Professional wrestling’s sad love with low brow “comedy” for “heat”

All Elite Wrestling
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Professional wrestling is an industry where some people are not going to be liked. The idea of being a “heel” is to find new ways to get fans to wish for you to feel some type of bodily harm. While that is all fun and games, there are points where wrestling goes into a realm that reminds viewers that those with the biggest voices are often out of touch. This week, there were multiple examples of instances in which the wrestling industry reminded everyone that there’s growth to do.

First, there were the comments made about Simone Biles. By this time, her story is well-known. The 24-year-old, multiple-time champion struggled with mental health issues and the death of an aunt that forced her to back out of some events at the Summer Olympics. The response across sports was swift and polarizing, but at the end of the day, Biles had to do what she needed to do for her best interests.

Not to be left out of the debate, professional wrestling took to the microphone to weigh in. Charlotte Flair (WWE) and Max Caster (AEW) made it a point to name-drop Biles during promos and rap sessions this week. Both were met with an intense eye roll, recognizing that wrestling cannot seem to help to feel topical – shoehorning in something from a heel to generate “heat.” Were they necessary? No. Did it make either person more “over” than they were before? No. Both were a waste of a moment in which they could have found another way to earn the jeers of fans.

Let us stay on Caster for a second. His pre-match rap segments have been hilarious, creating some funny moments from time to time. But his display on this week’s edition of AEW content went a bit too far as he not only talked about Biles but made a Duke Lacrosse rape joke, which is an even lower bar. Again, the backlash was swift. So much so that AEW edited that rap out of the YouTube upload – six days after the actual taping in which they could have recognized the same issue.

WWE is not without fault. On NXT this week there were two segments that induced facepalming. On one hand, Zoey Stark and Io Shirai visit a Japanese restaurant in a comedy segment with stereotypical jokes right out of Rush Hour. Then in the main event, Johnny Gargano and Dexter Lumis are fighting over the idea of who Indi Hartwell can “date.” All fun and games, but again moments where wrestling can simply do better.

Think back to 2003. Triple H is preparing to defend the title against Booker T at WrestleMania and he cuts that promo that everyone remembers. Triple H was already a great heel, but creative decided to go to the space of bigotry and racism to make it clear that fans should boo him in the upcoming match. That is about as lazy as one could get and it is akin to what wrestling displayed this week with these segments listed above. Instead of being creative and finding ways to generate heat with fans, the easy way out was selected. Grasp on to hot button topics, both relevant and old, for an “oh” moment from the fans.

At the same time, professional wrestling is a fantasy world where acting is a big part of the lift. Flair, Castor, and everyone else mentioned were acting the parts that were given to them. But again, that’s part of the challenge. The decision-makers at hand clearly lack the diversity and depth to know what topics they should not touch and find new ways to rile up the fans. It has been wash, rinse and repeat for generations. Sadly, this will not be the last time that something like this happens because the writer’s room will consistently look like the “Good Ole Boys” network it has become.

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Just like in comedy, there is a way to joke about topics that are not a low-brow, punching-down moment. Professional wrestling has not mastered that skill yet as these situations listed this week remind everyone that the industry still has a long way to go.