Dave reviews Louis Theroux’s Wild Weekend

Hi Scott,
As Beyond the Mat and wrestling documentaries and films have been discussed likely, I thought you might like something about a documentary not a lot of people might know about. So here’s a bit about the wrestling episode of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends.
Dave

Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends – Wrestling

Louis Theroux is a British documentary filmmaker who has started his career as a correspondent for Michael Moore and then branched off into making shows about the irreverent and bizarre (porn, UFOs, swingers) before taking on much more serious subjects, such as white supremacists, child abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. This episode is from the second series of his first show, Weird Weekends, and in it he spends time with some of the stars of WCW.
Before the intro, he bumps into Raven and Alex Wright at the airport. Raven gives him the finger before pulling him over to give him the third degree about his project, a wrestling documentary.
R: “Do you know who I am?”
L: “Um…”
R: “You’re doing a wrestling subculture movie and you don’t know who I am. Didn’t you think to do some research before you started this endeavour?!”
L: “No.”
After the intro, he’s off to Gainsville, Florida, for a live Monday Nitro show, where freaks and geeks assemble outside, with threats to kick the crap out of Scott Steiner and the like. PR man Alan Sharp meets him at the door while Finlay, Billy Silverman and Bam Bam Bigelow mill around in the background. Sharp describes WCW as rock and roll with muscles, “like Melrose Place in spandex – we are drama!”. Louis wants to meet and talk to a wrestler.
Randy Savage walks in with Gorgeous George and Miss Madness right behind. Sharp pulls him away quickly as Savage heads down to greet Mike Enos and Bobby Duncum Jr. He’ll have to do for Roddy Piper instead, who he jumps on as he comes through the door. Piper is immediately in character, talking about having to beat up giants with green teeth tonight. Louis comments on his build:
L: “Now, you’re not the classic, beefed-up guy…”
RP: “I’ve killed men for saying less than that!”
They laugh it off, then Louis asks Roddy his age. Shockingly, he tells the truth!
RP: “April 17th I turned 45, and they still can’t beat me! You should’ve seen my act when I was 29… I would’ve made love to you!”
Riki Rachtman walks by in the background as Roddy goes through his laundry list of injuries, including his deformed wrist, which he won’t get fixed because if he does it’ll be a fusion job and it’ll disturb his bagpipe playing. Louis asks what he carries in his briefcase (“That’s where I keep all my sexual detachments!”). They go through and it’s his wrestling gear and toiletries. He bids them goodbye so he can go take a piss.
Louis then moves over to the friendly Alex Wright, with Billy Kidman sat nearby. Wright introduces himself as playing a new character on TV, Alexander Wright, but the actual name would be Berlyn, replacing his dancing gimmick. They go through his off-screen look now, with the trenchcoat mafia look he had to abandon, as well as his wrestling gear of black boots, sleeveless long leather jackets, shades, tights that will do a better job of holding his tackle in (OK, I had to throw that in!).
Goldberg then walks in and says hello to Vincent in the background. Louis sidles up to him as he spits on the floor and asks what someone should do if they want to become a wrestler. Goldberg recommends that anyone who wants to make it as a wrestler needs to gain a lot of weight and then go to the Power Plant.
Louis then meets Sarge, better known as Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker/Dewayne Bruce, the head trainer at the Power Plant. Sarge says it’s not just look and muscles, you’ve got to have brains and screen presence, knowing where you are in the ring. He promises to put him through the paces.

Louis watches the show from the crowd, noticing that “it’s not entirely real in the Olympic sense”, then watches as Hot Rod comes out to send Ric Flair off to the mental hospital. Unable to deny the athleticism, he decides to ask Sarge afterwards how much is decided ahead of time. Sarge claims ignorance and walks off, slightly miffed as Louis mentions.

Now off to North Carolina and the AIWF, an outlaw group run by Dean Puckett, AKA Rick Deezel, who promised to talk openly about how the business works and claimed his group was the most extreme wrestling federation in America. Puckett is a guy in his forties with a big nose, goatee, no body, grey hair, a mullet, but a hell of a mouth on him. He goes through the contents of his ring van – speakers, tortilla chips, and boards with barbed wire attached.

First day with Dean/Rick includes a stop to the radio station to promote a show in the evening at a high school gym, then to the site where the ring is being set up by wrestler Brian Danzig, Rick’s booker. Brian is a guy in his early twenties in a Fear Factory t-shirt with long hair and a beard who looks a lot older courtesy of some nasty gig marks on his forehead. Despite his promise, Rick is sticking to an “It’s entertainment!” line, while Brian is a lot more open, including describing the process of blading.

They set up the ring while Louis asks Brian, who pairs socks in the daytime at work, if he’d want to work for WCW. He says not, because they’d sanitise a lot of what he likes to do in the ring. The reality is, he wouldn’t stand a chance with his non-photogenic look.

With the ring built, a trainee called Steve takes a few bumps under instruction from Brian. Louis comes in to run the ropes, looking like Bambi on ice, taking far too many steps and not leaning into the ropes as he turns, in pain from just hitting the ropes.

Louis then goes to meet Jody Rushbrook, AKA Major Havoc, a mechanic who is one of Rick’s AIWF tag team champions, a small Steve Austin clone with shaved head and goatee who sticks his tongue out and cackles at the crowd. They go down to the stockroom to give and take a few hits with a metal shelf. Jody hits himself with some nice shots for sound while Louis timidly taps himself. Jody works out while talking about his aspirations of working for WCW (again, would never happen) and how he works two jobs to support his wife and kids in addition to doing his wrestling shows. Louis bids him farewell for now and heads back to the high school ready for the show.

Dean gives a talk stood on a chair in the changing room about how they’ve got a “popping crowd out there” like a version of Cletus-meets-Paul Heyman. The locker room includes a 1999 Scott Steiner wannabe with a plastic shield, Jody’s tag team partner (an even smaller version of Steve Austin), a fair few mullets, nobody you could describe as muscular or in shape (including Rick, who gets caught fastening his belt with his belly hanging over), and a bunch of chubby guys who look like they’ve raided a fancy dress shop called Weirdo Incorporated, the bodyguards of a heel manager.

Brian gives instructions to the guys for their matches. His own match includes him being challenged by some “martial arts students from the school of hard knocks”. He gets himself hyped up by listening to rock music. Louis wonders aloud if the show, with lots of kids out there, should be carried out the way it is with all the violence if it’s billed as “family entertainment”. Brian’s blunt reply is that they know what he does and that he’s on last, so if they don’t like they it they can leave before he comes out.

The match starts out pretty fine, but the chair wrapped in barbed wire comes into play early and the match breaks down into a hardcore match with bumps through tables and lots of blood. Brian seems orgasmic after the match with his adrenaline running and face covered in blood. He shows off his blade to Louis (“Fuck! Shit!”). Despite his gory appearance, Brian says he feels fine, although I wonder if that would change when his adrenaline wears off once they get to the Waffle House.

Louis bids farewell to Rick. Rick previews his upcoming show Extreme Content – no title shots, all grudges, but hopefully not AS bloody when Louis shows reservations. Louis admits to camera after that he enjoyed the show, but he hoped nobody got really hurt as a result of their romance with blood and gore.

Back to WCW and the Power Plant, where trainers Mike Winner and Pez Whatley are doing promo class. Students include Chuck Palumbo, Elix Skipper, Mike Sanders, Kid Romeo and more, while Ron Reis assists. Pez explains his “Pistol” nickname by trapping and hurting Louis’ thumb. He explains that tryout fee is $250 for three days, then $3,000 for anyone who’s successful, which he describes as “chump change”, presumably because they’d easily make it back once they were working.

Winner and Whatley’s students for “media technique”, as the promo class is called, are Alan Funk and Hardbody Harrison. Pez gives them instructions to include subject matter, time, date and your opponent’s name, then Funk a premise of Harrison having interfered in his match last week, so this week he’s going to teach him a lesson. The one minute promos are timed with hand signals for thirty, fifteen and five seconds.

Funk gives his promo, which is a generic shouting and screaming, angry man promo, while looking really nervous and stretching for things to say. He does look in terrific shape, though. Pez’s feedback is that he blew his wad in thirty seconds, then had nothing to say after (“Good job it was only one minute… If it was two we’d REALLY be struggling!”, he says with a smile).

Next up, Harrison, who again looks in shape, but talks in cliches and unnaturally, stretching it out, but still having thirty seconds remaining. Pez then stands in and does a promo that he’s probably done a thousand times, a hundred times better, finishing with his “SUCK-AAA!” trademark to exclamate it, breaking a sweat as he does so. He explains to Louis that his training was look good, be able to speak, be able to do your thing in the ring. You have to have all three and be able to tell a story – anything less is no good.

Louis then gives a promo as “Waldo” (given that name because of being tall, skinny, and wearing glasses). Very eloquent, with a vaguely American twang to his English accent, sounding like he’s not trying to be rude and coming out with some wonderfully innocent phrases (“I’ve been practising, I’ve been trying really hard to learn some moves, so I’m going to do my best!”).

Now, to the fitness drills, where he’s out of the charming hands of Pez and into the savage hands of Sarge. Hindu squats to start. As a token of respect, knowing how seriously they took it, he decided to push himself as far as he could. Sarge puts him in the middle of everyone and starts shouting at him, with him already exhausted and his press-ups consisting of Sarge pulling him up by the back of his shirt and then letting him drop down to the ground. Bridges are a no-go, as sweat drips off Sarge’s nose onto Louis in a crumpled heap as he reminds him that they’ve been doing this yesterday and today and will be doing it tomorrow.

Elix Skipper, Funk and Sonny Siaki stand around him telling him he can do it as Sarge manhandles him through free squats. Louis tries to beg off, so they turn up the heat. On the floor, he stretches his arms and legs out for Sarge’s amusement and repeats “Sir, I’m a dying cockroach, sir!” as the other trainees feign disbelief and outrage in the background. Sarge reads him the riot act back on his feet, asking him how he had the nerve to ask him if wrestling was fake, telling him “We do this 365 days a fucking year!” (they didn’t), then tells him he’ll finish his workout. Louis carries on his cockroach metaphor, but Sarge is unsympathetic (“I don’t care, this foot is gonna crush you!”).

They hit the ring for another drill, with Alan Funk going fucking nuts, like his two main components for the day are steroids and coke, then Louis slips out to the trainer’s table. Sarge drags him back out and shoves him back in the ring. He then gets in his face and tells him his questions were ridiculous, that he is the sarge, then asks him if he wants to ask any more smart questions. Louis says no.

Back to more drills, Louis says he can’t do any more, and Sarge turns strangely nicer (“You’re not gonna give up – giving up is not an option…”). Full of kindness, he even gets Louis a bucket to throw up in! Louis tries to get a cup of water, so Sarge swats it out of his hands and makes him sit down on the bucket, his head to the wall, like a naughty child. Ron Reis comes over to give him encouragement, telling him it’s only intended to push him further than he’s gone before. Louis doesn’t seem interested. With a pat on the back, they head outside.

From the sweatbox that is the inside of the warehouse to the sweatbox that is out in the car park, they commence running. Louis finally hits his limit and starts regurgitating. The trainees have little sympathy for him (“If you’re going to puke, puke like a fucking man!”, says convicted kidnapper and pimp Hardbody). This descends into a nasty scene where they all condescendingly chant “Waldo! Waldo!” at him until he finally throws up. Sarge is unimpressed with the quality of his vomit as Glacier quips in the background “Well, there she goes!”. “You ain’t done nothing! That ain’t nothing!”, says Sarge. “If you’re gonna puke, BLOW CHUNKS!”

Finally the torture ends. Louis, confused and glad it’s over, hits the showers. Sarge is nowhere to be seen when he’s ready to go and Pez sees him off. He explains that what he went through was to show him and everybody else a completely different respect for wrestling and what it involves. Pez tells him that he considers that he did respect them by going to the edge and it was taken as a compliment. One quick tweak of the thumb as he shakes his hand. Louis’s conclusion was that wrestlers felt massively underappreciated as athletes and that they’d go some distance to prove their points.

Back one more time to Rick and Brian. He tells them about the torture that he went through. They don’t sound too surprised by how he was treated, knowing that’s the norm for the guys who’ve paid the $250 for a start. They then recap their latest event, where someone got their face slashed by barbed wire and required stitches. It has made them think whether they’ve gone too far, but they still have a spool of barbed wire they got on sale they want to get through. Brian stresses you could be paralysed off a slam, so can’t see why this is so different.
In conclusion: Theroux always brings the goods when it comes to bringing the bizarre and unusual into the light. It’s a tale of two cities; the wannabes in AIWF, who shred themselves up with little concern for little reward other than love of the game, and then the guys who were really doing it (or where they?) in WCW. The AIWF guys all come across as nice, but feckless, people you’d look at with wide-eyed bemusement and wouldn’t want to sit at the previously used table of in a restaurant. The WCW guys come across as the real stars, but…
Get past the cameos from Macho, Piper and Goldberg and you’re not left with much else on the surface of it. Pez Whatley was the biggest star out of the four training staff members, and his high point was a lower card heel role in the NWA, a bit of a joke. Sarge was a perennial jobber, Winner was a babyface pushed in Portland but nowhere else, and Reis was pretty awful. Chuck Palumbo got the most “fame” as a washout in WWE, whereas Hardbody Harrison got the most infamy for his criminal behaviour.
However, they become very interesting under the spotlight in the little narrative at the Power Plant. Although Theroux claims otherwise, including in his latest book, I personally think that he and Sarge agreed the basic plot of their conflict for interest, because riling up the angry wrestler is a better story than the weak con job they would’ve got otherwise. But if Sarge was for real, he comes out best as misguided for thinking his “tough love” approach would bring the most out of an obviously incapable tackling dummy and worst as a steroid-inflated bully with a Napoleon complex. Evidence points to the latter, as Bob Sapp and Batista are probably the most notable stars to give testimony of mistreatment there (Sapp even slipped and landed on his back in his own sick after throwing up, apparently).
Not Louis’ best documentary, but definitely one of the more interesting extended looks at wrestling ever. Check it out if you can on Netflix or the BBC iPlayer.