The WWE is seeing some of the worst television ratings in its history and TNA appears to be on life support. A lot of the people inside the business like to fall back to the familiar argument that like everything, wrestling's popularity runs in cycles and we're just in a "down period" right now.
If promoters really wanted to figure out was wrong, they'd figure out what used to be right. In this era of "reality" programming when fans know just as much about what's happening behind the scenes as they know what's happening in front of the camera, promoters probably figure it's impossible to develop great characters like they once did. Aside from The Undertaker, what WWE wrestler is truly over-the-top these days? They tried with Fandango, but that failed for whatever reason.
One of the key components missing from wrestling today is the joy. It's the humor. It's the fun and when all is said and done, it's the silliness. We know it's not a real hillbilly really beating up a real evil clown, but this is wrestling, we're willing to suspend our belief for a little while. Not all silly characters were great. Some were downright stupid. However, there were a few that really stuck in the minds of wrestling fans. Here are the silliest among the silly.
15 The Repo Man
Barry Darsow is one of those guys whose name won’t be recognizable to most wrestling fans, but his legacy will be. He’s created the characters of Krusher Kruschev, Blacktop Bully, Mr. Hole-In-One and Smash of Demolition. His breakout singles character, undoubtedly, was as Repo Man, a guy who likely introduced a generation of children to what happens when Mom and Dad don’t pay the bills. With a grappling hook, little Lone Ranger-style mask and grubby trench coat, he looked more like a cartoon bad guy than a repossession agent. With a catchphrase of “What’s mine is mine, and what yours is mine, too!” Darsow proved he could also play silly.
14 The Goon
When his glory days in The Long Riders ended with the tragic death of his brother in 1987, Bill Irwin was a wrestler without a character. He bounced around smaller companies for the next decade until 1996, when the WWE came calling. Sometimes, there are characters that you just know aren’t going to work out and The Goon was one of them. Wrestling didn’t need a guy who was a hockey brawler and Irwin tried his best to capture the essence, but within a few appearances, it was clear nobody was going to take him seriously. He then started playing the comedy side of it and was pretty good, but the character was just too silly to ever gain traction, even in the waning days of the “Everybody has to have profession” philosophy in WWE.
13 The Yeti
Sometimes silly just means ridiculous and nowhere is that more true than The Yeti. Prior to the arrival of the nWp, in the waning days of Hulkamania, WCW was chock full of absurd characters. It was hard to tell if the promoters thought the audience was going to take a tall guy dressed like a mummy, yet named after a cousin of Bigfoot, seriously or if it was supposed to just be silly to begin with. Even more silly than this character was the other wrestlers’ reaction to the Charmin-clad monster, as if they didn’t notice a guy in toilet paper walking around in the back before the match.
12 The Spirit Squad
For an intentionally silly character to work, the person portraying that character has to commit themselves to it. Getting a group of guys to commit to being the best, most annoying, silliest group of male cheerleaders they could possibly be sounds nearly impossible, but the five wrestlers who took the first-named personas that made up The Spirit Squad were amazing. A group this size with such a specific gimmick has a limited shelf life and within six months they had been relegated to jobber status, but for the time we had them, they defined silly in the most fun way possible. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Spirit Squad member Nicky went on to greater fame in the WWE as Dolph Ziggler.
11 Beaver Cleavage
Sometimes even silly things can give you a gross feeling in the pit of your stomach and never was this more true than the character of Beaver Cleavage. On first glance, it was an homage to the 1950s title character from the TV show Leave it to Beaver, the next layer of the character was one who was a little bit perverse, making plenty of sexual double entendres that would play to the WWE’s 12-year-old male fans. It got really dark when incest was directly referenced between the Beaver character and his mother, who was played by a busty model named Marianna Komlos. Whether it was the fans reaction to this silly-but-dark premise or somebody behind the scenes came to their senses, the Cleavage family characters were dropped only a couple of months into debuting. Silly, but sick.
10 Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese
Mike Droese was a sanitation worker in real life as he paid his dues on the indies under the moniker “The Garbage Man.” He received a certain amount of notice after being named No. 500 in a wrestling magazine’s top 500 wrestlers and the WWE signed him to continue playing the trash collector. A big man with a limited repertoire, he was never presented as a real threat to any title, but he embraced his role as a fan-favorite, especially with the kids. When people criticize someone’s love of pro wrestling as ridiculous, they’re not talking about The Rock or Steve Austin. They are talking about a man who is pretending to fight and pretending to be a garbage man while he does it.
9 Waylon Mercy
Dan Spivey was a good looking blonde-haired wrestler who played the All-American during his first run with the WWE from 1985-88. Sometimes compared to Hulk Hogan because of his look, Spivey was missing the most important ingredient: charisma. After stints in Japan and with the National Wrestling Alliance, Spivey returned to the WWE in 1997 with a decidedly different look. With his hawaiian shirt and slicked black hair, Waylon Mercy was introduced to the fans as a heartless killer. But that heartless killer was familiar. It didn’t take fans long to see that this character was just a copy of Robert DeNiro’s character of Max Cady from the movie Cape Fear. Waylon Mercy went from being threatening to having little more credibility than an Elvis impersonator, right Honky Tonk Man?
8 Crash Holly
Meant to be comic relief as the pint-sized cousin of serious Bob “Hardcore” Holly, promoters had to be thrilled with the results when late wrestler Mike Lockwood brilliantly played the brilliant little dog who had to fight for acceptance that he humorously never got. Claiming to be a super-heavyweight weighing well over 400 pounds and dragging a scale to the ring for every match to prove it, Crash Holly became the perfect centerpiece in the equally silly hardcore division, winning the title multiple times. The only reason the WWE was able to squeeze four years out of this character was because the audience embraced the completely silly aspect in the performance.
7 The Bushwackers
When silly is done poorly, it’s absurd, yet still amusing. When silly is done right, it makes you feel good inside, even if you’re too proud to admit it. Butch Miller and Luke Williams knew how to present their tag-team, The Sheepherders, as a viciously bloodthirsty duo for over 20 years, primarily in southern territories. When WWE started putting the small guys out of business, the mantra was adapt or die. Out were the barbed wire brawls and in were the fun-loving, head-licking cousins known as The Bushwackers. From their goofy arm-flailing entrance to their battering ram finisher, nothing was serious about these guys. They were silly through and through and it made people feel good.
6 Mr. Backlund
No, we’re not talking about the guy who was the WWE world champion in the early 1980s prior to the explosion of Hulkamania, we’re talking about the nutjob who returned in the late 1990s and made us all question whether we were watching a character or a Where Are They Now? segment about a former champion who had gone off the deep end. Backlund tapped into his dark side, which was still only off-white, and presented a conservative blowhard who genuinely believed his own BS and blew his top when other people didn’t. Sure, he was now a step behind in the ring and is more known for the vocabulary-rich lessons during and a run for the White House in his second tenure in the WWE, but for those who remember All-American babyface Bob Backlund, this was one of the silliest evolutions in the history of the sport.
5 The Berzerker
Sometimes the silliest thing you can do is present a character that is so far out there, yet play it straight, and see what happens. The Berzerker is one such case that left people actually asking themselves, “Am I supposed to fear or laugh at a 7-foot-guy in a Viking helmet, sword and shield whose promo ability is little more than the capability to say ‘Huss’ over and over?” He beat the living daylight out of his opponents, but when it looks like you’re wearing a pair of beavers over your wrestling boots, you just can’t stay credible, no matter how hard you try. Somewhere, John Nord, the wrestler who played The Berzerker, has had to explain his character to people who never saw him wrestle. Hopefully he just says “Viking Warrior” and doesn’t get into the silly specifics.
4 Bertha Faye
Fans of women’s wrestling in Japan and Puerto Rico were probably shocked when the wrestler they knew as Monster Ripper, a brutal giant, showed up on WWE television in 1995 as the white-trash, trailer-park-living girlfriend of manager Harvey Wippleman. Looking like a giant Rainbow Brite and playing a simpleton, Faye was the women’s champion after beating Alundra Blayze for the title during a time the women’s division consisted of Blayze and whomever she was losing then regaining the title with. Watching this giant woman prance around the ring and cozy up with the greasy Wippleman had to make you laugh even if she was trying to play the heel.
3 Saba Simba
There was a time in wrestling when a performer would go away for a while and come back repackaged under a different gimmick. Commentators pretended like they didn’t recognize the wrestler and never mentioned his former work. That was, until the day a spear-holding, loincloth-wearing, feather-headdressed Tony Atlas came to the ring and Howard Finkel announced him as Saba Simba and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper blurted out “That’s not Saba Simba. That’s Tony Atlas.” Vince McMahon, who was trying to make the world believe he was just a commentator at the time, seemed taken back, but rolled with it and the story of how Tony Atlas found his African roots was quickly improvised. Atlas, who didn't have much charisma, just couldn’t pull off this character and the embarrassed look on his face when he attempted tribal dancing was some of the most unintentionally silly stuff wrestling has ever produce.
2 The Collective Works of Mike Shaw
When promoters pitched Mike Shaw new character ideas, you’ve got to wonder if he ever turned any down and if so, how bad must they have been? Shaw is the portly wrestler who brought three of silliest characters in the history of wrestling to reality. He briefly played Friar Ferguson, the wrestling monk on WWE programming, but it was never clear if he was a heel or a face. Either way, he was gone quickly. A few months later, Bastion Booger debuted, looking a little like the friar who had disappeared. With a bald head and an outfit designed to accentuate his girth, Booger’s role was simply to be gross. When that character didn’t catch on Shaw left the company and headed south to WCW where he saw the most success of his career with his portrayal of Norman the Lunatic. Whatever the character, no man can claim to have presented such an unholy trinity of silliness as Mike Shaw.
1 Andy Kaufman
People remember the Taxi star and stand-up comedian for the two pile drivers given by Jerry "The King" Lawler and the coffee-throwing incident from Late Night with David Letterman, both dramatized in the movie, Man on the Moon. Most people don't however realize that Kaufman had been around for a while before those exchanges and hung around a while after it. Kaufman committed himself to the role of, well, himself, even appearing at the studio on Saturday mornings in Memphis for their live TV shows. He was grating and you wanted to see him get his butt kicked, but you had to admit it was some of the most entertaining, silliest stuff wrestling ever produced. We wouldn't be talking about it 30 years later if it wasn't.