There’s Just One Problem…: True Tales from the Former, One-Time
“You’re being taken to Wrestlers Court.”
When those words left Stephanie McMahon’s mouth, on April 3, 2001, at a Smackdown taping in Oklahoma City, I was blindsided. Coming off what I considered my finest moment as a WWE writer, contributing to a hugely successful WrestleMania 17 and a historic Raw, I thought my newly promoted boss would be giving me something else—a bonus, a promotion, maybe even the clippers my hero Roddy Piper once used to shave Little Beaver’s head for having the gall to be friends with Mr. T. Instead, her expression was one you’d reserve for breaking the news that a beloved pet had just been fatally electrocuted.
“This is not optional. Make sure you bring beer… maybe some pizza.”
Immediately, a number of questions went through my head. What kind of pizza? What brand of beer? And perhaps most pressingly: What the hell is Wrestlers Court? As word spread throughout the locker room, I quickly learned that “Wrestlers Court” was a time-honored tradition going back several decades. It was a way for the wrestlers (commonly referred to as the “boys,” though it included the women wrestlers as well) to let off steam and police themselves when someone violated an unwritten backstage rule, aka the “Wrestler’s Code.”
Eat fried chicken in the locker room and leave behind crumbs over people’s luggage? You’re going to Wrestlers Court. Sit in first class and not give up your seat to a veteran who’s flying coach? Wrestlers Court. Give up your seat to a veteran who’s flying coach but then complain about having to give up said seat to anyone who will listen? Most definitely Wrestlers Court.
It’s a way of “ribbing on the square,” which means having fun with someone while also making a serious point in the process. But why make that point when there’s a golden opportunity to get the entire locker room to fuck with them first? I had never been part of this rite of passage, mainly due to one key word: Wrestler. For decades, Court was conducted for the boys, by the boys. In the history of WWE, no writer had ever been taken to Wrestlers Court. Until now.
Stephanie told me I was being accused of accepting gifts from the popular tag team of Edge and Christian in exchange for television airtime. Don’t let anyone tell you different: Championship belts are not the most precious commodity in WWE; television airtime is. The more exposure you get on TV, the more promos you get to cut, the more backstage scenes you’re in—the more the audience gets a chance to see your character, the greater chance you have of “getting over.” To be “over” means the audience is reacting strongly to you (positively or negatively) and you’re making money. Lots of it. But you can’t “get over” if you’re not on TV, and the idea of someone essentially bribing a writer for a promo here or a backstage bit there is actually a serious charge.
Was it true? Not at all! The charges were completely baseless… and by “completely” I mean “mostly.”
If there’s one tradition in wrestling that dates back even further than Wrestlers Court, it’s older veterans being upset that someone newer and younger is taking their spots. I had bonded with Edge and Christian almost immediately when I started with the company back in November 1999. We were all the same age, had similar senses of humor, and of course, tremendous physiques (two out of three of those things are true, but I’m not saying which ones). Other than these guys putting their bodies on the line three or four times a week, every week for the past ten years, and me putting my body on the line… never, we were very similar. I was told early on that much like how When Harry Met Sally postulated that men and women can’t be friends, wrestlers and writers can’t be friends, either. Not because the sex gets in the way (even wrestlers have their standards) but because the relationship is not based on actual friendship but rather “What can you do for my career?”
When I started, Edge and Christian were the classic “great matches, no personality” tag team guys. In reality, they had personalities, but they were never given the chance to show them. In fact, when Edge first came up he was told his character was going to be a deaf mute and would express “Silent Rage.” Thankfully the real-life Edge, Adam Copeland, expressed clear audible rage over that idea, and he and Jay Reso, aka Christian, were instead cast as brothers and part of “the Brood”—cool, hip vampires who wore flowery pirate blouses and tights, the perfect ensemble for hand-to-hand combat. It wasn’t who they were in real life but at least they had characters, a kickass entrance, got to drink fake blood from a goblet, and had acquired the ability to (occasionally) speak.
Adam and Jay weren’t actually brothers but they might as well have been, having known each other since grade school. Most of WWE management during this time were in their fifties and sixties, so when a fellow twentysomething came aboard, it didn’t take long for the bonding to begin. We brainstormed on ways to make their characters meld more with their actual personalities—hence they became shit-stirring smart-asses. We had a blast coming up with different ways to antagonize the hometown crowds, the centerpiece being the Five-Second Pose. I threw this concept out to them as a way for each of their promos to have a big finish, where “For the benefit of those with flash photography” (flash photography still being a thing in 2000–2001) they would insult the audience in a creative way and then stand in the ring and “allow” the audience to bask in their greatness and take all the pictures they wanted (for five seconds—anything more would be gratuitous).
Yes, it was “cheap heat” as far as insulting local sports franchises or the crowds’ lack of hygiene, but it was creative cheap heat and it finally made them stand out. As their characters got more popular, they were getting more comfortable on the mic, getting raucous crowd reactions and, as a result, plenty of TV time. Of course, when someone gets more TV time that means someone else is getting less, and therein lay the crux of the problem.
Weeks earlier, Edge1 had gotten some distressing news—his girlfriend’s father had passed away and he needed to leave the TV taping to be with her. Before he left, he handed me a doll badass action figure of my favorite superhero, the Flash, that a fan had given him at a comic book store signing (Edge is more of a Daredevil guy). He was going to hand it to me in private, but in his haste to leave, he gave it to me in the arena hallway. Little did we know Bob “Hardcore” Holly was watching. Hardcore Holly is always watching!
Bob was a veteran, ten years older than us (though he looked like he could be our dad) and was one of the guys seeing his TV time diminish while other, younger talent like Edge and Christian were being booked in multiple segments a night. He was a legit tough guy who was usually pissed off on-screen and even more pissed off backstage. His character was intimidating because he was intimidating. He wasn’t shy about expressing how he felt about you, and it was clear he wasn’t particularly enamored with me. Once I had made some off-the-cuff comment asking someone why he changed his tights from blue and yellow to blue and pink. Nothing against the color pink; I just thought the yellow worked for him. Next thing I know Bob’s confronting me backstage in the arena hallway.
“Hey! I heard you’re going around telling everyone I’m a [redacted]! How ’bout I [redacted] you in the [redacted]?! Would that make me a [redacted]?!”
There’s really no right way to answer that question, and since this was in full view of everyone and his point had been made, Bob stared me down and walked away. And that was one of our more pleasant conversations. So even though the gift in question was not in exchange for airtime and even though Christian wasn’t even involved, Bob believed he had witnessed proof of payola. A clear violation of ethics that he reported, and the wheels of justice were set in motion as Edge, Christian, and I were set to face trial together.
I did not put Edge and Christian on the air because I got a cool Flash action figure, but I was clearly becoming friends with the talent and was writing them onto TV. Granted they deserved to be on TV, and no one gets on the air without Vince McMahon’s approval (and Vince shockingly does not accept superhero toys for airtime), but the point was made—you’re getting too chummy with talent at the expense of others, and you need to get taken down a notch. Hence while the charges themselves were completely baseless, there was at least some truth to why Bob was angry.
Back at the arena, I made my case to Vince to avoid this thing altogether. Surely with a two-hour show to produce with a major angle to shoot (the biggest star in the industry, Stone Cold Steve Austin, had just turned heel two days earlier and was going to beat up his best friend, “Good Ol’ JR” Jim Ross, in JR’s hometown) he’d call the whole thing off or at the very least postpone it. Instead, Vince cackled, “Good luck,” then went into his office. Nobody on the planet gives off a better dismissive cackle than Vince McMahon.
That failed plea to Vince was midafternoon, and Court time was fast approaching. So, heeding Stephanie’s advice, I ran up to the empty arena stands where I bribed a concession worker for a large pizza and a six-pack of beer. My assumption was this was going to be less a full-blown court and more a tribunal—a panel of veterans who’d hear the case and render a quick verdict, then we’d all go back to the more professional things WWE was known for at the time, like yelling “Suck It” to large crowds filled with children. I couldn’t imagine anyone would actually give a crap about this whole incident.
I cautiously entered where I was told the trial would be, and my heart dropped to my stomach. This was no tribunal. Every wrestler, producer (former wrestlers who put the matches together), and referee in the company was there. I think I saw the seamstresses and caterers. It was easily over a hundred people now, all staring at me as I walked in holding my single box of pizza and six-pack.
As I surveyed the crowd (and de facto jury), I noticed one person who should not have been there. His presence immediately set me off. Jamie Morris was a writer who was hired about six months after I started. I didn’t have anything against him personally, but seeing an actual fellow writer there, settling in to enjoy the slaughter (and actually eating popcorn years before all the memes!) was something I couldn’t accept.
I immediately went to Stephanie and told her point-blank, Jamie can’t be there. Literally every other person was fine, but not him. I had no idea what was in store, but I wasn’t going to have another writer smirking at me in every writers meeting going forward, telling every new writer this story behind my back. Something about his face in that moment truly incensed me. I was actually prepared to walk out and quit. Had Steph said Too bad, I honestly would’ve grabbed my bags and left WWE for good right then and there. That was how much his presence triggered me. Stephanie must’ve seen the crazed look in my eyes because moments later she was pulling Jamie aside and escorting him out of the room, a gesture I’ll always appreciate. With the first “win” under my belt, I took a deep breath and prepared to face the music.
Edge and Christian were already in the defendant’s box (three chairs set up next to the Undertaker’s “Judges Table”) where I joined them, sitting in the front of the room facing the entire roster. To our far right was the prosecutor, John Bradshaw Layfield, one of the loudest, most bombastic, and toughest guys in the entire locker room (just ask him!). Bradshaw was pure Texas bravado standing six foot five, 275 pounds. Of all the officers in this court, he would be considered the small one.
Behind us was the bailiff, Glenn Jacobs, otherwise known as the Big Red Monster, Kane. He wasn’t wearing his iconic Kane mask, but with a stoic look and folded arms he made an intimidating presence nonetheless. I believe his job was to make sure no one physically attacked us… okay, me.
Finally, directly to our right, the judge… the Undertaker. It made sense—he was the most tenured and respected man in the locker room. He was also the one “top guy” I had never really interacted with much, as behind the scenes he typically worked with veterans Bruce Prichard or Michael Hayes. I could feel my heart rate rising as I turned to Edge and Christian, who seemed oddly calm. They were even smiling, which I noted could not be a good thing.
To compound matters, sitting in the front row, directly across from me, was Triple H. While I had at least a cordial relationship with Bradshaw, Kane, and Taker, Triple H truly did not think I had any business being in a backstage position of power at the time (and he wasn’t alone). This was a guy who looked up to tough, take-no-shit legends like Killer Kowalski (the man who trained him) and Harley Race. I was the guy who owned The Best of “Match Game” on DVD, was often seen in catering eating Froot Loops and, despite having no wrestling experience, inexplicably had Vince McMahon’s ear. To HHH, my main function seemed to be finding unique and unprintable ways for guys like the Rock (probably my biggest ally, and absent from the trial as he had left to shoot The Scorpion King after Raw the night before) and Chris Jericho to make fun of him and his on-screen and soon-to-be actual wife, Stephanie McMahon. Months earlier, when Vince came up with the idea of having HHH lose to the Brooklyn Brawler in a three-on-one handicap match, Triple H stormed into the production meeting, looked me in the eye, and said “This had to be you.” Now he was looking at the single box of pizza and six-pack of beer I had embarrassedly stuffed under my chair and shaking his head in disgust.
Undertaker brought the court in session as Bradshaw laid out the charges—we were being accused of giving and accepting gifts in exchange for television airtime. Edge and Christian pleaded not guilty to the charges, and then it was my turn. Bradshaw asked, “How do you plead Mr. Ger-witz?”
John was no dummy. He knew it was a pet peeve of mine when someone mispronounced my name, which happened 90 percent of the time. It set me off like calling Marty McFly “chicken.” Bradshaw had laid the first trap, baiting me. Would I take the high ground and ignore it? Or would I come out of the gates swinging and wow everyone with my courage?
“My last name is pronounced ‘Gewirtz,’2 so if you’re going to proceed with this sham of a trial, the least you can do is get my name right.”
The crowd instantly leapt to their feet. Many ooooh’d, some aaaaah’d, and all were impressed with my sheer chutzpah.
Actually, none of that is true. Instead, there was only dead, soul-crushing silence. As I waited for the slow clap that never came, Undertaker cocked his head and turned with a look that said, The fuck did you just say? Even the ever-silent Kane managed to utter a “ho boy” under his breath.
Bradshaw turned his attention back to Edge and Christian, who once again seemed to be having the time of their lives. Christian said, “Not only are we not guilty, but we have an announcement. A lot of the talent have been getting book deals. We probably should just tell you now so you’re not surprised when you find out, but because of the stuff we’re doing on TV, we’ve received a book deal, too.”
I had no idea what they were talking about, but I could see the natives getting very restless. It was bad enough these guys were taking their spots, but now after being in the company for less than three years they were getting a book deal!? Triple H, who decidedly did not have a book deal, looked like he legitimately wanted to kill someone. Even more so than usual.
Edge reached into a bag and produced an oversized book: Edge and Christian: How to Kiss Ass! Our Road Trip to the Top. They were both Photoshopped on the cover sporting the cheesiest shit-eating grins imaginable.
There was a moment of confused silence and then uproarious laughter. No wonder they had looked so calm—they had been tipped off! No way they could’ve made that book in less than an hour and now, unlike me, they had the crowd on their side. They went the “we’re going to be found guilty no matter what we do, so might as well have some fun and entertain the boys” route (a route they did not clue me in on). Maybe I should’ve been more vocal about stopping a segment where Big Show and Rikishi rubbed their asses in Edge’s and Christian’s faces months earlier. Live and learn.
With Edge and Christian seemingly in the Court’s good graces, prosecutor Bradshaw turned his attention back to me and called upon a number of wrestlers to testify as character witnesses. He essentially wanted to know: Would I be the type of guy to favor Edge and Christian and/or blatantly violate locker room rules?
Taz, the cohost of Sunday Night Heat, produced at WWF New York, the company’s onetime restaurant in Times Square, was asked whether I had bothered to show up to produce the show.
“Once,” Taz replied.
“And who were the hosts of that particular episode?” Bradshaw asked.
“Edge and Christian.”
He was right. It didn’t stop me from tossing my new orange Taz shirt directly in the trash the next day when I got home, but technically it was true. Jamie Morris was the main producer of Heat. He wanted to produce it and considered it his baby but was on vacation the week Edge and Christian hosted. If only he was here, he could explain… oh, right.
Perry Saturn, who in the past was not happy when he heard I supplied the Rock with a joke about his crossed eyes, was called on next.
“I’ve been in the company for 427 days and he said hello 236 of those days but only shook my hand 139 of those days and one time he went into a room and didn’t shake my hand or nuthin even.”
I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. There were a bunch of times I had greeted wrestlers but didn’t actually shake their hands. That was actually a big no-no. I didn’t realize it when I first started, but shaking hands is a very big deal in the locker room. It was an issue that would rear its head in an even bigger way later in the trial.
As an aside, while Perry, a great guy, had several gimmicks over his career, many WWE fans knew him as the non sequitur–spewing, mop-loving character who’d randomly say “You’re welcome” at the end of every sentence. There was a widespread belief that this gimmick was punishment for Perry after he roughed up another wrestler in the ring after a botched move, weeks earlier. Neither of those things are correct. It had nothing to do with that incident and it wasn’t done as a punishment. That character came about as a result of me imitating Perry’s testimony to my friends (with each account getting more and more ridiculous) and then actually trying a version of it on the air. Perry had been treading water as a singles wrestler at that time, and I thought he could make this new character work. Perry was actually super-entertaining in this new role, and people genuinely enjoyed him. It even took a strange turn in real life. Perry thought we—“the office”—were messing with him, so he decided to mess with us. Outside the ring, he took “Moppy” with him everywhere—restaurants, hotels, flights—as if he and the mop were an actual couple.3
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At the time it didn’t take much to decipher Perry’s problem, and what was once a case of simple gift acceptance was now turning into a full-on character assassination. Not only was I favoring my friends, but I was big-leaguing everyone else! Even I was starting to think I was an asshole!
In reality my general shyness almost always stopped me from making the first move. Not just in backstage handshaking but pretty much everything. Still, in WWE perception is reality, and it didn’t matter if it was a case of an introvert awash in a sea of extroverts with healthy egos—the perception was that “Hollywood boy” didn’t have time for anyone but his friends. This was about to turn into a company-wide burial. And with that, I saw Sean Waltman, aka X-Pac, rise from his chair.
Even though Sean was only a year older than me, and even though I was there at the Manhattan Center for Raw in 1993, cheering as loud as anyone when he (as the 1-2-3 Kid) beat Razor Ramon in one of the biggest upsets in WWE history, I rubbed him the wrong way almost immediately. Not only did I never work with him on promos, but usually I was writing the material when wrestlers were making fun of him. I also didn’t recognize Les Thatcher once backstage in catering. Les is a wrestling legend and someone Sean deeply respects and admires, so his anger was justifiable. One time when I wandered into the Male Talent Locker Room, Sean shouted my name and said “What are you doing in here? The sign on the door says Talent.” That was our relationship in a nutshell.
I don’t actually remember specifically what X-Pac said, but he was so livid he actually left his seat and headed toward me before Kane stepped in to stop a full-fledged riot from breaking out.4 All I remember was him spewing a bevy of profanity and the tension in the room growing to such uncomfortable levels I was hoping for Bradshaw to call upon literally anyone else. The good news is, he did. The bad news? It was Bob “Hardcore” Holly.
Bob provided the eyewitness testimony of the incident in question—the Flash action figure went from Edge’s hands to mine, where it was received warmly! I blurted out that while I did take the figure it had nothing to do with who goes on television. Bob nodded reflexively, apologized, and quietly sat down. I’m kidding. I think the words he chose were “You calling me a fucking liar!?”
My instinct was to deflect with humor, so I made the regretful decision to speak tongue-in-cheek about how great the Flash was. Despite everyone in the room needing to get ready for a two-hour television show seen in person by over twelve thousand people and by millions more at home, I told one hundred pissed-off and visibly confused wrestlers the tale of police scientist Barry Allen getting hit by a bolt of lightning and doused with chemicals, thus becoming the fastest man alive.
To the shock of no one (but me) my dissertation on the origin of the Flash did not go over with the group. Nor did my other attempt at humor—offering to call my mother to deny the other charge against me: that I had invited Edge and Christian to my parents’ house on Long Island for a home-cooked meal. Not only was that charge completely false, the likelihood of it ever happening was quickly dwindling as I could sense Edge and Christian giving the assembled a look as if to say We’re not with him. I was drowning badly, and each attempt to rectify the situation only made things worse. I believe the wrestling term is “burying yourself.” At that moment I was a human shovel.
Amidst the groans and blank looks of confusion during my (admittedly fantastic) Flash story, I could see one of my closest allies, Kurt Angle, shaking his head in anger. But not at me. Kurt could sense this was going too far. WWE producer Gerry Brisco took notice and quickly piped in. “It looks like Kurt Angle has something he wants to say.”
Kurt did look like he had something to say, and I was more than ready for him to say it. Kurt and I started with the company at roughly the same time. After winning a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (with a broken freaking neck) he made his WWE debut at Survivor Series 1999, my first pay-per-view in the company. Together we collaborated on all his promos and backstage vignettes. I wrote a story line where he, Edge, and Christian become friends, something we called Team ECK (Edge, Christian, Kurt). He was probably my closest friend among the sea of wrestlers I was facing. If anyone would stand up for me and give me a much-needed shot of support it would be our Olympic Hero.
Bradshaw asked “Kurt, do you have something to say on behalf of the defendant?”
Kurt rose up, opened his mouth for a brief second, then shook his head no and sat down.
In the grand scheme of things, risking permanent paralysis while wrestling with a broken neck was actually a less daunting act than saying something in my defense at this trial. Kurt later explained to me that if he said something on my behalf it only would’ve made things worse. For both me and him. The praise wouldn’t have helped me, and he would have come off as a suck-up or a stooge. He was probably right, but in that moment I felt a tremendous sense of betrayal.
This was a slaughter, to be sure, but despite the wave of testimony against me (no one had brought up a single thing against Edge and Christian since the reveal of their fake book) I was still hanging in there. I truly believed I had a puncher’s chance of coming out of this, if not found innocent, at least somewhat still intact. Most of the charges levied against me made me look ignorant or even entitled but not necessarily a bad person. Then Paul Heyman was asked to testify.
Paul had joined the company just a few months earlier, and even though he was on the writing team, he was also the Raw color commentator and a veteran, so it wasn’t the same as Jamie. Paul was a very affable guy and easy to like, but at the time he had, let’s say, a “reputation.” He was kind of like the Lando Calrissian of wrestling5—charming, a bit of a scoundrel, and depending on who you talked to, not exactly 100 percent trustworthy. We would butt heads many times over the course of our tenure (foreshadowing!), but at this point we had been pretty friendly. I even went with him to a mall in Houston a week earlier to help him pick out his WrestleMania suit. Things went south when Paul came out with his outfit and the salesman asked me, “How do you think your dad looks?” Paul is eight years older than me.
“I tried to mentor this young man, take him under my wing, but when I told him it’s important to shake hands with Funaki, he flat-out stated, ‘Why do I need to do that? What does shaking Funaki’s hand have to do with me succeeding in this business?’”
Oof. Any semblance of sympathy from the crowd-jury completely vanished, and justifiably so. What an obnoxious thing for me to say. Funaki, a wrestler everyone loved, was not a main eventer, and by not shaking his hand I came off as an elitist at best and a prick at worst, and it confirmed what Sean, Perry, and everyone else was intimating earlier.
The only issue was, it wasn’t the truth (though it wasn’t a lie, either). Paul did try to show me the ropes when he first came on. One day as we passed Funaki in the hallway, Paul stressed how important it was to shake everyone’s hand and how it would be detrimental to my job and reputation not to. I explained to him that I saw Funaki earlier in the day, said hello, did a RNOR (Respectful Nod of Recognition), and basically did everything but shake hands. So my point was if you’re saying hello and being respectful, why is a physical handshake so important? I was genuinely curious. Not that I had an issue shaking hands, but if you missed someone and still greeted them, wasn’t that essentially the same? In the wrestling world it wasn’t. The shake is everything, and as much as I tried to dance around it, the fact is I didn’t do the act.
The problem was—questioning the method of your greeting versus thumbing your nose at someone because of their stature on the card is a pretty big discrepancy. Paul knew exactly what he was putting out there, and it was probably the most damning testimony anyone could give. It was doubly hurtful because Paul really was acting as a mentor then, and I felt he took something I’d asked him about in private and used it as a way to eviscerate me in front of the entire company. In vintage Paul-ese he later explained to me what I said was in earshot of Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley, who were in the vicinity, and therefore it was fair game to repeat it to everyone.
Bradshaw saw my agitation and pounced, immediately asking, “Are you calling Mr. Heyman a liar?”
This time I didn’t hold back. “Uh… yeah!?!”
At this point two things happened. Stone Cold Steve Austin, arguably the biggest star in the history of the business, seated in the last row, had enough and walked out of the room. I was honestly surprised it took him this long. Just as Steve walked out, legendary backstage producer Pat Patterson walked in. Pat was completely oblivious to what was going on. In his forty-plus years at WWE he had been to his share of Wrestlers Courts and knew it was pretty much a tongue-in-cheek, “we rib you because we like you” kind of affair. Not this one. Pat could read a crowd and read an opponent, but he could not read a room.
Bradshaw caught Pat coming in and asked him what he thought of the accused. Skipping Edge and Christian, Pat looked at me and in his thick French-Canadian accent (which always sounded like Dracula mixed with Super Mario when I did it) shouted, “Dat little shit, he fucks with my matches. Changes da finishes!”
John asked pointedly, “Pat, how long have you been in this business?”
“Over forty years,” Pat proudly replied.
Bradshaw turned to me. “And the defendant?”
I pathetically muttered, “A year and a half.”
And then, Judge Undertaker, like he did to many an opponent, decided to mercifully end the suffering. He found all three of us guilty and asked if we had anything to say before he passed sentence. Edge and Christian kept their self-deprecating humor alive with their final statement, though the room had now gotten decidedly more intense and uncomfortable, so it didn’t quite land as well as the book routine earlier. Tonally the “fun” vibe of the room had gone from Anchorman to Apocalypse Now. Now it was time for my closing statement.
For once I didn’t try to deflect by being sarcastic or excruciatingly unfunny. I stood up and spoke from the heart as I addressed the entire company.
“I know what the perception is, but the truth is I’m not stuck up, I’m shy and I know I need to get over that and do better. What I can honestly say is I am writing for every single talent in this room. I know this is your livelihood, I know how important airtime is, and I know this show is better when everyone’s involved. I care about and respect this business. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I know I need to get out of my comfort zone and work with everyone when I’m on the road, and if you’ll give me a chance, I know we can make something great.”
The reaction wasn’t a standing ovation but it wasn’t eye-rolling scorn, either. Hopefully they could tell that I did mean what I said. The truth is I was trying to get as many people over as possible,6 even if I chose favorites to work with on TV. It took me a while, but I realized it was actually an honor to be the first writer brought into Wrestlers Court. Despite what I thought at the time, just being taken to Court did mean that they liked me or at the very least thought I was worth teaching a lesson to. Not every writer—hell, not every wrestler—gets that same respect. If they didn’t see any value in me, guys like Triple H or Taker could’ve easily walked up to Vince and said, “This one’s got to go.” I saw it happen to others on the writing team over the years, but thankfully they saw enough in me to administer some needed tough love. It really wasn’t about the Flash action figure (okay, for Bob it probably was); it was about a change in attitude. About opening up and making more of an effort to get to know and work with everyone instead of retreating to my safe space.
Court was adjourned, and I have to admit I was pretty shaken up. I could hear Pat Patterson from the back saying, “What?! No, I don’t hate da kid, I taut we was ribbing!” Pat actually came up to me right after to apologize, which he didn’t have to do. That’s just the type of guy Pat was. I responded by doing something I had never done before nor since, and smoked one of Pat’s cigarettes right there on the spot.
I got back to Vince’s office a little shell-shocked and saw that Vince had a big smile on his face.
“I heard Court went well.” Vince gave me one of his big booming laughs. Before I could regale him with stories, his expression immediately changed as he asked, “So where are we with the show?”
The following week it was time to learn what our sentences were. Edge and Christian got their sentences lifted after buying Taker a giant Harley Davidson coffee table book, a DVD set of boxing legends, and an expensive bottle of liquor. It was common knowledge (to all but me) that sentences could be lightened or lifted based upon the bribes one gives the judge.
Even if I’d known, it wouldn’t have mattered. Whatever the punishment was, I was ready to accept it. I was about to understand why the Undertaker was so awesome. In my final testimony I had said how much I respected the business, so Taker wanted me to write a two-thousand-word essay on why I respected the business and also take Funaki and other talents I had supposedly dissed out for a drink.
I can honestly say I had never written an essay with so much passion. I wrote about going with my dad to Nassau Coliseum to see Roddy Piper when I was a kid. I wrote about watching in awe over the amount of work it took the ring crew to actually set up the ring, the producers to put together a match, and the wrestlers to absorb so much mental and physical punishment, day after day, year after year, in the name of earning a living and giving the audiences something special to remember. I also pointed out how, despite looking like a trampoline on TV, in reality the mat is hard. Like really hard (something I had learned firsthand—more foreshadowing!).
Taker read it, smiled, and ended up giving me an A.7 I should’ve left it at that, but of course I had to push my luck. Feeling emboldened, I sought out Hardcore Holly, who was still wearing his blue-and-pink ring gear. Now that a week had passed, I was hoping a mutual respect had developed. (The good news is that it totally had! The bad news is that it didn’t really kick in until fifteen years later, after we had both left the company.)
“Hey Bob!” I said as I made sure to shake his hand. “I know it was kind of crazy last week, but I just wanted to ask: Are we cool?”
Bob thought about it, then shouted “Fuck no!” and stormed off.
It wasn’t ideal, but I considered the fact that there was no loud, verbal threat of [redacted] to be a definite sign of progress!
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|Epub||August 22, 2022|
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