RF Video Shoot Interview with Mean Gene Okerlund

This was filmed in either 2006 or 2007
The interview was conducted by Doug Gentry and Rob Feinstein
It runs for two hours and twenty-two minutes long

Gene is asked if he was a wrestling fan growing up. He said that he followed the AWA by watching on Saturday nights as a kid and through college but would not classify himself as a hardcore fan. Gene went to Nebraska University and attended school at the same time as Baron Von Raschke.
Before wrestling, Gene worked in radio. After graduating college, he worked at a radio station in Omaha then moved to Minnesota. He said that he spent a week as a programming director but wanted to be on-air.
On how he wound up in wrestling, Gene said he was a salesman for a TV station and on a Saturday night, was asked to fill in for Marty O’Neill, who was also the voice of the AWA, who was out sick. At that time, Verne Gagne offered him a deal under the table and told Gene just to call what he saw, as Gene did not know the names of the wrestling holds. He says that was the best advice he had ever received in broadcasting and compares that to the cross promotion and selling of other products that the announcers of today use.
Rob asks Gene if he other wrestlers kayfabed him when he started. Gene said that they did but it never bothered him, mentioning how Verne was big on maintaining kayfabe. When asked if he was ribbed by the wrestlers, Gene said that there was not a lot of ribbing back then and said the announcers were all hands off in the AWA, meaning talent was not allowed to touch him on air. Gene says that makes the announcer seem less effective when he is allowed to be touched.
When asked if he was given bulletpoints to use, he said that he did for the moves but also made up stuff as he went along. Gene tells a story of how he made up the “Beal Throw” named after the fictional Benny Beal and Verne told him not to do that again.
He is asked about his memories of Hulk Hogan. Gene said how he was originally going to be a heel to play off of the success of his “Thunderlips” character, managed by Johnny Valiant but after a few weeks, they decided that he would work a lot better as a face. He said that Hogan was not the best technical wrestler, saying that was Dean Malenko, but that he could put asses in seats, unlike Dean Malenko.
Gene is now asked if anyone would not consider him as one of the boys, just as an announcer. He said that Sir Oliver Humperdink tried that at a show in Florida, by speaking in “carny” but Gene called him out, stating he could speak carny too.
In mid 1983, he met with Vince McMahon and after that, decided to make the jump to the WWF. Gene said that money was the reason he left. He said at that time, Vince talked about going national, but never mentioned anything about going global.
When asked about Jesse Ventura, Gene said that Jesse indeed came up with the “Mean Gene” nickname (Jesse said this in his RF Video shoot). Gene said he was not in love with the nickname but notes how it got over. He then tells a story of how the name was created. In his interviews, Jesse always talked about hanging out and partying with rock stars. One day, he said that he was partying with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and when Jesse asked Gene if he knew who he was, Gene said of course he knew him and said he was a famous race car driver. Jesse then replied “that was mean, Gene.” He also said that with Jesse, who knew what you were getting and never kayfabed anything.
Gene is asked about several guys he worked with. He said that Dick the Bruiser was a great business man and a smart guy. He never worked with Ken Patera in the AWA and first saw Patera when he was bouncer at a bar with Ric Flair. He said his first memories of Flair was when he was a student of Verne and how the arrangement at that time was that Verne would take 10% of your payoffs for the rest of your career but that Flair never gave him and he quickly moved to the Carolinas. He said that he would have never been able to develop his persona if he stayed in the AWA. Gene really likes Nick Bockwinkle and said he was a great technical wrestler. He talks about how he did not get a chance to work with Harley Race until he was in the WWF. Gene loved Ray Stevens and said he was great on the mic but a terrible golfer. He said that Pat Patterson & Ray Stevens was one of the greatest teams of all time. He was close with Larry Hennig and said they would go to the same gin-mill every week. A short guy came up and kept bothering Hennig, who warned him, and the guy came back then Hennig stomped his foot on the arch of the guys foot, who immediately dropped down.
He is now asked about announcing and said that Gordon Solie was the best at having fun with the product and selling the angles in a serious manner.
When asked who had the best in-ring psychology in the ring, Gene lists a few guys. He said that Mad Dog Vachon had a great feel for what to do in the ring to get the crowd going.
Gene is asked about Bruiser Brody. He said that Brody had a reputation of being a loner and a troublemaker but would just stop by quickly in the AWA for a few months. Gene said he was talented and had a love/hate relationship with Verne. He feels sad regarding his death.
He is now asked about Bobby Heenan and said in his 35 years of wrestling, he probably worked 31 of them with Heenan. Gene said the first suggestion he made to Eric Bischoff was to hire Heenan. Gene said that Heenan wanted to be a commentator because he did not want to be on the road and talks about how his throat cancer has taken his livelihood away. Gene receives a call from Kevin Dunn and says he will call him back after he finishes his interview with some people from Philadelphia. He talks about Bobby being the best color commentator.
Gene said that Verne took it hard when Hulk Hogan left the AWA, saying he felt betrayed. Gene said that Hogan sent Verne a telegram from Western Union that he was leaving to go to the WWF. At that point, he was in conversation with Patterson and Vince to join the company. However, Gene had his business at the time and could only work one day a week but Vince ended up cutting a deal with him of working three days every three weeks and Gene said he could triple his salary that way. When asked if he heard about the rumor of Verne offering the Iron Sheik $100,000 to break Hogan’s legs, Gene said he did not but if Verne was to offer him something, it would have probably been $10,000. Gene started with the WWF in December of 1983 during the “Wrestling at the Chase” shows.
When Gene left the AWA, he said that Verne told him he could not leave then Greg Gagne came in and asked Gene how he could leave after they had taken care of him for thirteen years. Gene replied that the WWF made him a better offer and that they never gave him a counteroffer so Greg told Gene to go take the WWF’s if it was so damn good, thinking Gene might back off, but Gene was gone. He then said that he was one of the first to leave and did not know if the rest of the locker room all wanted to jump ship or not. 
On the subject of Verne not changing his ways, Gene said that refused to and called him an “isolationist” who would stick to his cities and towns and not changing the way he did things. 
He got along with Vince and had a lot of fun with him. Gene said that Vince was not as guarded as he is today, due to how many times he has gotten burned. Gene said that the six months leading up to WrestleMania was grueling. Gene thought that if WrestleMania bombed, it would have killed the company.
Gene now tells a story about Vince McMahon offering Verne Gagne a deal. It was in early 1984 and Vince was sitting in Gene’s office in downtown Minneapolis. Vince offered Verne a $10 million buyout and that Verne and Greg would get $100,000 a year for five years. Vince told Verne that he could give them national TV exposure with the deal but Verne exploded at him and said that if his father would be irate if he knew what he was doing.
He talks about the difference between the AWA and WWF in terms of production. He said the WWF was much more organized and calculated compared to the AWA, which was disorganized and things were written down last minute.
Gene talks about how he replaced Pat Patterson as a color commentator, a role that Okerlund said he was not cut out for at all (he is right about that, Gene was awful in that role). Gene takes a sip out of a Poland Springs, joking that it is imported from Russia.
When asked about being the host of “Tuesday Night Titans,” Gene said that they were told not to rehearse anything on TNT. He puts over Don Muraco and Mr. Fuji for cracking him up during their skits. He also said that the Russian Bear that was on for a segment with Nikolai Volkoff took a shit on the stage that stunk up the whole building. Gene also tells a story about the Iron Sheik and how he had a segment with the camel and asked Gene about its name, so he told the Sheik that it was “Clyde” but called it “Claude” when he got on air.
On whether or not Hogan changed with success, Gene said he did but at the same time, he had to put his guard up due to all of his fame. He then adds that all sorts of people came up to him trying to make side deals.
Gene did say that it was Hogan’s idea to put him in a match against George Steele & Mr. Fuji. Gene then talks about the training videos and how the guys would bust his balls by making him do multiple takes of the runs. For the match, Gene high-fived Hogan after he cleaned house then the ref told him to go into the ring. Gene said that originally, Hogan told him he was not going to wrestle at all and just stand on the apron.
Gene tells a story about Fuji. He said that when he was managing Killer Khan, Fuji did not like him. Khan did a gimmick in which he spit liquid, which was actually mouthwash. They were taping a bunch of interviews and in between takes, Khan would put some mouthwash in his mouth and during the actual interviews, Fuji would whack Khan in the legs with his cane and shove Copenhagen into his mouth, trying to prove how nothing could stop him as Khan had to try as hard as possible to prevent the mouthwash from leaving his mouth .Gene said that one time in Washington, Fuji hit him so hard that Khan ended up swallowing the Copenhagen and the mouthwash.
When asked if the rivalry between Hogan and Ventura was real, Gene said it was and probably still is today. Gene said Jesse was on top of the AWA then Hogan came in and took that spot, which Jesse did not like. When asked about Hogan and Roddy Piper, Gene said you could really feel the tension between those two in the locker room as Hogan would not give Piper the time of day.
He is asked if Jimmy Snuka was not in the main event due to the death of Nancy Argentino. Gene did not think it was due to that because he did have a spot in the main event at one point but he was using a lot of drugs and was unreliable as a result.
Gene said that Mr. T was very difficult to get along with but adds that Liberace was a pro. Gene tells a story about how Mr. T missed a press conference in New York because he wanted to clear his head and went off in his limo for a few hours.
Now, Gene is asked how he got to sing the National Anthem at WrestleMania because the person who was supposed to sing the song never showed up, with Gene joking that they might have been partying with Snuka all night. He said that when the performer never showed up, Gene went to Vince and said that they could not start the show without the National Anthem and volunteered to sing. Gene said it was not his best performance.
They ask Gene about his infamous interview with Rick Rude from SummerSlam in which he swore. Gene said he did not get heat for that as the interview was pre-taped and they used the wrong tape for the show and in the Gorilla position, Vince was yelling through the mic to Jesse so he could cover for Gene but he buried him instead.
His favorite guys to interview during the 80’s WWF . Gene said that Tony Atlas was tough to work with and had his issues with drugs but has cleaned up his life today and is friendly with him. He asks the guys to guess who was the most difficult and they both correctly guessed the Ultimate Warrior. Gene said that he could talk with the Warrior on the phone and still probably have no clue where he was going with the conversation.
Gene is then asked about the confrontation between the Rougeau Brothers and the British Bulldogs. He said that the whole thing was juvenile and that the Rogeau’s beat the crap out of the Bulldogs.
When asked, Gene said that he saw people crack due to the brutal road scheduled. Gene said he almost cracked himself then joked how he went to the psychiatrist instead to work out his issues. He tells a story while in San Diego, he filmed 141 interviews that were about three minutes long apiece.
Talking about the David Schultz/John Stossel incident, Gene said he had no idea if Vince put Schultz up to it but Vince loved pressed and just wanted to make sure that the names were spelled right and that the WWF was mentioned. He said that he was about ten feet away from the incident when it happened.
Gene said that Haku was the toughest guy in the locker room and no one would mess with him. Gene also said that some of the big starts were “pussycats” in reality.
He said that he loved working with Howard Finkel on promos, even if he could drive you nuts. Gene also liked Rene Goulet, saying that his English was terrible even after 25 years in the United States but did enjoy his company.
In talking about the Nailz/Vince McMahon incident, Gene said that he heard a lot of screaming and shouting from Nailz, who was pissed that the Big Boss Man had a check for $25,000 while Nailz had one for $8,000. He said that Jim Duggan went in to break up the fight and talks about how Nailz is now a bounty hunter.
When asked if Savage was paranoid regarding Elizabeth, Gene said that he was and said when Savage went off to the gym before the TV tapings, he would lock Elizabeth in the room and take the key with him. He tells a story that took place at the Halloween Edition of “Saturday Night’s Main Event” from 1985 when Elizabeth had to pass the apple around to both him and Roddy Piper and he heard Savage grunting in the background.
Gene liked Andre the Giant and said they shared the same hobbies: good food, wine, and playing cards. Gene said that Andre was a sensitive guy and once sat him down on a flight and told him that people thought he had a great life but would have kids and others point and laugh at him because of his size.
He is asked about the Ultimate Warrior holding up Vince for money at SummerSlam, Gene said he was there and that the Warrior was wrong for threatening to not work a show the day of the event to get more money and said there is no room in any business for someone who acts like that and that Warrior could not be trusted.
Gene is asked if there was someone who made it as a star that he never though would. He said he thought smaller guys had less of a chance to make it big and said that Bret Hart was not good on the microphone and nervous in the ring when he started. He talks about Shawn Michaels and how he really likes him and said that they tried to get him to go to WCW but Gene said he was loyal to Vince.
He talks about Kerry Von Erich and tells a story at a promotional event that took place at a restaurant in New York City as Kerry is whacked out of his mind and tried to stick the fork in his mouth but it fell all over him and he had food all over his sleeves too.
Gene said that drugs were prevalent in wrestling in the 70’s and 80’s. Gene said that he would partake in stuff outside of alcohol but knew his limits. He then said a lot of things that happened shouldn’t have due to drug use.
On how he wound up in WCW, Gene said that his contract with the WWF was up and they did not offer him a renewal. He said that change was good for everyone and still left on good terms with Vince, saying he gave him a hug and that they had a hell of a run.
Initially, he liked Eric Bischoff and thought he seemed refreshing. He also did not know if he had a handle on what was going on with the company.
Gene said that the difference between the WCW and WWF was the production values, noting how WCW had lousy values and was disorganized. He did say that they improved a lot when Nitro started.
On the subject of the “Scheme Gene” character, Gene said he was not offended by it and added how could anyone be offended by something like that.
He talks about the hotline and how it was making $350,000 a year in revenue.
When asked about Nitro and if the concept would work, Gene talks about how he never understood why they wanted to go head-to-head with the WWE and thought that they should have ran on a different night so the wrestling fans could enjoy both products. Gene then said that Ted Turner was the one who wanted to be on Monday nights instead of Wednesday.
Gene said that everyone was in Bischoff’s ear and that he should have had a guy like Kevin Dunn to sit down with to go over things. Gene then adds how ridiculous it was to give the wrestlers creative control clauses in their contracts and after a while, it got to be too much.
He is then asked how he had such good chemistry with Ric Flair in WCW as Gene replied back that they had good chemistry in the bar too. Gene said he thinks the world of Flair.

When asked if he thought Hogan was good or bad for WCW at the end of the company’s run, he said it was a good thing and without him, WCW would not have beaten WWF in the ratings. He was then asked if Hogan watched his back in WCW and Gene said no, adding that Hogan looked out for himself, but did say that when he asked Hulk to induct him into the Hall of Fame, he said yes. Gene puts over for re-inventing himself with his reality show.

They ask Gene about the nWo and he puts over how great it was that the fans were confused as whether or not Hall & Nash were in the WCW or the WWF.

Gene talks about how towards the end of WCW, they never knew what they were going to do until 10-20 minutes before they went to air. He then said that when Russo came in, he was not the solution but rather made the problem worse. He did say that the boys knew how to push him around.

He is asked about Pamela Paulshock and jokes that she was nice and well endowed but a huge airhead.

When asked if Eric Bischoff changed over time, Gene believes that Bischoff thought he was a genius due to the success and as a result, became very power hungry. He did say that he thought Bischoff did a great job as the RAW GM when he came to the WWE.

He talks about the creative control clauses in WCW and how guys like Goldberg, who had been in the business for just a few years, had that clause in his contract.

Rob brings up how Bobby Heenan brought up how Tony Schiavone was untrustworthy in his interview and asks Gene about his opinion of Tony. Gene says that Tony was the consumate politician and had a tendency to bury people along the way when he was protecting himself but did not have a lot of problems with him.

Gene said that Mike Tenay was knowledgeable but not a broadcaster. He said that his specialty was in Japanese and Mexican wrestling.

He is asked about Mark Madden and the match they had together. Gene said that was Russo’s fault as that would never draw and the only thing that would have happened was that they would embarrass themselves. Gene said it was garbage.

When asked if they were only worried about getting a big buyrate or winning a quarter hour, Gene said that was exactly what they did and mentions how there was no long-term planning in the company. He then mentions Russo’s shoot on Hogan at the Bash in the Beach and how it was all over after that.

Gene is asked about the sale of WCW. He said that the Time Warner and a lot of Turner’s guys did not want wrestling but that Ted Turner was the one who stood up for WCW. He found out that it was sold when he was sitting at home, after being asked to not come to TV, after signing a long-term deal that was well over one million dollars. When asked if he got paid the entire amount, Gene said that he did.

He said that a lot of guys in the locker room resented DDP, thinking that he only got pushed because he was a friend of Bischoff’s.

After WCW went out of business, Gene said he would call Kevin Dunn to see if he could do any special features for the WWE. Dunn said that he would work on it and six months later, Dunn called him up and pitched the idea for “Confidential.” He said that the show did not expose the business, because it was already exposed as much as any other business, and said that the pieces on Elizabeth’s death and on Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels were the best.

Gene said that Lex Luger felt bad after the Confidential piece and told Gene that he loved the girl but Gene said if he did love her, he would not have fed her booze and pills.

When Gene came back to the WWE, he said that Vince treated him wonderfully and that they talked about the future instead of the past. Gene said he is not big on nostalgia.

On the subject of Vince feeding lines to his announcers, Gene said that it is Vince’s show and if he wants things said a certain way. He talks about how they might have destroyed the spontaneous stuff, like with Joey Styles, but he will not criticize Vince for that.

He thought that Jim Ross was alright but could become very political. He then said how the office pushed all of the Oklahoma stuff with him and that it was not Ross’s idea.

Gene enjoyed calling the gimmick battle royal at WM 17 and jokes how you could have made a fortune as a Viagra salesman in that match. He said that they knew it would be fun and brought out a lot of old terms and descriptions of the wrestlers.

They ask Gene about how different the show production is today and Gene talks about how things today seemed forced but that it is working. He also talked about how they no longer do stand-up interviews and thinks that some of the unscripted stuff that makes it to air is the best part.

Now, Gene is asked about Stephanie and Shane McMahon. Gene said he is big on nepotism himself but also says that both have an understanding of the business. When asked about HHH, Gene said that he worked with him in WCW and said he was hard-working and a student of the game but was going nowhere in WCW. Gene said he was wasting away in the company.

Gene goes back to right before the first WrestleMania and said how Vince had him over his house in Greenwich, CT, along with Hogan, and they mapped out the shows that led to WrestleMania. Gene harped on the fact how modest the beginning of Vince’s run was compared to today.

When asked about the deaths in wrestling, Gene said they were all tragic. He talks about Eddie Guerrero’s death and how he knew him for a long time and was a nice man. Gene said that Curt Hennig’s death was senseless and bashes Roddy Piper for saying that you need pills to get by because that is what killed them.

He is not surprised that Hogan and Flair are still working and on top today. He said that they can outwork some of the other guys that are much younger.

Gene is asked about Bret Hart returning to the WWE. Gene said that he was aloof when he was at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. Gene puts over Stu Hart and said that when his son was in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Stu let Gene and his wife stay with them.

On Pat Patterson being great at coming up with finishes, Gene said he was an entertainer and could give people what they want to make them pop and come up with something to make the fan buy a ticket to the next event or to buy into the next PPV.

When asked about Bruno Sammartino’s relationship with Vince McMahon, Gene said that Bruno blamed Vince for changing the business and making it all about physiques, which pressured wrestlers into taking steroids.

Gene said that it would be very tough for wrestling to go back to what it was in the past and adds that they should have smartened up the television industry instead of the fans.

They ask Gene if a television writer can make a good wrestling show. Gene said that agents that were former wrestlers should not be coming up with dialogue for the wrestlers but at the same time, the office should come up with dialogue after the office tells them about the direction of the product. Gene then talks about how he made a suggestion to Vince and Dunn about bringing up stand up interviews with the big stars.

He calls Gordon Solie the most talented announcer of all-time. He made the product credible and seem believable. Gene also puts over Vince for calling the action but says that Gorilla Monsoon was his personal favorite.

Gene is asked about the “Montreal Screwjob.” He said that Bret should have been professional in that situation but now it is water under the bridge. Gene said that Bret needed to have done business in that situation.

On asked who belongs in the Hall of Fame, he wants to see the Crusher and the Bruiser. Also, Flair, Rhodes, The Funk’s and Steamboat.

When asked who will be the next big thing in the business, Gene said there is someone now without a character or persona that is a great athlete and has the necessary charisma and they are out there somewhere. He goes back to Steve Austin and said that he made it huge because he became himself with the Stone Cold character. Gene said that Paul Orndorff told him that Austin was great and liked to hunt, fish, drink and have the occasional “goodie.” Gene thought that Batista was on the cusp but had a setback due to injury. He said that Kurt Angle is very talented and that John Cena has been pushed too hard and is causing a backlash but he will be around for a while as he is a hard worker and very talented too.

Gene is asked if he goes on the wrestling internet sites and he said that he did when he had the hotline in WCW, joking how that was the source of his material. He said he lived in a vacuum but did talk with Mark Madden and Alex Marvez.

They ask Gene if Vince is unaware of what else is going on in wrestling. Gene said that people have been saying that about him for the past 20 years but he is aware of what is going on outside of the WWE and surrounds himself with a strong inner circle that helps him now what is happening.

He does agree that the cookie-cutter looks that a lot of new wrestlers today does hurt wrestling as they need to have distinctive looks and personalities.

When asked if he wants to write a book, Gene said that he has a manuscript of 1,200 pages but is going to what until he is completely out of the business and can write the final chapter before he releases the book. Gene said that he will end up stepping on a lot of people’s toes when it is released.

Gene believes that if he was staring out in the business today, he would get hired by the WWE, even though the company wants the announcers to be less colorful.

On the subject of who he traveled with, Gene said that he mostly did it by himself but did travel a lot with Bobby Heenan. He tells a story that took place when they were in WCW. He said how Bobby loved to have a cocktail and he wanted to fly first class from Salt Lake City, UT to Oakland, CA. There has no first-class ticket that day so they had to fly to Salt Lake to Denver in order to catch a flight that had first class seats left for Oakland. Gene said that Heenan had all of the whiskey in the world and he was right there with him. On the second flight, Heenan struggled to get his luggage into the overhead and was drunk then one guy came up and asked him if he was alright and Heenan replied back “what the hell are you, a doctor?”

The interviews end with Gene saying that he has no regrets.

Final Thoughts: I thought this was a solid interview. Gene seems like a nice guy and his voice can draw you in, even if not everything he said was exciting. You could definitely tell that Gene was careful not to burn any bridges with the WWE though. He did have some funny stories and was not afraid to poke fun at himself, which is refreshing.

Personally, I think it is sad when you look at the announcers and interviewers today and how non-descriptive and bland they are. They do not have the distinctive voices the guys from the 80’s and 90’s had and to me, that hurts the product. You should want to have a voice associated with the show, someone who can get everything over.

Overall, this interview captured my attention but at the same time, there was no groundbreaking revelations when I finished. I recommend this if you are a fan of Okerlund and the 1980’s WWF.