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Wrasslin' Story Time: Why wrestlers are grumpy, Part 2 (Celebrity edition!)

Steven Godfrey worked in professional wrestling for five years. Now he works for SB Nation. These are his stories.

Joey Fatone was one of the easiest celebrities to work with. Most make wrestlers grumpy.
Joey Fatone was one of the easiest celebrities to work with. Most make wrestlers grumpy.
USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, WWE announced that the actor Mr. T would join this year's Hall of Fame class in the celebrity division. If you watched the accompanying video package, you know that Mr. T deserves induction for his work to help broaden the press coverage and marketing of the first two editions of WrestleMania. Mr. T wasn't the first celebrity stunt casting for a wrestling event, but his mere mainstream presence helped a great idea become a grand institution. Unfortunately, the entire pro wrestling industry has gone through thousands of terrible Mr. Ts since.

Over the course of five years I worked with about 100 different "celebrities" who made appearances with our company. "Celebrity" meant anything from a town mayor to a musician to an athlete to a reality show star. If my bosses thought it could create a press release that even one AM radio station would pick up, they'd drop a few grand on a Z-lister, piss off the roster and sully the brand. It was always a mission for that elusive "Crossover appeal."

The three "best" celebrities I ever worked with are as follows:

1. Joey Fatone. Apparently "the fat one" from N'SYNC will do anything for money. Granted, so will the rest of Hollywood's clearance-bin members, but unlike the rest, he's polite, punctual and happy to be working at all. And he's not on coke, so Joey Fatone is basically a unicorn.

Fatone once hosted a live pay-per-view pre-show for our company, and I still have no idea why. Most of our staff didn't even know he was booked until we showed up at the arena that night. I'm not sure if he knew the name of our federation an hour before we went live, and I'm not sure what adding a former boy band member to a 30-minute PPV ad did to boost the buy rate. It didn't matter -- when the red light went on, he was our biggest fan. He talked up every match as if it was Steamboat/Savage and helped hype an anemic arena turnout to the fans at home as if it was "WrestleMania III." Fatone was so convincing and knowledgeable on camera that I thought he might actually watch our TV show. (No one watched our show, which meant he was really, really convincing.)

2. JWOWW. "Jersey Shore" might be the death knell of pop culture, but this woman poorly-acted her ass off. The network booked her last minute to help promote the show. We were kind of shocked to land her, honestly, because this was at the peak her show's popularity. She could've cashed in an asshole card and kept us on a soundstage until 3 a.m. Instead, she got off a plane and went straight to a 14-hour shoot with a soundstage full of female pro wrestlers who usually made visitors feel like they were on the set of a snuff film. I think the only thing she asked for the entire time was a bottle of water and didn't even specify what brand.

I don't know what kind of human being she might be in any other facet of life, but that's a reality TV star incredibly aware of her expiration date and determined to make as much money as possible in the interim. No idea what happened to her after that day. No idea if she's still on TV. But good for JWOWW.

3. TIE: Frank Wycheck and Andre Rison. Wycheck is most famous for the Tennessee Titans' "Music City Miracle" play. Rison is most famous for having his house burned down by an R&B singer. Both respected the physicality and discipline of in-ring work enough to listen to, practice with and respect the professionals who do this for a living. Wycheck can straight up bump -- he has worked multiple full matches. Rison only came on to promote a TV show and take a finishing move, a kind of spinning chokeslam.

Problem was, there's not a lot to the body of Andre Rison. Normally your average spinning chokeslam recipient is in the neighborhood of at least 180 pounds, or you're a smaller worker trained to take the bump. Rison's playing weight was listed as 188 but I'd bet that day he was a lot closer to 150. I'm not sure our spinning chokeslam practitioner accounted for the difference, or maybe he wanted to get that much air. I never asked. Turns out, you could really throw Andre Rison for distance if you wanted to. I was backstage with someone from the network when he got launched.

"Oh great, I think you guys just killed Bad Moon," the network guy said.

The wrestlers in the back, ever sensitive to the well-being of a visiting celebrity being paid more and treated better, took turns loudly making their best Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes jokes. Rison turned out to be fine, he had just really sold the move to the audience.

When you work in production there's no such thing as "coolness" in celebrities. There's "on time and sober" and "asshole."

The above list was compiled based on agreeability and workplace demeanor, not "coolness." When you work in production there's no such thing as "coolness" in celebrities. There's "on time and sober" and "asshole." And if you asked me to expand it I'd have a hard time naming three more, despite having worked with countless jocks and reality show chattel. We spent a lot of money on borderline celebrities who did little if anything to expand or enhance our core product of pro wrestling. If you ask the wrestlers themselves they'd tell you how much it hurt the brand.

I tend to agree with them, even if I was the one shoving teenage reality show contestants into the ring. Along with the unimaginable physical stress I tried to detail last week, disrespect of pro wrestling is what unsettles guys the most. Wrestlers have to put up with an inordinate amount of stupid contradictions even by showbiz standards.

When the next Batman film hits theaters, no one at Warner Bros. will make Ben Affleck carry out his media obligations in character. Yet there I was, well into the Internet Age, trying to "maintain the company's creative vision" by asking a Morning Zoo DJ to interview some hungover, sleepless piece of meat not by his real name, but as the undead demon character he played on our TV show while also reminding said wrestler that he had to answer questions as said monster zombie guy.

RADIO DJ: 103.7 THE DAWWWWG, IT'S HERC AND THE POUND BUSTIN' YOUR ASS OUTTA BED THIS FRIDAY MORNIN. IN TOWN THIS WEEKEND WE'VE GOT A HUGE WRESLTIN' EVENT DOWN AT THE CIVIC CENTER AND RIGHT NOW WE'VE GOT NONE OTHER THAN DEMONFACE ON THE LINE DEMONFACE, YOU'RE IN THE POUND!!!!! AROOOOO!!!

DEMONFACE: Hey, uh, thanks for having me. ...

RADIO DJ: HEY MAN, SAYS RIGHT HERE YOU HAIL FROM THE 'DARK SIDE OF THE SOUL,' WHAT'S THAT MEAN, BRO? YOU FROM ROCHESTER?

DEMONFACE: Uh ... well, I'm uh. ... [fumbles for paper to read from] the embodiment of evil sent to take souls to the netherworld with my demon-drop DDT. And uh, I can't be stopped until I take the championship belt.

RADIO DJ: NO WAY! HEY BRO, SAYS RIGHT HERE ON WIKIPEDIA YOU'RE A FORMER EMT FROM FT. WORTH. DUDE, COWBOYS BLOW! [multiple sound effects]

DEMONFACE: Uh ... no man, I'm just the Demonface ...

RADIO DJ: OH MAN, YOU EVER GET A BONER IN THE RING? NOT THAT YOU'RE GAY, DEMONGUY. I'D GET A BONER IF I HAD TO WEAR TIGHTS. AROOOO!!!!!

Now imagine that indignity multiplied by a Danny Bonaduce or some guy from "Survivor" as your opponent. There you are, having trained the bulk of your life to become the next Rock or John Cena, trying to find the narrative weight to convince a crowd of pro wrestling fans that you, a demon from another dimension sent through the fabric of time solely to capture a cruiserweight wrestling title belt, are about to be physically bested by the third guy eliminated from Season 9 of a reality cooking show that airs on the same family of cable networks.

It's ludicrous. It's demeaning. Pro wrestling fails to earn pop culture respect because it inexorably feels the need to insult its audience beyond limits, yet the industry simultaneously obsesses over that elusive "crossover appeal." They think the right stunt casting from "Swamp Repo Police Truckers" might trigger some kind of awakening in the weekly ratings. It never happens that way, and the product dies inside every time a NASCAR driver or comedian gets to pin a lifelong pro wrestler.

It's not Mr. T's fault. Any great pro wrestling event needs levity and broad appeal. And since the industry's never going to change its opinion that celebrities somehow help sell pro wrestling to pro wrestling fans, we can only hope for more Joey Fatones in this world.