WWE | Pro Wrestling

The Vaudevillains Reveal the Relationship Between WWE and Its Fans

The Vaudevillains; what more can be said about Aiden English and Simon Gotch’s dual moniker? If you don’t watch NXT, you’re missing something else: English parlays his operatic Broadway gimmick into a tandem with Gotch, a turn-of-the-century strongman with an exaggerated boxing stance and Snidely Whiplash-mustache.

Making their entrance to lively piano music through a black-and-white lens, configured with old-timey film quality, the Vaudevillains are an instant sensation. Already, the hip-to-the-room NXT crowd at Full Sail has taken to chanting “PUT YOUR DUKES UP” at the manic Gotch, who looks like he should be conspiring to fix matches with Ad Santel and Joe Stecher.

In 2014, a wrestling crowd that increasingly appreciates in-jokes, outlandish unreality, and full-blown absurdity takes to the Vaudevillains like Deadheads to a Jerry Garcia resurrection. Admittedly, it’s hard not to be charmed by the duo: any wrestlers who perform unrealistically with the gusto and enthusiasm that English and Gotch display are going to be appreciated.

It doesn’t seem that it was always this way. Transplant the Vaudevillains to 1991 or 1997 or 2003, and it’s a little harder imagining them getting over. Seems though appreciating blatant absurdity in wrestling is a modern notion.

In 1991 alone, future WrestleCrap inductions Repo Man, Skinner, Arachnaman, and Big Josh ambled onto the scene, with none making any real impact outside of Repo Man as a consistent mid-card act. Nowadays, Repo Man would be an ironic hero, getting cheers from the CHIKARA-loving portion of the audience for stealing possessions from other midcarders. His Coliseum Video vignette from over twenty years ago, which entailed stealing Bill Alfonso’s car, is over-the-top hilarious in hindsight, but it didn’t resonate with viewers of the time. Same with Big Josh: nobody cared in 1991, but you could picture fans, especially the NXT diehards, chanting “DAN-CING BEARS” at him today.

In other words, for as much as my WrestleCrap compadre RD Reynolds shares my merriment of the Vaudevillains, in another time, they may have been written off as ‘Crap’, just like Repo Man was.

To use another example, it’s also hard to imagine (at least for me, anyway) Jay Lethal’s “Black Machismo” character getting over in the pre-internet-saturation age, no matter how well Lethal nailed every facet of the Randy Savage character. In the Attitude Era, I would wager he’d be used as a colorful novelty act, much in the same way The Hurricane was employed in 2002-03; a few wins here and there and plenty of airtime, but no rocket push.

What changed?

For one thing, I think there’s far more backlash against the modern main event than there was in previous eras. It’s not even that John Cena and Randy Orton are a decade into their relentless run at the top, while fellow lifer Triple H is involved heavily. It’s that the storylines follow the same patterns, the characters virtually recite the same promos, regular viewers watch as the characters they follow week to week sometimes contradict themselves verbally, and all in all, nothing feels fresh. Compared to the wrestling of our more formative years, WWE feels like it’s stuck on loop more than ever.

When this happens, something totally zany and off-the-wall, like two 1920s throwbacks, becomes a major talking point. It’s an oasis on WWE’s tedious plane of existence. That’s why bored fans created the Fandango’ing craze; different without the guarantee of payoff becomes preferable to year whatever of the status quo.

Making matters worse is that the main event, and every ‘top story’ the company peddles, are magnified beyond comprehension. A three-hour Raw (a show that really has no business being three hours from a quality standpoint) barely features half the roster, if they even showcase half at all. Longer matches have a hand in it (I’d argue that no match on Raw needs to be longer than ten minutes, save for the main event), while the mid-card gasps for air like they’ve just been shipwrecked.

That’s why when 3MB comes along in 2012, there was a tinge of ironic excitement from the more immersed fans. Heath Slater, Drew McIntyre, and Jinder Mahal had been shuffling along, doing little of note, until they became the world’s lamest air-guitar band. Hey, it was *something*, right? And yeah, they lost 97% of their matches since, and the joke dragged on long enough that 3MB might be a WrestleCrap induction unto itself, but for a brief moment, it felt like three men among the creatively-unfulfilled had a purpose. Purpose is exciting.

Turning it around for a moment, I realize that my generation of fans is the one still watching with great regularity into our late 20s, clear into our 30s and even 40s, and we’ve exposed ourselves to a lot of wrestling. Like, a LOT of wrestling. Inevitably, we compare the modern product to what we remember and like best, and if it doesn’t match up, we thumb our noses at it immediately. A rose-colored past will always trump the uncertain present. It’s because met high-expectations from the past become the standard benchmark going forward.

With so many hours of wrestling on TV each week, plus YouTube, plus The WWE Network, plus a deluge of websites and social media with breaking ‘newz’ and meaningless speculation (yes, I realize I’m part of the ‘problem’), we oversaturate our own enthusiasm while WWE oversaturates its own product.

And yes, we all still watch, despite our constant claims of how bad wrestling has gotten. Gluttons, we are.

Between the company playing slow-pitch softball with their upper-card booking, and the jaded fan with a discriminating palette and too much sense of history, it’s almost no wonder that we praise the Vaudevillains instead of making quizzical eyes. That’s not to take anything away from English or Gotch; they’re playing the hell out of a silly idea to the point where you want to believe in it.

Perhaps it’s because the fans are increasingly feeling they have nothing to believe in.

At WWE events, fans still chant for a man that happily walked into the retirement sector five months ago. At indy events featuring men all-too-recently TNA talents, the crowd voices obscene remarks about their ex-employer (see: House of Hardcore’s recent tour). Events meant to be enjoyed for the product at hand become sounding boards to have a go at the executives and suits believed responsible for mutilating the show that diehard fans grew up with.

As an act of resistance, the unreality of two century-old showmen existing in 2014 becomes the accepted reality, as the receptors reject the centerpiece that’s collected dust in perpetuity, the unwanted eyesore.

Never before has the phrase ‘only in wrestling’ been so perfect in its application.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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