[List] 5 Dumb WWE Characters (That Worked)
For every good character the WWE comes up with, there seems to be at least five that fall flat on their face. But sometimes the company gets lucky and a character that seems stupid will defy the odds and transcend its inherent stupidity to get over with the fans for any number of reasons (right place at the right time, the talent behind the gimmick, etc.). I have rifled through WWE’s recent history to bring to you the five characters that seemed stupid on paper but ended up being far better than they had any right to be.
5. Val Venis (1998-2009)
The Character: A wrestling porn star.
Why It Worked: Venis appeared on the scene in 1998 at the height of the “Attitude Era” when the WWE was using shock TV tactics in order to drive up ratings. He fit right in immediately; his promos were filled with double entendres and his ultimate method of getting into his enemies’ heads was to shoot (extremely tame) “porn movies” with the wrestler’s wife/girlfriend/etc. But while this all sounded stupid on paper the man behind the gimmick, Sean Morley, managed to make it entertaining; he was great on the mic (his raspy voice greeting the crowds with his catchphrase “Helloooooo laaaaaadies!”) and had natural charm and charisma that made him immensely likable. It also didn’t hurt that he was damn good in the ring and could have a watchable match with nearly anyone on the roster (check out his match against D’Lo Brown at Summerslam 1998 for proof). The Venis character eventually ran its course during Morley’s 11 year stint with the WWE, but the simple fact is this: during the Attitude Era, Morley made a “wrestling porn star” gimmick not only work, but successful.
4. Irwin R. Schyster (1991-1995)
The Character: A wrestling tax accountant.
Why It Worked: No one likes paying taxes and Irwin R. Schyster was created to pray on that common annoyance. It was a cheap ploy, sure, but it was one that ended up working. In his promos and interviews, he would regularly admonish the live crowds as well as his opponents for being a bunch of “tax cheats” and had a constant scowl on his face (the sort of scowl you expect an IRS auditor to permanently have on their face, come to think of it). Mike Rotundo played the character with a straight face and in turn he made I.R.S. so comedic and over the top that it was hard to hate the guy. He made a good foil for any babyface that went against him, and like Morley, Rotundo was a great hand in the ring and could also put on good matches as well as talk. This 1-2 punch led to I.R.S. lasting four years in the company, far longer than anyone probably expected, where he formed one of the best WWE tag teams of the 1990’s: Money Inc. alongside “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Rotundo may have been an accomplished (he was an NWA/WCW regular and had in fact wrestled for the WWE under his given name in the 80’s), but he was never better then as the villainous tax-sympathizer Irwin R. Schyster.
3. Eugene (2004-2007)
The Character: A professional wrestler who also happened to be, um, mentally challenged.
Why It Worked: The fact that the character of Eugene ended up on TV surprises me to this day; in such a politically correct world, highlighting a mentally challenged wrestler (for comedic purposes) seems like a death sentence. Not only was it not a death sentence, for most of his 2004 run, Eugene was one of the most over wrestlers in the WWE. How did this happen? Well first of all, everyone loves an underdog and Eugene was the ultimate underdog; not only did he have his, erm, mental deficiences but he was also constantly being bullied by his storyline uncle (and storyline GM of Raw) Eric Bischoff, whom everyone already hated in the first place. That made him sympathetic to the crowd. Second Eugene balanced his wrestling skills (and he had them, trust me) with comedy, which endeared him to the crowd even more. And lastly, Eugene was successful because Nick Dinsmore was dedicated, hard-working, and never broke character. He inhabited the role perfectly, making Eugene feel like a real person (even though hardcore fans knew he was not only mentally fine, but also one of the best wrestlers in the country at the time). Pretty soon Eugene was getting louder pops than the biggest babyfaces in the company and got the endorsement of The Rock himself, who was still making sporadic appearances for the WWE. Eugene’s star eventually fell, leading into the most awkward heel turn of the last decade (the WWE tried to get the fans to boo a mentally challenged person; wrestling fans are mean but not that mean), but 2004 stands as the year where a “mentally challenged” superstar was the most over babyface in the company. You simply can’t plan for things like that; it’s one of the best examples of catching lightning in a bottle that I can think of.
2. Doink the Clown (Heel version, 1992-1993)
The Character: An evil clown who played mean pranks on the WWE wrestlers.
Why It Worked: Most current fans probably only see Doink the Clown as a goofy buffoon, the kind of harmless and giggling clown you would expect at a circus or other kid-friendly event. But when he debuted in late 1992, he was anything but harmless. He made his debut as a clown that would hang out at ringside and play harmless little pranks but as the weeks went by, they started to escalate and his targets were mostly the babyfaces of the company. Doink officially turned heel during a storyline where he injured Crush with a plaster cast after feigning an injury (the cast was supposedly his arm in a sling). And you know why he worked so well? Because he was f*cking terrifying. Just listen to his entrance theme!
If the theme song wasn’t scary enough (and seriously, it was), Matt Borne (the man behind the makeup) would come out with this vacant, sadistic stare that would rival any evil clown in any other form of media you could think of. He just came off so chilling and unnerving that…oh god I’m getting scared even thinking about it (I’m still a man, right?). Borne’s mannerisms and promos made Doink a viable heel and despite the fact he was a wrestling clown, he managed to be taken seriously. That is until Borne left the company and Doink was turned into a comedic good guy with a dwarf sidekick named Dink, turning him from “menacing villain” to “get him the f*ck off of my television before I put my fist through it”. In an instant, a promising and unique character got turned into wretched comedy fodder. It was heartbreaking. But don’t let his actions from 1994 on cloud your judgment; Borne’s evil Doink was not only an effective heel, he was a terrifying heel. Seriously.
1. The Undertaker (1990-Present)
The Character: A zombie wrestler controlled by an impossibly high-pitched manager who wields a magic urn. I feel stupid just typing that out.
Why It Worked: One of the greatest success stories in the history of professional wrestling has to be The Undertaker. After slumming it in WCW under the name “Mean” Mark Callous, Mark Calloway went for what he hoped would be greener pastures in 1990. When he arrived at the doors of the WWE, he was greeted with the character of an undead zombie wrestler who (supposedly) feels no pain. He made his debut in spectacular fashion at Survivor Series 1990 and a few months later would pick up manager Paul Bearer (the legendary manager Percy Pringle III), who acted as his mouthpiece and controlled him with a magical urn. Those who call the early 90’s WWE a live-action cartoon would not be far off. But here we are 22 years later, and The Undertaker is not only still around but he’s one of the greatest superstars in the history of the WWE with an undefeated Wrestlemania winning streak and the respect of nearly every person in the business he comes across. How did it get this way? Well, the addition of Bearer immediately helped; his over the top persona complemented Undertaker’s stoic presence and created one hell of an entertaining tandem. Undertaker was also big and scary, a prerequisite for being a WWE superstar back then. And as much as people hated him, when he turned to the good side in 1992, people were even happier to love him. A good guy zombie wrestler controlled by an urn, folks. Sometimes a character works and you can’t really explain it. There was just something *there*, a copout that I’m sure you’re happy I used.
Eventually The Undertaker outgrew most of the mystical elements of his character and adapted himself over the years to remain relevant with the new WWE crowds (zombie to cult leader to biker to gunslinger and everything in between). His loyalty to the company and hard work has rewarded him with forever being considered one of the most iconic wrestlers to ever step foot in a WWE ring. He is guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame and 90’s fans like me will be singing his praises until the day we die. And to think, he was nothing more than an imposing undead force of nature when he debuted. You just never know what will work and what won’t.
These success stories are why the WWE continues to throw out all sorts of ridiculous nonsense to see if it’ll connect with the fans; while many characters will end up failing and being forgotten (or live on in unfortunate infamy), there’s always the chance that there will be something in that character that will endear him to the fans and make them a lot of money. Porn stars and zombies on paper are not a license to print money; but it just goes to show you that even the stupidest idea can occasionally bear fruit.