THE "WRITE" STUFF

I can't count the number of times over the last 10 years that someone, usually not connected to professional wrestling in any way except as a fan, has asked me, "How do I get a job as a writer?" or given me a package of "scripts" as an audition for a "writing position". This usually gives me the sour belches. It's not these folks' fault that they want the position, it's the fault of the idiots who actually HIRE idiots like these that gives others the idea they, too, can get the jobs with no experience whatsoever. So the inaugural Cornette's Commentary deals with what a "booker" is, what a "writer" is, and the difference between the two.

The inspiration for this column was a paragraph in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter from several months back. I quote that here verbatim, as an example of the intellect of people who "write" wrestling in some places these days:

"It started with Marella and Phoenix out. Marella talked about the three perverts he might face at Cyber Sunday, two crossdressers, Rodney the Piper and Goldendust, and a third pervert in Honky Tonk Man. He called "Johnny Knockville" to the ring. He was out there plugging his website about 50 times, so it was no subtlety as to why he was there. He made a remark about Phoenix's tallywacker and implying she was a guy in drag (I mean, she doesn't exactly look like Nicole Bass or even Chyna to make that joke work), so she bodyslammed him. This was just about the worst bodyslam in history, all his fault. She gave him an extra boot out of frustration and I'm sure she was glad her time in this skit was up. Hornswoggle ran in for a tadpole splash. Then Chris Pontius, who was with him, came to the ring. Christopher DeJosephs (a WWE "writer") as Big Dick Johnson then showed up, peeled off his clothes and started dancing. Pontius then peeled off his clothes, so you had two guys running around in jock straps dancing. I'd hate to think who this was trying to appeal to at this point. But we weren't done. Out came the Boogeyman.. DeJosephs ran away, but Boogeyman gave Pontius a lousy looking clothesline and spit worms all over his face. Almost none went in Pontius' mouth, but one or two may have and they were selling it like a ton did. But we STILL weren't done. Knoxville got up and said he'd been blown up before, and finally since this was all building to it, out came Khali. They started laughing and Khali gave Knoxville the head squeeze, picked him up and dropped him with a slam from the head squeeze. There have been mercy killings less painful than this segment. Houston Mitchell of the Los Angeles Times, there live, said "I've never seen a segment die live quite as bad as that Jackass segment did. And it seemed to go on forever." There were people internally quietly saying the segment was awful, and Brian Gewirtz (WWE "writer") was very defensive of it, saying those people just don't understand good comedy."

Apparently that stupid son of a bitch Gewirtz doesn't understand good WRESTLING, either.

Let's clarify our terms at the start. Pro wrestling doesn't have "writers", it has a BOOKER. "Sports entertainment" has "writers". Since Toots Mondt laid the groundwork for the position of booker back in the 20's and 30's, the booker in wrestling served as the matchmaker, deciding who would wrestle who, who would win, constructed the finishes to lead to rematches if applicable, and set up the "programs", or series of matches between two opponents. He determined the talent roster by hiring and/or firing the wrestlers who wrestled in the particular territory he was booking. As the TV era began, the booker also laid out the TV formats, came up with the angles to be worked, and gave the talent ideas for what to say in their promos.

The promoter, or owner, of the territory the booker was in charge of was the only person the booker answered to. He might have assistants to carry out his instructions, but he had sole control over any decisions relating to talent. If business was good, he stayed in the position. If business was bad, the promoter replaced him. The wrestlers, especially the main event talent, had great leeway in their performance as long as they carried out the booker's basic instructions. The booker gave the finish and any important spot, the rest of the match was up to the talent. The booker told the talent the subject and time of their TV promos, content and delivery was up to talent. As an example, Dusty Rhodes' instructions to me might be, "You've got 3 minutes, you're wrestling the Rock & Roll Express in Charlotte, last show there you interfered with the racket so this time they've asked for a cage match, and it's for the Tag Title. Go sell me some tickets."

If the talent performed the booker's angles, finishes and promos properly while getting their individual personalities and style over, they drew money. If they didn't, they were replaced with someone who did. So, in summation, a booker assembled a crew of wrestlers that he felt were unique, charismatic and talented, gave them direction and a platform on which to get over, built up their won-loss records, and then manipulated them into personal issues or title matches with other stars he felt were compelling enough that fans would pay to see them. The talent did the rest, and that's why main event stars got reputations as being able to "draw money". You often hear these days that "so and so has never drawn any money." In TODAY's environment, few particular talents "draw money", because few are put in positions to do their own thing and prove it's THEM, not the "writing", that people are paying to see.

Great talent can sometimes take mediocre booking and make it work, but it's hard for great booking to draw money with subpar talent. Being a great booker was an art form, possibly the hardest job in wrestling, because it not only required great knowledge of and experience in wrestling, but the ability to spot and feature great talent as well. Many of the greatest bookers were also top stars in the ring. The reason for this is because only a proven money-drawing talent with a track record of success and years of experience would be trusted by a promoter with the most important job in his company. In many cases, only a top star known for his accomplishments would have the respect in the eyes of the talent to be able to tell a locker room full of stars and tough guys what to do.

Of course, there was often a problem with the booker also being a wrestler, in terms of ego, overpushing himself or his friends, etc., but there was also an upside in that the booker knew he wouldn't walk out on himself, hold himself up for more money, and the like. So how did you become a booker in the "old days?" Every story is different, but the gist is the same.Unless you had some outstanding accomplishment on your resume, such as being a standout amateur champion, former pro athlete, local sports hero, or physical giant that made a promoter come to you, you generally followed a path something like this:

You were a fan of wrestling who hung around the matches, set up the ring, ran errands, etc. until your presence became accepted in the "closed society" of wrestling. An established wrestler took a liking to you and agreed to train you in the basics. After getting the crap kicked out of you in training, you started as a TV job guy or a "curtain-jerker", got beaten like a drum, losing to everyone wherever you could get booked. You suffered through long trips and low payoffs until, IF you had any talent, you began moving up the cards, and MAYBE you would get a break if you impressed someone in power, and you would get to be involved in an angle or program. If that went well, you MIGHT get booked in a decent spot somewhere else. Over a period of years, working in many different territories, IF you were really good, you MIGHT establish yourself as a top talent.

IF you showed an interest in or aptitude for the booking end of wrestling, you might begin to get input in your own programs and angles, and IF that worked well, you MIGHT be offered a spot as an assistant to an established booker who had taken an interest in you and wanted to mentor you, and if that worked out, a promoter somewhere MIGHT have enough faith in you to give you a shot as his booker. So as you can see, it was fairly easy.

In my case, I was a fan for 5 years, a photographer/ring announcer/gofer for 6 years, and a manager for 7 years before I was given an opportunity to be an assistant to WCW booker Ric Flair at the age of 28, and THAT raised eyebrows as I had so "little" experience. I also had to overcome the fact that I was not a wrestler, but "only" a manager. Still, I had been a performer, and that was the key. Not only was it almost unheard of for a person without many years of experience to be given a booking spot, but it was even rarer for someone to book if they had not been a performer of some kind.

You needed the experience of actually performing angles, finishes, promos and the like to know, through trial and error and on-the-job training how these things were laid out and implemented, how crowds would react, and how slight variations would lead to the success or failure of anything you were trying to accomplish.

Contrast the old system, where idiots like the aforementioned Gewirtz couldn't have gotten a job popping popcorn, with today. "Sports entertainment" started in the mid 80's, as a term coined by Vince McMahon to con major advertisers into thinking they were buying something other than professional wrestling, which many considered "low-class" programming. Of course, it was really still wrestling, as fans have never said, "There's sports entertainment at the Coliseum tonight", or "Did you get your sports entertainment tickets". But, especially over the last 10 years, the WWE has spearheaded major changes which have resulted in wrestling being possibly the only product of any kind where the fans, or the consumers, know more about the product than most of the people in charge of producing it.

The WWE executives and higher-ups have deluded themselves into thinking that they really AREN'T in the wrestling business, that they have created something better than "rasslin' ", as they condescendingly refer to it. Even though they owe their homes, their savings, possibly everything they own to pro wrestling, they are so ashamed of being in the business of promoting wrestling that they refuse to even call it that. Over nearly a generation of hiring new employees, most of whom don't know the true story, they have created an atmosphere in the company whereby many there genuinely believe they have created a new genre of entertainment out of something that was seedy and small time, never successful before Vince got ahold of it. Nowhere is this more prevalent as on their "creative team", which is what they optimistically call their "writers".

For years, the head of the creative team has been Stephanie McMahon, the boss' daughter. While an intelligent, college-educated woman, her credentials qualifying her to be the head "writer" of a wrestling promotion remain the three words "the boss' daughter." Her knowledge of wrestling history, especially of how her father put the territories out of business, is nil, as evidenced by her testimony before Congress. Her experience as a performer has been limited to what she wrote for herself. It's not her fault entirely, as until she came to work at the WWE after college, she attended the matches sporadically, and certainly no one was going to teach the boss' daughter anything that might be politically imprudent. Her husband, Triple H, a student of the game, is certainly not going to rock his marriage boat, and much more important to him, his position as the heir to the throne, by telling her any of the negative effects her father has had on the pro wrestling industry in general while building his personal empire.

So Stephanie, as head of creative, hires people like her.Young people with college degrees in writing, many with experience writing scripted television, comedy shows in particular, with little or no respect for wrestling, and little if any experience performing ANYTHING. As a matter of fact, being a fan of wrestling is not even a requirement for the job, and God forbid if you DO admit to being a wrestling fan, and having watched any other wrestling besides WWE, you will at best be viewed as a "mark" and your days numbered.

These sitcom writers and comic book/video game enthusiasts don't apply for WWE jobs out of a lifelong love of wrestling, they do it to add to their resumes for the day they can get jobs in "real" TV and feed their dreams of winning an Emmy. They write things to amuse themselves and/or Vince, because seemingly 80% or better of "sports entertainment" has to be funny, usually involving stripper pillow fights, fart jokes, crossdressers, fat oily guys, inside jokes only a small portion of the audience understand, and midgets. When the fans who actually watch wrestling because they like it don't enjoy this crap, they are called "smart marks", "spoiled", and mocked and made fun of for not being "with the program", because in the WWE the customer is NEVER right.

While the WWE employs some of the greatest in-ring talent of the past as agents, like Arn Anderson, Ricky Steamboat and others, not only do they not have a hand in actually writing the shows, but they know better than to ruffle feathers by giving their true opinions, so they are forced to sit in muzzled silence while one of the writers sacrifices his dignity with gusto by slathering oil on his repulsive, 300 pound frame and parades about in a G-String, taking up time that could be used to get a hardworking young wrestler over. They know that Vince and his minions love to embarass and humiliate his loyal wrestling staff on TV if they step up with a dissenting opinion. It's no wonder that Michael Hayes, the last remaining person out of the revolving door staff of "writers" who has actually BEEN a pro wrestler, has had public issues with alcohol. After watching these amateur Shakespeares barge into the front door of my profession, wipe their feet on the rug, and turn the business into a clown show resembling the Harlem Globetrotters on acid, I feel like taking up a Mexican black tar heroin habit.

In this process, all the individuality has been taken from the talent. As the RAW script which was recently leaked on the internet shows, every word, every bit of business, even every gesture is scripted and only the upper echelon of talent has the liberty of any improvisation. Wrestling has been homogenized, pasteurized, and "sanitized for your protection" like a cellophane wrapper on a toilet seat at a cheap motel. The "writers" have become so absorbed in self-aggrandizement that every page of the detailed script is headed with "You are watching the longest-running weekly episodic television show in history", as if they are on the level of Gunsmoke, Bonanza or I Love Lucy. I don't recall Marshall Dillon spouting bad jokes like a standup comic in the Poconos, or Fred Mertz giving Ricky Ricardo a piledriver.

If the material succeeds, the creative team pats itself on the back. If it fails, they blame the wrestlers, saddled with silly gimmicks and lame scripts they don't have the power to refuse, for not being able to "draw money". If stars of the past like Dick Murdoch, the Sheik, Abdullah the Butcher, or even Dusty Rhodes, were to come along today, they couldn't even get jobs in developmental because they don't fit the cookie-cutter mold of what "stars" are supposed to look like. They would sound the same as everyone else because they wouldn't have the power to "go into business for themselves" and get themselves over with their unique personalities.

The matches themselves, the very basis of how wrestling sells tickets, are minimized in importance because, from bell to bell, the matches are the one thing that's hardest for the "writers" to control. The overwritten, overproduced skits take precedent because, as the old saying goes, if the "writers" ever walked into an athlete's locker room, they'd be whistling "Stranger in Paradise." The passion and emotion has been drained from the promos, as instead of colorful personalities speaking their own words from the heart, the talent recite memorized promos handed to them in a script, so everyone sounds the same. Credibility has been sacrificed as instead of two men fighting over a championship or personal issue easily understood and believed by the viewer, they are mired into an overwritten, convoluted soap opera that is obviously contrived. Injury rates soar as people who have never been in a match come up with ridiculously complicated stipulations and gimmick-laden bouts that are impossible to perform safely, all the while knowing THEY'LL never have to risk their necks actually executing the shit.

I've made a lot of money in wrestling over the years, but I'd have a lot more if I had a dime for every time someone has recognized me in public and told me they USED to watch wrestling, but they don't anymore because it got so (pick one) A) Show biz B) Fake C) cartoony D) offensive or E) variations on A-D.

And who suffers? Besides the fans who have to sit through so much of this hokey shit to see the great matches and promos the top talent are still capable of delivering when given the chance, it's the wrestlers. The aspiring rookies are handicapped by having no territories left to gain experience in, as well as the WWE's butchering of their own developmental system. The guys who do make the main roster are forced to sacrifice their dignity and self-respect by doing the silly things that hamper their ability to get over but amuse the writers. The more physically demanding style combined with the mainstream knowledge that pro wrestling is a complete work means they now have to hit each other twice as hard to get half the response. Careers last 5 or 10 years instead of 20 or 30. I won't even go into the drug issues caused by the cosmetic look needed to fit the WWE's hiring practices or the resulting depression experienced by those who get a brief taste of stardom, then have it taken away when the gimmick or spot they are given turns out to be a short-term success with no legs and they are "typecast" in the fans' eyes and cannot reinvent themselves. Additionally, the wrestler is the one who takes the blame if he grows a set of balls one day and says, "No, the Boogeyman is NOT going to spit live worms in my mouth tonight."

Wrestling is a talent-driven industry.The stars are ultimately the ones the fans pay to see, or watch on TV. But never in our sport's history have people who have no experience and background in or respect for our industry had so much control over those who do. And that's sad, for the wrestlers AND the fans.

I'm Jim Cornette, and that's my opinion.