Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Shoot First ... Ask Questions Later

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Shoot First ... Ask Questions Later

By Nathaniel G. Moore

Released by ECW Press in late 2008, World Wrestling Insanity Presents: Shoot First...Ask Questions Later tells the real story behind contacting, cajoling, convincing, interviewing and learning from more than 100 of professional wrestling’s most beloved stars. An absorbing read, I caught up with wrestling journalist James Guttman to discuss his latest book.

NGM:

Do you think that the early popularity in the 1990s of wrestling gossip online contributed to the popularity of media newsfeeds, blogs and the saturation of industry backstage culture?

JG:

Absolutely, but it's like that with everything today. I feel like I know far more about backstage antics at Grey's Anatomy and American Idol than at Family Ties or Star Search. We live in a world where information is so readily available that it's nearly impossible to keep anything secret. This is good and bad, in a way. It's bad in that some people tend to get too into the backstage situations at times and can't enjoy something on TV because of the misconceptions. It's good in that many fans who become disenchanted with the on-air product may still enjoy reading about locker room rumors, so they stick around for that. It's good. It's bad. But nowadays – it just is.

NGM:

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about ex-pro wrestlers? Is there a lot of stigma attached?

JG:

The biggest misconception about ex-pro wrestlers is that they have a bitterness towards wrestling. While there are definitely some out there who wallow in the "back-in-my-day" mentality, there are tons who don't. By and large, I find that many former WWF stars have an appreciation for Vince McMahon and what he did for them. Many have started stories about the company by saying, "I was just a kid from New Jersey…" and end by wrestling in Madison Square Garden. Just this week, I interviewed a long time WWE star who told me that some young guys complain that WWE treated them like a piece of meat. He responded, "Well, what do you think you are?"

It's really like any other job. People get held down and treated poorly at one time or another by a superior – no matter the industry. At least many wrestlers get to live their dream while dealing with it.

As far as overall stigma, there's a lot. "Legends" who get drunk and fall off a stage at an Indy show tend to get more press than the former star who's properly transitioned into real life. Guys like Tito Santana, Paul Roma, Tugboat Fred Ottman and others are barely mentioned by those who want to tell stories about drug addiction and poverty for ex-stars. Sure there are some sad stories out there, but the more I do this, the more I find many untold positive ones.

NGM:

When do you know you have a really great interview subject, and how does that make you feel?

JG:

When I ask the first question, I usually know where it's going. The first thing I say is, "Fill everyone in on what's going on the world of…" and then I say their name. Some do it in character – those I know are going to be rough. Some have positive things to say and speak for a while – those I know are going to be good. Then there's Ole Anderson, who told me he wished he was dead. That one, well, speaks for itself.

If I can walk away from an interview thinking that I saw a different side of someone, then I know it went well. The goal is to give guys, who fans may have a preconceived notion about, the chance to clear it up…or prove it right.

NGM:

What was it like being a part of the Demolition reunion?

JG:

That was mind-blowing and definitely one of the highlights of running ClubWWI.com. Growing up, I was a huge Demolition fan. In fact, I find that many fans from that era were. It's rare to find someone who hated Demolition.

Plus, I was a big fan of most of the things they did. Like I mention in the book, I had no idea why they weren't talking [to each other] but I did know that it had been going on for a long time. When Barry Darsow asked me on-air to give Bill Eadie his phone number, I thought nothing of it. When Bill accepted it, I still didn't think much of it. When I heard later on that they had reunited, I was thrilled. They were one of the best tag teams in wrestling history. To know that people would again be able to meet them as a team or see them performing together at an Indy show was great.

I was glad to do whatever I could do. I'm sure they could have gotten back together eventually, but I was happy to do my part to speed that process along. I stopped short of doing the Master Fuji facepaint and throwing salt in people's eyes though.

NGM:

Do you think the WWE does a good job at celebrating their history, and how is it different from what you are doing?

JG:

WWE has stepped up ten-fold in the past decade with how they honor their past. I think they realized the market that's still out there for people who once loved wrestling and don't like today's shows. They have a tape library that most fans would kill their parents for. The video collection seems to be the biggest positive to come out of the McNopoly on wrestling.

However, they're still a company that has a current product to promote. There are restrictions in what they do and do not say. That's just logic. You're not going to hear WWE do an interview with someone and mention TNA, Chris Benoit, in-ring psychology, drugs, party stories or things like that. The interviews they do are about the subject at hand and, in many cases, are being done to sell another product they're pitching.

With our site, it's all on the table. If I want to know it, I'll ask it. With the exception of lawsuit details, I haven't had a guest ask me to leave something off-limits. If it seems pertinent, it's asked.

NGM:

A lot of wrestlers’ biographies are terrible. Do you think if they used the medium of the interview — transcribed casual conversations they have about their careers — that the books would read better? I often thought that a Hall and Nash book based on some of their interviews would be a bestseller, in a certain market.

JG:

You're right. I think the problem with many biographies is that there's always going to be a guard up. Many who write them don't want to fall out of good graces with the largest wrestling company in the country. When doing a casual interview, though, it's easier to talk without watching every single word. WWE doesn't seem to care too much about what's said in online shoots. That's something that was surprising. When it comes to bringing talent back, they seem to have a virtual open-door policy. (Okay. Maybe not Chyna…)

Hall and Nash would sell books like crazy. Kevin Nash's interview was one of the easiest I've ever done. He speaks in way that gives his opinions without worrying about how it's perceived. He's embraced the stigma that he's a "company killer" and plays into it. So, even if he says something that people get offended by, he doesn't care. I can only imagine the stories that book would have.

NGM:

Wrestling used to be such a heavily guarded fortress. You'd never imagine reading a shoot interview* in 1990, for example. Why do you think the culture changed so drastically and what changed it?

JG:

It goes back to the first question about information. But more importantly, it's about common sense. In the '60s, wrestling was easy to put over on people. At worst, you had a guy in scarf or some bald Russian. By the '80s, it was impossible to pretend it was "real" given the things that were being put on TV. Forget the characters and stories; you had guys doing vertical suplexes and Hulking Up. Even if you convinced your audience it was real, you’re done the first time someone says, "Yeah? Then how do they get them up in suplex like that? That's physically impossible to do without help."

When you admit it's scripted, you can play the entertainment card. It gives you license to do ridiculous things with Leprechauns and exploding limos. It's a weird trade off. We've taken a unique business, unlike any other on the planet, and turned it into Hollywood – just like everything else on TV. We have scripts and writers. It's possible to go too far in the opposite direction and it often feels like that's what has happened.

NGM:

What would a casual wrestling fan get out of your book, someone who follows/followed the sport but didn't quite grasp the concept of shoot. What would you say to that person?

JG:

If you don't know much about the behind-the-scenes world of pro wrestling, then you need to read this book. It not only clears up the false stories that many read online, it explains why those stories exist in the first place. It's a chance to hear from stars in a personal manner that you'd never experience from television and to gain insight on who they are as people. Also, there's section where over 100 stars, from Bruno Sammartino to Big Daddy V, answer the question, "If you could work with anyone in wrestling from any time, who would it be and why?" It's the closing question from all my interviews and it gives you a deeper understanding of the person's views on wrestling and what makes a great performer.

NGM:

Have you been happy with the reaction of Shoot First? I found it to be a compelling and addictive read. What has the feedback been from your listeners/readers?

JG:

It's been great. I've gotten really positive feedback from both fans and people in the industry. I feel like this book gave a voice to a lot of guys who most people make assumptions about. Fans appreciate that and know that the stories and quotes are first-hand from the stars themselves. Many of the details about how some of these interviews came about, I've never told before. The one about the rudest person I dealt with is even there … and it's not Ole.

I'm just glad to have been able to do what I set out to do six years ago. Having the opportunity to cover an industry that I grew up with, and bringing fans closer to the stars in it, is truly a dream come true. I love what I do and I'm glad that others do, too.

* A “shoot interview” is an interview conducted out of character with a wrestler. Usually, the wrestler is being interviewed about their career and asked to give their (“real life,” not in character) opinion on other wrestlers and specific events in their past.

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Conflict of Interest column appears regularly on Open Book: Toronto.

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