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The Clown and Wrestling Connection

I'd like to wrap up last week's riff on the clown and wrestling connection by bringing it full circle.

Last week I wrote about Orange Cassidy as the modern standard of comedy in pro wrestling.

Then I cited Dean Malenko vs. Eddie Guerrero in 1995 to illustrate the subtle and overt storytelling techniques employed in my platonic ideal of a wrestling match.

And now, let's see "Freshly Squeezed" Orange Cassidy vs. "The Bastard" Pac at AEW Revolution 2020.

The story of this match, OC's first match in All Elite Wrestling: "He's gonna try."

Watching this live felt like a watershed moment in Pro Wrestling for me and my hyper specific niche of comedy nerd wrestling fans. Here we see an original comedic premise being embraced and given life by the fans in attendance.

As OC and Pac square off, the crowd is already chanting "Holy Shit!" They're on board with OC's bit, and they're playing into the absurdity.

The unchanging bit for every OC appearance on AEW TV up until (and past) this point is his signature taunt: he lifts his hands high, before shoving them in his pockets. The audience vocalizes their anticipation of the move like they're watching a high wire circus act.

Pac grabs OC's wrists. No more jokes, no more bits. This sets off a chain of wrestling holds that ends with OC evading, countering and flipping Pac on his back. Pac plays this moment, and the whole match as OC's pissed-off foil to perfection. Stunned, bewildered, enraged to be bested by this joke of a wrestler, he is Daffy Duck to OC's Bugs Bunny.

This is when business would normally pick up. Pac lunges with a clothesline, OC ducks. He should be running to the ropes, but he takes one soft step. They slowly turn to face each other again. Barely anything has happened. The audience chants and claps: "This is awesome." Do you know how much work wrestlers normally have to do to get the audience to chant like that?

If "hands in pockets" is OC's Number 1 bit, "Kicks of doom" is 1B. Lightly tapping at Pac's shins with his feet as the audience reacts like witnessing bloody murder. And for the first time, in a transcendent comedic moment, Pac retaliates in kind. The audience is whipping themselves into a frenzy, playing into a new reality.

Pac shoves OC to the mat. OC awkwardly, slowly returns to standing. Pac whips OC into the ropes. OC ducks two clotheslines and avoids a back body drop with a handless rolling dive, gets up, dropkicks Pac to the floor, kips up and spins to pose to the camera. The crowd goes wild! OC is on the offensive. He runs the ropes again, counters Pac's hip toss with a lucha libre armdrag. His hands are still in his pockets!

It's the ideal star-making, tone-setting performance for OC's first match. Seconds later, Pac flips OC and slams our hero's back down onto The Bastard's knee. This sets in motion a different rhythm that plays for most of this match. Pac systematically dismantles Orange Cassidy, but can't put the underdog away.

Clown is casually thrown around as something derisive, a dismissal. "This clown doesn't know what he's doing." But like wrestling, clowning an art that transcends when the performers handle the technique to a masterful degree. The choreography is invisible to an audience that hasn't been smartened up to the storytelling scaffolding.

A big reason why OC works so well as a character is because his character creates sympathy and intrigue, but he then puts on killer matches that aren't reliant on his bits. He is consistently putting on technically sound, captivating matches. His original, endearing character comedy is the seasoning that makes him unforgettable.

I guess this is where we have to talk about "selling." It's wrestler speak for, how do I put this, selling the reality of the story. When these guys are performing the idea of punching each other, they sell the punch by acting hurt. When they slam each other on their backs, they twist their faces and put their hands on their necks and say "ahhh!" That's selling danger, the pain, the agony.

The combination of the comedy at the top of the match, plus Orange Cassidy selling the hell out of Pac's brutal offense for the following ten minutes creates the perfect environment for the crowd to eat up one final signature comedic underdog subversion at the match's crescendo:

It's a clown bit, so much so that even Pac as the spiteful Authority Clown, the sketch comedy Straight Man, has to acknowledge the standing ovation. It's even a bit of character-based observational humor for the wrestling nerd. "Yeah, why doesn't anybody just roll out of the ring like that?"

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