On the element of surprise

If you follow me on Facebook, some of this will look familiar.  If you’ve known me long enough, all of it will.  But at least there’s no navelgazing…

Last night, the funny folks at ComedySportz (yes, long-time readers, I’m a “loyal fan” again – I’m not sure I’ve made that clear on here) staged their second “Arnold-Off”.  There are two ensemble members with the last name Arnold, and last summer, they staged their first Arnold-Off… under the terms of the match, Zach Arnold won and kept his last name, while Emily Arnold’s name (for CSz purposes) became Emily Schloschenaufer (hmm… my spell-checker just started to cry). 

For the return match, Emily’s Overtime Improv teammate Travis Williams was the referee… so in a Facebook status, I had a little fun with the old nWo angle from World Championship Wrestling, and posted this…

…but if I were Zach, I’d be worried about Travis being named the referee… for some reason, I see it ending with Travis taking off the ref shirt to reveal an “OTI 4 LIFE” t-shirt while finding a way to screw Zach out of his last name…

I know Travis and Zach are wrestling fans, so I figured they’d get a laugh out of it.

I honestly didn’t figure they’d do it.

But they did… which is why I completely lost it as they played it out (they did use a better T-shirt slogan – “GO EMILY” with the “O” styled as the OTI logo)… Travis threw the deciding final game to Emily’s team, Zach protested, and Travis revealed his “deception”.  Emily gets her last name back, and Zach is now Zach Bartleby.  Of course, the wrestling fan (and former ring announcer-slash-”commissioner”) in me is looking forward for the next match which, in wrestling, would be on pay-per-view after sufficient hype…

And the improv fan in me was honored to see these talented people, all of whom I am a big fan of, bring my Facebook joke to life. 

Late last night on Facebook, I compared that moment to the time I clotheslined a wrestler (and lived to tell).  Looking back through the blog, I realized that while I had told the story back in 2005, I really didn’t give it its due… so (if you made it this far) this is the part that wasn’t on Facebook…

We go back to 2002-03 (I have a terrible memory for dates, sadly, so if anyone knows what it was, I’ll edit it in here).  I was serving as ring announcer and storyline Commissioner for the Global Wrestling Alliance, based out of a training school located at the Hanover Air Park.  I’d hang out at the school on training nights, offering a fan’s perspective occasionally, playing “referee” to give the guys a third body in the ring, and helping with promos.  Somewhere in there, an idea formed in the minds of promoters Kyle Leach and Kelly Adkins – who also performed in the shows as wrestlers Dragan Frost and Kiley McLean, respectively.  I balked, at first, but I’m glad I was talked into it…

It was tied to what turned out to be the last (I think) in a series of GWA shows at the Powhatan Hill Rec Center in Richmond’s East End.  We’d done several shows there for the kids at the Rec Center (and some of their families, but mostly the kids) – and, for some reason, the kids had come to like the friendly-but-hapless Commissioner role I played.   To explain why I could stand at ringside as ring announcer while all manner of mayhem played out in front of me, I invented a “rule” that during the show, the referees were in full control and I had no authority to overrule them.  Having explained why I didn’t do anything to stop the cheaters, Kyle and Kelly came up with a storyline to allow me to… well… stop one cheater.

Their in-ring personas, Dragan and Kiley, co-managed a stable of bad guys called “Elements of Destruction” (playing off the fact that the two of them did a bit of a fire-and-ice gimmick).  On this particular night, the first half of the show, leading to intermission, was stacked with matches featuring Elements members.  As the night went along, Dragan kept upping the tension – first yelling at me from across the ring, then getting in my face, then threatening me… of course, the kids were yelling at me to do something about it, and I made sure to remind them that I couldn’t – remember, the referee is  “in charge” at this point.

So after three matches of escalating abuse, we get to the last match before intermission.  Dragan is wrestling a rookie going by the ring name of Grail (today, he wrestles for NWA Fusion Wrestling in King & Queen County as “War Horse” Larry Horsley, while promoting the shows and also serving as a member of the county’s school board).  The kids really loved Grail – he wasn’t that much older than them (and looked even younger), so they identified quite strongly with him.

In order to set up my righteous indignation, Dragan had to brutalize Grail (as much as the state regulations around wrestling allowed, at least).  He made it a point, of course, to cheat at every opportunity – and to continue to give me grief at ringside.  Early in the match, “in frustration”, I took off my suit jacket and tossed it to the ground (in reality, this was to avoid having the buttons on the jacket cause problems later). 

Inevitably, the referee wound up “accidentally” knocked out of the ring – at which point, Dragan went for the kill.  He tied Grail up in the ropes (upside-down, no less) and was just going to town.   Behind him, I finally had enough and slid into the ring, finally glaring at him in the center of the ring with my arms crossed.  Of course, the kids went nuts… which “tipped him off” that I was there.  He turned around, told me to get out of the ring, and went back to his regularly-scheduled beating.  I shook my head.  The kids yelled more.  Dragan turned around and told me to get out of the ring if I knew what was good for me, then went back to pummel Grail some more before either Dragan let Grail out of the ropes or Grail worked his way out – either way, he had fallen out of the ring.  That left just the wrestler and the hapless Commissioner about to face off at center-ring.  Clearly, the odds were in my favor???? 

Dragan turned to me and yelled that he’d give me a count of three, and if I didn’t get out of his ring, I was a dead man.

One…

Two…

I start to turn and leave (you could hear the kids deflate for a moment – we had to do that to make what followed more dramatic)…

Dragan turns around to gloat at the crowd…

I say “oh, HELL no, I’m not leaving”…

Dragan turns back to me…

…in time to eat the only clothesline that I have ever thrown or will ever throw (picture courtesy Dave Layne).

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The kids lose it (much as I lost it last night – now you see the connection, right?).  I mean… I’ve heard the phrase “blow the roof off”, but I’d never lived it.  Of course, they identified with the powerless guy standing up for himself… and responded. 

Meanwhile, I rolled out of the ring, checked on Grail and helped him back into the ring, where he covered Dragan… for a two-count (by the ref who magically recovered just about at the same time as I rolled out – amazing!).  This was good booking, by the way, as we didn’t want to kill Dragan’s character by having him lose to a single clothesline from a 40-something ring announcer… but the kids got their second chance to cheer a few moments later when Grail did finally win the match.

For me last night, and for those kids a decade ago, it was about the element of surprise – and the power of the reaction it can bring.

I’ve said for years that in the moments after the clothesline, hearing the pop from the crowd, I understood why performers do what they do – whether it’s wrestling, comedy, music, or whatever.  There is a definite rush that comes from an audience responding the way you want… we were going after that pop at Powhatan Hill, and we got it, and it was a great deal of fun.  I’d like to think the CSz folks appreciated my near-total loss of composure last night… 🙂

And yes, I’m still laughing about it… I may be laughing about it for days.

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), improv tech guy, generally nice person (if you ask me).

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