RF Video Shoot Interview With Jesse Ventura

This interview was filmed in 2012

It runs at two hours and one minute long

The interview is conducted by Rob Feinstein

The interview starts with Feinstein asking Ventura if he wants to be referred as “The Body” or as a “Governor” and he chooses the latter, stating that he has been out of wrestling for 22 years.

Ventura said he was a wrestling fan growing up and oddly enough wound up wrestling some of his favorites when they were in the twilight of their careers, like The Crusher, Larry Hennig, Harley Race, and Mad Dog Vachon. When he got older, he stopped following wrestling until he came home from the Navy and saw Superstar Billy Graham and decided that he wanted to be like him.

While in college, Jesse started in theater and also had some offers to play football. From this, he decided that he wanted to go into pro wrestling as it combined theatrics with athletics. He saw an ad in the paper about wanting to be a pro wrestler and went down and met Ed Sharkey then started with his training.

Jesse calls Sharkey a good, solid wrestler who trained a lot of good guys. He then says at that time, Sharkey and Verne Gagne had a falling out that led to Sharkey not letting his trainees work for him. Jesse then claims that he was the first guy Sharkey trained that went right to Verne in the AWA. Jesse then talks about how Sharkey smartened him up to the business the first day and he did not kayfabe him at all.

In regards to training, Jesse states that the psychology of wrestling was not hard but he hated to bump. He then said that he learned the right psychology so he didnt have to bump much at all. He said that he especially grateful today for that style as he healed quickly after leaving the business and can get around fine today. Jesse said that he used to wear several earrings to the ring so he could take them off, which would kill a lot of time. He then adds that he could work the crowd into a frenzy just by doing that.

His first match was against Omar Atlas in Kansas City. The promoter, Bob Geigel, told Jesse that guys dont win their first matches then turned to Atlas and told him if the match is going good to let Jesse throw him over the top rope for a disqualification and if the match sucks, dropkick him twice then pin him. Jesse said that Omar told him to toss him over the top rope, which Jesse always appreciated. He then said when the WWF brought him Atlas as an enhancement talent, he would always put him over strong on commentary. After his first match, Jesse said that Geigel told him to stay with the business because he would make a lot of money.

He states that Jerry Oates was his mentor as a rookie wrestler while we was in Kansas City.  He then talks about how he liked Geigel as a promoter. When asked if he thought that Geigel was cheap, Jesse did not think so and that the main issue was that Kansas City never drew any money. While he was there in 1975, he never had a payout of more than $90. He also said that he worked as often as he could because he was just starting out and needed the experience as well as the money.

From Kansas City, Jesse went to wrestle for Don Owen in Portland. He said that his first day he got paid $100 and he was only in the second match. He then said after just nine months in the business, Owen put the title on Jesse Ventura, who beat Jimmy Snuka for the title. Jesse said that Jimmy wanted to drop the belt to him because he saw the money in the chase. Jesse said that Jimmy was a business man who cared about the wallet more than the belt. Jesse calls Snuka a phenomenal worker. Jesse said that Owen worked him hard and at one point, he worked 63 days in a row.

Jesse then talks about how he never hung out with other wrestlers outside of the ring as he didnt drink or go to bars and just went home to his wife.

On the subject of Superstar Billy Graham, Jesse said that he first met him at the 7th Street Gym. He said that he was great to him and told him that he needed to go to either the AWA or the then WWWF to make money.

Jesse said that he came up with the Ventura name as he wanted to be a surfer and looked at a map of California and tried to find a city that went with the name Jesse and eventually found Ventura.

On how he joined the AWA, Jesse said that after he left Portland, he felt that he saved enough money to quit the business and decided to go back home and open up a gym. Don Owen called him and asked if he wanted to come work for a few weeks in Portland. Jesse agreed but Don said that he needed him to do promos. At that time, Jesse was in Minneapolis and hesitant to cut a promo with Verne, due to being trained by Sharkey. Owen told Jesse he would smooth things over and he did so Jesse cut a promo with Gene Okerlund on his opponent, Buddy Rose. Jesse said that he and Okerlund clicked immediately. They filmed the promo and Jesse had the tape to give to Owen when he flew to Portland but Verne told him that he wanted the tape back when he was done. After he came back to the office with the tape, Wally Carbo (who worked with Verne) called him in and asked if he wanted to work part-time with the AWA. Jesse thought that if he could work part-time and still run his gym he could make some really decent money and said that he agreed under the condition that he did not job on television, as Jesse said when you got pinned on TV back then, you were cast as a jobber for life. They told Jesse that they would use him for spot shows and Jesse told them he had no problems at all jobbing on house shows. Verne called him the next day and when Jesse told him that Carbo wanted him to work part-time, Verne was pissed and said that he wanted him to work full-time and to come down to the next television taping so he can begin his push.

Jesse credits Verne for coming up with “The Body” nickname. He said that he was a dictator and a harsh man to work with. He also found it ridiculous that he treated complete strangers better than his own talent. He would never compliment his regular workers.

He was teamed with Adrian Adonis to form the East-West Connection. Jesse said that due to the fact that he was from Minnesota, they had to bill him as being from California because the fans would never boo someone from their home state. Jesse also said that when he teamed with Adonis, he was able to keep him in shape and when Adonis left him, he ended up gaining 80 lbs. Jesse said that they made a great team because Adonis was a good worker who took a lot of bumps and he was the better talker.

Feinstein then tells Jesse about a worker (he doesn’t mention the name) that said Jesse was hard to work with and would not sell anything. Jesse takes offense to that and said he was easy to work with and was a night off. He said he took bumps when they meant something, not for the sake of taking him. He said that if you could have a successful match without bumps, that is what you should strive for because bumps destroy your body. He said that he would wrestle Tito Santana and not touch each other for eight minutes and still have the crowd in a frenzy.

Jesse said that he never found Verne to be a good tag team wrestler, as his timing was off and he would even try to call everything while standing on the apron. He said the High Flyers were a good tag team but joked that he and Adonis called them the “High Criers.” When asked, Jesse said that Greg was a good worker but had a horrible looking body and never went to the gym, to which Jesse said that he never had to due to his position.

He said that Verne made Hogan a babyface in the AWA because he was already there as a heel. He said that Hogan accidentally dislocated his jaw in a test-of-strength spot one night but was generally easy to work with. He said that it was just an accident and that will happen occasionally.

In the AWA, Jesse said that you could tell that Curt would be good. He said he liked Larry Hennig and was never stiff with him, despite his reputation. He said that he was glad that he did not have to work against Otto Wanz, stating that he looked terrible at that time.

Jesse is now asked about his thoughts when Vince McMahon started to put other territories out of business in 1983. Jesse said that he hoped that it would stop and he remembers traveling with Big John Studd, who was driving and would grip the steering wheel harder and harder when he heard that Vince put another territory out of business, stating how things were getting bad. This leads to him talking about how wrestling is basically a monopoly today with the WWE but adds that it is no different than what is going on in the rest of the world.

He wound up in the AWA after Vince called him. He called Jesse and had him debut on the June 17th, 1984 show in Minnesota on purpose. Jesse also said that Vince told him to give his notice to Verne Gagne by sending a telegram, who did not want Jesse to do it face-to-face because it would end up in a fight. Jesse said he did what Vince wanted because he was his boss at that time.

Jesse said that Verne had no idea how to fight Vince. He said that he himself could fight a war because he was a Navy Seal but Verne could not protect his own backyard. Jesse then tells a story of how they worked an angle at a show in LaCrosse, WI to come back in a steel cage match. He then said that the house for the cage match was up by $15,000 and his payoff was less. He went up to Carbo and asked him why he was paid less when the show went up and he told him that Verne, who was on vacation with Greg in Aspen, was in charge of the payoffs. After that, it dawned on Jesse that they were all taking less payoffs to pay for the Gagne’s Aspen vacation. Jesse said that was his last straw and it gave no one incentive to work hard or even stay with the company. Jesse then tells a story of how at one of his last shows in the AWA, as a rib, Steve Regal (Mr. Electricity, not the guy currently in the AWA) found out that Jesse was leaving and kept yelling out “Save me Vince” as an inside joke when Jesse was working his arm.

When asked about Bob Backlund, he had no complaints about him and puts over his conditioning. He joked that he always wondered how they could make “Howdy Doody” a champion but adds that he always worked hard.

He loved working with Tony Atlas, saying he was fun to work with and had a heart of gold. Jesse recalls that Tony would play with his son in the locker room when he was a little kid.

Jesse briefly worked for Jerry Lawler in Memphis and liked his time down there. He then said that he beat Lawler for the title but had to forfeit the title when his daughter had complications at birth so he sent him back the belt via Fed-Ex. Jesse said that Lawler was very understanding and wishes him a speedy recovery from his heart attack, which happened the same week as this interview.

On the subject of Andre the Giant, Jesse recalls working with him in Kansas City and he had him in a front facelock and Andre picked him up over his head and placed him on the turnbuckle, without helping him out at all.

Feinstein brings up his relationship with Hogan. Jesse first tells a story of how he tried to unionize wrestling. He says that right before WrestleMania II, when he left to film “Predator,” he stood in the locker room and tried to get the boys to unionize. He said there was no one at all from the office around and all of the momentum from the first WrestleMania was gone. He said the reason for this was because he was on an elevator with Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players Union at the time, and told Jesse they needed to unionize. After the locker room speech, Vince called him and threatened to fire him. Jesse also said that Vince would not let him leave to film the movie so Jesse quit the WWF and said he could always come back to wrestling but this was his only chance to star with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well, at that time, NBC renewed “Saturday Night’ Main Event” for a second season but expected Jesse Ventura to be there and when he wasn’t, they got pissed and Jesse said the ball was in his court as a result. Schwarzenegger told Jesse on the set of “Predator” that he had a great part with him in the “Running Man” and Jesse said he signed without telling Vince, then told Vince that he would not mention unions anymore and when Vince asked why, Jesse said that because he is now a member of the Screens Actor’s Guild and has his union and if everyone else is too stupid to want it, then that is their problem. Then, years later when he was suing Vince, he found out through deposition that Hogan was the one who stooged him off to Vince about forming a union. Jesse said he was floored when he heard this, something Hogan denied, but Vince said this under federal oath and also heard Vince say this on Larry King.

Feinstein then asks Jesse about Hogan’s remarks on the “Howard Stern Show” about him smoking pot and wife swapping. Jesse said that he smoked pot but never swapped wives and asks Hogan what happened with his marriage and that he has been happily married for 37 years. He said that he once went to “Plato’s Retreat” with his wife to see what it was but just bought a t-shirt and wore it no purpose because he knew ot would be controversial.

He came back to work for Vince after filming. He then used his agent, Barry Bloom, negotiate his wrestling deal and if he wanted him back, he could call his agent. Jesse said Vince had one of his minions contact his agent. Jesse said that Vince was always a professional on-camera.

Jesse said that he had a pulmonary embolism the night before he was supposed to start a program with Hulk Hogan in 1984 and was replaced by John Studd. Vince still paid him $1,000 weekly, something Jesse said that Vince did not have to do, then Vince called him and asked if he could be a commentator because he wanted a heel to be on commentary. Jesse said that Vince told him the first time before he went on TV that if you believe it, it would be true. That was the advice that Jesse used to be on commentary. He then said that if they put the decimal point in the right place, he would come back as an announcer today.

When talking about the Pulmonary Embolism, Jesse said that it was life threatening and he was monitored to the nurse’s station and it was nearly fatal.

On the subject on commentary, he said he had chemistry with everyone instead of Jim Ross, who would not put him over at all. Feinstein brings up how Bruno mentioned that he felt pushed out of the announcer’s position, something that Jesse begged Vince not to do because he was perfect foil for him.

His favorite announcer moment was Uncle Elmer’s wedding. Jesse said that Vince came up to him before the show and told him to bury Elmer on commentary. Jesse said that Bill Murray told him that his line about Elmer and his wife kissing looking like “two carp fighting” during the wedding was the greatest live line he heard on television. He also mentions that the Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat match at WrestleMania III was the greatest match he had ever seen.

Jesse said it was Vince’s idea for the “Body Shop” talk show as he wanted a “Piper’s Pit” type of segment on the “B” show, which was “All-Star Wrestling.” Jesse said his greatest line on that show was when he asked the Killer Bees if they “dropped any pollen” while on tour of Australia, which was his way of asking them if they got laid. Jesse said that they both froze and after the interview, told Jesse that they had no idea how to answer that question. When asked, he never saw Roddy Piper as a rival and never sensed any animosity. He says that when they run into each other in Los Angeles, Piper says he misses the business where as Ventura says that he doesnt miss the business at all. He said he didnt become intimate friends with anyone in the business but considers them regular friends and only has animosity towards Hogan.

When he heard first heard about the WrestleMania concept, Jesse said they were all too busy working to pay attention but it did turn heads when Vince brought along Muhammad Ali and Liberace but said that they usually sold out the Garden so that was no big deal.

Jesse goes back and talks about how due to having an agent, Vince could only use him for what he was contractually obliged for and nothing more. Jesse then tells a story of how Freddie Blassie told the locker room that Jesse is the only one in the company that called his own shots.

He mentions that the reason that caused him to leave Vince was that there was  proposed video game for him and Vince would not let that happened and Jesse said that he owned the rights to his name, not Vince.

Jesse talks about how it is not right for the WWE to classify their wrestlers as “independent contractors.” He also cannot figure out how he gets away with it and said that if he became a Senator, he would have launched an investigation. Jesse said if you are an independent contractor, you could work whenever you want but in the WWE, you are told when to work. Jesse said that they could easily prove this but that the government doesnt give a damn about wrestling. He also adds that the independent contractot label is given so the WWE does not have to pay taxes or give any benefits.

He thinks that there might have been some animosity towards him because he had his own dressing room, something his agent worked out, and said that he was never afraid to leave wrestling, unlike a majority of the locker room.

When asked about the 20/20 Episode in which David Schultz slapped reporter John Stossel, Jesse remembers that they had a show in Detroit right after that aired and it was packed, then saw a banner than read “20/20 Sucks,” which Jesse said was put up because the show insulted the wrestling fan, who Jesse calls the most loyal fans on the planet. He also questions as to why someone would insult someone for watching wrestling if it entertains them.

He says that there were a lot of tough guy in the locker room in his day. Jesse said that wrestling wise it was Billy Robinson, who could really stretch someone out.

Jesse said that he got involved with the XFL after he volunteered. He had previously done announcing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings. Jesse said that he denied Vince’s initial offer and asked for twice as much and they worked from there. Jesse said you always refuse the initial offer. He said that the NFL killed the XFL after he found out on a golf course from a top ad-executive that the NFL sent out a private memo to all advertisers that if they advertised the XFL,then they would not allow them to advetise their product. Jesse then adds that the XFL would have been a good feeder system for the NFL.

He ended up suing Vince for royalties because he got all sorts of royalties from acting but nothing from wrestling. He said that after some research, he found out that some people, like Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, and Mr. T, were getting royalties after they negotiated their contract and won the case due to “quantum merit.” He then said that he negotiated a royalty clause when he went to work for WCW. He says that he now gets a check every four months and calls it his retirement. Jesse then said that Vince called him up and yelled at him after the trial and said that it was his money and Jesse told Vince that the jury and supreme court said ti was him and then told Vince that he had a minority opinion.

Jesse said his biggest payday was as a referee at SummerSlam when he was a governor and from that, founded a scholarship and charity foundation. He also said that Vince treated him great when he was elected governor where as WCW mocked him. He then said that he worked for Vince to also stick it to Hogan and Bischoff.

On the subject of steroids, Jesse said that they worked them so hard that steroids were a necessity. He adds that the schedule was so brutal that you would go from 260 lbs to 220 lbs due to all the constant work and you would look much smaller on TV. He said he took once cycle of testosterone a year, which he said was healthy.

He talks about how huge the drug use was in the 1980’s. He did not partake in that and never took pills but wonders how Hogan got out of having to testify in the drug trials and felt that the doctor was a scapegoat of sorts. Jesse then said that he bought testosterone from Hogan, noting how Hogan was in fact dealing them.

In WCW, Jesse said he got paid a lot of money. He said their best talent at that time was Steve Austin but they did not using him right. When asked about people saying Jesse was “phoning it in” while in WCW, Jesse takes great offense again as when asked that Meltzer might have criticized him for that, Jesse asks what the hell does he know and calls him a puke. Jesse said that WCW had Jim Ross to play off of and he would always ignore him. Feinstein then reads a quote from JR saying that he was at fault for their failure as a commentary team and Jesse says that he is an honest man and now has a new outlook on JR just from that quote. Feinstein reads some more and JR said he was bitter that Jesse was getting more than him when he was working twice as much. Jesse said blame management for that, not himself. Jesse adds that he gets the best deal for himself and expects that others would do the same.

Jesse said that Bill Watts had no idea that the business was now based on TV, not house shows and calls Watts a nightmare and always insulted him. Watts wanted to buy him out or 30% of his contract and Jesse laughed and said that he would for 90%.

He said that he got Bischoff into a top position in the company by putting him over with Turner,who ended up backstabbing him. Once Hogan came aboard, Bischoff put him on the sidelines. Jesse calls him a sleaze.

He talks about coming back to RAW, which was to promote his show “Conspiracy Theories.” He said he had a great time announcing with Vince. He also says that it was great to work with Vince because you could insult him on commentary and he would take it, because he knows that it sells. Jesse said it was great because you could diss the boss and he respects him for that.

Jesse talks about the interviews today and how they are all in the ring, so no one waits for the confrontation and thought it worked a lot better when a guy like Mean Gene does them backstage or in the studio. He also said that they never had writers and question what writer could ever write for him. He says that he showed Dick Ebersol a script they gave him and told him that a year prior, NBC did not give a rat’s ass about wrestling and how it was ridiculous to think they could write for him now. Ebersol then told him to forget the script and ad-lib. Jesse says all he needs are a few bullet points about what to get over. He says that he hates that today, the wrestlers are not allowed to create their own characters.

Jesse said that the new wrestlers today are wonderful and respectful and work very hard and do great at what they are allowed to do.

He also thinks it is sad and pathetic that Hogan is still in wrestling today with the amount of money he made but said that now, he might have to due to his divorce. He said Hogan became what they hated, which was older guys who were so far over the hill that you had to put over. He also said that he would never put his family out there on a reality show and talks about how Hogan will basically prostitute himself for anything.

Jesse thinks Ric Flair is one of the greatest of all-time and joked to Flair that he should not have been in the Hall of Fame before him but says that Flair has to due to his financial situations. Jesse said that he told Ric, who was considering running for office, that politics is a lot dirtier than wrestling and you have to let all of our skeletons out of the closet before the press finds out and Flair told him that he had amassed over 143 speeding tickets to which Jesse told him not to run.

He then says that if Vince gave him the money he put up for Linda’s campaign that he would be the President.

Jesse talks about his show “Conspiracy Theories” and how his son is going to be an investigator on the show. He said that the network will not allow them to air their show about the TSA. He then plugs his book “Democrips and Rebloodicans” which is how both parties are destroying the country and how there should be no parties and quotes how forefathers and how they said if we allow political parties to run the country, then it will be all over. He compares the parties to gangs and how the politicians are loyal to their own party, not the people of the country.

His proudest moments in wrestling were selling out Madison Square Garden, having the first agent in wrestling, and being the face of “Saturday Night’s Main Event.”

He said that he was a professor at Harvard despite only having a high school education was another proud accomplishment.

Jesse calls the Chris Benoit tragedy sad and said he was a good performer. He said he does not have a theory on what happened.

When asked, he was bothered that they took out his voice out of some broadcasts but that the fans were upset he was missing so Vince put him back in the releases.

He talks about going through TSA and how we are not protected by the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. He said he will never fly again unless he is allowed to fly with dignity and not get treated like a criminal, because he has metal in his body and gets frisked whenever he steps through the detectors. Jesse tells a story of how when he was governor, he was searched. He then asked the kid frisking him why they were doing this as he had two bodyguards carrying 9mm handguns that will give him a gun if he asks. Jesse says the whole thing is ridiculous.

Jesse said he will run for President in 2016 as long as the people wanted it by running a grass-roots campaign and if they let him on the ballot in all 50 states and let him take part in the debates. He said he needs the people to show that it’s worth it to put his ass on the line again.

Final Thoughts: I thought this was a great interview. If you are looking for road stories and gossip, you will not find that here so this might not be the shoot interview for you. What Jesse does do is give insight into the business from a whole other perspective. He was not going to stand there and let wrestling take advantage of him, like it has from just about every other performer in history. He saw the big picture (getting the most money, protecting his name, knowing his rights, not destroying his body) in a way that very, very few guys did.

Jesse also has a very strong personality which might turn some people off. He can come off as smug at times. I will say this though, and commenters here have said the same thing, that whenever he is talking, he has such a presence that you cant help but listen and be drawn in to what he says, whether you agree or disagree with him.

It is also nice to hear how Jesse got the best of Vince McMahon and was never afraid to lose his job, as he felt that he could always go wrestle somewhere else and get more film roles or do whatever else he wanted. I give this a strong recommendation as Jesse sheds light on just how much the wrestlers are screwed over and how he was not going to stand for that.

Ventura on the Network

Hey Scott,

Have you heard how Jesse Ventura's commentary will work on the Network?  If I recall correctly, the issues have been over "home release" of archived shows.  Does this count?

Also, as amazing as the cost is for the Network, I'd actually pay $5-$10/month more for the talent to earn royalties.  Not so much for the current guys, but the stars of the past, and the ECW crew.

Take care man.

I presume there would not be royalties paid because this sort of thing isn't covered by standard PPV and home video agreements.  Which is definitely a concern for guys who depend on Wrestlemania for their yearly bonus and such.  They're already losing out on house show payoffs with the new corporate structure, so I guess this is the next logical step.  

Hogan v. Ventura

Hey, Scott, long time reader and so on, love the site. I had a question about Jesse Ventura and his problems with Hogan; it’s not a big secret that Jesse had some jealousy issues with the Hulkster throughout their time in the WWF, but this really seems to pop up a great deal during Wrestlemania V. After the No Holds Barred movie review, he lays into Hogan big-time about ‘invading his territory in Hollywood’ and how when he lost to the Macho Man later, he could come out to Hollywood and drive Jesse’s limo (4:07 on the clip), and he briefly storms off the set while Monsoon has to cover for him. He also cheers more vociferously than usual against Hogan in the main event title match. Is this just good heel commentary by Jesse for the big event, or was there any specific heat that Jesse had with Hogan around that time? Thanks!

Far as I know he was just being a good heel.  Ventura might be a tad insane, as demonstrated by his conspiracy theory show, but I don’t think there was ever a legitimate beef with Hulk.  It makes sense – Hulk was the #1 babyface, and since it was Jesse’s job to get him over there was no better way than by running him down in full heel mode.  Bobby Heenan apparently used to do the same thing with Tito Santana.

Hogan v. Ventura

Hey, Scott, long time reader and so on, love the site. I had a question about Jesse Ventura and his problems with Hogan; it’s not a big secret that Jesse had some jealousy issues with the Hulkster throughout their time in the WWF, but this really seems to pop up a great deal during Wrestlemania V. After the No Holds Barred movie review, he lays into Hogan big-time about ‘invading his territory in Hollywood’ and how when he lost to the Macho Man later, he could come out to Hollywood and drive Jesse’s limo (4:07 on the clip), and he briefly storms off the set while Monsoon has to cover for him. He also cheers more vociferously than usual against Hogan in the main event title match. Is this just good heel commentary by Jesse for the big event, or was there any specific heat that Jesse had with Hogan around that time? Thanks!

Far as I know he was just being a good heel.  Ventura might be a tad insane, as demonstrated by his conspiracy theory show, but I don’t think there was ever a legitimate beef with Hulk.  It makes sense – Hulk was the #1 babyface, and since it was Jesse’s job to get him over there was no better way than by running him down in full heel mode.  Bobby Heenan apparently used to do the same thing with Tito Santana.