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'Vince McMahon is a genius... He used to ring me at 4am all the time'

Former WWE writer and star Bruce Prichard chats to The42 about his career in wrestling.

Bruce Prichard, a veteran of the professional wrestling business, hosts a podcast that gets almost half a million weekly listeners.
Bruce Prichard, a veteran of the professional wrestling business, hosts a podcast that gets almost half a million weekly listeners.
Image: Picasa

BRUCE PRICHARD HAS loved professional wrestling for pretty much as long as he can remember.

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, he fell in love with the business after attending a local show in the late 1960s at the age of four.

His first memory is of watching the legendary Funk family, Dory Sr, Dory Jr and the latter’s brother Terry fighting The Infernos managed by JC Dykes.

“I remember those very first images and realising at that point in time I wanted to be a wrestler,” he tells The42. “So when we moved to Houston, we just hung around whoever we could as much as we could. I started selling posters when I was 10 years old at the Sam Houston Coliseum and worked my way up from there.”

Prichard worked with wrestling promoter Paul Boesch in Texas, undertaking a variety of roles including ring announcer and referee before he hit his teens. His dream, however, was always to be a performer.

A 1980s wrestling boom saw Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (or World Wrestling Entertainment as it is now known) become the pre-eminent company in the business, with Boesch subsequently selling his Houston territory to the WWF.

This move led to Prichard joining McMahon’s company. And while the young Texan initially worked as a commentator, he would gain fame and notoriety in some quarters after creating the character of Brother Love, a red-faced preacher with a thick southern-American accent and a distinctive white suit.

The character, Prichard explains, was inspired by the then-ubiquitous televangelists he used to watch while growing up in Texas.

They would set up tents in the parking lot,” he says. “These evangelists would come in and preach for three or four days, take all the money out of town and move on to the next one.

“But I was always intrigued by the way that they could captivate an audience. I just loved to study that and kind of develop my own character, which later got its name, his own show and got to be famous.”

Source: WWE/YouTube

The character’s appearance created controversy, however. Brother Love’s emergence roughly coincided with a real-life scandal involving one of the most famous televangelists of the era, Jim Bakker, who was accused of raping Jessica Hahn, a church secretary at the time.

The scandal prompted Bakker’s resignation from the ministry while he was subsequently imprisoned for accounting fraud in 1989, before being granted parole in 1994 and later returning to televangelism.

Many people at the time belived Prichard and the WWF were capitalising on the Bakker scandal, but as he points out, Brother Love made his television debut weeks before the initial revelations involving Hahn broke.

Fearful of alienating a substantial proportion of their audience, Prichard and the WWF avoided alluding specifically to religion or God, and instead created a character who preached “the word of love”. The character would frequently interview wrestlers on his show, supporting ‘heels’ (bad guys) and taunting ‘faces’ (good guys).

Source: KingHillerz/YouTube

He also served as the first manager of The Undertaker, then known as Kane the Undertaker, as the character made his debut on 19 November 1990 during a WWF Superstars of Wrestling show. Did Prichard have any inkling at the time that the star, whose real name is Mark Calaway, would ultimately become one of the most iconic figures in the business?

“I think you’d like to say: ‘Yeah, you saw it all along.’ I thought he had all the tools necessary to be a mega superstar,” he says.

We took the gamble with him and it paid off, but all that credit goes to Mark Calaway.”

Prichard’s first stint in the WWF between 1988 and 1991 coincided with professional wrestling enjoying unprecedented popularity, with characters such as Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage becoming global stars.

Anytime you’re part of something that explodes in that way, it’s a hell of a kick in the butt. The energy you get from it is tremendous, it’s unlike anything. If you’ve ever done drugs, you want to get high, but the best high in the world is that kind of energy and that kind of success when everything around you is taking off. That was a really great time in the business.”

Yet the high ended all too swiftly for Prichard, as he was fired following a disagreement with the powers that be.

I thought I was pretty much invincible. Vince (McMahon) had brought in a gentleman to be the executive producer, which meant there would now be someone in between me and Vince.

“I chose not to get along with him and not to play nice. Vince chose him over me and I learned a really difficult lesson.

It was simply a case of immaturity and not really wanting to work with anybody and thinking I would be able to get away with it. I didn’t and learned a great lesson moving forward.

“It was purely down to me not playing well with others at the time and being immature.”

Brother Love, at least, went out with a bang, as the Ultimate Warrior destroyed The Brother Love Show set and beat him to a pulp, much to fans’ delight, as this much-loathed character finally got his comeuppance.

Prichard had a short stint in the Dallas-based Global Wrestling Federation, before being given a second chance by the WWF in 1993.

The new characters he tested out such as The Wizard and Reo Rodgers never really took off, while Brother Love would only be revived sporadically over the years, appearing in the gimmick battle royal at WrestleMania X-Seven among other occasions.

Trump Wrestling WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, centre, held by Stone Cold Steve Austin, prepares to have his hair cut off by Donald Trump, left, and Bobby Lashley, right, after Lashley defeated Umaga at Wrestlemania 23 in 2007. Prichard describes McMahon as "tough but fair". Source: Carlos Osorio

Yet it was behind the scenes where Prichard arguably enjoyed his biggest success. During his second stint at the WWF/WWE, he helped create characters and come up with storylines for shows as part of the creative team, which has since expanded into a large group of writers but at the time featured only a small coterie of McMahon’s most trusted allies, including Prichard and Pat Patterson.

The dream was to always be a wrestler and be the guy in the ring performing,” he says. “But as I got older, Paul Boesch told me: ‘The money is in the office and you don’t have to take any bumps.’ So I stayed in the office, I had my time in front of the camera as well, but probably enjoyed most of my time behind the scenes.

“For the longest time, (the creative team) was kept small and intimate.

The more cooks you have in the kitchen, the more difficult it is to make the soup. We kept it tight. But as it was then and always has been through every incarnation of creative at the WWE, Vince McMahon is going to have the final say in things. With all that being said you could have other assorted writers of the day come in, but the bottom line is it still has to go through Vince.

“He still has to bless it or not accept it. So it’s just natural evolution. Things change and things grow and you can either be a part of it or not.”

A controversial and divisive figure who is as admired by his supporters as he is despised by his detractors, McMahon is still going strong aged 71. He currently serves as the majority owner, chairman, and CEO of the WWE, having taking over the business from his father in the early 1980s.

McMahon has been characterised as an obsessive intent on making his business as powerful as possible, the individual whose car is always the first in during the morning at the WWE offices and the last to leave at night. Prichard agrees with this depiction, calling his former boss “tough but fair”.

It was extremely intense with Vince McMahon — you were always on,” he recalls.

“There is no downtime. And so 24/7, you’re on call all the time and you are always thinking about the business.

You’re always thinking about what is next. You’ve got to be prepared for that phone call all the time. It never ends.”

Did McMahon ever ring him at 4am in the middle of the night?

All the time,” he says. “Sometimes it would be for the craziest of reasons. You would just sit there and go: ‘What the hell?’ But I’m sure for him it made an awful lot of sense. But it could be crazy sometimes.

“I go back to being at home and getting a phone call at roughly 2.30 or 3 in the morning. Vince was waking me up out of my sleep because he was watching a show by the name of ‘Wrestling Spotlight’ on the Madison Square Garden network at 2.30 in the morning.

Spotlight was probably our C or D show. It was a hodgepodge show. They went into the markets, they had everything else, they still just wanted another show.

“Madison Square Garden network put it on at odd hours just to fill some time. The odds of Vince watching Madison Square Garden network or the odds of Vince watching Spotlight ever were slim to none.

On this occasion, he happened to be up, happened to be watching it and wanted to know why (announcer) Gene Okerlund was wearing sunglasses in an interview with Demolition.

“It was a generic interview, one of thousands. And I had no answer. And he’s like: ‘Well find out.’ ‘Okay, I’ll find out in the morning.’ And we went on from there.”

He continues: “I do think he’s a genius and when you work with someone like that, that’s what you do. That’s the reality of the game.

“You accept it and you move on. If you don’t want to be on call 24/7, do something else.”

The 3rd Annual Sports Humanitarian of The Year Awards - Los Angeles There was tension between Prichard and Stephanie McMahon when they worked together as part of the WWE's creative team. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the pressure and the regular phone calls in the middle of the night, a disillusioned Prichard eventually left WWE in 2008. By this point, McMahon’s daughter Stephanie had been given a prominent role in the creative team, and Prichard has spoken at length about the tensions that existed between him and the owner’s daughter, who ultimately made the call to release him from the company.

Hindsight’s 20:20 and you can go back and look at things any way that you really choose to,” he says.

“I was burnt out, I was absolutely fried. I was involved in another business at the time with a friend of mine and I guess I was looking at everything as ‘I don’t have to be here’.

But I also look at it like I could have made that work too if it was up to me. You have a choice in life to get along and to make things work or not.

“Sometimes those choices are harder and sometimes you’re put in an impossible position.

I think I was put in a little bit of an impossible position, but at the same time, it is what it is, and they chose not to have me there anymore. And I moved on.”

The most important quality to have in order to be part of the WWE creative team, Prichard adds, is patience.

You have to be able to check your ego at the door — we all have egos. But you have to be able to put your brain, put your heart, put everything out on the table, and be willing to have it just stomped on and spit on by everyone in the room. You have to have thick skin and lose what I call pride of authorship.

“If you have an idea and that’s the only way you see it, then this isn’t the business for you. But if you’re willing to let other people (have a say) in your ideas, massage them better, twist them and turn them, then that’s good.”

Being able to work under severe pressure, given the multitude of strong personalities, last-minute changes to the show and various other obstacles is also surely a key to succeeding in the job?

“Without doubt, because you’ve got guys that get hurt, you’ve got people who work, it all comes in.”

Hulk Hogan Semi-retired professional wrestler, actor, television personality and entrepreneur Hulk Hogan at the press conference, 15 May 2013 to announce TNA Impact Wrestling in Las Vegas. Source: DPA/PA Images

Since the departing WWE, Prichard has had two stints with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. He initially worked with them from 2010 to 2013, before a return to the company, now known as Impact Wrestling, was announced back in March.

The original time I spent with TNA was night and day compared with the WWE,” he recalls. “The stress level was much less, it was more of a laidback atmosphere, it was just a completely different mindset and I never really understood or found out what business TNA wanted to be in.

“With the new owners, with Anthem Sports & Entertainment, there’s a definitive direction. They know what they want to do, they want to be in the TV business, they want to provide programming and they want to promote live events.

So there’s a clear direction and clear path as to what it is they want to do. This time it’s a lot more organised. I don’t have anything to do in the administrative end of things, which is a huge relief. I can come in, do my talent work and go home.”

Prichard, who calls Shawn Michaels the most talented wrestler he has ever come across but adds that The Undertaker is his “favourite,” has also recently got involved in the podcasting business. The 54-year-old’s show, ‘Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard,’ has almost half a million weekly listeners, while at least one of the episodes has been downloaded over a million times, something which he admits scarcely seemed imaginable 12 months ago.

We wouldn’t be having this conversation a year ago,” he adds. “I had no desire to do a podcast, I wasn’t even really sure what one was. But once I was convinced to do it, I had a lot of fun with it. It’s been successful, arguably the number one wrestling podcast in the world at the moment with the amount of downloads we get weekly.”

However, professional wrestling is and always will be Prichard’s number one passion, the business he derives the most satisfaction from.

The best thing about wrestling for me from a creative standpoint is being able to see your ideas come to life, being able to have something in your head that makes it to a piece of paper, that makes it to a TV screen, that makes it to having people actually portray it. That’s a kick!”

Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard Live in Dublin takes place in the Woolshed Baa & Grill on Parnell Street this evening. For more info, click here.

You can also visit his official website here.

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