stabbed dead. People went down to Mexico where they tried not to shit themselves after being poisoned by the water, dodging the cigarettes people would flick right where someone would be thrown down onto the canvas, as the throw was started.

So you can well understand that listening to these guys sit back and talk about the lives and events behind the ring is amazing - the stories of backstage fights, the practical jokes that were played. There are a lot of dedicated channels on YouTube and podcasts devoted to exactly that.

The people who were genuinely friends in real life and the two guys you never made share the same car or that night's match wasn't gonna happen because one guy or both would be legitimately injured. Sometimes you hear the same story told separately by both parties involved, each giving a different version. Some interviews have people talking about other performers and what they genuinely thought of them, and got a glimpse of the human beings behind the colorful personas according to them. According to these interviews: Randy Savage was so cheap he'd shoplift food and so paranoid about other men talking to his wife he'd literally lock her in a room from the outside if he had to go elsewhere without her. Hulk Hogan described as a wife-swapping drug fiend whose fanny pack was stuffed with at least cocaine if not tons of other drugs. Rob Van Dam infamously mocked Shawn Michaels who he described as insincere and two-faced, imitating his voice perfectly while crossing one eye while talking (Michaels suffered an eye socket injury that made one of his eyes no longer track straight) which actually made the interviewer burst into nervous laughter with an "Oh, Jesus..." 

The Iron Sheik is a loose cannon, compensating for a less than perfect English with constant expletives. Honky Tonk Man hates just about everybody and sees no problem in describing people exactly how he sees them. And they're damn good raconteurs, feeling no guilt whatsoever about talking about being double crossed, deals going sour, fond reminiscences of dead friends, and so forth. Apparently the now deceased Yokozuna was fond of keeping his 500+ lb frame going by stealing food from anyone who had it. While on an airplane, Owen Hart (also deceased) told him explicitly NOT to eat the two chocolate bars he had in his seat pocket, he was going to take a leak, but he expected Yoko to leave his food alone while he was gone. Naturally Yokozuna ate both bars the moment he left, not realizing they were chocolate laxatives. Within a few minutes he was absolutely shaking with a soon-to-be uncontrollable diarrhea but the problem was he literally could not fit into an airplane bathroom. So he ended up having to humiliatingly egest everything he ate in the back of the plane on a pile of spread out newspapers, while two disgusted stewardesses held a blanket in front of him to give him the very very little dignity he had in the entire incident, while Owen Hart was practically crying with laughter.

A good shoot interview is typically open ended, but sparked by a thoughtful question from the interviewer. Some topics are well worth the mileage you get out of poking the right hornet's nest - asking Jim Cornette what he thinks of Vince Russo is guaranteed to get a very long, very very expletive filled rant. Bad ones try to force the interviewer into topics he isn't interested in revisiting, or wondering if an answer to a question is genuine. "No, I liked the guy, can't say a bad thing about him." "Really? Are you sure?" Of course he's sure.

Some shoot interviews are just outright nasty. A terrible one occurred when someone found very old footage of a match between Hulk Hogan and The Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden. An aside for anyone not in possession of a penis, either by being born with XY chromosomes or being partnered with someone who makes theirs available to them. An erection is very often involuntary, and can occur at the worst possible time - and insinuating that it is caused by some kind of erotic impulse is out of order. Keep in mind testosterone, whether injected as part of a wrestler's drug regimen or naturally occurring from the heavy lifting involved - and nitric oxide, which can be generated from exertion - can spontaneously cause erection in men well past puberty with that same frequency. What I'm going at with this is that in the footage in question, as Sheik is standing over Hogan triumphantly, it's pretty obvious (not to the crowd necessarily in the garden, but unmistakable in this footage) that he has a sizeable erection, and the speedo-style spandex number he was wearing was the worst possible thing to try to cover with it. The interviewer not only ambushed Sheik with this footage, filming his reaction, but tried to press the insinuation home that maybe there was more to Sheik enjoying Hogan being flat on his back than professional pride. Sheik was uncharacteristically good natured and calm, apologetically laughing and trying to play it off not having the English to talk through such a sensitive situation. As a result the interviewer repeatedly made the same insinuation and pointed repeatedly at the film footage of Sheik as a much younger man, standing in front of a crowd of thirty thousand at full mast. Given that Sheik is a bona fide wrestler and a very strong man even for his age, I'm amazed the guy had the balls to risk it, but I'm thoroughly disgusted at the impropriety of it and the macho homophobic joking at a decent man's expense.

Some are hard to watch. Chavo Guerrero talked candidly about the warning signs he ignored, being one of the last men to see Chris Benoit alive before the man killed himself and his wife and child. 

Regardless of how you feel about pro wrestling in general or any of the people that perform in it, watching these things is absolutely fascinating. Even though I've long lost any interest in the colorful theater that is the squared circle, I have to admit I'm addicted to listening to these rants, reminiscences, poignant memories and spiteful spittings of venom. The silver and golden ages of the sport are long since past, but reliving them through the eyes of the men who were there is positively fascinating.

 

 

 

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