Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Commentary Edgelords Need Not Apply

Don't try to emulate Lawler's (right) propensity for edgy remarks, commentators
Photo Credit:
Pro wrestling commentary is a tricky beast, because it seems few people have ever done it well, and if they have, their peaks may have come with substantial valleys. Even beloved Bobby Heenan was grating at times during his "paycheck" phase in World Championship Wrestling, although despite it, folks remember his glowing run in WWE, especially with Gorilla Monsoon. It's not that wrestling commentary is rocket science, but that it's actually wholly superfluous. The bumps off the mat, the wrestlers shit-talking each other in the ring, the ebbs and flows of a hot crowd all can take the place of anywhere between one and four human beings yakking behind a desk, which has led people like TWB banner designer, my former colleague at Fair to Flair (pbuh), and the most conceptually forward wrestling mind I've ever known, K. Sawyer Paul, to muse that all wrestling companies would be better off without it altogether.

Honestly, the more I see and hear from commentators nowadays, WWE or otherwise, I get pangs to agree with it. It's not even that most of what I hear is terrible, even though really, WWE's insistence on using three-man booths is testing my patience, even with competence like Corey Graves, Tom Phillips, and Michael Cole in tow. It's that so many announcers rely on edgy material to get themselves over, and it's not a good look. Whether it's Nigel McGuinness blatantly saying that The Troubles prepared Northern Irish wrestler Killian Dain to join SANitY last week on NXT, this nugget from an AAW commentator (content warning, self-harm), or even as far back as the borderline misogynist commentary during the Ophidian/Saturyne match at King of Trios '12, non-JBL announcers have been dropping mouth-turds for as long as wrestling has been in its post-Attitude Era period. JBL is his own beast, because in addition to being a worthless human being, he's perhaps the worst announcer of the modern era if just for his cruelty and lack of volume control. Mark Madden, you get a reprieve.

Granted, I think that a soundtrack from the booth has its place as sort of a Greek chorus or a means to get over certain story elements, and far be it for me to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Commentary can have a place, especially for story-driven promotions with long continuity like Chikara, WWE, and Lucha Underground. But at the same time, it's almost like it's industry standard to be as edgy and at times cringe-inducing as possible, especially if one is seated in the color commentator's seat, when doing work.

One could follow the bloodline of this awful trend back to, you guessed it, Jerry "The King" Lawler. While started out as a major WWE commentator as a Heenan, Borscht Belt comic-influenced one-liner announcer, once the Attitude Era set in, his full, inner horndog was unleashed to the point where his pet name for breasts, "PUPPIES!" became a rallying cry during segments featuring women. Of course, because wrestling is an industry of followers and because the industry leader has never stopped trying to fuck the Attitude chicken (even after acquiescing to sponsors and going in a PG direction superficially), the trend of the edgelord color commentator has never ever really died.

To be blunt, the time for its death is long overdue. It's time on the whole for wrestling to stop wallowing in the lowest mires of pop culture just because "durr, it's rasslin," and ending exclusionary comments that are offensive to wholesale groups of people is part and parcel in that classing up of the joint. Making comments that alienate groups of people should never have worked, but it certainly doesn't work now because one, it's decent to be inclusive to everyone, and two, more and more oppressed and marginalized peoples are finding community within wrestling. Imagine a fan in Ireland who lived through state violence against Catholics in the North getting blindsided with those Troubles used as a character building trait for a wrestler or a domestic abuse survivor watching the KOT '12 DVD or mp4 and hearing how Saturyne had the beating she took from Ophidian coming1.

The truth is great commentary will stand on its own. If you can be witty and cutting without alienating a whole group of people, do it, but if not, just learn how to call the action descriptively and with the appearance of authority. Odds are, you're not gonna be Bobby Heenan. Fuck, you probably won't even be Corey Graves either. But if you can escape comparisons to guys like Jerry Lawler, Mark Madden, or JBL for the wrong reasons, at least you can say you're not among the worst of all-time.

1 - I was there live and saw nothing wrong with that match except that it wasn't a very good match, but the commentary heard on the video by Dylan Hales after the fact had some problematic layers on top of it. Not a good look at all.