World Wrestling Insanity Presents: Shoot First ... Ask Questions Laterby James Guttman
In the latest offering from the best-selling author of World Wrestling Insanity, James Guttman tells the real story behind contacting, cajoling, convincing, interviewing, and learning from more than 100 of professional wrestling’s most beloved stars. From former World Champions to Playboy models, from grizzled veterans to/cite>/cite>
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In the latest offering from the best-selling author of World Wrestling Insanity, James Guttman tells the real story behind contacting, cajoling, convincing, interviewing, and learning from more than 100 of professional wrestling’s most beloved stars. From former World Champions to Playboy models, from grizzled veterans to slick promoters, Radio Free Insanity, Guttman’s popular and groundbreaking weekly web broadcast has featured an environment that fosters discussion and leads to countless memorable tales.
In Shoot First… Ask Questions Later you’ll journey with Guttman through the business of sports entertainment, making startling discoveries about the way the industry truly works. For the first time ever, Guttman offers keen insight into the true personalities of wrestling’s stars.
Who’s the nicest guest off-air? And who was the most abrasive? Who was the funniest? And who was the worst interview in the history of interviews? What’s the bizarre story behind speaking with Scott Steiner, and why was Guttman worried? Why was Corporal Kirschner answering JG’s phone? What’s the inside scoop on the now infamous Ole Anderson shoot? What were crazy pre-interview conversations with people like Jerry Lawler, Diamond Dallas Page, Juvi “The Juice” Guerrera, and others really like? Discover all this and more from James Guttman’s two years behind the curtain and inside the work/shoot world of professional wrestling.
Shoot First … Ask Questions Later, with over 100 names you’ve come to know and love and sometimes hate, comes from the outsider who makes it his mission to find out what makes them tick.
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Shoot First Ask Questions Later
World Wrestling Insanity Presents
By James Guttman
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2008 James Guttman
All rights reserved.
SHOOT FIRST ...
Everyone thinks they have the wrestling business figured out. We all do. If you watch Raw or Smackdown or Impact as part of you weekly grind, chances are you have ideas on how to fix wrestling — change it, tweak it, and improve it. It's no different than any other pop pastime. Essentially, every hardcore fan of any genre of entertainment can tell you how they'd fix it.
I felt that way about wrestling too. I had it all figured out. I knew all the answers. I had a plan to bring us to the next level. If only Vince McMahon would listen to me, he'd be rolling in gold plated money.
Then I started WorldWrestlingInsanity.com (and later ClubWWI.com) and realized that, well, I didn't know as much as I thought.
That's the irony. You see, when I sat down to write a second book, I wanted it to be very different than my first. After all, once you've done 900 pages on why Triple H killed the Lindbergh baby, there's not too much more to say. And while I still stand by the fact that police found a sledgehammer and bottled water at the crime scene, that's a story for another day.
World Wrestling Insanity (the book, not the website) was a snapshot of one of WWE's creative lows. I stand by what I wrote at the time and meant everything I said. However, once I created the websites dedicated to the book, I never imagined what I would learn.
When WorldWrestlingInsanity.com first went online, the mission was simple. I wanted to bring fans the same humor and commentary I always strived to create, but I also wanted to bring them closer to their favorite stars. Rather than third, fourth, or eighth-hand information, they'd hear their favorite wrestler's thoughts and feelings from their own mouth. No more he said/she said. It was all going to be there, out in the open.
A little over a month after the site went live, Dr. Tom Prichard joined. Dr. Tom was a big part of my first book, and offered a wealth of information. He had been a trainer with WWE, not to mention a World Tag Team Champion. He co-hosted "Byte This." Hell, he did it all. I was truly thrilled to have him on board as a columnist. After all, he had been there and done that, so to speak.
The thing that got me about featuring Tom on the site was everything he noticed. His columns, and his thoughts in general, picked up subtle nuances that I'd never really noticed. It was amazing to see what he was able to see, the missteps he exposed. After all, wrestling was his life.
His columns covered some amazing ground. When Eddie Guerrero died, Tom wrote about the time they spent together in rehab. He spoke from the heart about the passing of his friend, and about the pain that he was feeling. Instead of the grieving process a fan experiences when a star they enjoyed dies, I discovered what a man who knew Guerrero and cared for him felt. It was jarring how this "television death" truly affected someone I spoke to and considered a friend.
Between that and the weekly interviews that followed, everything about the wrestling business began to take on new meaning.
My goal from the start was to seek out and interview people I'd watched in the ring. That's it. If you wrestled for one of the major companies, I want to interview you.
And that's about all there is to it.
The reason is simple: every single person who has ever been in the wrestling business has a theory about it. They approach it and think about it differently. They respect certain aspects more than others.
What are they? Well, that's what I really wanted to know.
Every experience is unique. If the Diff'rent Strokes theme song taught us anything, it's that "everybody's got a special kind of story."
The other thing I confronted in myself was the way I misunderstood the people behind the characters. Some of the guests I expected to be the strangest or rudest turned out to be the nicest. Some of the ones I thought were going to be really cool ... were really not.
Here's the kicker, though. What had I been basing my instincts on? TV? Backstage stories and gossip?
How would I know anything? I hadn't been there.
I didn't know these men and women. Honestly, I had no idea what they were like. Just because you wear a cowboy hat on TV doesn't make you a cowboy.
The wrestling business is like high school. Actually, most work environments are like high school. There are rumors and gossip everywhere. Think of any office you've worked in. The new guy's a jerk. The boss is stupid. The copier-repair guy with the eye patch drinks too much. You know the deal.
The difference is: the entire world doesn't know about your office. There aren't websites, newsletters, mobile phone alerts, T-shirts, fan fiction, and action figures dedicated to it. The people gossiping about you and your co-workers actually know you. Their thoughts and opinions are based on personal life experience. Unfortunately, for wrestlers and wrestling, things aren't the same.
Whether it's politics, vendettas, or bad information, many people in the sports entertainment industry wind up getting a bad rap. People may think a performer is the quintessential villain, dead set on destroying the entire business in one fell swoop. In reality? It might be the furthest thing from the truth.
We all have our moments. Sometimes a wrestler happens to have a bad day — and have it in front of the wrong people. Next thing you know, you're that leotard-wearing lunatic who punches the bus driver ... and the whole world knows it.
Politics? Well, backstage gossip has to begin with someone backstage, right? What's stopping a backstage source from saying, "Undertaker eats his boogers" in an effort to smear his reputation? There is nothing. That's the sad fact. Whether real or pretend, you're now labeled as a booger-eater and there's little you can do to stop it.
These are just a few things I've picked up, but I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, it took over 100 interviews for me to be able to see these facts as, well, facts. Before I go into detail about what I've learned, it's better if I tell you how I learned it.
So, like I said, my goal when the site was born in October 2005 was to present fans with a weekly interview. I wanted to ask all those questions that everyone was always wondering about.
I chose the name "JG's Radio Free Insanity," taking off on "Radio Free Europe." For a show designed to bring wrestlers to the fans, there was no real criteria besides the fact that the interviewee had to be someone people were familiar with. Out of all the guests we've had, only one hasn't worked for WCW, WWF, or TNA. And because that person is General Skandar Akbar, he doesn't compromise my rule. Because, as any fan of old school World Class Championship Wrestling can tell you, Akbar's freakin' awesome.
So that's where the whole thing came from. For the very first broadcast, I had on Tom Prichard and Charlie Haas. Both men would eventually end up back with WWE, but they were my inaugural episode.
The interview with Charlie was brutal.
Haas was in an airport and waiting to go to Italy with his wife, Jackie. He was distracted and didn't have much time. If the same situation occurred now, I would just postpone the whole thing. Since I was new to all this, I wasn't prepared for that kind of situation; my mindset was it's now or never. Grab guests when you can, otherwise they disappear into the ether. I don't know. I'm pretty sure that was my thought process at the time.
As the weeks went by, I interacted with many different personalities and started to learn how to make my interviews work best. In September 2006, I created ClubWWI.com to house the archives of past shows and present full, uncut interviews with each week's guest. When the Club first opened up, we were close to a year into "Radio Free Insanity," so new members immediately had access to hundreds of hours of audio.
Like I said, the basic premise behind each of the shoots is to present fans the stars as they really are. The public's perception of wrestlers is often misinformed. It can be due to any number of factors, but one of which is often the performer's desire, their intention, to control the way they are perceived. The first time I truly understood this was the day I interviewed Kevin Nash.
Kevin lives with the stigma of being the man who many people feel "killed" WCW. Apparently, he hates wrestling companies.... He likes to see them crushed beneath his giant boots as he devours TV time for dinner. To some, Nash represents everything wrong with the wrestling business. In their eyes, he's horrible, mean, nasty — the kind of guy who should be sent to live alone on an island, where he can't hurt anyone.
In reality, he's one of the few people in wrestling who called me back for his interview at the exact time he said he would.
It's stuff like that you don't hear about. I can't tell you how often I've been told, "Yeah. I'll give you a ring tomorrow. We'll do it then." A week later, when I finally track them down, it's "Tomorrow. I'll ring you tomorrow." The game usually goes on for a few weeks. I've had some stars play this way for a year before we actually recorded. Greg Valentine holds the record. He agreed to be interviewed in December 2005. I finally recorded him in April 2008.
Big Daddy Cool wasn't like that. He told me he'd call at 2:45 p.m. the next day and just as the clock hit a quarter to three, my phone rang. It was the first surprise in what would be an interview full of revelations.
As I mentioned, many stars have a negative image, and Kevin's reputation is legendary. After all, he's turned his backstage "evil" into a gimmick. Upon his TNA debut, he took the microphone and told everyone in the company that he was devoted to making them so miserable they'd quit. It was more than enough to annoy the fans who felt that this went beyond a role he was scripted to play. To them, it was the truth, delivered by someone capable of following through.
I asked him about it. Considering how much he plays it up, does he feel that fans don't know the real Kevin Nash? That they only know the most negative things?
"God, I hope so," he said.
With that, everything began to make sense. It's an industry full of insanity, where many embrace rumors because they're often more entertaining the truth. It's a tried and true principle of entertainment in general: if they're talking about you, then they're thinking about you. So many of wrestling's most charismatic stars have embraced this principle; they don't want to squash negative stories. They actually embrace them, as little more than another layer to the character they're trying to sell.
Few do this better than Kevin Nash.
As the interview went on, Kevin addressed so much that surprised me. You see, just because he embraces the negative stories, it doesn't mean he's happy about all of them. He wasn't too happy, for example, about people blaming him for the demise of WCW. He brought up how there have been books written attributing its death to him, and how the writers who did so weren't seeing the big picture. After all, the real death of WCW — in Kev's eyes — was the unwillingness of TNT to continue airing the show after Time Warner merged with AOL. Still, it's didn't stop him from sarcastically taking the blame.
"You know what? Every night I toss and turn because I killed WCW. I haven't slept since."
Although he said it in the traditional Nash too-cool-for-school way, the statement went much deeper. He seemed genuinely fed up with hearing about it. After all, anyone who listened to the entire interview could plainly hear how much he loved working for World Championship Wrestling. In fact, any fan knows that Kevin has never found a new home that welcomed him the way WCW did. He was the king of that company and, if it were still around today, he'd still be king. He truly seemed to enjoy being there each week.
"It was a party too, man. And the party carried on after. I loved going to work on Monday."
So, while people have said that Kevin Nash's political games killed WCW for years, few have ever looked at it from his point of view. Even if you blame him for the company's demise, you need to realize that it was still something he really cared about: hey, he was being paid huge money to party each and every week. To say that anyone would destroy that, on purpose, borders on the insane. Doesn't it?
But that doesn't mean he didn't play a part in accidentally killing WCW. There was clearly no malice or forethought. In fact, hearing him talk about his WCW run was like listening to a 40-year-old former frat boy tell stories of mid-'80s keg stands. It was obvious he missed the fun.
When it comes to my interview style, I guess you can say there are certain ways I approach things. I'll talk about this throughout the book. Something I should make clear right away, however, is that I always try to make things easy-going, comfortable, and conversational. If a performer says something that reminds me of something I've always wanted to know, I'll bring it up and let things digress. I do pre-show research, but I don't make lists of questions. I've found this makes the interview flow better.
But it also means I run the risk of asking something insulting, unintentionally.... And that's what I did with Nash.
"The timing of losing the TV and the AOL buy-out and all that happened when the company was hitting a creative low," I said. "Do you think that a lot of fans only watch the product and say, 'Well, they went out of business because the shows were so bad'?"
As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I realized what had happened. Sure, the shows were bad. We all know that. Well, maybe not all of us. After all, there were a number of people who helped write those bad shows. I'm sure they liked them. One of those people was — you guessed it — Kevin Nash.
After a brief pause, he responded.
"The show was bad.... Yeah, the show ... Was it a creative down ... How was it a creative down point?"
Alright, so I'd made a huge mistake. It actually yanked me back into reality of the situation. This wasn't just me and a buddy talking rasslin'.... This was Diesel.
But the thing with Kevin is that he's just so easy to talk to. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see why he'd gone so far in the industry. There was a real charm about him — you can see why a promoter might say, "Here. Take the show and do what you will with it. You're a super guy!"
The final moments of that interview are still among my favorites of any I've ever done. It was close to Christmas, and I closed things out by plugging all the action figures Kevin had on sale for the holidays. He started to name all the dolls he had coming out. I couldn't help but throw in a figure from his past — part of the most disturbing series of toys ever made.
"And if you have Kevin's vibrating WCW figure, you can ..."
Nash laughed and told the listeners, "Give that one to Mom!" Awesome.
Even without the closing line, I was impressed with Kevin from the very minute he called me back. Kevin Nash ... well, he exceeded expectations. That happens rarely.
Larry Zbyszko was the same way. As I write this, I still have his voicemail saved on my cell. He blew my mind.
Larry was a guy I watched and loved as a kid. I remember discovering him in the AWA and laughing as he called people "jerks." He didn't just say it. He spit it out the same way you'd say a curse word. He was boisterous, loud, and claimed to live in the fictitious LarryLand. He was like Jim Belushi, if Jim Belushi could kick your ass. The AWA champ was the man. Years later, as a WCW wrestler and announcer, he still got a big pop every time he came into the building.
Interviewing Larry Zbyszko was a trip. It was everything I thought it would be, and more.
Those who listen to the interview might not realize it, but Larry was at a casino when I called. Not only that, but we also were on the phone for quite a while before the interview began. The reason? A raffle.
It's something I'll never forget. Larry had made some time to head outside and talk, but when I called, he had to wait for the winner of a raffle he had entered to be announced. I waited with him.
The people were loud as hell. (What do you expect? It was a casino.) As we all sat with baited breath, they called out the name of the first winner. It wasn't the Living Legend; it was some woman. Larry booed.
He asked me to wait, though, because if she had left, they'd call another number. So we waited. People were yelling. Zbyszko told me a bit more about the raffle, some distracted small talk, until it became apparent the winner wasn't there.
So the called the next name. It wasn't Zbyszko. Once again, Larry booed.
At this point, the odds were the prize would be claimed, so Zbyszko headed outside to do the shoot. He was at the door when he heard them announcing another name. Apparently the second winner wasn't around either.
When they called out the third name, Larry started to yell. He said he had to get back inside because it sounded like they called his name. Apparently he had won the big prize. Happy days.
Excerpted from Shoot First Ask Questions Later by James Guttman. Copyright © 2008 James Guttman. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
James Guttman runs WorldWrestlingInsanity.com and ClubWWI.com, the two websites that have quickly become the online benchmark for diverse and important guests from the wrestling industry. His first book, World Wrestling Insanity, looked at the mat game through the eyes of a critic. Since then, he’s gained new insights through his interviews and audio shows featuring some of the business’ most well-known superstars.
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