Colt Cabana on Comedy Wrestling, ‘The Chris Gethard Show’, and His New Documentary
Colt Cabana is a true alt comedian, but instead of plaid, he wears spandex. Aside from his own Art of Wrestling podcast, he’s guested on WTF, Doug Loves Movies, and most recently Who Charted?. He appeared on season 3 of IFC’s Maron and on one of the most memorable episodes from the first season of Fusion’s The Chris Gethard Show. I spoke to him about comedy wrestling, his influences, and his new documentary, Wrestling Road Diaries 3 — Funny Equals Money.
I wanted to talk a little about your relationship with Chris Gethard. How did you two meet?
Yeah, Chris was my roommate this summer at Edinburgh Fringe Fest. It was back in 2009, though, after being let go from WWE, I wanted to start getting into comedy a little bit more. So I moved back to Chicago and found myself doing standup, opening for Mick Foley around the country on a little weird tour. And I started studying improv in Chicago, all while continuing a really heavy wrestling schedule. I was cast to do this pilot for Fox, you can find it on YouTube, called Undisputed. It was like The Office meets professional wrestling — in the show Chris was in the ‘writer’s room’ and I was one of the wrestlers. It was just one day of shooting, but somebody told me Chris was really into improv and well known within the community so we started talking. He started talking about his love for wrestling and weirdly we just hit it off.
My favorite episode from this past season of TCGS was the wrestling match between Chris Gethard and Vacation Jason, with you, X-Pac, Rhyno, and Jon Hamm. How did that come together?
I was on a tour of Chile and South America, and I had all this free time. I was trying to fill like, 40 hours of downtime, and at the time Chris was tweeting a lot about his public access show. On a whim I decided to download like 16 episodes, and binge watched them all. I got really into it. After that I watched every week, and if I was wrestling in New York I’d come on the show. Then he got his show on Fusion…I don’t know if I had a place in their heart, if they would think ‘hey there’s something for Colt.’ I did a bit on their pilot for Comedy Central that never aired, where I accidentally hit Michael Cera in the balls and felt kinda bad about it.
You have the Human Fish, Chris Gethard, this ultimate tension between Chris and Vacation Jason, it set up for perfect wrestling — their show is wrestling in a way. I told Chris that about the Diddy show, how that was so pro wrestling, where they said ‘we don’t know who’s gonna show up’ and then Diddy shows up. I saw every angle of that and thought it was great. I think the perfect babyface is Chris Gethard, the perfect heel is Vacation Jason, so professional wrestling made sense. He came to me, and I told him ‘here’s how we can get the ring, here’s who I can probably get to be on the show,’ and it all worked out perfectly.
Was Jon Hamm game for everything?
Jon Hamm was super up for everything. I think a lot of people were surprised at how much the wrestlers could go with the flow, and I think they were very surprised that Jon Hamm just showed up and let us use him as part of the match. I think in ‘TV-land’ this was something that would have to be set up for weeks and weeks, but he got there an hour before. We told him a couple of things, and just went in and did it. It kind of proves how well the worlds of improv and professional wrestling mirror each other. It was so much fun to do.
Speaking of live comedy, as you know, John Cena is hosting SNL this Saturday. Other than yourself of course, what other wrestlers do you think would make good SNL hosts?
Everyone thought Cena would be great for it. Santino Marella, I think he would have been wonderful. And I think you put [current WWE tag-team, Luke] Gallows and [Karl] Anderson in there, I think they could hold their own.
That’s an interesting out-of-the-box choice. Reminds me of the 80’s, when Mr. T and Hulk Hogan hosted together.
That would be called tag team hosting.
Were there influential wrestling moments that you remember growing up, whether intentionally or unintentionally funny, that informed what you are today as a wrestler?
You know, being a child of the 80s and the Rock ‘N Wrestling era influenced me a little bit, because the first thing I think of is Captain Lou Albano in that Cyndi Lauper music video. You saw guys like Roddy Piper and the Iron Sheik, and you knew these were evil guys, but even as a five-year-old I’m thinking, ‘Well, they’re on set with Hulk Hogan and they’re not beating each other up,’ so I could tell they were working together to make this really fun show…I think I understood it from a young age, which probably helped in my growth as a wrestler, and later on trying to dissect the world of comedy wrestling.
In your documentary, you tell Kikutaro to ‘Go To Sleep’, your finishing move, and he lays down and pretends to sleep. It’s such a Naked Gun or Airplane!-esque moment. On the comedy side, were there any movies or TV shows that pushed you along?
I’ve always been a goofball, and I loved comedy as a kid — of course Naked Gun and those movies. I’ve never had the platform to say this before, but one of my first influences, after I became a wrestler…was Demetri Martin’s half-hour special on Comedy Central. I saw it at the perfect time. I was four or five years into my wrestling career and considered myself a performer, but seeing him do standup, but crazy outside the box standup, it really hit me. It was one of the first times where it clicked for me that you could take a genre and play with it as much as you wanted. You didn’t have to play by the set rules. Once I saw Demetri Martin I started to seek out other comedians who weren’t doing traditional standup comedy. It really changed the way I thought about performing, and comedy and wrestling.
What you’re doing in the documentary is taking the art form of wrestling and subverting it, all the tropes of it, very similar to Demetri Martin’s comedy, he’s the perfect example. Today, TJ Miller and Bo Burnham are two that come to mind that are taking the standup structure and completely turning it on its head.
Demetri was the first one to click for me. Looking back someone like Stephen Wright is someone else, not to not discredit anyone, but also clicked with me at the right time.
It even dates back to Andy Kaufman, who was heavily involved with wrestling. He was the first comedian to start doing that kind of comedy. It’s funny how wrestling and comedy fit so well together, and how some fans appreciate both completely.
That’s who I try to cater to. I’m a big believer of quality over quantity. I’m not trying to gain eight million fans, I just want the ones that are like-minded to myself.
The guys you’re wrestling on the road have to be on board as the ‘straight man’ to your bits, have you encountered problems with any of them?
Of course, yeah. A couple of guys in Scotland were having none of it, so I decided not do my style that night and change it up a bit. I have to become more of a heavy duty wrestler, which is fine, but not what I like to do. That’s the weird thing, I’m touring this act, which for the most part is a two-man improv team, and sometimes my partner doesn’t want anything to do with that style…and I have to change the act according to the circumstances.
When you dip your toes into the comedy world, like in TCGS, or your appearances on Who Charted? or Doug Loves Movies, do you feel an added element of pressure because you’re entering a world that feels secondary to you?
I feel that the expectations for me are so low, being a professional wrestler, that it blows people’s minds when I’m able to be this ‘special attraction’ and keep up in terms of comedy… That’s why I love the outside world of comedy that I get to be involved with, like Gethard’s show, Maron, Doug Loves Movies…I do a lot of random shows all over Chicago. I always feel like no one expects anything out of me, and it’s allowed me to hang.
So are you at the point where you’d rather get a laugh than a ‘Holy Shit!’ chant?
Oh yeah. That is my ‘Holy Shit’ chant.
What are you hoping for in the future? Are you trying to act or do more straight comedy? I don’t think you’re going to want to toss your body around forever.
My style of wrestling I can do for a long time, so I’m very happy about that. I don’t see it coming to an end at all. I set myself up in the middle of everything — I have the podcast, I make these movies, we tour the comedy show around, so I feel like I’m in a good place. A Rolling Stone article came out about me, and afterwards I signed a development deal that’s no longer holding to make a TV show about the weird world of independent wrestling. In my head I thought that would be the next step — some kind of weird documentation to show the weird world I live in that so many people know, but so many people don’t. Wrestling Road Diaries 3 is that, but it’s only being sold on my website…I’m kinda hoping to somehow bring the world of comedians, professional wrestlers, and weird independent wrestling together and present some projects. That’s what I’m hoping for.
There’s definitely a place for that in the future. The new Netflix show GLOW, by Jenji Kohan, is shaping up to be really great, and it’s going to bring indie wrestling into the spotlight.
I hope so. Amazing Kong is in that, I thought that was a great choice.
And Marc Maron. Very exciting. Do you think there will ever be a place for your style of wrestling in WWE?
Never say never because they’ve signed all these independent guys — I never thought that was going to happen. The reason I’m able to do what I do is because of the freedom I’m allowed in my art in how I want to perform. And with WWE for years now…there isn’t creative freedom to the extent I have. And it’s probably for a reason — there are four million viewers on a Monday night, advertisers you have to please, and a cranky boss you have to make sure likes what you’re doing.
You can find Colt Cabana’s documentary, Wrestling Road Diaries Vol. 3 – Funny Equals Money, on his website. Colt is performing his comedy show “Unprofessional Wrestling” with Marty DeRosa on Thursday December 22nd in Missouri. Follow him on Twitter @ColtCabana.
Mark Kramer is a writer, comedian & human boy from Staten Island, New York, but please don’t hold that against him.