By Chuck Carroll
To stay relevant you have to reinvent yourself, because a one-trick pony will never last in sports entertainment. Heck, longevity eludes them in virtually any form of entertainment.
It’s easy to be typecast and fall into a sense of complacency, but when that happens the clock is ticking toward the end of their run. By the time most of them realize, it’s too late. Zero-hour has already arrived.
WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler refuses to fall into that trap. While his brash and cocky character continues to evolve in the ring, he’s been busy diversifying his own brand outside of it as well. The Ohio native isn’t content to exclusively hang his hat on the dozen or so titles he’s won in WWE. Even though it’s a long list of gold that includes two reigns as World Heavyweight Champion and six as Intercontinental Champion, he’s also setting his sights on a much smaller stage, where the lights aren’t quite as bright, and his only opponent is an occasional heckler.
Ziggler is moonlighting as a stand-up comedian.
It’s a natural leap for a man who dishes out just as many verbal lashings as he does physical beatings inside the squared-circle. Even the most chiseled athletic grapplers don’t last if they can’t cut it on the mic. Ziggler has been sharpening his tongue since childhood, and his quips are a large part of why he remains one of WWE’s most popular wrestlers after 13 years on the road.
“I’m a quick smart-mouth kind of guy, so my whole life I’ve been ready with a quick jab back,” Ziggler told me recently, adding that interactions with social media trolls keep him at the top of his game.
But he insists that he isn’t stooping to the level of negativity that’s so pervasive among so-called cyberbullies. Instead, he tries to keep it as fun as possible when he fires back.
“You try to do that and also have fun, because there’s so much negativity out there, and I don’t want to be part of it,” he said.
He takes the same approach when an over-served or over-zealous patron tries to steal the show during his stand-up routine. Although Ziggler says he’ll have fun with it, he’s not shy about directing a healthy dose of smack talk at anyone in the crowd. Hecklers beware.
Ziggler will be next welcomed to the stage for his DZ & Friends show at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles on November 15. Among the friends are comedian Sarah Tiana and a few unnamed wrestlers, who are only described as “guys he has lost to.” The show also includes a Q&A session.
Four nights later he’ll make the short drive to The Staples Center to be part of a team representing Monday Night Raw that will take on team SmackDown Live! in a five-on-five match for brand supremacy at the Survivor Series pay-per-view.
The weekend double-dip has become a tradition of sorts, as he aims to capitalize on the throngs of fans already in town for WWE’s major events. I had a chance to speak with him before one such show during the buildup to SummerSlam.
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How long did it take for your skin to thicken with all the trolls on social media?
It’s pretty nuts. I live for it, though. I’m a quick smart-mouth kind of guy so my whole life I’ve been ready with a quick jab back, which is all of social media now. I try to make it as fun as possible. As a kid, being a smaller guy and getting bullied, I got used to zinging people back and making them pay for it. You try to do that and also have fun, because there’s so much negativity out there, and I don’t want to be part of it.
Somewhat along the same lines, how do you deal with hecklers in the crowd when you’re doing stand-up?
I feel like I’m quick enough based on whatever happened to get them. And mostly a crowd is just there to see you or see the entertainer, so they’re already on your side a little bit. So, as long as you get a little bit of a zing back on them, which I live for improv stuff on the fly. So, base it on if they have a [stupid] hat on or whatever is happening with them. You put that in a quick line right back and they shut up.
Do you feel more pressure for a comedy show or a major pay-per-view?
It’s a little bit of both, because I’m booking this card and I’m in control of the creative and building up everything. Hopefully, it goes well… hopefully.
You worked a phenomenal program with Seth Rollins heading toward SummerSlam. You have obvious chemistry in the ring. Is that something that comes naturally, or is chemistry something that takes time to develop?
When you’re as good as we are — and I mean that [humbly] — we know how good we are. You can still not have the chemistry. I’ve been in there with some of the best, and I was so frustrated because we just wouldn’t meld, or the story wouldn’t be correct, because two different people are telling two different things. He’s an up-and-coming kid, who is going to be one of the best of all-time. I have been there before, but also want to have this legacy that I can do whatever I want. If I’m ever given a chance, I knock it out of the park. And even if I don’t get given that chance, I snatch it up and knock it out of the park. So, the both of us, you have to know we are both draining our brains to go, “How can this be the best thing anyone has ever seen in any company, any year, any WrestleMania, any SummerSlam?” We want to go out and outdo the other one, and that’s what makes good wrestling.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.