Enjoy the following CF columns...
Half Luck, Half Skul: How to be a Commentator
Oct 18, 2013 - 9:42:24 PM
A Sharp Shooting Short - Bray Wyatt Is Doomed, Unless...
REQUESTING FLYBY #47: The Rise and Stall of Dolph Ziggler (Redux)
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die ~ #6
I was nervous. It was my first official day as a WWE employee, and though years of study in the field of broadcast journalism and a lifetime of professional wrestling fandom should have thoroughly prepared me, I felt as though I had been asked to land an airplane. As I entered headquarters, finding the situation more and more surreal, a receptionist directed me to the third floor. I approached the fourth door on the left and knocked.
I entered to find Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole sitting at a very large table. Lawler saw me approach and quickly readjusted the positioning of the fast food he was eating, quite obviously ensuring that the logos were fully visible to me.
“Welcome! You must be the newly hired member of the broadcast team,” Michael Cole said as he stood up and extended his hand. I shook it, slightly starstruck. “Nathaniel Dahlstedt,” I murmured.
“Hey, Nathaniel!” the King greeted me. “What's shaking? Oh – by the looks of things, you're so nervous, it's you!” He laughed maniacally at his joke, oblivious to the fact that neither myself nor Michael so much as cracked a smile. On the contrary, an awkwardness filled the room.
Perhaps in an effort to dispel the awkwardness, Cole ushered me into a side room. I made my way there quickly, but not before I heard the King say to himself, “Who is Sister Abigail? Where is she? Maybe she's lost in Bray Wyatt's beard...because it's so big!”
“Sorry about that,” Cole said to me as he closed the door behind him. I looked around to see two Wheel of Fortune-inspired wheels, which were littered with what looked like a bevy of stock male first names, multiple TVs, a piano, and a pinball lottery machine. Perplexed, I glanced toward Cole, but before I could voice my confusion, he re-opened the door and yelled at the King.
“Jerry, when Vince is done deciding the new midcard title number one contenders, it's your job to get rid of the machine!”
The King came in, grabbed the pinball lottery machine, and wheeled it out. “Sorry about that...” Cole muttered as he sat down.
“OK! Let's get started,” he indicated the chair next to him. I sat. “I've been asked by Mr. McMahon to give you full training so that you can, one day, become a WWE commentator!”
I glowed inside. My dream was beginning.
“What was your name again?” Cole inquired.
“Nathaniel Dahlstedt,” I replied.
“Not anymore!” Cole rose from the table and sauntered to the wheels full of common first names. He gave the first one a spin.
"Your new first name is...Wade! And - " he spun the second - “last name is...Barrett! Welcome aboard, Wade Barrett.”
Nonplussed, I asked, “Er...isn't Wade Barrett a wrestler?”
Cole looked at me blankly for a few seconds before his mouth turned into an “O” of realization. “That's right! I had forgotten about him. Let me spin again...first name will be...Steven. Last name...David. Welcome, Steven David!”
He rejoined me at the table. “Mr. McMahon doesn't like to have too confusing of names. Dahlstedt – I can barely pronounce that, so no one else will be able to! You'll now be known, on-screen, as Steven David. We do it with all of the announcers and most of the wrestlers, you see.”
“Oh...well, OK,” I shrugged my shoulders. It must be simply part of the business.
“Yeah...Renee Young, for instance! She was 'Paquette' once. But that's too French, and Mr. McMahon didn't want her portrayed as a French character,” Michael explained nonchalantly.
“OK. I'm Steven David. Let's do this,” I said, not wanting to appear resistant to anything Mr. McMahon wanted.
“That's the spirit,” Cole said before dramatically clearing his throat. “As I was saying, Mr. McMahon has personally asked me, the Voice of the WWE, to give you full training for the position of WWE commentator!”
I nodded and smiled, deciding not to bring up the fact that he had said virtually the same thing only minutes before. He seemed awfully determined on making it known that Mr. McMahon had asked him to do the job.
“Before we go overboard, just be aware that there are a lot of complex factors that go into broadcasting. I know that when you're listening, I make it sound easy, but trust me – it takes a lot of practice to become a master at commentary.”
I forced my eyes not to roll.
“You've got plenty to learn – and I'll be right there with you the whole way! But today, I want to start simple,” he said.
“Today, I'm going to teach you Michael Cole's top three pointers for successful commentary. If you forget everything else I teach you, remember these three,” he lectured.
I grabbed a pen and a notebook from my bag. Cole turned on one of the TVs to reveal something of a slideshow. His air unjustly pompous, he clicked a remote to move to the first slide.
“Number one – always exaggerate.”
“I'm sorry?” I asked.
“Exaggerate,” he repeated. “Conveniently forget. Make things seem more impressive than they are and rarer than they really are.” He spoke the exact words that appeared on his TV screen.
Still recovering from a mixture of shock at the revelation and derision at the fact that Cole was one of those who read verbatim from the slideshow presentation, I managed to ask, “Er...could you give me an example?”
“Sure,” he replied. Clasping his hands together, he reclined in his chair and thought for a minute. “OK. Back in the Attitude Era, weapons were always used. And the King – he was great at this, by the way – he would say things like, 'those steps must weigh close to 200 pounds!' or 'that ladder's gotta be 25 feet tall!' Of course they weren't! But that makes things seem more impressive.
“Even better – I remember when Batista used to wrestle. Occasionally in big matches, he'd go up to the top rope – a 300something, maybe 350 pound man, mind you – up to the top rope, and he'd launch himself into his opponent with a flying shoulder tackle. Now, it happened every so often, but not that often. So, for the first few times it happened, I'd say something like, 'I've NEVER seen Batista do that! NEVER!'”
Painfully remembering such incidents, I nodded my head. Perhaps there was a motive behind the hyperbole. “So although you made that call at WrestleMania 23 when Batista did the same thing only a few months prior at Survivor Series 2006 - “
“Did he? Doesn't matter. Fans are idiots. They would've forgotten that by then.”
"Well, I'm not so sure all - "
“And the whole 25 foot ladder thing works the same way – people actually believe it's 25 feet high! You could probably even stretch to 35 before people start to scratch their heads and say, 'hey...wait a minute'!”
“OK,” I reasoned. “So it's more or less to put superstars over? Like, 'that guy just jumped off of a 25 foot ladder' when it's only 15 feet high, to make him seem more incredible? That makes sense.”
“No, not necessarily,” Cole backpedaled. “We exaggerate to make WWE seem more incredible, more special. I mean, if superstars benefit from our commentary, that's...well, it's a nice bonus, isn't it?”
Unwilling to step on any toes on my first day, I simply held my tongue and nodded. “Always exaggerate. Got it.”
“Excellent! Let's move onto number two” - he clicked his slideshow - “and this is somewhat related to number one, but it's more specific – every heel is more aggressive than he was previously.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well...I'll give you another example. If you happened to watch RAW last week, did you notice that Alberto Del Rio was more aggressive, more vicious than we've seen him in recent months?”
"But Del Rio's - "
“I'll give you a little hint. If you watch next week's RAW, Alberto Del Rio is going to be even more aggressive than ever before!”
Momentarily forgetting my self-imposed restriction on stepping on toes, I blurted out, “What the hell? You guys always say that!”
Realization happened. “Oh...you guys do that on purpose?”
He smiled. “We could go into more detail about the evolution of certain characters...but we have a busy job, you know! So we use a blanket term – 'more aggressive' – and that covers all heels flawlessly. The Miz is showing his new side of aggression. Have you noticed that the Shield has been more violent in the last few weeks? Triple H is showing a more calculated, a more cerebral side than we've ever seen!”
I failed in hiding my skepticism. “More cerebral than when he put a $100,000 bounty on Goldberg?”
Cole nodded. “If we say it, they'll believe it!”
I reverted into biting-my-tongue mode and nodded, saying what I figured he would want to hear. “And – this whole aggressive bit – that convinces the audience that the heels are a credible threat?”
“Exactly! It also works well for a few faces who need a boost of credibility – Kofi Kingston's a popular 'more aggressive' guy. You're a quick learner, Steven David.” He took a sip of water before adding, “You're learning quickly. With a hint of luck, you could be the next Michael Cole!”
It took all the restrain in my body to muster a smile instead of a facepalm.
“OK! I know we've covered a lot today,” he continued, presumably employing his now apparent fondness for exaggeration. “Let's tackle number three before you get a tour of headquarters.”
I readied my pen on my notebook page, though it was now more out of facade than genuine keenness.
“Number three – always have a catchphrase. Even go for two or three catchphrases, if you can handle it.”
“Ah, you've noticed that!” Cole beamed. “That just proves how successful it truly is. We all do it. JBL has 'We fight on Friday nights!' and 'This doesn't end well!'. I use 'absence of malice' and 'he's going to that place' when describing Randy Orton a lot.”
“JBL also uses 'I'm a dollar with a dime' a lot, too, doesn't he?”
Cole nodded and said, “Yeah, but I never knew what he meant by that...sometimes I don't even think he knows what he's talking about!”
“So – so why use these catchphrases?” I inquired.
“Superstars use them all the time, and the crowd eats them up! We learned from them.”
I pressed my luck. “Gotcha...and it's not wise to use organic...even poetic phrasing that apply to a specific moment? Like JR did?”
Cole gave me a look that suggested the answer should be obvious. “I'm the Voice of the WWE. JR's not with WWE anymore.” He winked. “You tell me.”
He looked at his watch and powered off the TV. “Listen, I know we've been through a lot today. We'll pick up tomorrow and start delving into some of the more complex things. But for now – just remember Michael Cole's top three pointers for successful commentary.”
“Always exaggerate, the heels are always more aggressive, and use catchphrases,” I recited.
He gave me a hammy thumbs up before walking to the door. “You're on the right track, Steven David. You're off to a great start, but there's lot to learn.”
He was almost out the door before turning around and adding, “But don't worry. You've got lots of time to practice in the minor leagues. I'll be the Voice of Monday Night RAW for another 20 years!”