Top-Down Smackdown: Heyman, Can You Spare a Dime?


I don’t always own wrestling Blu-rays. But when I do, they’re wedding anniversary gifts from my wife.

Not that there’s much actual wrestling on this set – a whopping three matches are included, all of which feature non-athlete Paul Heyman forced into an in-ring role. There’s a six-man tag match with arch-nemesis Jim Cornette and the dueling Midnight Express teams, a tag match with Brock Lesnar against Matt and Jeff Hardy en route to the latter team breaking up, and a handicap match with Curtis Axel against CM Punk that features Heyman getting the thrashing of a lifetime with a kendo stick – even though he pulls out a cheap victory at the end, the catharsis is there for the fans who loved to hate him.

For those interested in the business of entertainment, however, this disc set is a winner. Mostly for wrestling fans…but not exclusively.

You wouldn’t exactly consider the main “movie” on Disc 1 alongside other documentary features – it keeps the same framing of Heyman at a desk, talking, throughout. This is more like one of those “shoot DVDs” made by independent companies, usually after a particular talent has left WWE and is free to speak openly about his or her tenure there. As Heyman is currently on the roster, this is an official product an is augmented with appropriate clips from the company’s vast library, as well as interviews with some of the people who know him best, not all of whom are on the McMahon payroll at the moment: Bill Apter, Raven, and “Holy Shit I Totally Forgot She Existed” former Divas Champion Beth Phoenix are among them.

But when you look at all the deleted scenes that make up the Blu-ray bonus material (well worth buying the Blu for these, BTW), you’ll notice that even in such a simple-seeming production, WWE cares a lot about story and structure, having excised anecdotes that are too much of a digression from the main narrative. And that’s a running theme of the set – Paul Heyman is a storyteller, and has succeeded in life as much as he has because he understands how to tell stories that speak to people, whether it’s a TV show he’s written for fans, or a motivational speech to get talent to go out and perform even as they know he may not pay them for it. He even began his career by telling tall tales about the wrestling newsletter he supposedly ran, just so he could get access to events as a photographer.

In fact, he may even be telling you, the viewer, some tall tales now. There’s a moment in the extras where Stephanie McMahon – who views Heyman distrustfully but affectionately – talks about catching him red-handed listening in on a conference call he wasn’t supposed to be hearing, and then spontaneously inventing a lie that wound up getting him fired. Asked about it now, Heyman still pleads innocence while giving off every classic poker tell there is, from folding his arms to touching his face and covering his mouth. Finally, after insisting he never did it that day, he admits he had in fact done it seven other times. But beating that is the tale Joey Styles tells of how Paul had himself beaten up in order to concoct an excuse for being late to his wedding.

Heyman takes the time to clear the air about a few things – was he taking WWE paychecks while at ECW? Why didn’t he tell any of his employees ECW was done before showing up on Raw? – and most of the other people interviewed take him at his word, noting that any talents who thought they were getting screwed by him could easily have walked away. Jim Ross clears the air by referring to Heyman as one of the few friends in the business he can count on two hands, while admitting there were many, many times the man annoyed him. Jerry Lawler remains his one major foe to speak, which seems to stem from an incident in which Heyman refused to take a scaffold match bump, and Lawler broke his jaw the following week in retaliation.

The most notable omission is Vince McMahon – Stephanie basically speaks for him, which isn’t quite adequate. Considering the uncharacteristic acts of compassion Vince showed his then-competitor when ECW was still going, and the way he subsequently screwed it up after buying the rights, you’re left wanting to hear more than just Heyman’s side, which is nonetheless a fascinating “frenemy” tale. One suspects Vince saw a bit of himself in Paul, as he later would in Steve Austin.

The disc set also features an extensive collection of promos, from the early AWA days to the post-WrestleMania “My client, BRRRRROCK LESNAR, broke the streak!” routine. These tell as much of a story as anything else, and along with the central narrative, offer a compelling reason for anyone in entertainment to watch. Deep down, it’s ALL about story-telling. Acting, directing, writing, stand-up comedy – you make the story, and you draw the audience in, and if it feels true, they’ll come with you.

Paul Heyman can apply that to wrestling better than maybe anyone else in the business right now. But you’ll come away realizing that it applies to many other areas of life as well. As an editor/webmaster, I certainly feel like I learned something today.

Talk back about Raw below if you wish.