Posts Tagged ‘AWA’

Right Place Right Time

July 13, 2014

Friday July 11th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

One of the few standout highlights of my childhood that has successfully stood the test of time is my extreme love of professional wrestling. It wasn’t so much the actual wrestling itself as the dynamic personalities and charisma of the wrestlers. I was fortunate to have seen some greats.

Wrestling was a regional attraction for much of the 20th century until Vince McMahon Jr. took over his father’s promotion on the east coast and graduated it to a national and then international stage. Like it or not – and none of the old school promoters did – McMahon changed the game.

The star attraction he used to build his empire was Hulk Hogan, and together they created a big splash not only in the wrestling world but in mainstream American culture of the ‘80s. Hogan is the only professional wrestler to date to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and that says a lot.

Hulk Hogan became a household name during that time, and Vince McMahon became wealthy beyond belief. Most casual fans of wrestling accept as fact that Hogan was the greatest of his era, but in fact he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That’s the recipe for success.

Hogan’s wrestling abilities have never been stellar, but that doesn’t matter. His look combined with his persona and charisma were exactly what the public was buying at that time. He nailed it. It was just like the Colonel finding Elvis. That was another example of right place and right time.

For every Hogan or Elvis that hit pay dirt there are countless others that never find the winning combo and are destined to languish in either relative or total obscurity. One of those in wrestling was my childhood super hero and fellow Milwaukeean Reggie Lisowski – aka “The Crusher”.

The Crusher was the Midwest Hulk Hogan, even though Hogan got his first big push working for Verne Gagne’s AWA based out of Minneapolis. That was a major promotion in that era, and all kinds of great talent came through there – and through my little black and white television set.

Wrestling on TV then was basically a one hour commercial for live matches, and it worked. It got me to spend my money, and I loved every minute of it. The Crusher was my favorite, and the favorite of everyone else in Milwaukee. He was the original bad ass, way before Chuck Norris.

The Crusher was born on this day in 1926, and was nearing the end of his illustrious run just as Vince McMahon was starting his. Crusher and so many others that earned it never got to taste the mainstream adulation that Hogan and many that came after him did. That’s just luck of the draw.

The Crusher wasn’t born at the right time, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. It’s an unfair world, and some things are beyond our control. Another great that got screwed in that way was “Superstar” Billy Graham. I used to watch him as a kid, and he turned wrestling on its ear.

Vince McMahon Jr. admits that if he were in charge instead of his father that Superstar would have been Hulk Hogan ten years earlier. But he wasn’t. And now Superstar Graham lives alone in obscurity, wondering what could have – and should have – been. Life is what it is, and trying to figure it out only causes frustration. The Crusher and Superstar are still big stars in my book.

The Crusher flexing one of his '100 megaton biceps'. He was a classic, but never made the big money. What a shame.

The Crusher flexing one of his ‘100 megaton biceps’. He was THE attraction in wrestling when I was a kid. “How ’bout dat?”.

"Superstar" Billy Graham was ahead of his time, and even Vince McMahon admits it. Read Superstar's autobiography "Tangled Ropes". He was Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan.

“Superstar” Billy Graham was ahead of his time, and even Vince McMahon admits it. Read Superstar’s autobiography “Tangled Ropes”. He was Hulk Hogan way before Hulk Hogan, but never got paid like it.

Happy Birthday Crusher

July 13, 2013

Thursday July 11th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Some people just have ‘it’ – an abstract and intangible quality that can be extremely difficult to describe by itself, but is instantly recognizable by a possessor. There aren’t many considering the bulk of the population is up over seven billion, but when one comes along they make their mark.

   ‘It’ is a magnetic charisma that emanates from within, and can be a powerful force when taken advantage of properly. Most of the major entertainers have this quality to some degree, and that’s a big reason why they attain success. They have something desirable that not everyone else gets.

   One of those people that happened to be a major influence throughout my entire childhood was one Reggie Lisowski – aka “The Crusher”. He was a professional wrestler who happened to hail from my home town of Milwaukee, and had a legion of loyal fans who followed his every move.

   The Crusher was Milwaukee’s Elvis, and everyone loved him. He was built like a mailbox with a gravelly voice, bleach blonde hair and big eyes that would bug out when telling what he had on the agenda for his next opponent who he would often refer to as a ‘bum’, ‘turkeyneck’ or both.

   Despite the fact that Crusher was in his 50s at the time, his local legend was strong and he was able to jam pack the Milwaukee Arena whenever he wrestled. I was fortunate enough to see him live many times throughout my childhood and teen years, and when he walked down the aisle to make his grand entrance into the ring it was like nothing else I have ever seen before or since.

   He was loaded with ‘it’, and had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand from before he would even step into the ring. There was a feeling of pure electricity before he came out of the dressing room, and by the time he stepped into the ring it was full blown pandemonium. He was a legend.    

   The Crusher was born on this date in 1926, and died on October 22nd, 2005. I remember when I heard he’d passed, and how it seemed so surreal that such a powerful figure that was built up as such an indestructible hero for so many years could now be gone. He was Milwaukee’s favorite.   

   I was performing on New Year’s Eve at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Milwaukee one year, and they have giant glass elevators that can fit a large number of people. I was coming back from my gig and the elevator I was in was full. I could distinctly hear a gravelly voice in the rear of the elevator, and I wondered who had the audacity to do a bad impression of The Crusher.  

   When we got to the lobby, I saw it was the man himself. We were both in tuxedos, and I had to go up and say hello. He was very nice, and thanked me for saying nice things. I meant every one of them, and I’ll never forget the feeling of shaking his hand that felt like rough grade sandpaper.

   The Crusher never made the huge money wrestlers or athletes in general make today, but he’s a  legitimate superstar to more than one generation of not only Milwaukeeans but everywhere that he wrestled. He had that magic charisma that few ever get, and he used it as much as he could.

   According to numerology, those born on the 11th and 22nd tend to be special and influence a lot of people. After I heard this, I noticed how many celebrities happen to have birthdays on an ‘11’ or ‘22’ and think there may be something to it. Rodney Dangerfield has a ‘22′ for a birthday and so does George Clinton – two of my favorites also loaded with ‘it’. My personal supply of ‘it’ is questionable, but I do the best I can. The Crusher was loaded, and I still love him today.

One of my most prized possessions to this day.

One of my most prized possessions to this day!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Wrestling With Radio

December 28, 2012

Thursday December 27th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   Doing radio and sometimes television interviews to promote shows while in a town is a crucial part of being a professional comedian and an entertainer in general. When I was a kid, I watched AWA professional wrestling and became mesmerized by the interviews with characters like Mad Dog Vachon, Nick Bockwinkel and Milwaukee’s hometown hero Da Crusher. I lived for all of it.

Those colorful interviews were what whetted the fans’ appetite to go see live shows, and I was hip to that concept at an early age. I loved watching the interviews more than the actual wrestling itself – which I later found out wasn’t wrestling at all. It was all a big show, but when I found that out I enjoyed it even more. It was world class entertainment, and that was good enough for me.

I’ve done hundreds if not thousands of local, regional and even national radio interviews in my time, not to mention more than my share of TV also. I always try to be animated and entertaining as much as possible but still get in as many plugs for the show as I can. There’s an art to doing it.

I happen to enjoy the challenge of adapting to whatever on air situation I’m in, but a whole lot of comedians I know can’t stand it. It’s a chore to them, and they go in the studio with an attitude and that usually guarantees failure before they ever start. They don’t realize how important it is.

Granted, some interviewers can be downright horrible. Even in bigger markets, talentless radio pinheads who think they’re funny either continuously step on punch lines or feel the need to try and top everything the comedian says. I’ve seen it all, and can pretty much handle any situation.

What’s important to always remember is that even one three to five minute slot on the radio or television gives an act more exposure than if they’d appear at the club or venue they’re plugging every single night for a year. It’s smart business to take advantage of every appearance possible.

I’ve been lucky enough to be on both sides of the microphone in comedy and radio so I’ve seen countless examples of how a variety of others handle themselves. Only a few really put an effort into it, and I try to be one of them. I don’t want to waste even a second of air time if I can help it.

This morning I had a fantastic opportunity to be on the air with my old friend Bill Schulz. Bill started working for the company the same week I did in 1996. We’re both from Milwaukee, and it was funny that we’d never met each other in person until we got to Reno. He got hired to work at the oldies station, and I was at the country station in the same cluster. We grew to be friends.

As luck would have it, my station changed formats and I got blown out the door but Bill ended up staying and becoming a local radio fixture. He’s now on ‘Alice’ at www.alice965.com and he and his partner Connie rule the roost around these parts. Good for Bill, as he’s a fantastic person.

Bill was there through my infamous bank robbery ordeal, and asked if I would tell the story on air. That’s always a show stopper, and anywhere I’ve told it people come to the club and ask me questions about it, so I know it works. It’s my radio secret weapon, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Crusherbill schultz

LeBron Turns Heel

July 12, 2010

Saturday July 10th, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

One of the most educational if not fun things I’ve ever done was get involved in the pro wrestling business in my early twenties. I will admit, had I been blessed with even a tenth of one iota of physical ability, I’d have been inside that ring in a New York minute baby.

Instead, I got to be involved both as a ring announcer and TV commentator, and looking back that was a great way to do it. I didn’t have to sacrifice my body and I still got to have the fun of being around the circus. Talk about colorful characters, wrestling is chock full.

Most of my experience was with a bunch of guys based in Milwaukee who used to lose on purpose on television matches for the AWA (American Wrestling Association) which was based in Minneapolis. They had their own federation in the Milwaukee area that had several incarnations over the years, but it was basically the same group of guys renamed.

Eventually, I bought the organization which included a 22 foot former WWF ring and a rattle trap truck to haul it to the venues. I don’t think that truck ever started when I had it, but it went along with the deal so I took it. I ended up having to tow the truck to shows so I could be sure it got there. No ring, no matches. No matches, no money. It’s a no brainer.

I ran shows for about a year, and learned more during that time than just about any other in my entire life. I learned about promotion, how to be in charge, sales, politics between a mixed bag of people and a whole lot more. The main thing was the subtleties of wrestling as an art form, which it really is. It’s poor man’s opera, the storytelling is the main thing.

Each match tells it’s own little story, and there’s a good guy (aka ‘baby face’) and a bad guy (the ‘heel’) who lock it up in the ring and let their story lines play out. Sometimes the bad guy will sneak in and win, but mostly the good guy comes out on top in the end. It’s a beautiful thing to watch when it works well, and I’ve seen examples of it over and over.

The person who comes up with the story lines is said to have ‘the pencil’, and has to put all the story lines together so it all flows well as an evening’s entertainment. It’s not at all easy to do, and I respect those who do it well. It’s hard enough trying to do comedy well.

A wrestling term that describes a heel’s wrestler’s negative reaction from the fans when doing what most consider to be wrong is called ‘heat’ or ‘getting heat’. I immediately had a revelation when I heard LeBron James signed to play in Miami. He infuriated his whole home town, and turned heel in the basketball world. He’s now changed how fans see him.

The funny thing is, what team did he choose? The Miami ‘Heat’. Coincidence? It guess it COULD be, but that caught my attention right away and it made me laugh. This whole big fiasco is just an old pro wrestling story line. The good guy turns bad, and then people pay their money to see him get his mouth shut by some other baby face. It’s all calculated to sell tickets, which is what all this hype is about. LeBron went from baby face to heel to help the NBA sell more tickets. Sorry Cleveland, you’re buying in exactly how they want.