HomeInterviewsThe Comedian of the Ring: An Interview with Dolph Ziggler

The Comedian of the Ring: An Interview with Dolph Ziggler

Dolph Ziggler
Photo Courtesy of Dolph Ziggler

“Why does every wrestler think he’s a standup comic?”

This question was posed to me by my managing editor. And to be truthful, it is a fair one. Every year you’ll see wrestlers, whether they’re on TV, a few years removed from television, or long-since retired, performing at comedy clubs. The act is usually the same — reminiscing about funny times in the world of pro wrestling — and there’s nothing wrong with that. People enjoy it.

However, there are a few wrestlers who take their standup as seriously as they do their wrestling — one of them is Dolph Ziggler. Wrestling fans know Ziggler as the “The Show Off” — the brazen, charismatic and sarcastic performer known for being one of the most naturally talented in-ring performers in WWE.

What they might not know is that Ziggler is putting that same ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’ effort he puts into his matches into his standup comedy career. He’s not going for the path of least resistance of just telling stories about WWE (don’t worry he does talk wrestling in his standup), he’s filling notebooks with material, and walking into open mics unnannounced and under his real name, eschewing wrestling crowds who’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

This weekend Ziggler is returning to Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City for a two-night stand of midnight shows called ‘DZ & Friends.’ We caught up with him to talk his love of comedy, how he’s working on his craft and what to expect this weekend at Caroline’s.

Let’s start off with an easy question first. You said you’re a lifelong comedy fan — who were your favorite comedians growing up? In that same vein, who are the comedians that you study/take inspiration from for your stand-up?

My favorites growing up were Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx. I lived for those one-liners but not just street jokes, the timing of them and the facials, etc. It’s art, and I’m a student.

In that same vein, who are the comedians that you study/take inspiration from for your stand-up?

These days, i really like David Spade, Nick Swardson, Chris rock and 50 others. I can really relate to David Spade. He’s snarky and smart but also plays similar characters on TV and uses that to play to his strengths. I too play a certain character on TV and play into that. But the key is self-deprecation, and being versatile. He’s so smart and quick and great. I study his timing, listen to his interviews and read everything he puts out. I just want to get better as fast as possible, just like I did with wrestling.

There’s one thing being a fan of something, actually going out and doing it something totally different. So what was the impetus, the final push for you to go from just being a fan of a comedy to going in front of the microphone and become a comic?

I developed relationships with several comics and writers, purely from trying jokes out on Twitter. This led to getting me on a little show in the back of a coffee shop. I hadn’t been that nervous since the first wrestling match I ever had. That rush of making people laugh and the anxiety of something not working, instantly made me crave getting back on stage to fix what went wrong. What. A. Rush. Every show led to another relationship or show, purely because people realized I wasn’t there to walk on and get recognized for being on WWE, I was there to learn and get better.

When you hear about wrestlers doing stand-up, it’s mostly them telling funny stories about wrestling. What are some of the things you talk about in your stand-up?

I wanted to be a standup for at least 20 years. I noticed several wrestlers ahead of me had found a nice way to tell entertaining wrestling stories. But, I didn’t want to do that. Maybe in 30 years, sure. But I wanted to take the dozens of notebooks I had filled out for the last 15 years of every little thing that drove me nuts on a daily basis and make my little problems funny. I know wrestling fans make up the gist of my following, but it’s not just them.

Also, every show leads to more and more comedy fans. So I make sure to feel the crowd out at the beginning. For the most part it’s probably about 70% hardcore wrestling fans at an average show. I make it a point to give those hardcore fans some inside baseball while using normal lingo for any non fans. It’s roughly something like this:

20% hardcore fan inside jokes.

20% wrestling life, casual fan jokes.

60% normal life, airports, dating, etc jokes.

What were you more nervous during — your first match on WWE television, or your first stand-up set, and why?

I was exactly as nervous for both debuts. I know the hard work that had gone in to getting to that point, but I also know that my first time as a novice can have hints of greatness. But … at best can be a C+. At best. (laughs) Then I continue to put the work in.

Has your time pro wrestling, working in front of crowds, been an asset to your stand-up career in any way? And conversely, has stand-up impacted your wrestling career in any way?

Both careers go hand in hand. It leads you to be comfortable in front of crowds but it also fills you with anxiety because you want it to be fantastic. You want every moment to land and as impossible as that is, shooting for it is the most exciting thing in the world.

You appeared on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle in 2018 with comedian Sarah Tiana. Can you talk about that experience? You got hit with some pretty intense shots — how fast does your mind have to work in order to to comeback with something funny without being flustered?

Roast Battle was an awesome experience. I got to do it with a great friend, unlike some writers sticking it to a famous actor they don’t know. I’m such a student. I didn’t want any cheap jokes, but I also didn’t want any inside jokes that would make me laugh, but leave the audience silent. You have to find a happy medium and that takes writing and practicing and rewriting and more rewriting (laughs). I was rewriting and overthinking up to show time.

My improv skills and ability to work on the fly with witty comebacks are my specialty. Audience interaction is my favorite thing to work on. I know I need the reps, just like anything else. I’m on rep 22 or so and need 5,000 more sets before I figure out what the hell I’m doing. But I know that and I write everyday and get up [to the mic] every chance I get. I also realize that fans may be too forgiving and not always give honest feedback because they are happy to see me. So whenever i can, I go up at an open mic as Nic, some regular dude wearing a hat, and just to see what works. Then I bring it back to my traveling shows.

Last time you did a DZ & Friends show at Caroline’s you had the likes of Renee Young, Tommy Dreamer, Tye Dillinger and Tyler Breeze show up. Can fans expect the same thing time around, or do you have a complete new idea for the show this time around?

DZ & Friends will always have surprise guests and cameos and skits. That’s what makes these shows truly stand apart from any wrestling or comedy show. And I run a tight ship. I always leave them wanting more. Always. And we will build on last year’s fun and do it back-to-back nights with some different guests on the shows. Both shows begin at Midnight.

Ultimately, post-wrestling, would you want to make the transition to becoming a full-time stand-up comic? Also, having seen you on shows like Adam Ruins Everything, can we expect to see you in more acting roles in the future?

I am working on several projects. I want to be a modern day renaissance man that can be serious, be a fighter, be funny and be quick. AKA: I want to be the best! My future is to be all over all aspects of entertainment and each one making me better all around. The DZ comedy show is just getting going and every show makes me and the show as a whole, that much better!

Dolph Ziggler presents DZ & Friends at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City on Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6 at 11:59 p.m. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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