Colt Cabana can make you laugh hysterically one minute and kick your ass the next.
For over a decade Colt Cabana has wrestled in promotions across the globe and even briefly for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Cabana rose to the consciousness of many wrestling fans through his popular podcast the Art of Wrestling, his YouTube show Creative Has Nothing For You, and a shout-out by WWE superstar CM Punk during his famous promo last summer on Monday Night Raw.
Considered by many to be a superb wrestler with a comedic slant, I sat down with Colt to discuss the unique relationship pro-wrestling and comedy has played throughout his professional and personal life:
On the Art of Wrestling podcast, you often discuss the experience of being a “comedy wrestler” among so-called “serious wrestlers.” Do you really view yourself as just a “comedy wrestler”?
I almost consider myself a comedian. My platform is the wrestling ring, that’s where my stage is. In saying that, you know, my trade is professional wrestling. It’s a crazy hybrid. I just label myself as Colt Cabana. What you see is what you get. There are so many different layers and levels to me as a performer. It’s hard to put me into one basket since I’ve become such a hybrid, not just because of my wrestling style; [it’s because of] my promos, my attitude, my thoughts on different things.
It’s hard to label me because it’s been seen that… you know, in a perfect world, if I could do “comedy fun” wrestling matches, I would, but obviously when it needs to be something different, I’m more than capable of doing that. My preference is being able to make a crowd laugh, but I know it can’t always be that in order to evolve the show. In a specific show, the stakes need to rise and that’s when I’d bring on the serious aspect or change certain aspects of my wrestling style.
Was there a certain point when you figured out the Colt Cabana character?
Yeah, I remember specifically wrestling A.J. Styles on a show. A.J. at the time, probably 2004 or 2005, was known as one of the greatest, most amazing wrestlers. His nickname was The Phenomenal. We got the biggest reaction on the card, because I watched the whole card. The biggest reaction was when I tripped A.J., he fell, and the crowd laughed. That was a big day in my career. I realized, maybe I was trying to be someone I’m not? Maybe I can try to be something else that is just as successful?
I do credit going to England in 2004 and 2005, spending the summers over there, as almost my college, my education in the world of wrestling. [I was] constantly wrestling; 40 days in a row, 50 days in a row, 85 matches in 74 days in some instances to find myself as a wrestler and performer.
As the Colt Cabana character evolved, did you borrow from any comedians or pop-culture icons you grew up with?
To be honest, [British wrestlers] Catweazle and Les Kellett were two giant influences to me as professional wrestlers because I had never seen anything like that before. They were obviously “comic wrestlers” but they were taken very seriously. The crowd never laughed at them, but laughed with them. Everything they did was totally justified. They were seen as tough professional wrestlers, especially Les Kellett. I wouldn’t want to mess with that guy! So that was a huge switch in my thinking of how comedy wrestling could be taken very seriously if done correctly.
When I figured that I wanted to do comedy in wrestling, some comedies I watched as a kid, not that this is a huge influence, but I remember watching hours of Mr. Bean on HBO as a child and just scratching my head. It grabbed my attention, to bring it back to the UK a little bit. Saturday Night Live [was an influence]. I always watched it waiting for [WWE’s] Saturday Night’s Main Event to come on, because that’s when it came on in America. It was five weeks of SNL, and then the sixth week was Saturday Night’s Main Event. I always wanted to watch the wrestling, but while waiting for it, I’d watch the comedy. It was a big thing. Comedy was always a big strength of mine; something I love and something I cherish.
I always considered myself to be a class clown, a jokester or prankster; I never took myself too seriously. I was a chubby kid. It was a good defense mechanism for being picked on or being called a fatty. Just like every kid, it depends on how you use your defense mechanisms and comedy was mine. You hear that all the time: if you make fun of yourself first, it defuses the problem.
It’s interesting you mention Mr. Bean, which is pure physical comedy. As a wrestler, you need to rely on physical comedy over verbiage to entertain an audience.
Yeah, and one of the biggest realizations of that was when I toured Japan. We didn’t speak the same language so it was all physical comedy. Watching those people laugh, and laugh hard, showed they got it; they got the comedy. We weren’t speaking to each other and it made me proud as a performer. I can go into a different country, a different culture, and convey the fact that my goal is to make them laugh and remember Colt Cabana the wrestler without speaking any English at all. I enjoy using physical comedy and that’s why I thrive on an independent level of wrestling; a smaller show of a 1000, 500, or 100 people, as opposed to giant arenas where you can’t see little things like my eyebrow go up or me looking vicariously to my left and to my right. That’s what people love about the character and my performances, and that’s really hard to convey to 18,000 people in a WWE ring.
At first, was it difficult to convey the Colt Cabana character to promoters or other wrestlers?
No, no, because anytime anything is different, people love that. These wrestling shows have the same kinds of wrestlers on them, especially when I was trying to make my break in 2002 or 2003 that era. Everyone was heavily influenced by a Japanese strong style of wrestling. I wasn’t necessarily influenced by them but I was influenced somewhat because that’s what everyone else was doing. I jumped on the bandwagon for a bit and then realized comedy is what makes me stick out. Me being different did a couple things: a) I wasn’t going after other wrestlers, I wasn’t after their spot, I wasn’t trying to do the strong style or crazy flips. I was just this other attraction, so they were okay with that; b) promoters always knew they’d get something different from me. When I first started, I didn’t perfect it all, but it was still something different on the card, which is always good for a wrestling show.
In The Wrestling Road Diaries, you rely on comedy to break the tension during emotional scenes, especially those involving Bryan Danielson’s health issues. Do you feel that people often take wrestling too seriously?
I think people take life too seriously [laughs]. I really do, you know. In the grand scheme of things, we’re not here that long. Like I said, just to go back to wrestling a little bit, I got fired from my dream job in the WWE; it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. It’s going to hurt for a couple days, but there’s so much more life to live, so much more life to go on. It’s not the same fact as Bryan’s medical issues, but if he only had so much time on this earth, do you want to spend it being miserable, sad or worrying? Or, do you want to leave the time of your life and make the memories count. That’s my theory on life: lets have fun, lets have a good time. In a performance, in a sport like wrestling, I feel the same way. That’s why I love when people remember me, or say I’m their friend’s favorite wrestler because I was fun and different. That’s my goal, to bring something different and my different is a laugh or a good time.
You talk about wrestling as performance, which is interesting considering your work with Jeff Katz’s Wrestling Retribution Project (sitcom-style wrestling promotion shot episodically). I spoke with Jeff last fall, and his project sounds really unique. What can you tell me about the WRP, especially since you’re not Colt Cabana and instead have a new character?
I think it’s funny; I have a bunch of different characters. It’s not like my real name is Colt Cabana, but I always portray it as, “Colt Cabana is Matt Classic,” “Colt Cabana is Officer Colt Cabana,” “Colt Cabana is Punchline.” That was just a different experience, and I thrive on that. It’s a great way to keep my name around, and to make sure I don’t get stale. I can do a different character, but people will always know it’s me, the same way as Tom Cruise plays a different character. If he played the same character in a different movie, people would get bored with it. This way, if Tom Cruise does a character in a different genre he gets talked about and it’s not boring. This is hard for wrestlers because we stick to one character, unlike acting, and the goal is to see it all the way through to the end. Ric Flair, for 40 years, has been portraying the same character. It’s hard to not be stale. Opportunities like this allow me to not be stale.
The Wrestling Retribution Project itself was a lot of fun. I’m a big comedy fan and when Jeff gave me the idea of the character he wanted me to do, I was more than happy to do it. I had my own visions, and he had his own visions, and we met in the middle. He comprised, I compromised and we came up with this really fun character. It will be really fun to see how things come out when it’s released.
Is acting something that you’re looking to do outside of wrestling or will wrestling always be a big part of your life?
I consider myself as acting for the past 13 years as a wrestler. I had a little part in a movie that’s out now, I’ve done commercials, I’ve done theatre, I’ve done improv and sketch stuff. But, I do this all to benefit wrestling. I try to open my horizons. Some of these guys go in the gym and their goal is to get as jacked as humanly possible so they can look better as a wrestler. I try to diversify myself as a character as best as possible and I do that for wrestling. That’s an investment for myself. If you notice my acting, some of what I’m doing, including my web-series and audio stuff, it’s not about making donuts or anything. It’s about wrestling.
I do a comedy video series called 5 Dollar Wrestling, but it all comes back to wrestling. That’s what I know best. My perfect life, or the best opportunity for me, would be to land a great role or whatever and make my profile as a professional wrestler that much better so it gives me more opportunities or an upper-hand on what I want to do with my life. My number one passion in life is wrestling. I have a good grasp on the industry, and the art, and sport of wrestling. So, why wouldn’t I take as much advantage of it as best I could? And give back! I feel that since I have such a good grasp, I know what fans want a little more than some of the guys on top right now or the guys in charge. If I can get in a better position of power, then the fans voices will be heard a little better through me as opposed to these other guys.
So many great wrestlers are held back by their inability to speak well on the mic. Do you feel that wrestlers, regardless of their status, should take advantage of acting or improv classes?
It’s different for different characters. In my eyes, I want to be relatable to fans. The biggest compliment is, “I think I could hang out with Colt Cabana. I think we could be friends.” But, for a character like Stone Cold… well, maybe people want to drink a beer with him! But, like The Undertaker, he’s to be held in awe. In pro-wrestling, it’s all about knowing who your character is and making them the best you can make it.
Mick Foley and I did a stand-up tour. We did maybe a dozen shows in the fall of 2009 and that was a blast. That was taking my love of comedy and knowing what I know best is pro-wrestling. I’d bring those jokes to wrestling fans. People always ask me, “can you do stand up here or there?” No, I just want to do it for wrestling fans. I don’t consider myself a stand-up comedian. I’m a professional wrestler. That’s the audience that I know. I love comedy, so I have the stage of the wrestling ring, but I was looking for different avenues and platforms and different stages as wrestler, beyond just a ring.
I did all this searching for stand-up and acting. I took serious acting classes, commercial acting classes, and improv classes, and read all this stuff, but what I learned was that the stage that I’ve found for myself is my podcast, which is my outlet for comedy. It’s just me talking. I’m talking with friends, there’s a natural sense of humor that comes out beyond just written stuff. Five Dollar Wrestling with myself and Marty DeRosa is a blast. It’s all improv, we don’t see those matches beforehand. It’s a great outlet to make people laugh at awful wrestling matches. Then there’s my web series Creative Has Nothing For You. Marty and I write the web series. We sat down and wrote over 36 episodes. They’re all one-minute sketches of comedy, which I’m really proud of. That’s my outlet for comedy. I’d love to do stand-up with Mick again. It was great because there was zero pressure for me. I opened for him, he was the headliner, and so he brought in all the wrestling fans. If it didn’t sell out, it was all on him, and no pressure for me. For me it was literally go to the show, earn a good wage, make people laugh, and make new fans.
A lot of people knew Mick, not me. Audiences came and saw a guy like me, with self-deprecating Jewish humor, making fun of myself for my time in the WWE every night. I’m allowed to make fun of my time in the WWE, but I get mad when other people do, which is another thing all its own. If anyone ever says the name Scotty Goldman to me, I want to beat the living shit out of them. But, in return, I love to make fun of myself as Scotty Goldman. I don’t know how that works, but that’s my sense of humor.
Maybe when you talk about Scotty Goldman, you’re taking ownership over that experience, but when others talk about it, it can feel like they’re slighting you?
Yeah, I get upset about it. But, I know it’s funny if I make fun of it. I was supposed to be Colt Cabana when I came to the WWE, in name at least. Who knows, it could have been a writer giving me a paper-bag and saying, “this is your sense of humor,” and then making me cut a promo on the Great Khali. I’m sure it would have all ended up the same. I know this wasn’t your question, but it’s almost like things came out that way; that this is what it evolved to. For me to overcome all of that, the way I have, it wouldn’t have worked if I wasn’t so awful in WWE. People expected so much and so little came from it. Nobody blamed me, which is the fun part of it. None of the fans blamed me. They saw what happened. A lot of people gave me sympathy, and felt for me not giving up and swimming uphill to where I am now by myself with no corporation behind me.
Wrestling fans often complain that developmental systems send out wrestlers who all look the same. Do you think we need more gimmicks and characters today?
That’s been the argument as long as developmental has been around, honestly. Why wouldn’t they go for those guys who all look the same? They look good, I guess, that’s what wrestling has been known as – lots of big guys. I’ve always been a big believer in characters. A lot of us have. They do too, but I can’t speak for [WWE]. For every time they look at a guy like MVP and say, “that’s our guy!” or do those ads for Kizarny, and allow Santino to be Santino, you say, “Okay, perfect!” But, then they just bring up a Mason Ryan, and no offense to him, but they just throw him on TV and say, “here’s a giant guy. He’s huge.” I wonder, just like all of us, but right now I’m not in those meetings. I don’t know what’s going on, and I can’t speak for anybody.
Where did the idea for your web series Creative Has Nothing For You come from?
When I started wrestling in 1999, there wasn’t much stuff on the internet like there is today that allows the world to see whatever you want. The stuff available now wasn’t available then. I want to take advantage of everything and I don’t think I’m doing the best I possibly can; there’s more I can do. I knew a weekly YouTube thing would be fun. What’s important is that I’m not on TV every week. What’s important is to be in the people’s minds every week. You take a guy, like Eugene, who in 2004 was the man. The whole wrestling world knew and loved him. Now he’s not on TV and he’s a forgotten guy. You’ll see him on the indies every now and then, but without that vehicle of being on TV every week and having that reminder, it’s out of sight out of mind. It’s important to have that weekly reminder. I was doing that with the podcast, but some people don’t want to sit there and listen for an hour, and that’s okay. There’s a comedian named Eddie Pepitone who does a daily YouTube comic strip named Puddin’. I thought the way he was doing it would be perfect for wrestling.
I came to Marty DeRosa, my comedy partner, with doing a daily thing, filming 30 in a row and making them 30 seconds or so. When we got down to it, I wanted to do quick improv, but then we decided on written shorts and skits. Then we got with Michael Sanchez who is the director and editor, he does some other stuff like Comedians You Should Know. He cuts and edits the episodes, and Marty and I write them. It’s about giving free content to wrestling fans and keeping my name out there; making sure people don’t forget about me, and providing a fun take on things.
Of course, “creative has nothing for you” is what John Laurinaitis’s assistant, not even him, said when they fired me. This is my way of taking a negative and making a positive. Where do I want to go with it? I don’t know. For me, I just wanted to have it out there for people to watch and think it’s funny, but lately I’ve thought that maybe there are other places to take it. Michael Sanchez wants to develop a pilot and ship it around, and I’ve just formed a relationship with Jamie Kennedy in Hollywood. We’ve signed a contract to move forward with wrestling-related projects and distribution, so maybe there’s something there. I don’t know. I’m happy just putting it out every week.
Can you elaborate on the Jamie Kennedy relationship?
For now, Jamie Kennedy and I have come together. We’ve put together a deal to work with each other to distribute wrestling-related movies and projects. It’s all based on the success of the Wrestling Road Diaries, the movie I made, and to see if there’s a market outside of WWE. Jamie is a very smart businessman. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker, which is why he’s so successful with his projects; you know, like, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, and his movies. Malibu’s Most Wanted is one of my favorite movies of all time, it really is. It’s basically two out-of-the-box thinkers coming together, and he has the reach to a lot of people that I don’t have the reach to. It’s the same thing, as I would have done in WWE, but WWE doesn’t want me. So, I’m not going to stop. I’m just going to find a different way to reach the masses, and hopefully that’s through Jamie.
You did have a dark-match with Wade Barrett for the WWE recently, correct?
Yeah, it was a dark match, or I guess you could call it a try-out match. It just helps fuel my story of being an underdog, do-it-yourself, nobody wants him, outcast of wrestling. I’m proud of being the next generation’s Abdullah the Butcher or Bruiser Brody, but not a hardcore psychopath, just the complete opposite. I did the match, everybody loved me, but for some reason, I don’t know what it is, the management doesn’t want me on their team – which is okay, because I love what I’m doing.
But, there’s always this little part of me that was upset how Scotty Goldman turned out and really wants to right this wrong. Maybe I feel like this next one would go better than the first one came out, but it probably wouldn’t. I mean, I’m a kid who grew up watching the WWF, knowing that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. As much success as I’m having with all these other projects, I’m still fighting to get there, I guess.
The insecurity is not being relevant, not being booked, not being paid to do what you do, and having to go work at Tesco or Wal-Mart. That’s of course a concern. You do what you gotta do to stay relevant. Nobody wants to not do it; so we all find our ways to get paid to do what we love.
That philosophy really parallels the life of struggling comics like Louis CK who are only gaining mainstream success much later in life.
These guys are huge influences on me, the comedians, more than wrestlers. I really shape my career path through comedians rather than wrestlers. I don’t know why I do it, but I’m drawn to it. Marc Maron is a guy who started a podcast and has documented on his podcast that the comedy community shunned him. He couldn’t sell out any place, he wasn’t getting booked anywhere, and now he’s one of the bigger acts on the comedy circuit. Which is the same with Louis CK and his model of the $5 comedy special. Like I said, Eddie Pepitone, with his YouTube show influencing mine, and the Sklar Brothers who had a show called Cheap Seats, which is essentially Five Dollar Wrestling.
“I really shape my career path through comedians rather than wrestlers.”
You know, I watch the way comedians handle themselves. A lot of them are not signed under a giant corporation, whereas the wrestlers are. It’s hard to relate to them because I have no one to look up to; all the better wrestlers are signed. I’m unsigned and I have to see who my influences would be as an unsigned wrestler and there really aren’t any. I want to strive to be better, so I look at other artists out there in the world doing what I’m doing. It’s the comedians I relate to a lot, especially because I love comedy. Comedians are who I want to be. I don’t have much love for painting, or comics, or comic books; I don’t want to study that business. But, I love comedy and by studying that business, I’m studying what artists who struggle like me are doing to stay afloat.
I met Marc Maron once when Marty DeRosa opened for him in Chicago, which is really cool. I met him, but not long enough to sit down. Those guys are all red-headed stepchildren and I’m almost the double-red-headed stepchild of comedy. I don’t know if I’m trying to break into that world, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. A lot of those guys aren’t into wrestling, so I can’t force it upon them. Some comedians love wrestling, and those are the ones who I enjoy forming relationships with, and Marty DeRosa is one of them. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of guys, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to compare notes, which I’d love to, and trade different industry secrets if that makes sense.
It seems like you’re using Five Dollar Wrestling to let out the comedian inside you and connect with an audience in a different manner.
Those shows are so much fun, we’ve done two live shows. A big goal is to take it on the road. We’ve been doing it slower than usual, because I get booked up. Thanks to all my success, my wrestling bookings are done about five months in advance and it’s heavy. So, unfortunately, I’m not doing enough live shows as I’d like. I’m not scared about my future as my body breaks down because I know there’s a future outside the ring and live Five Dollar Wrestling has been a great example.
We’re doing a live Five Dollar Wrestling show in Miami through the WrestleReunion. It’s through the hall of fame around midnight. I invite anyone to come and watch the shows, they’re so much fun. We did it last year during WrestleMania, it was the first show I ever promoted myself; which was too scary, I didn’t like it! Luckily it was standing room only in a little Atlanta comedy club where we charged five dollars. It was a blast.
When I talked about relating to the fans, shows like that where it’s almost like Marty and myself are sitting in the crowd with everybody, it felt like a family. I do a lot of stuff with the Insane Clown Posse and their big thing is family. As weird as it sounds, I really understand that. Doing a live show like that shows me what family means. I’m not trying to be bigger than anyone. I’m just like you. We’re all the same, we all grew up loving wrestling, we all think this awful wrestling is hilarious and I think it really shines through on lives shows.
Do you like being a radically different character like Officer Colt Cabana in Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalo Championship Wrestling?
I like it, there’s zero pressure. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope love wrestling and it’s fun to not have to worry about anything. Colt Cabana is a natural babyface, but Officer Colt Cabana is not. Being able to act like a heel, but know everyone is in on the joke, is refreshing. I enjoy getting the heat and people hating me, and playing my role as a bad guy.
It must be great to connect with fans in that atmosphere. For WWE fans like myself, we can’t connect with a guy like Dolph Ziggler after Monday Night Raw like the audience at a JCW show can do.
I enjoy knowing after the match that wrestling fans will come up and say, “you were awesome, thanks, Colt! That was a lot of fun.” That’s refreshing to be a wrestling fan, go to a show, get into it, leave your worries at home, and boo the shit out of me as a cop trying to arrest the guy trying to smoke weed. People can just go and let it all out. If I can allow them to do that, it’s a great feeling. That’s what I love about the intimate shows I wrestle on. A show with 500 people doesn’t make as much money as a guy like Dolph Ziggler who wrestles in front of thousands of people every night, but that’s the trade off.
In five years, do you see yourself in sitcoms, movies, or elsewhere?
Let me go back to Louis CK. They gave him money and paid him to produce and do whatever he wanted to. I don’t know exactly what it is I’ll be doing, but I know that it requires somebody of a higher power getting me and understanding what I can do or what I can bring to a mass amount of people. Then it involves that person giving me a shitload of power to do what I want. You know, that’s really where I’m going. I don’t know exactly where it is. Maybe it is making a Wrestling Road Diaries every single year, having freedom to do whatever I want, and being the producer or the main guy in charge of everything. Or maybe it means having a sitcom and being the host of a show on television that I like and can produce. That’s the goal. What’s great is that those goals don’t involve the WWE or giant corporations. Those goals involve myself, which is nice, but if the WWE came calling I’d probably answer the phone.
In a perfect world, I don’t have to wear a suit to work or look nice. In my dreams, I’m wearing flip-flops and shorts all day and that doesn’t affect my business practices at all. That’s where I see it. I am working on a Wrestling Road Diaries 2 now, it starts at the end of the month, and I’m really excited for it to come out. It’s going to be Luke Gallows and Cliff Compton, and it’s the same aspect as the first one but different guys. These are just completely different guys. That’s why the movie will be different. I don’t know why it takes me to tell the world how great these guys are. If that’s what it takes, then fine, I’ll be that guy.
My podcast is the vehicle to get them out. The first episode of the podcast was about indie wrestling and Ring of Honor was the vehicle as to why you’d buy the first one. I didn’t have control of that. But, now this is my podcast, I’ve invested a lot into it; monetarily, emotionally, physically. My podcast is a vehicle that helped these guys get into wrestling fan’s hearts, so that’s what we’re going to drive this movie on. The podcast is free, so hopefully people enjoy the fact that it’s free. I’m not asking for anything in return, but if I put this movie out, hopefully people are willing and happy to shell out a couple bucks for a full-length feature movie about us.
It does seem like more casual wrestling fans are becoming aware of who you are, especially at live shows when they chant your name or hold up Colt Cabana signs.
It’s important. It’s been gratifying for me that it has grown, and I attribute most of it to the podcast. Of course, I also attribute it to CM Punk. Just saying my name on that promo, which made people go out and research me. These people have then stuck with me. One of the most gratifying things is when I’m out with Punk and people say, “hey it’s Punk and Cabana!” when before they’d just say, “oh, hey CM Punk!” while I’d just hang out, which was fine and I was okay with, just sitting there and watching them interact. It’s really nice when fans see both of us and acknowledge me now more so than in the past; it’s really touching. It’s slowly but surely really growing.
I was in the front row at the 2011 Money in the Bank pay-per-view and they didn’t want to put me on camera. Again, it keeps me stronger that they don’t want to push me. I don’t know what I did. I think it’s a great, wild story of an underdog, unsigned, do-it-yourself guy. My podcast is about life stories. Wrestling happens to be what our lives are. I’m just telling my story one week at a time. What I love is that everyone is learning and listening. It’s almost been two years now and they’re watching me grow, and come full-force. I’m excited to see where it goes in two more years. Some of my favorite comments are from fans who say that they’ve been out of wrestling for years, but still love my podcast.
I told Jamie Kennedy that some of the guys on Raw every week have 30 or 40,000 Twitter followers and they’re on TV every week, but I have almost double them despite never being on TV. I am simply a guy who lost four shitty matches on WWE television.
It says something, I don’t know what it is, but it says something.
Listen to Colt here: The Art of Wrestling podcast
Watch Colt here: Creative Has Nothing For You