I’ve written about it before, but whenever I go through a rough patch in life, I turn to Prime Time Wrestling.
To those outside of our little hobby/business/sport whatever you want to call it, that has to sound completely bizarre. What kind of person, what kind of man, would focus on pro wrestling when life starts throwing hard curveballs? Is that really something to rely on to get you through the tough times?
The answer, at least for me, is yes.
Because you need something to make you laugh to see that this world, while at times unquestionably cruel, is also a place with abundant joy. A place where there is comedy, where there is laughter. So when I am beaten down, when I spend half my day shaking my head, when I feel like I just need a break from living in a factory of sadness, I turn to old friends.
I see that, I laugh. I smile. And the cares of the world, they tend to fall back into place.
Prime Time Wrestling is my favorite television show of all time. And it wasn’t because the wrestling was great. Most of the time, it was absolutely atrocious; it wasn’t uncommon to get twenty minute matches between jobbers no one could have possibly cared about. But even then, there was usually a ray of hope. Because the show’s hosts, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, were generally doing commentary.
It was the cutaway segments from the in-ring “action” that made the show so tremendous. The back and forth discussion/bickering between Monsoon and Heenan made for incredible comedy. While they generally discussed what they had just seen in the ring, it wasn’t uncommon for the two to stray from the beaten path…sometimes, not even in the studio itself but on location in areas that had nothing at all to do with pro wrestling. Off the top of my head, I can think of several, and they were all spectacular. The old west, where Bobby was an actor and director; Trump Casino, where the Weasel attempted to play in the high stakes area using silver covered mints; a yacht, where the seas got rough and the pair fell out of their chairs and onto the deck, unable to contain their characters and winding up just laughing at everything.
It seemed a constant challenge the two shared: can I say something so absurd it will force my buddy to break character? It was so much fun.
When Bobby passed away last week, I absolutely lost it. While other pro wrestling deaths stung (particularly Randy Savage, wherein I noted to friends, “my youth is now dead as well”), this one was the most personal. Not only because Bobby was my favorite character not only in wrestling, but in any medium, ever, but because he and I had met and really hit it off. Shortly after the release of the original version of The Death of WCW, Bobby was doing a book tour himself, and was going to be in my town of Indianapolis. I got a hold of his publisher and secured a face-to-face interview. I was allotted 15 minutes to talk with him.
We wound up talking for close to four hours.
We simply hit it off. After those first 15 minutes, it was like we had been friends for years, and he told his people he was going to talk with me as long as he could. We talked about wrestling, about Indianapolis, about his personal life, about my personal life. I remember distinctly that I had a tape recorder with me, and it ran out of tape. I didn’t even notice. I didn’t care. I was just spending time with my hero, and as it turned out, a super nice guy who wanted to know what I was all about as well. For the rest of my life, I will remember the very end of that day, as I handed him his book to get an autograph. Bobby refused. I was really confused. He looked at me rather sternly and said the following:
“I won’t sign my book for you until you sign your book for me.”
I’m crying again as I write this.
So I signed. And he signed. And he wrote the following to me:
“To RD, a really nice and fun guy!”
Is there a finer compliment that someone could pay?
He gave me his phone number as well, and we stayed in touch from time to time. About two years ago, I saw he and Cyndi at a fan convention and caught up with them. We laughed about a few things, and Cyndi told me that he was thinking of writing a third book and was wondering if I would consider being the co-author. I couldn’t even find the words to express the joy I felt at such a suggestion. Bobby’s health took a turn for the worse, and it never happened. Still, the fact that I would even be considered for such an honor is something I will always treasure.
I have no idea what that book would have covered. In my mind’s eye, though, I would have wanted a section going into massive detail on the location shoots for Prime Time. Like I said, there were quite a few, and they were all pretty awesome, with Bobby and his on screen nemesis/real life best friend Gorilla, just hanging out and doing their thing.
Today, in honor of Bobby, I will go over my personal favorite. While it is written in the style of an induction, it is anything but the worst of pro wrestling, it’s quite the opposite. It’s my favorite moment of my favorite performer ever.
I’m not saying it’s HIS greatest moment. There are countless of those to choose from, be it him appearing with Andre to start his pre-WrestleMania III heel turn to his call of Royal Rumble 1992 where he was literally begging for Flair to win the belt to countless others. This would not appear on such a list.
However, when I think of Prime Time Wrestling, when I think of Bobby Heenan, this is the segment forever etched in my mind.
Seriously, look at that. It tells us nothing. They are simply on location in Toledo, Ohio of all places, and Monsoon appears to be in a bread line or something. While I would generally bemoan being robbed of Monsoon and Heenan at a soup kitchen, we were about to get something even better.
Before I can even go there, however, I have to introduce you to ANOTHER great Monsoon-Heenan moment, which was taking place throughout the episode in which our primary focus existed. You see, it was the day after Halloween, and as I had mentioned before, holidays were always big deals for PTW. This would be no exception.
Bobby decided to shine up the silver star (eh, pastel yellow paper) and become Hulk Hogan’s leading nemesis of the time, the Big Boss Man. While it would make sense that Heenan would love the man who beat the Hulkster within an inch of his life, Monsoon properly notes “he’s not even a member of your family!”
Gorilla, I should note, is made up as exactly that:
As a Gorilla. A very properly attired, hands folded, calmly conversational chimp man.
With that, I can only channel my inner David Crockett and scream, at the top of my lungs, “Look at him!”
Anyway, midway through the show he tells us that the Prime Time cameras sometimes go out into the field, not only covering pro wrestling, but also to find interesting things that are going on in different parts of the country. He promises that we will love this next segment, emanating from “Tony Packo’s Hungarian Hot Dog and Sausage House!”
Wait, that just says “Tony Packo’s Cafe”! I can only assume that to the left of “Sausage” on the side of the building it does in fact say “Hungarian Hot Dog and” and on the other side of the building it reads “House.”
I’d hate to ever excuse Gorilla of hyperbole!
Into the diner the pair go, and Gorilla starts the hard sell, talking about how awesome the place is. “Look at how clean everything is,” Monsoon bellows, pointing out every minute detail. “This place is class!”
Immediately, Bobby isn’t buying it, as he turns and heads for the door, noting he can’t eat someplace without valet parking.
Gorilla convinces the Brain to enter, and immediately starts shaking hands with everyone he sees. That was another staple of the on location shots: for whatever reason, Gorilla would know every person they saw. Like, by name. You work at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City or you are a director at some old west tourist stop? Gorilla knows you. You’re randomly eating at a hot dog place in Toledo, Ohio? Ditto.
Seeing this, Bobby is as skeptical as I am, prompting him to scoff, asking if Monsoon is Tony’s maitre d’ on his day off. “They obviously don’t recognize you!” is Gorilla’s response, another location trope.
Gorilla shakes their hands as they head off to find a table. Bobby kinda shakes his head before giving some sage advice: “Heavy on the Rolaids.”
Gorilla is of course aghast at how rude Bobby is being, so the Brain attempts to spin things back in his favor. “Look at the decor here,” Bobby notes as Gorilla nods his head. Indeed, this Hot Dog Emporium is a magnificent location, Monsoon appears to be indicating.
And just like that we get our first WILL YOU STOP?
For those who never saw PTW, or interactions between Monsoon and Heenan, that was Gorilla’s go to line when Bobby said something that left him more or less speechless or had him near breaking character on screen.
Trust me, we got a LOT of “Will you stop” when these two were on-screen together.
Simply going to their table is also an adventure, a field of comedy Bobby was far too happy to harvest. Seeing an elderly couple, Heenan shakes his head, and reminds them in a very snide manner, “Don’t forget to leave a tip!”
That was the greatness of Bobby Heenan: he would find comedy in any setting, no matter what the situation. I remember him telling me about how he would joke about his cancer with Cyndi. “What am I supposed to do? Cry about it? I’d rather laugh, wouldn’t you?” he asked. That was like 15 years ago, and it rings in my ear every day.
Back to Tony’s, as our pair find a table, with Gorilla going into overdrive about how fantastic this place is, gushing over a wood table with a couple of chairs of all things. I know a lot of folks hated Gorilla as a ringside commentator in the past, but the dude could hard sell like no one’s business.
Finally our heroes have a seat, and discussion turns to the gimmick of Tony Packo’s, wherein famous people sign hot dog buns which are proudly displayed on the walls of the establishment.
And yes, we get a couple of shots of this. Even with the upscaling of WWE Network, I can’t really make out the names of most of them. I mean, I know left side middle is Don Shula. To the right is Al someone. Let’s say Jolson just for fun, even though he would have died nearly 40 years before this was shot.
Anyway, Gorilla notes that perhaps they will be asked to sign buns if Tony is around.
And hey, what do you know, there’s Tony now! As you’d expect, he immediately recognizes Gorilla, jumping at the opportunity to shake his hand. Bobby on the other hand, he is not as impressed by, with Gorilla more or less forcing the exchange of pleasantries.
Which leads to this amazingly awesome display:
The greatest jerk move in HISTORY.
Again, LOOK AT THIS.
The Brain lowers himself to shake the hot dog man’s hand…then slyly grabs a napkin to wipe off the filth.
Despite the insulting action (or perhaps Tony was simply oblivious to it), it is
I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with the WWE Network’s closed captioning. It makes for comedy fodder, allowing for me to easily capture items said on screen. However, sometimes, it just gets the verbiage completely wrong. What Heenan ACTUALLY says here is “Last pair of buns I signed was a stripper named Kitty Litter.”
Still, “Nice pair of buns that I signed was a stripper’s…” may actually be just as good.
As Tony waxes philosophical about having famous people sign hot dog buns, there is an off-screen mishap which I guarantee was not planned, wherein we hear a plastic cup or plate hitting the floor. Again, the Brain doesn’t skip a beat, noting there’s a fight and they should probably leave. Gorilla of course is undeterred, determined that come hell or high water, they are going to eat those hot dogs!
Another effort to bolt is thwarted, as Tony does in fact ask Bobby to sign his buns.
That simple, stupid line may be the single most quoted sentence between my best friend and I for our entire lives.
Seriously, it’s so absurd, such base comedy, but even now, 30 plus years later, I literally laugh out loud. I mean, in the picture above, you see that neither Tony nor Gorilla can hold character and do the same.
And I steal THAT line every time a friend of mine has to sign something in front of me. The idea of the Brain being simultaneously helpful and condescending as he tries to help his partner SPELL HIS NAME is utterly fantastic.
And you can only imagine how thrilled Mrs. Deal is after twenty years of hearing me note “C-R-Y…” when she is signing a check.
I laugh harder every single time I do it.
A last ditch effort by Bobby to escape is nixed, as Gorilla convinces the Brain to have the world famous hot dog. “Just to say I did it,” Heenan nods. He then tells Gorilla to get him one plain, maybe a bit of mustard, like at the ball park. He also explains to Monsoon to get him a Diet Coke, as Tony’s pipes may be suspect and he can’t trust the water.
As Gorilla runs off to get the food, he tells Heenan to stay put, leaving Tony and Bobby alone.
Sadly, as Tony’s windows are in fact there for decoration only, Heenan is unable to flee.
Again, taking a situation where there is no apparent comedy and FINDING it, making it funny, making us laugh.
That…that is what Bobby was all about.
Into the kitchen we go, as Gorilla is going to make something super special for his broadcast partner. And as you’d expect, he wants to stick it to Bobby. Again, something that happened quite often, to the point that eventually Bobby was completely leery of anything that was even remotely courteous from Monsoon.
And rightly so! Look how happy the big guy is with the super spicy hot dog he’s created!
Barely able to contain his glee, Gorilla goes back to the table and urges Bobby to try the special lunch he’s made for him.
And it goes even better than Monsoon had hoped, as Bobby begins coughing and wheezing…
…eventually blowing bubbles in his soda, shoving the plate away, before finally attempting to restart his heart (!!!) by beating on it.
You may read this, and think, “Who cares, this was just some silly skit. I don’t get it.”
And maybe you don’t.
But I do, and as I finish this article, I am in tears. It’s an incredible mix of emotions, as I’ve laughed and am now crying again. But as the tears stream down my cheeks, I have a smile on my face and I know the laughs aren’t far behind.
God bless you, Bobby Heenan. You brought more joy to my life than you would ever know and for that, I am forever grateful.