Wrestling fans still look back on the Attitude Era as being the golden age where seemingly nothing could go wrong. Thanks to the new attitude that the WWE (or WWF at the time, if you prefer) was bringing, it ended up putting WCW out of business. People fondly remember acts like Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, Mick Foley and many others that ushered in the late 1990s mainstream boom of wrestling.
What a lot of people forget when they look back on the Attitude Era with nostalgia goggles on, though, is that there were a lot of terrible gimmicks. The early 1990s is frequently panned by critics and fans for some of the worst gimmicks ever created, but the Attitude Era had almost as many. The difference was, that the Attitude Era had plenty of legitimate superstars that covered up all of the bad gimmicks unlike the early 1990s. Another thing is that while the gimmicks of the early 1990s were just plain awful, a lot of the ones from the Attitude Era were completely offensive. It wasn’t a kid-friendly product at the time, but that didn’t stop kids from watching.
A lot of the Attitude Era was throwing a bunch of stuff out there and seeing what would resonate with the audience. D-Generation X's antics stuck with the crowd. Stone Cold driving out on a Zamboni or beer truck clicked with viewers. The Rock turning from a white meat babyface to a member of the Nation of Domination gave the fans the chance to boo him as much as they wanted, and The Rock ran with it. Vince McMahon playing the evil boss was a stroke of genius following the 1997 Survivor Series fiasco.
Stuff like the Big Bossman hanging from a cell and Road Warrior Hawk being suicidal on screen did NOT stick.
There are some things though, that were either offensive at the time, or some that didn't seem so bad back then, but haven't aged well when looking back at them. Some of the gimmicks from the Attitude Era might be completely forgettable for you, while others were fairly big mid-card names that were more offensive than you remember. Here are the 10 most offensive gimmicks ever produced by the Attitude Era.
10 Chris Kanyon
At the time, Chris Kanyon’s gimmick in WWE didn’t seem too bad, but the confusing news that happened after his release is what made it offensive. Kanyon was floating in and out of WCW until they were bought out by the WWE and was part of the Invasion angle until he suffered an injury against Randy Orton. Toward the end of the Attitude Era, Kanyon returned with a gimmick that made him sing Culture Club songs to The Undertaker. After his release in 2006, it seemed like it was in bad taste because Kanyon said that he was openly gay. How much the WWE writers knew about that is still up for debate, but Kanyon unfortunately isn’t around to reveal more details after his 2010 suicide.
9 Kai En Tai
Kai En Tai was a Japanese stable that was starting to make headway when they were given a feud with Val Venis (more on him later). The broken English and offensive stereotypes of Asian culture probably wouldn’t fly today, especially when Mr. Yamaguchi pronounced to Venis that he was going to “Choppy choppy your pee pee!” Even after the group split and it was just Taka Michinoku and Sho Funaki acting as comedy jobbers, the dubbed voices that reminded you of Japanese films was pretty offensive.
8 The Oddities
You don’t see many ‘Freak Shows’ around the country these days, mainly because they can be pretty offensive. In the Attitude Era, though, it was fair game to create a stable. The WWE paraded around a group of ‘deformed’ people, including Golga and Kurrgan. The Oddities were able to get somewhat over with the crowd, even if the gimmick was a little confusing. Perhaps some of that had to do with the fact that the Insane Clown Posse made some appearances with the group, and even performed their theme song.
Key didn’t last very long in the WWE, but his time there was memorable. After being recruited by Jim Cornette from All Pro Wrestling, Vic Grimes was given a dark match before Monday Night Raw. He was signed to a contract then and there, and given the gimmick of Key. Key is a street name for kilo, as in drugs. That’s right, Grimes was given the gimmick of a drug dealer that got Road Warrior Hawk addicted to drugs so that his spot in the Legion of Doom could be taken by Droz.
6 The Minis
The WWE has a long history of employing little people as wrestlers, even though the only reason they do it is to pretty much poke fun at them. The Minis didn’t make a lot of appearances during the Attitude Era, and actually got their start when they had to fill in for Brian Pillman at Bad Blood 1997 when he was found dead that day. The Minis (comprised of Max Mini, Mini Nova and Taurus) had their highlight at the 1998 Royal Rumble when they defeated another group of little people, El Torito (the original), Tarantula and Battalion.
5 Val Venis
Sean Morley was signed by the WWE from the independent circuit across the world as Val Venis and he was given the gimmick of a porn star...because you know what rhymes with Venis. Sex sells when it comes to TV, and the WWE was trying to bring in the female demographic with the male porn star that slept around and wasn’t afraid to get naked. Val Venis was also in that infamous feud where he almost had his “pee pee choppy choppy’d”. Val Venis actually had a decent career in the mid-card, even winning the Intercontinental Title.
4 The Godfather
You could probably list any gimmick that Charles Wright had in his career with the WWE and call it offensive. His first gimmick was as a voodoo witch doctor type named Papa Shango. Then he became a black power activist as a member of the Nation of Domination. When the Attitude Era came around, Wright was renamed as The Godfather, a pimp that was notorious for getting competitors to quit matches before they even started by offering them “ho’s”. The girls that The Godfather offered were usually actual strippers from local clubs. Feminists wanted nothing to do with this gimmick.
You can watch Goldust on TV now and think that he’s a little odd, but those that don’t remember his run in the Attitude Era know that he is Rated G compared to what he used to be. Goldust was supposed to be a type of drag queen during the Attitude Era before developing a born again Christian gimmick, then getting dumped to WCW. One of the most offensive periods of Goldust’s career include him with Luna after a heel turn where he was bound and gagged, frequently using a walker to get around. There was also the time that he developed a stutter after being electrocuted or when Jerry Lawler called him a “flaming f--” on the air. Take your pick.
2 PMS and Meat
Nothing says “we appreciate women” quite like forming a trio of ladies and giving the name of Pretty Mean Sisters...or PMS for short. Terri Runnels, Jacqueline Moore and Ryan Shamrock (Alicia Webb) formed the group that faked pregnancies, screwed over men, and even hired a love slave known as Meat. Shawn Stasiak was the man behind the Meat gimmick that would be berated, forced to do embarrassing acts and was implied to have have been raped by the group. There’s trying to appeal to feminists, and then there’s this nonsensical stable.
1 Beaver Cleavage
Chaz Warrington had a successful run with the WWE as Mosh of the Headbangers. The Headbangers even won the Tag Team Championship at one point before Glenn Ruth (Thrasher) suffered a knee injury in 1999 to end the group. Warrington was still healthy, so he had to come back with his own gimmick. What the WWE came up with was Beaver Cleavage, a character that’s supposed to be like the main character from “Leave it to Beaver”, except with incestual overtones that included drinking “mother’s milk”. Gross. The gimmick only lasted a month as Warrington came out as Chaz and said the gimmick was stupid before getting into a feud with PMS and Meat. What a combo.