Jim Ross is more than just a wrestling announcer. He’s a storyteller.
Good Ol’ JR has been the voice of some of the most memorable moments in professional wrestling history — from the classic Sting/Ric Flair match at Clash of Champions I to the infamous Flair/Terry Funk I Quit Match to the Mick Foley fall from Hell in a Cell to Stone Cold stunning Vince McMahon to the Rock/Hogan Wrestlemania match. His calls will live forever. Not just because they happened to be during famous matches, but because he was the one who sold it to us at home. His way with words, his infectious passion, his ability to emphasize the sport in sports entertainment, his uncanny knack for finding the emotional chords to play on in each main event — he made us believe in pro wrestling. He sent the chills up our spine. He’s the one the one who helped guide us as we jumped out of our seat. For millions of fans, Jim Ross was the narrator in the great movie of professional wrestling.
Now, he takes all of this history, this passion for wrestling, and most importantly his ability to connect with the fans, and presents it as a special one-man performance known as Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross. The show is an interactive, no-holds-barred question-and-answer show. This isn’t a shoot interview, where he’s going to bury everyone or dish dirt for the same of doing so. No, this is Jim Ross connecting with the fans on a personal level, much like he has done every time we watch a match he’s calling.
In part one of our interview with Good Ol’ JR, we preview his upcoming performance at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., on Friday, Jan. 23. He spoke candidly about the creation of his “Ringside” show, his reluctance about performing, the rush he gets from the live crowd and what fans can expect from a Jim Ross live show.
(Check back next week for Part 2 of our interview where Jim Ross discusses Randy Savage in the Hall of Fame, calling New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 and the future of pro wrestling).
You’ve had an amazing career as a professional wrestling announcer, you’ve got your own line of barbecue sauce, and you host a highly successful podcast. So, why a one-man show?
I’ve done several of them. Last year I did New York, New Orleans during Wrestlemania week, Chicago, and Toronto. We did those to get our toe in the water. Before that we had done Cardiff [Wales], London, Manchester, and Glasgow [Scotland]. I had taken small steps for booking a year’s tour.
[In 2013,] this promoter in the UK got a hold of me through my website. I forwarded it to my manager Barry Bloom and I told him, ‘Here’s a lead check it out to see if anything’s there.’ You never know what it’s going to be when it’s a blind message like that, if it’s some fan who’s just trying to get your contact info. He engaged the fellow by the name of Paul Inwood, who’s a full-time businessman in the insurance business, but is also a big time wrestling fan that has this unscratchable entrepreneurial itch. We worked our deal out and we went to do what was being called a spoken word tour. He sold a high dollar ticket for a meet-and-greet for a select amount of people. They would get in line and I would meet with them, personalize their autographs, sign their memorabilia and take a picture with them, because everyone has a camera.
I was reluctant. But I thought, if you’re going to try something, this is not a bad time in your life to do it. The venues are all compatible [300-500], plus I think I can sell about 500 tickets. We sold out every venue but Manchester, which was the biggest venue and we were 80 percent full. That was the night Manchester United played Chelsea — in Manchester. So we were going head-to-head with one of the premier European football teams in all the world against their arch-rivals.
The tour made money for the promoter and it got great reviews. Barry then got with the Agency Group in New York City. So he started booking dates in 2014 for me.
The shows coming up on Royal Rumble weekend were my idea and he found me two great venues. I’ve never played Jersey. I read about the history of the Starland Ballroom and I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? Should I even go on the stage or should I do my act on the floor with all the fans. I mean do I really belong on a stage Bruce Springsteen has played on.’ I’m really excited about it. I love venues like that. When you’re in the dressing room you sit there and you wonder who else has been there. It’s almost like being a fan in that respect and I’m not ashamed of that.
What’s the experience of being the center of attention — the main event, if you will — been like?
I enjoy the live event rush. I enjoy the one-on-one interaction with the people who supported me, vigorously, throughout the years. Even when I had various of facial paralysis known as bells palsy — they never left me. They encouraged me to fight and get better and get back on the air. They didn’t care what I looked like, they just wanted to hear my work. That’s the best medicine I could receive. Doing these shows is my way of getting back in front of a live audience. It seemed like a good opportunity and that’s the impetus. I enjoy speaking in front of groups. They get to see a different side of ‘Good Ol’ JR’ that they haven’t seen. It’s not an evil side. It’s just that I’ve been the straight man for all these years, like a point guard in a two-man game. This is a little bit different, but the beautiful part is when I get through my opening remarks, about 20 minutes, where I get everybody greased up with some stories and laughs. Then we get to the most important part of the show, when the audience participation kicks in and they are allowed to ask any question they have on their mind. I have always believed the term celebrity is over-used. I don’t consider myself a quote unquote celebrity, and I want to do what’s right for the audience. I want them to be able to ask me questions that have been on their mind for however long or if something new just popped up. I say ask away.
I try to have fun with an answer when I can but when someone asks, ‘How did you feel when Owen Hart fell from the rafters, what was your emotion?’ I want to say, ‘Are you kidding me? Is that the best you’ve got?’ That’s not my style, but it’s how I feel. How do you describe watching your friend die 20 feet away from you? How do you even articulate that? Some questions are not conducive for humorous answers, that being one example. Most things we can have fun with.
That’s the point of the show — let’s have fun, no need to have a bottomed-up atmosphere. I don’t care what you wear, I often times wear jeans. It’s a casual fun, atmosphere. If there’s a bar on premise you might see me with a beer in my hand, or a cocktail. I’m not like Ron White drinking high-end scotch and smoking cigars. I’m not a scotch guy myself. We’re going to have a good time and my goal is for everyone to leave happy. We’re going to start on time, end on time and we’re going to treat everyone with respect and get to all the fan’s questions and comments as humanly possible. That’s the whole package in a nutshell.
Has there ever been a question that’s taken you back, that you felt totally unprepared for in a good or bad way?
I had a guy in Scotland that wanted to bait me about all the stupidity involved with Chris Benoit not being in the WWE Hall of Fame. I gave him my answer as to why I think he didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame and it wasn’t the answer he thought I was going to give. He wanted to argue with me until I finished my closing argument. I told him, ‘Chris Benoit was a friend of mine. I hired him to come to WWE. I facilitated talking him into getting the neck surgery that had him out for a year and that extended his career. I knew him very well. I had dinner with him. My wife and I had dinner with he and his wife Nancy, before Wrestlemania 18 in Toronto.’ I felt like I knew him good. I didn’t know if the fellow in the audience knew him well or not. So this guy is trying to tell me he knew Chris Benoit better than I did. He had seen all the videos, read all the books, and he didn’t meet him come to find out. He took what he had read off the Internet and had seen on DVDs and had made a decision that he was more learned about Chris Benoit than I.
I finally said to him, ‘If I could call him wherever he is and I could talk to him and I would ask him about going to the WWE Hall of Fame, I think he would be very adamant that it would not occur.’ His induction would become a massive distraction…and it wouldn’t be about the performance of multiple individuals going in with that class. Chris is the type of guy who would not want to disrespect his peers in that particular manner. When I finally got to that answer, he interrupted me a dozen times, I said, “And I’m basing on knowing him much better than you.” I ended up getting a standing ovation from the crowd, even from those who thought [Benoit] was good enough of a wrestler to be in the Hall of Fame. Other than the last several hours of his life I was very proud of Chris for a lot of reasons. This guy was getting adamant and had too much to drink. It was in a hotel with a bar, he was getting hammered, couldn’t hold his liquor. He was hellbent on convincing me that he was right and I was wrong. So I ended up getting a standing ovation for being polite.
While this is as much an experience for the fans, do you also find that this is a bit of a cathartic experience?
It is cathartic, depending on the topic. The interesting part is that audience is so unpredictable. Something may have happened in the world of wrestling that they saw on the Internet and that becomes their topic of the day. You never know — that’s why it’s so much fun. You can come to my show in Sayreville and then if you’re in town you can come to my show in Philly at Underground Arts (that’s a 3pm show), both shows are going to be different. The audience will be different. And since the shows are close in difference I’ll make sure I change it up. You won’t see the same card in Philly as you will in Sayreville.
Jim Ross brings his one-man show, Ringside: An up close and personal evening with Jim Ross, to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Friday night, January 23. Tickets can be purchased here.
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom