When friends and foes on the WWE roster gather for a Fourth of July celebration backstage, it is needless to say that all attendees end up being covered in pies, meats, barbecue sauces and side dishes. This was the case again when Monday night RAW kicked off with what the WWE is now calling “The World’s Largest Food Fight”.
In the aftermath of that circus act, hundreds of fans took to Twitter to comment on how this was one of the greatest things they’d ever seen on WWE TV. Simply put, this writer was left perplexed by the whole ordeal. Knowing that the Independence Day edition of RAW wouldn’t be one of WWE Creative’s most productive shows, I was still hoping for some storyline progression but I was far from thinking that a comedic food fight would kind of steal the show.
WWE is fascinating because of its blend of athleticism, violence and drama. WWE Creative can at times put stellar effort into making a rivalry intense or a fight so epic. It can take weeks or months to build-up a legitimate bad-ass (think of Brock Lesnar) or a good guy we can all root for. It requires meticulous narrative understanding and event organization to make sure all the stars are aligned for highly anticipated showdowns such as WrestleMania. The execution of such plans is by no means an easy affair.
Professional wrestling is a scripted sport. And in order to help write compelling, long-term stories, WWE has hired past soap opera and dramatic TV writers. Drama is what WWE is good at. But every good product has to evolve and to reflect the TV programming of the past decade or so, the scripted sport has had to weave in elements of the increasing number of reality TV shows. Reality TV and WWE kind of go hand-in-hand; so that was a natural evolution of some sorts and the concept also has mainstream appeal. But one facet of mainstream culture WWE has repeatedly tried and oftentimes miserably failed at is comedy. I’d argue that the July 4 Food Fight was the latest poke at attempting to be funny.
In this ‘PG Era’ of pro wrestling, WWE is walking a fine line when it comes to pure slapstick humor. Comedy has always been an integral part of the WWE product. I mean when I first began watching WWE, I rooted for Doink and Dink against Luna Vachon and Bam Bam Bigelow, for Christ’s sake! But please forgive me. I was twelve or thirteen at the time. Over the years WWE has made multiple forays into comedy territory to either meet a younger public’s expectations, or those of Vince McMahon – a man linked to a more questionable sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong, as sourpuss as I may seem, I do enjoy comedy when it is well done. But you must agree that it’s very “hit and miss” within the pro wrestling genre and it always has been. Some comedic attempts by WWE were simply cringeworthy (anyone remember the Heidenreich-Michael Cole raping angle?) or sometimes downright offensive.
Comedy is a complicated thing to carry out properly. Sometimes you don’t know what will be funny until it happens. The New Day is a good example of that. What started as a rather unpopular mid-card trio is now one of the hottest acts on WWE programming. However, it is difficult to pin down their comedic talents. Sometimes they are amusing, sometimes not. Sometimes they take something that shouldn’t be funny and yet, somehow turn it into something fun. Xavier Woods, Big E and Kofi Kingston are arguably good comedians. But even they don’t automatically succeed. Over time they learned from the way that people reacted to their jokes and improved.
Comedy plays a huge part in how people connect with one another. One of the superstars’ jobs is to connect with the crowd, so if they’re a funny person, they’re going to use that to connect. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that the majority of the WWE roster cannot pull off the comedian act in a believable way. You need matching charisma to go with the funny character. If you don’t have it, then you don’t come across as funny, and you have no business trying to pull off comedy.
Even though comedy is hardly the focus of WWE – like it did for soap opera writers and drama writers – the company also hired comedians and sitcom writers in order to write comedy stories to match the dramatic ones. Yet when I saw Monday’s Food Fight I wondered what went through their minds. It was as if WWE Creative said, “Hey, let’s just ignore all tensions between superstars at the moment and put almost everyone in the same room. Let’s ask them to smile and laugh together, and pretend like some of them aren’t in a feud with the people sitting at the next table. Let’s just make Kevin Owens – the guy we’ve been trying to present as a credible heel and a future main-eventer – look like a spoiled kid and get him pied in the face by the cameraman. Sounds great, doesn’t it?”
Apparently making Kevin Owens and a whole lot of other superstars come across as clowns was in the name of entertainment. Well, for me this kind of entertainment in pro wrestling is subjective, at best.
WWE’s writers at times achieve subtle comedy by making the more talented superstars on the mic deliver a genuinely funny line or two, or by putting emphasis on physical humor. However, to obtain much better satire and dark comedy, they need to engage themselves more with pop comedy culture and what TV audiences really watch.
Comedy also evolves and what made our grandparents laugh doesn’t necessarily make us or our children laugh. By no means am I an expert in comedy, but I hope this article provides food for thought (pun intended) for those involved in pro wrestling/comedy writing. Personally, I’d prefer that WWE keeps its amusing segments for the superstars at the bottom of its food chain (there again, pun intended) rather than send Kevin Owens on a vengeance mission to find the person who pied him in the face.
I know that WWE Food Fights are hardly going to lead to WWE World Heavyweight Championship rivalries. But if one day they do, I’m not sure I’ll watch the product any longer.