Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock might have been the two biggest names in wrestling in the 1990s, but neither can claim to be the first ever WWE Undisputed Champion. That distinction goes to Chris Jericho, who used his quick wit and ring savvy to regularly steal the show during his time in the WWE, as well as the other two major wrestling promotions.
Having accomplished everything he ever dreamt of in the squared circle, Jericho is now trying to break the walls down in the entertainment industry. When not touring with his band Fozzy or working on his autobiography, Jericho can routinely be seen on VH1 shows like I Love the 80s and The Best Week Ever and at The Groundlings show, Cookin’ With Gas.
He recently took time out of his hectic schedule to talk about his experiences in the ring, life after wrestling and the severe lack of midgets in the business today.
Before we get into everything, let’s go back to the very beginning. What drew you into professional wrestling initially, and how did you break into the business?
I got into wrestling because I was a big fan of it as a kid. I used to watch it with my grandmother. And I kind of decided when I was 14 this was what I wanted to do. So I went to train with the Hart brothers pro wrestling camp in Calgary, which was about 12 hours away from Winnipeg, where I grew up in Canada. That was Bret Hart’s father and that’s where a lot of the guys trained – Chris Benoit, Brian Pillman, a lot of guys like that.
They had a show called Stampede Wrestling, which I was a big fan of, and at the end of every show they’d have an address up on the screen saying, “If you want to be a wrestler, write to this address.” So, I did and they said, “When you’re 18, you can come train.” So that’s what I set my sites on since I was 15. When I graduated from high school, I was 17 and still too young to go to wrestling school, so I went to college for a couple of years, basically to kill the time until I was old enough. Then, when I was 19, I left home and went to school and that’s basically how it was done.
You worked for each of the “big three” (WWF, WCW and ECW) during wrestling’s boom in the 90s. What was it like to be involved in wrestling during that time and what was it like working for each company?
You used the slang of the “big three,” I’m not even privy to that. You know more than I do. I wasn’t even aware of the “big three.” I did work for the big three. It was great.
ECW was the first time I really had a job nationally in the states and it was a real almost like cult atmosphere in the way that people treated it as fans and the way the wrestlers treated it just being part of the company. Everybody was really dedicated to it and they really gave 100 percent in their belief to the company and to their matches. It didn’t matter if there were 300 people there or 200 people there, the show was always quality and it was an almost Japanese style of wrestling in the fact that the matches were very hard hitting.
Moving to WCW was more of a show-business kind or era. The NWO era, with Hogan and all of those guys. And being a good wrestler was almost secondary and that’s kind of how it was for me there in the fact that you can only get to a certain level and you would never crack through the ranks to meet up with guys like Hogan, Savage, Hall and Nash and those type of guys. It was a great place for older guys who had made their money to be, but not for a younger guy who wanted to make a name for himself.
That’s why I made the jump to go to the WWF, take a chance and jump over there, and that’s what I did and working there in the prime time when Austin, The Rock, Jericho, Undertaker and Foley and all these guys who are no longer there anymore were at their peak was not only a great experience as a performer, but also for the fans as well. It was kind of almost the golden age for wrestling for our generation and it would be hard to top that just because the amount of originality in the talent and the amount of originality in the characters and performers, I can’t see that being matched anytime soon.
You were the first-ever undisputed WWE Champion, beating Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in a tournament. Where does that accomplishment rank for you personally?
I have a list of accomplishments that I think are major for me. When I first started, all I wanted to do was be the WWF Intercontinental Champion. I did that seven times. I stole the show at Wrestlemania 19 with Shawn Michaels, I was Tag Team Champion, European Champion, Midget Champion … every kind of championship you could have in the WWF, I had it. But to win the Undisputed Championship was obviously top three in my all time accomplishments because it was like winning an Oscar. That’s what being a world champion is like. All of the emphasis and the hat is kind of hung on you, so to speak, to become the Undisputed Champion and to win in that way, beating Rock and Stone Cold in the same night, nobody could ever do that, nobody will ever do that again. It’s like winning an Oscar in my field – only it’s unparalleled in that it can’t be duplicated.
What are some of your favorite moments in the ring? What matches or angles stand out the most?
Like I said, stealing the show at Wrestlemania 19 was a great moment with Shawn Michaels. There were tons, I was very proud of Trish Stratus-Christian love triangle because I wrote most of that story. The same thing when Steve Austin got fired by Eric Bischoff, that was about a six month story that started with me and Austin that I had a lot of input in. I’m very proud of my final program with John Cena that I had before I left. I had a lot of emphasis on that storyline as well. There’s so much stuff. I definitely did more than I ever thought I would and I have no regrets about anything in my career and there’s really nothing I didn’t do.
Talk to us a little bit about the WWE’s grueling travel schedule. How many days out of the year would you say you were on the road and how much of a physical and mental toll does it all take on you?
That’s one of the reasons I took a break from wrestling. Mentally, it was much more taxing than physically. To be on the road four or five days a week, every week, it never stops, no holidays, no Christmas break, no nothing, it gets you after a while. The 10 or 15 minutes that you are actually in the ring, that’s a blast, but all of the traveling you have to do to get there is very difficult. You leave your house Friday morning, you land at an airport, you rent a car, you drive to the building, you do the show, you drive to the next town, Saturday’s the same thing, Sunday is the next thing, Monday you maybe have to fly to where Raw is and then fly home on Tuesday. You get Wednesday, Thursday off, then you’re back on it again on Friday. And that’s not even if you go internationally. It’s taxing because of all of the travel and you definitely get a little bit callous towards it, but there’s only so much you can take. After 15 years of doing it, it was really starting to wear on me and it was time for me to get away for a while.
Do you see yourself coming back at some point?
Well, I never said I was going to retire and I don’t have any specific timeline as to when I would come back. Who knows? As of right now, I’ve been working on so many other things and I’ve got so many other projects that I really haven’t had time to think about going back. And, like I said, I don’t miss the business right now because I’ve done everything in it and when I watch the shows, there’s really nothing there that makes me feel like, “Wow, I’m being left out. I really need to get back on Raw tomorrow and still be one of the best guys on the roster and still have one of the best matches of the night after not having wrestled for 12, 13, 14 months.” It’s just a matter of knowing your abilities and knowing because of the experiences I had to get there that there’s really not a lot of people that can overpass me, even at this point in time.
How much wrestling do you watch? Do you still keep up with the programs?
I don’t watch a lot of the shows, but I still keep up with what’s going on through the Internet and I watch the odd show here or there. I’m still a wrestling fan. I can’t watch it as a pure fan anymore after working in the business so long, but I’m still curious to see whose doing good and who the new guys are because that’s the most important thing. In wrestling you have to have a turn around in talent and have guys on the show who will be the guys to carry things in the future. Sometimes you see that and sometimes you don’t.
If you were to take over as president and owner of a wrestling company, such as WWE, ECW or TNA, what would be your first decision? How would you run your company?
That’s hard to say because running a wrestling company as it is would be almost impossible. You have to be willing to lose millions of dollars to even get it up and running. I mean, I have so much money that I just throw it away anyways, but to spend that kind of money on a wrestling company is really hard. It’s hard to say. There are always things that you think you could do better. I think it would be very hard to run a wrestling company, I don’t even know where I would start. I’d hire a bunch of midgets because midget wrestling needs to make a big comeback in the year 2007.
We completely agree with that. There is not nearly enough midget wrestling around today.
There’s not enough, there’s just not enough. There are still just as many midgets, but there’s just not enough midget wrestling. And I think that’s part of the reason why wrestling is in a little bit of a downswing right now. That and a lack of Lithuanians in the business. It’s a crime.
Why don’t you think there are more Lithuanians? Is there a factor contributing to that?
It has to do with the whole Lithuania mafia scandal of 20 years ago and Rasputin still has his tentacles in there and Elvis is involved.
Once you decided to take a break, how tough was the transition from wrestling to acting? We’ve seen before, with guys like Hulk Hogan, that being a huge wrestling star doesn’t necessarily translate into an acting career. Is it completely starting over?
Of course it’s starting over. I think one of the things with Hogan was he probably walked in thinking he’s going to be at the big level, but I don’t have that attitude at all. I’m happy starting at the bottom and working my way up because I did it once before. Anytime you start something you haven’t done before, you have to put a lot of work into it and a lot of time into it but one of the reasons why I left wrestling was because I had so many projects that were going that just needed a little bit more time to take it to the next level.
With Fozzy, we toured England five times last year, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Germany, Canada, the world and elsewhere. All of these opportunities wouldn’t have taken place if I didn’t have the time to do that. Same thing with the stuff I’ve been doing in Los Angeles. I did a pilot for the USA Network, and I did a play in Toronto this summer. I did a movie for the SciFi Channel. I’ve got three other projects on the burner that are going, working on a book that I did, I have a radio show, I’m working on a couple of other things that I don’t want to say, but they’re really cool. So, there are always things going on that if you have the time to spend on them, you can make it happen. And that’s what I’m going to do, Cap’n Jericho. The captain is going to make it happen, that’s what I say.
You mentioned Fozzy. For people who may not be familiar with Fozzy –
Who is not familiar with Fozzy?
There might be someone out there.
They’d just be strung up, hung and quartered, I say.
Well, on the off chance that one of the Lithuanian midgets perhaps hasn’t heard of Fozzy, can you talk a little bit about the band and how it was started.
I’ve been playing music a lot longer than I’ve been wrestling. I was playing in bands when I was 12 years old. I always played in bands, even when I started wrestling. I had a band called Great Caesar’s Ghost, I had a band called Mr. Filthy, and I hooked up with Rich Ward, the guitar player from Stuck Mojo about six years ago, almost seven years ago now, and we just decided to put together a band and play some of our favorite cover songs that we liked when we were growing up.
That’s kind of how it all started. We got a record deal from those two shows that we did, sight unseen and sound unheard and that’s how we started out. We started out basically as a cover band and playing some songs that we dug, but we always played some originals. Then the more we played, the more we realized that we had a chance to do something more. So we started writing our own stuff and our third record came out a couple of years ago called All That Remains and that was our first all original record and that really took off for us and took us to a lot of places and helped us build the name of the band.
You show up on VH1 a lot these days, both on The Best Week Ever and the I Love … shows. How did you get involved with that and what is it like filming those shows?
They asked me to do I Love the 80s Part Duex or 80s Strike Back or whatever the hell it was called and I just had a real affinity to remember information, which on that show is the idea. I did the first one and they just kept coming out with I Love the 70s, I Love the 70s Part Two and I Love the 90s Part Three and I Love 1935, I mean the Prohibition Era was awesome. They came up with all of these different ideas – The Best Week Ever, I Love the Holidays, Super Secret Movie Rules, etc etc etc. They kept calling me and I kept showing up and spewing out a bunch of useless crap and the next thing you know I have a second job.
Do you ever think we are going to get to a point where there are too many of these shows?
They’ve kind of painted themselves in a corner because they’ve done 70s, 80s and 90s. I guess in three years we can do I Love the 2000s, which you know they will. The thing is, they’re such a hit that every network has them now – Bravo, E! Network. But, it’s okay, it keeps talentless hacks like me in work. So I don’t think there’s too many of those shows. I wish there was more of them.
How do they films those? What is the process like?
They give you a list of topics that you’re going to talk about, but they don’t show you any clips or anything like that. You just go in there and go completely off memory and just do some improv comedy.
We know that you’ve actually been doing a lot of improv comedy.
Great segue, right?
You’ve been working with The Groundlings in the improv show Cookin’ With Gas. How did you get involved with that?
Cookin’ With Gas is a show The Groundlings doing every Thursday night in Los Angeles. I did an episode of Mad TV and the producer was an ex-Groundling. Those of you who don’t know who The Groundlings are, the same people who don’t know who Fozzy is, should be hung up, shot and have their ballsack ripped off and then stitched back on again. Will Ferrell was a Groundling, Phil Hartman, Cheri Oteri, just this list of all of these tremendously funny comedians all came from this improvisational comedy troop called The Groundlings. So they asked me to come and do a show with them. I did it, as soon as I was done, they asked me to come back and I’ve been working with them regularly for eight months now. I’m an honorary Groundling.
Was the improv pretty easy for you to pick up?
Working with those guys is like working with some of the best comedians that there is in the world. It was a little bit hard at first just getting used to how they do things. I improved for years in the WWE. Sometimes I’d stand with The Rock for 20 minutes talking after the show making jokes and stuff. But there are a few things you have to learn and a couple of tricks you have to know and once I kind of figured those out, it’s been great. It’s a great ice breaker and a great eye opener for people to know that Chris Jericho is a Groundling. It’s definitely a good way for me to build my name over the last year outside of all of the other things I’ve been doing as well.
Where do you see your career headed? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see it go?
My acting has been really coming along and I’ve been getting a lot more opportunities, a lot more jobs. You’ve just got to spend the time to make it happen. Now that it’s starting to go, I think you’ll see me doing a lot more stuff over the next year or so. Also, I’m really looking forward to doing a new Fozzy record with a great new lineup that we have. Those are the two major things. Then my book when it comes out should be really good. I just finally handed in the final draft. If that goes the way that I’m expecting it to go, I think it’s going to be a great story. And, like I said, there’s a bunch of other things I’ve been doing. If I didn’t think there was a chance of something big happening, I wouldn’t waste my time doing something. You wouldn’t see my trying out to be the center for the Detroit Red Wings because it’s probably not going to happen. Although, I could go out there and do it if I wanted to. But, it’s good to try things that you know you have a chance of doing well. There’s nothing wrong with having dreams, but don’t set your dreams too far outside of your realm.
Your book – what can people expect out of that and what is it going to focus on?
It focuses on my career and my journey to reach the WWF from basically 1990 to 1999, and all the time I spent training in the Hart dungeon and traveling the world – Mexico, Germany, Japan, the deep South, the cold North and everything in between.
What was the writing process like for you? Did you enjoy going back and remembering all of these events from your past?
It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. It took me about a year to get everything done and ready to go. And, it’s still not finished. It’s the first draft that’s been handed in. It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, but nobody else could have done it the way that I did it, so I had to do it and I’m glad that I wrote it. I feel like I just gave birth.
What do you do to unwind? What kind of hobbies do you have?
Just playing music, spending a lot of time with my family. I work so much that when I’m at home, I really don’t work a lot. Most of my hobbies are my job. I’m lucky that way.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
That I totally rock. And I love chickens. Chickens are great, man. I have a couple chickens at home for pets. And I just really love lacrosse – favorite sport. And I love the color mauve.
You think most people don’t know that you rock?
Just in case. I just thought I’d get it out there. Make it known.
We’ve got one last thing for you here. We are going to do a word association. We’ll just throw out a name and tell us the first thing that comes to your mind.
Lay it on me, brother.
Used to hate him, now I like him.
The Strangler Lewis loophole.
(Laughs.) One of the best bits I did in the history of my wrestling career.
Greatest showman in the history of anything.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. For more information on Chris Jericho, visit his official website.