The Raw Interview - by Aaron Williams - From Raw Magazine
From "King of Memphis Wrestling" to the Federations's own "King of the One-Liners," Jerry Lawler has spent 30 years in the sports entertainment business as both a wrestler and a commentator. RAW Magazine was recently granted an audience with His Majesty to discuss his many experiences both in and out of the ring.
IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING
RAW MAGAZINE: How did you break into wrestling?
JERRY LAWLER: I actually got started through my artwork in 1969. I won a commercial art scholarship to Memphis State University, and while I was there I wound up drawing some caricatures of some different wrestlers who were wrestling in my hometown of Memphis. I sent them to the TV station that was broadcasting the matches. The promoters ended up showing the caricatures on the show, and called me up afterwards and asked me if I would mind doing that as a weekly thing - whenever they would do a recap of the matches at the Coliseum, I would draw a caricature of the match. After a while of that, they asked me to be on the show, and that was actually my first opportunity to meet some of the wrestlers. I was a wrestling fan and watched the matches. The best known wrestler of that area at the time was a guy named The Fabulous Jackie Fargo. He had a nightclub in town, and after seeing my artwork, he asked me to paint caricatures of him all throughout the club. He and I then formed a friendship, and I would travel with him sometimes. Finally, after about a year or so, I got up the courage to ask him if I could wrestle. I felt it was the most glamorous lifestyle you could ever imagine.
RAW: You started here in the Federation in 1993. How did that come about?
JERRY LAWLER: They approached me and asked me to come. At that time, when the WWF or WCW signed somebody, they signed them to exclusive contracts. Both companies were still in compition with the territories. Signing wrestlers to exclusive contracts left the smaller organizations with less and less talent. It also allowed the WWF and WCW to come back to that area with the established stars.
Now, I had a monetary investment in Memphis Championship Wrestling, and I certainly didn't want to see it go under. I knew that as long as I stayed wrestling in that territory we could stay in business. But if I had just pulled up the stake and gone to work for the WWF full time, it would have gone under. I think I was the first wrestler given a non-exclusive contract. In other words, I was allowed to come and work for the WWF and still work in my home territory. And that basically is the only reason I came here. Because even though it has been the best that ever happened to me, at that time, I probably still would have chosen to stay and take care of my own home territory.
RAW: Do you still wrestle in Memphis?
JERRY LAWLER: I still wrestle there on a weekly basis. And you know, it's funny what the majority of fans see is WWF television. Live events that aren't on TV aren't as frequent anymore. But I still wrestle for the WWF, with the exception of the televised shows. So most of the people think I don't wrestle anymore, when the fact is not only do I wrestle in Memphis, but I also wrestle for the WWF in the house shows that aren't televised.
RAW: Would you like to wrestle on TV?
JERRY LAWLER: I've been wanting to talk to Vince, because I'd like to. I get a ton of E-mails, and 80 percent ask "Why don't you wrestle?" I'd like to do both.
You know I was probably the first one ever to combine TV commentating and wrestling. I actually commentated my own match. I started in the ring and with the mic and called the entire match. One match was against Aldo Montoya and one was with the Ultimate Warrior. It was so funny. In the middle of the match, I pulled out a piece of paper and announced, "Will the owner of a 1973 Ford Pinto License number whatever, please move your car. You're not blocking anybody, it just looks like crap." So things like that went on, and it was just hilarious. It was an opportunity to have fun.
RAW: Do you have WWF talent wrestle for you in Memphis?
JERRY LAWLER: Absolutely, that's the great thing about it. I think Vince has realized the value of having some of those organizations in existence, because it's a place where you can groom new talent and also let talent rest out of an area. The WWF has a lot of guys under contract, and it's just impossible to use each and every one on every show. So there are certain guys who maybe have been featured for a while and you know the saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder. You can take them out of the publice eye for a while and then bring them back whenever you want to. Currently we have about 12 that are down there under contract to the WWF. Down there they can work on a nightly basis getting valuable experience, doing TV interviews and matches. So it works well for everybody involved.
RAW: When you were in Memphis before coming to the WWF, did you do commentary? And how did it come about that you did commentary here?
JERRY LAWLER: I didn't. I just wrestled. We had and we still have a show every Saturday morning. I just wrestled. But I also had my own show on Sunday mornings, THE JERRY LAWLER SHOW. It ran from the mid 80s to nearly 1990.
I started doing commentary when I first came here. That's what they hired me to do. I was on with Vince and Randy Savage. I basically took Bobby Heenan's place. Then, after a while, it went to just Vince and myself, and then to myself and Jim Ross. And then, SmackDown! came about. I was told that they wanted me to be two different annouce teams. J.R. and I were to be exclusive RAW, and Michael Cole and another announcer were to do SmackDown!. I remember the very first week they came to me and told me that they hadn't found another color commentator, and asked if I could do it for a few weeks. Well, suffice to say, one year later and I'm still here.
RAW: Where do all your one-liners come from?
JERRY LAWLER: I get a lot of e-mails from people asking where I get all this stuff from and if it comes off the top of my head. Well yes, it does come off the top of my head, but I'd by lying if I said I made all that stuff up. I have read or heard any number of one-liners or insults over the years, and I've been able to retain a lot of them.
RAW: Do you ever ask J.R. or Michael Cole to set you up?
JERRY LAWLER: Absolutely never. And a lot of people believe that happens. But never have I said to J.R. "You say this so I can say this." or to Michael Cole, "Hey, set me up with this," I'm fortunate enough to be able to just play off those guys. I feel like I would be imposing on them if I said "Hey, set me up with this line," because I know they have enough to think about doing the play-by-play.
RAW: Are you having as much fun out there as it sounds like you're having?
JERRY LAWLER: When I'm laughing, I'm enjoying myself. You know, so many of us in this business take working here for granted, but there are literally millions of people who would give their right arm to trade places with us. I'd be lying if I didn't say that sometimes it feels like going to work at a 9-5 job, and sometimes I have to reach back and come up with something to make it fun and entertaining.
I think that's the difference betweeen our product and what the other wrestling organizations puts on. I think sometimes they forget to try and make it entertaining. You can only see so many wrestling moves. There are only so many moves and so many matches, but I think the commentary goes so far in making a match. More often than not, it's the difference between a match being really entertaining or just another match.
RAW: Do you always consciously try to play the heel?
JERRY LAWLER: I don't always try and be for the heels, but I've always gone under the belief that if you have two people doing the same thing, then you don't need one of them. So if J.R. is singing the praises of Jericho, then it's redundant if I sing the praises of Jericho. I also feel that is brings out the emotion in J.R. and Michael Cole if I play the devil's advocate and take the adversary role against them. I think it keeps them on their toes. I think it puts them more solidly in the corner of the fan favorie and puts them more on guard because of what I'm saying, so I don't get one up on them.
RAW: So is there a "match" going on between you and J.R. and Michael Cole?
JERRY LAWLER: Exactly. And that's part of the entertainment that we provide.Wrestling is all about the conflicts of good versus evil. I think that has to carry over from what people see in the ring to what they hear from the commentators. I think they want that conflict; they want that agitation. That is entertaining to the viewer.
RAW: Do you ever find yourself thinking : "I can't say this"?
JERRY LAWLER: I think I probably am less over-the-edge than some of the stuff is said. I try to be funny and not necessarily off-color. I don't cuss. I do try to do things that have double meanings. But it's all kind of harmless.
RAW: Have the changes in wrestling over the years helped keep your interest in the business?
JERRY LAWLER: Well, you know what, [years ago we] occasionally did insider stuff like you see now. I don't like to take credit for stuff, but I was the first one to call someone a "jabroni" on tv. The jabroni used to be a term for a guy who wasn't very good and would show up week in and week out and just get beat on tv. I'll never forget one week on tv in Memphis, I called a guy a jabroni. And when I got back to the locker room, the promoter yelled at me. I said, "What difference does it make?" But anyway, I just started calling guys "jabroni" and it really caught on in the Memphis area. And this was in 1976 or 1977. So that kind of stuff had been done. I mean the business has changed, but it's still the same in a lot of respects. What changes about the businessis the fans. You get new fans all the time. And just because things have been done before doesn't mean that these new fans have seen it. And that is what's great about this business.
Fans' attention spans are shorter than they used to be. So you have to cater to shorter attention spans. They also like the humor, and it's an insult to fans to take yourself to seriously.
One thing we really try to do is tell a story during a match. You want the match to tell a story, but if it can't do it by itself, then the announcers are there to fill in the blanks. I think that's where me, J.R. and Cole work well together. You don't have to call every single move. People can see what's happening. You want to be conversational and entertaining. You want to talk about the story behind the match. That's where J.R. is the best. He has the emotion. He has that rapport with the Superstars.
RAW: You ran for Mayor of Memphis in 1999. What was that experience like?
JERRY LAWLER: Most people know that Memphis is my hometown. For the past 30 years I've been one of the most highly recognized figures in that city. It's hard for me to put my finger on how exactly I got into that race. It was a combination of being talked into it and wanting to see how well I could do. In the beginning, I don't know how much it involved me actually wanting to be the Mayor of the city. It evolved into that, where I really wanted to win, but by the same token I had so many second thoughts. I'm thinking, "Oh my God, what if I wake up and I'm the mayor of the 18th largest city in the U.S.? What am I going to do?" I certainly feel that I could have done the job. But I look back and wonder whether I would have been happy doing the job. Of course, if I really would have been able to help people and change direction of the city and improve things, then that would have made it worthwhile.
RAW: Have you worked or do you have interests outside the wrestling business?
JERRY LAWLER: I play football and softball. I majored in art and minored in radio and television. I worked as a disc jockey while I was training to wrestle. I've also sung. I actually have a CD out, and I've been involved with about nine different albums. The CD has a little bit of everything.
RAW: Are we going to see you singing in the WWF?
JERRY LAWLER: I doubt it, but it's just one of the doors that being in wrestling has opened up for me over the years. I've had a great time, and it's given me a lot of opportunities to do things I probably never would have gotten the chance to do.
RAW: Have you thought about what you might do after your sports-entertainment career is over?
JERRY LAWLER: I don't necessarily look that far ahead. I enjoy what I'm doing now. One thing I sometimes think about doing is somthing that pertains to my artwork. That's something that I put on the back burner when I started wrestling. But I have no intentions of slowing down. I enjoy what I'm doing and I like that pace.