Colt Cabana has one of the most unique jobs in the world: comedic pro wrestler. When he's not busy dishing out punches and bodyslams for rabid crowds, he's making them laugh with his patented brand of slapstick. And this week, he's got to perform in front of one of the most intimidating crowds in the world: the Gathering of the Juggalos, the yearly summer music festival hosted by the notorious hip hop act, the Insane Clown Posse. Thousands of fans with painted faces will be heading to the sweltering heat of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, for five days of Faygo soda, nudity and illegal substances -- and it's Cabana's job to play the villain as a marijuana-hating police officer.
The proud Chicago native has developed a eclectic resume; he's a onetime WWE superstar who has carved out his own independent path (but he's still best buds and former roommate of current WWE Champ C.M. Punk). When Colt's not busy earning the ire of Juggalos, he's got an incredibly full plate: he hosts the Art of Wrestling, a long-running podcast considered the "WTF" of the wrestling world; he runs the "so bad it's good" $5 Wrestling, an MST3K-style show; films the WWE-parody web series "Creative Has Nothing For You"; and he fights around the world, competing for the NWA World title one week and flying down to Tijuana to get spun around by Mexican luchadores the next. And on top of all that, he still finds time to ice down injuries and hit the Chi-Town stage doing stand-up and improv.
The Huffington Post spoke with Cabana to find out how one becomes entrenched in the Juggalo entertainment family. He revealed what its like to have bodily fluids hurled at you, how one balances comedy with fighting and explained why wrestling is an artform that can entertain everyone from the Juggalos to the Japanese.
HP Comedy: What goes through your head when you're invited to the Gathering?
Colt Cabana: Well, you've got to understand the mindset of a professional wrestler; I want to take any gig, anywhere and everywhere, so I'm excited that somebody just wants to use my services. You're scared a little bit because you do hear of the reputation of these rowdy kids and the facepaint. I took my own car down there and I assumed it was going to get burned; I was ready to buy a new car if I had to, to make the sacrifice to wrestle there.
But it's one of the things that I look forward to each year as a wrestler and a performer. One of my friends is a dentist, I keep trying to get him and his wife to come with me. What I say to them is "If you're there, then you're one of the outcasts and you're accepted."
Where does your character of "Officer Colt Cabana" come from?
These guys love professional wrestling, which is shown by how much they put into the wrestling part every year. It's so fun to see "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and the HonkyTonk Man awake at 4am ready to wrestle in a tent in front of two thousand screaming Juggalos. That visual alone is so bizarre. They tour with the wrestling too; one of the characters they wanted to do was a police officer. And my friend The Weedman suggested me. I was doing an improv show in Chicago every Wednesday night and this little idea came about. I took the initiative to get some of the comedians and film editors of Chicago, and we wrote a sketch.
Watch the birth of "Officer Colt Cabana"
Right away they brought me in as "Officer Colt" into all the shows, versus the Weedman. There's a lot of freedom in Juggalo Championship Wrestling because, honestly, it's just what Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope think is funny.
Do the Juggalos genuinely hate Officer Colt? Do they have any kind of ironic appreciation?
I think there's two groups of people. There's one group who know how silly I am. I've been a good guy for the past fourteen years and they love to see me flip this switch, which is a giant wink at the world of professional wrestling. And then the other half are people who have no clue who I am; they just know that I'm trying to arrest their hero, the drug-dealing Weedman. When I get on the microphone, I let it be known that I'm going to arrest a Juggalo every time I'm out there, and I'm going to shut down the Gathering.
Police officers aren't allowed on the Gathering premises because it's a privately owned property, but because of my wrestling contract, I am allowed. And after I'm done wrestling, I will confiscate all the marijuana and their narcotics. Those people truly, truly hate me. Stuff's been thrown at me, including rocks, quarters and urine. But I love pro wrestling and pro wrestling is art. It's the ultimate "good vs. evil" and when I'm that evil, that means the Weedman will be the ultimate good, and the emotions will be true. There will be a giant high -- no pun intended -- when Weedman is doing well.
How real is the fear of having bodily fluids thrown at you?
Um... not that I like having bodily fluids thrown at me, but I embrace it. Well, I don't embrace it, but I know what I'm getting myself into. I'm willing to do that for the love of my profession. I don't think anyone has thrown feces at me.
Not yet, at least.
Yeah. [Laughs] As long as I don't get hurt and can jump right in the shower, I'm fine.
No matter what though, there's always going to be a negative connotation that surrounds this world. If you could hope to change some minds, what would you say to detractors?
Instead of hearing the words "ICP" and judging from what you've heard or seen, think about if you were a performer and you have a passion. If you really break it down and think "There's this giant gathering where tens of thousands of people come," that's from two men's passion. I know you don't think of two guys with clown make-up, hatchets and Faygo, but the reality is that these guys have put their lives into it. You have to get past the stereotypes and rumors, and break it down to appreciate what they're doing.
What kind of tricks are up your sleeves for getting laughs out of an audience that can't speak your language?
Physical comedy is very important for something like that. In Japan especially, I don't understand a word they're saying, but when I get in the ring and I make subtle movements with my face or my eyebrows or my shoulders, and I'm able to hear a whole arena of thousands of Japanese wrestling fans laugh, it's one of the most rewarding things in my career. It shows that the art of professional wrestling is global, and that I know what I'm doing. I've probably had about three thousand matches. And those were all like reps at batting practice to lead me to go to Japan, and not speak the language, but make a crowd of Japanese fans laugh.
What's more gut wrenching: bombing with a joke or wrestling a bad match?
It's okay if your joke bombed in a wrestling match because you could always go back to wrestling. So when I've been on stage doing improv or stand-up and my joke doesn't connect, that's what they were there for and it hits very hard.
There's a lot of people who think wrestling is only a redneck steroid circus, brought to you by WWE. How would you hope that your style changes that perception?
I have a unique style that's really not done here. In my mind, it hasn't been done correctly since the '60s and '70s of British wrestling, which is what I'm completely inspired by. Whatever you love, is there only one thing of it? It branches in so many different ways. That's what you love and this is what I love. There's not just one flavor of ice cream. I make fun with wrestling, I don't make fun of wrestling. There is televised wrestling, but there is so much more. I have a giant stage, it's a professional wrestling ring.
What would it take for an alternative form of wrestling to get on TV?
As fans, people who "get it," we're a very niche market. We think it makes perfect sense to throw it on television, but there's also people who say it makes perfect sense to have "Jersey Shore" on television. And there's more of them than there are of us. This might be just an underground movement that will only be there for a select few who are in on it, and appreciate it for what it's worth. Unfortunately, Jay Leno taught us that we're in the minority. Boring old American is the majority, and they want Jay Leno in the late night spot. All we can do is keep supporting these companies, which are mom-and-pop, DIY, underground. They're not owned by corporations. Any dollar you spend to go to that show, helps keep things running. I've turned myself into this small business; I state plainly that if I didn't sell my stuff on ColtMerch.com, I don't know how I would survive. I hope that I gain fans and they'll buy a t-shirt or a movie, and that's a lot of wrestling companies' mottos.
When I heard your documentary "The Wrestling Road Diaries" get described as "'The Comedians of Comedy' for Indie Wrestling," that seemed like such a "no, duh" idea for something new.
It was very inspired by those guys and what they did. Everything I do is inspired by comedians: the podcast comes from Marc Maron, Scott Aukerman and Doug Benson. "CHNFY" is heavily inspired by Eddie Pepitone's "Puddin'" and "$5 Wrestling" is Sklar Brothers' "Cheap Seats." I hope I'm showing appreciation for the ones that came before me because it's a different art, and I give to the wrestling world. The fans want it, but the wrestling world doesn't give it to them. After my WWE career failed and I went this way, I've seen an unbelievable outreach from the fans, and they keep supporting. It's been the most successful time in my career, not only monetarily, but also emotionally.
I read Patton Oswalt's Just-For-Laughs Keynote, and while I'm reading it, as a guy who got told "no" by corporate American wrestling, I'm shaking my fist in support and celebration. It's not going to happen in the next year or two, but in the next twenty years, we'll see a great switch.
What defines Chicago comedy to you?
The Chicago comedians who are forced to move to get exposure are some of the best stand-ups right now: Hannibal Buress, Kyle Kinane, Pete Holmes, the list goes on. I'm hoping that people don't have to move from Chicago to make their name in the world of comedy. I'm proud of these guys who move to a different area and represent this city. I fight all over the world, but I always come back to Chicago. C.M. Punk does that too; we have a lot of pride for our city.
What's the most intentionally funny wrestling match you've ever seen?
One of my heroes is Les Kellett and the matches he put on at the old World of Sport in the '70s. He's very subtle, maybe it's that uptight British crowd who come in their suits and ties and church dresses. The way he manipulated a crowd with comedy is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in my life.
What's the most unintentionally funny wrestling match you've ever seen?
Maybe David Arquette winning the WCW World Championship; as a fan, you just palm your head. And just like the world has "Epic Meal Time," wrestling fans have "Botchamania." if you've never seen it, you can spend a whole weekend going through the archives. As much as we try to make it a great spectacle, sometimes we don't do it well, and that makes it hilarious.
Are you a first-time attendee at this year's event? Then check out Colt Cabana's Guide to the Gathering of the Juggalos.
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