We've all heard stories about what wrestlers are like in real life. Some of those are fun, some are funny, some are scary and some downright sad. But what about when they're being paid to tell their life stories to a production crew?
The world of shoot interviews has evolved considerably since they first began in the late 1990s. The idea of wrestlers sitting in front of a static backdrop and answering a list of pre-written questions was interesting to a point, yet these tell-alls had a limited shelf life. For one thing: wrestling stars tell their "real" stories in a variety of ways these days, from podcasts to WWE Network specials and everything in between. But beyond that, the consumer wanted something that had a bit more passion to it, something that says "We didn't just get Scott Hall or Greg Valentine and ask them rapid-fire questions; we made an interview with them infinitely more entertaining.
Sean Oliver redefined what a shoot interview could be when he, along with his business partners, created Kayfabe Commentaries in 2007. Their series of DVDs and on-demand specials under such titles as "Timeline: The History Of WWE," "Guest Booker" and "YouShoot" are among the most well-orchestrated shoot interviews on the market. And along with that success comes some of the most fascinating stories about wrestlers in real life that you'll likely ever come across.
Kayfabe: Stories You're Not Supposed To Hear From A Pro Wrestling Production Company Owner is very much a tell-all, in which Oliver names names, rats out bad actors, reveals some very surprising secrets, and generally discusses all the ups and downs associated with creating a niche within the wrestling shoot sub-genre.
Oliver's humor comes shining through in the book, which helps put some perspective into what can be a times frustrating and sometimes frightening situations. He seemingly has an "only in pro wrestling" mentality when recalling many of his run-ins, which prevents this from becoming a 200-plus page bitchfest on everything wrong with professional wrestling.
Having said that... there's definitely a lot wrong with the business if some of these stories are to be believed! Some guys in the business are hucksters and creeps, for sure, but for every story we read about Buff Bagwell cheating the production company out of their already-paid fees, you have stories Bruno Sammartino, standing up to WWE when it comes to honoring previously-arranged commitments with the Kayfabe crew. Much like any other world, pro wrestling definitely has its share of good, bad and ugly.
One thought I had while reading through this: if I were a prominent professional wrestler, I might be concerned about how any interactions I had with Kayfabe might be publicly divluged in a book such as this. Sure, some of the workers definitely had it coming - from showing up in no condition to perform to changing interview rules on the fly - but even if you acted with a great deal of dignity during your interactions with Oliver, there's still a chance your verbatim conversations may be captured in a book like this. Fans of Oliver will say he's simply trying to portray the people in his world accurately, but I could see some complaining that he's going over the line.
Still, there are some fascinating stories here, and some you've likely never heard before, including behind-the-scenes accounts of The Honky Tonk Man, Joey Styles, Chyna, The Sandman, Superstar Billy Graham, Jim Cornette, Sabu, Jake The Snake Roberts, Ted DiBiase and The Iron Sheik. Oliver's account of The Iron Sheik's Ring Roasts event has to be read to be believed - even if you've seen the highlights of it before on YouTube or elsewhere.
Oliver isn't afraid to criticize himself and his company, either. Not every Kayfabe Commentaries release went as planned, and some failed to draw big money. It's one thing to make mistakes, but the clear message here is that he was able to learn from his mistakes and move on.
While parts of the book are practically advertisements for Kayfabe's line of videos, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Oliver's business is to promote these productions and if he can do so by adding some background on the various titles as part of this -- no problem.
Overall Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! This is one of the most fun, entertaining reads in some time and in some respects, reminds me of Bill Apter's (excellent) biography Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken! Whether you're a regular viewer of the Kayfabe Commentaries videos, or you just want to hear some really fun dirt... this is a worthwhile read.