Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Jerry “The King” Lawler Shoot Interview

“The King” Jerry Lawler Shoot Interview

Presented by RF Video
This was taped in January of 2001.

Lawler and his parents lived in Memphis.  Lawler’s dad had to switch jobs so his family moved to a place near Lake Erie and Cleveland. This led Lawler to being a lifelong Indians and Browns fan.

He watched the local wrestling show with John Tolas, Bobo Brazil and the Sheik among others.

After his dad developed a heart condition, the family moved back to Memphis.

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Lawler loved the Memphis heels The Infernos and a lot of the other bad guys.

The neighborhood kids wrestled in the backyard with Lawler and his older brother.

Jerry was a good artist and he took to drawing pictures of the wrestlers. He was convinced by others to send Lance Russell and Dave Brown a few of his drawings. The following week they were shown on Memphis Wrestling TV.

Russell called Lawler and asked if he would be interested in drawing more pictures in the upcoming weeks. Eventually he was invited to come down to the studio and be on TV.

Jackie Fargo hired Lawler to draw pictures of Fargo all over a nightclub Fargo owned.

Lawler eventually started to train to be a worker. Instead of starting off in Memphis, Lawler went to a small nearby outlaw territory with a rinky dink set up to break in the business.

Fargo also worked as a DJ at a local radio station and he got Lawler a gig working as a third shift DJ.

Since Lawler wasn’t in the biz, the wrestling promoter in West Memphis didn’t want to use him. Lawler threw out the possibility of promoting the matches for free on his radio show, and then the promoter was open to breaking Lawler in.

Kayfabe was broken for Lawler as a teen when a friend showed him a secret location in an arena where the guys would sneak off to in order to work out their match details.

Jerry Vickers and Lawler faced off with a rip off team of the popular “Interns” team called the Executioners.  As Lawler was prepping for the match, he still didn’t really know how a match worked.

During the match Lawler called for himself to be tossed out of the ring. He tried to take a big bump like he had seen others do and ended up being knocked out.  He woke up in the dressing room.

23 fans showed up for his first match, but with Lawler barking promos on the radio the crowd grew to over 100 in a few weeks.

Jackie Fargo got wind of Lawler’s matches and he made it known that Lawler was taking part in “fake” wrestling matches and Fargo and the other Memphis guys were planning on storming the outlaw promotion’s ring to injure all the guys involved in the matches the following week. No one ever showed up and Fargo relented and got Lawler booked under Christine Jarrett and Nick Gulas. He was put on TV as a jobber.

Tojo Yamamoto resented new talents being brought in and he’d rough up the rookies. Lawler was booked with Tojo early on and was kicked and chopped to death. This went on for a few weeks before the promoters decided Lawler really wanted to work and he was put on the full time schedule. This led to Lawler quitting college and his DJ job.

Lawler just spoke for about 15 straight minutes without being asked a question. Phew. Really good stuff though!

One promoter, Buddy Wayne,  took a liking to Lawler and helped get him booked more often in his buildings. Jackie Fargo remained a supporter as well.

Jerry Jarrett started to wrestle around this time, which caused heat since his mother owned the promotion. Lawler didn’t know who he was and told him off. This led to Lawler being sent down to Alabama for punishment.

Since Alabama was a tiny promotion, Lawler was able to get a push and started working on top. He met his future manager Sam Bass there.

RF annoys me by trying to jump ahead of the timeline and skips over Lawler’s return to Memphis and his big push as the new face of the promotion. Lawler slows him down.

Lawler loved to take big bumps and it drew the attention of  Jerry Jarrett and Jarrett asked to be put with Lawler on top in Memphis.

Roy Welch and Nick Gulas paid several big stars of the era (The Funks, The Sheik, Dick the Bruiser etc) to come into Memphis and lose to The King to set Lawler up as a NWA title contender. The promoters had normally not been willing to pay out the big money for such talent.

The stars got a look at how small Lawler was and refused to put Jerry over via a pin or submission, so Lawler had to take a series of cheap wins and then sell it to the fans on the mic after the fact.

Nick Gulas was pushing his son George hard in his half of the territory, meanwhile Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett were drawing sell outs in Memphis. Nick ordered Jarrett to put George on the Memphis shows and Jarrett refused. Jarrett had been paying Gulas for years to own a piece of the business, but when the George Gulas situation went down Gulas revealed he had never signned over any actual ownership stock to Jarrett. This led to Jarrett quitting and starting his own promotion. Jarrett convinced Lawler to jump with him as the top draw in exchange for a piece of ownership in the business.

Lawler and Jarrett headed to Memphis’ Channel 5 and showed them the giant ratings that Memphis Wrestling was doing over on channel 13. They ended up going head-to-head with Gulas’ show and quickly put Gulas out of business. Lance Russell was Channel 13’s program director and Dave Brown was their weatherman. Both men quit their jobs to take the same positions at Channel 5.

Rather than keep Lawler rolling with this engrossing history lesson, RF wants to start to play the name game. AUGH!

Lawler doesn’t remember when he first met Jimmy Valiant. Valiant was only an “okay” wrestler but his crazy promos made him a megastar in Memphis. He was such a big draw that Jarrett and Lawler were willing to buy Valiant a house in Memphis, which they had to decorate with lots of black porcelain to convince him to stay around. He came back after that but only stuck around a few weeks before jumping to Atlanta. Lawler had a hard time selling the gaudy house after that.

Valiant got chubby and lazier in the ring at that point. His home life was also wrecked when a fan showed up at Valiant and his wife’s house with an eleven year old kid who turned out to be Jimmy’s. His wife (Big Mama) left him and he moved to the woods of Virgina and became a vegan. His heart never seemed to be in the wrestling business after that.

The King and Valiant caused a riot in Memphis by having a “hair vs. hair” match end with neither of them having their heads shaved.

Bill Dundee has done it all in the business. He had a big ego and he and Lawler never got along as friends. This seemed to help the business because their real life coldness for one another came across on TV, even when they were aligned.

Dutch Mantel and Jerry Lawler share the same birthday, only mere hours apart. Mantel took on Ox Baker’s gimmick to give himself some flair. Dutch and Lawler got along but Mantel didn’t like playing second fiddle to Lawler in Memphis. The last time they worked together (as of 2oo1) it ended poorly as Dutch took the USWA title and left the dying promotion.  He then bashed Lawler in the dirt sheets.

Eddie Gilbert emulated Lawler instead of his own father’s wrestling style, and this eventually led to a long standing Gilbert vs Lawler in ring feud. Gilbert wanted to book, so he left Memphis in a huff since Lawler and Jarrett were the bookers.

Fast forward to 1995 and Sid Vicious told Doug Gilbert that Lawler was telling people that Eddie Gilbert died of a drug overdose,which was untrue. This led to Doug having serious heat with Lawler.

Doug and Lawler made up a few years later and Gilbert got booked back in Memphis. He then proceeded to shoot on Lawler on live TV:

Tommy Rich was a friend of the Jarrett’s when he was a teenager. Rich was trained in Jarrett’s barn.

Rich ended up as a huge star thanks to TBS airing his matches in the early 80’s but he abused his body with alcohol and failed to remain a star.

Austin Idol was as good as any worker Lawler has come across. Idol was not interested in leaving his family, so he never made it to the level of stardom that his skills offered.

Terry Funk faced Lawler in an empty arena. Lawler hates the match since it didn’t draw in the following weeks plus they didn’t go brawl around the empty seats more to take advantage of not having fans there.

Hulk Hogan was aided by Lawler and Jarrett in buying a car. He then left Memphis without paying them back.

Lawler admits the Memphis payoffs were terrible. He says the guys had to want to have a chance to learn their craft or really want to live in the area to stick it out.

Randy Savage was the complete package as a wrestler. The heat with Savage’s outlaw promotion vs Memphis is gone over. The feud with Lawler vs Savage drew well in area’s Savage was known in, but didn’t draw well in Memphis.

Rick Rude had a great look and got to headline early on in Memphis. Lawler gushes over how hot Rude’s valet Angel was. Lawler gave her a piledriver and discovered she wasn’t wearing underwear under her skirt, so he held her up for a long time. Piledriving a woman earned Lawler one of the biggest pops of his career.

Andy Kaufman was amazed that wrestling heels could shit on the fans and still draw people in to see them. He took this psychology into his comedy act. Kaufman wanted to stay in wrestling and was willing to quit Hollywood to do it. They were building to more Lawler vs Kaufman stuff when Andy was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Jimmy Hart and Lawler went to the same high school, Hart being 5 years older. Hart and his buddies got a hit single with “Keep on Dancing” and became rock stars briefly after knocking the Beatles off as the number one song on the hit list. Years later, Hart came back to Memphis and met Lawler at a recording studio. Everybody but Lawler and Hart were smoking pot and they bonded over being not into the drug scene. Hart introduced Lawler to other musicians over the next few months and eventually Lawler got Hart into the wrestling business

Lawler has yet to do any drugs, drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes or anything.

Jim Cornette was a huge wrestling fan and eventually became a ringside photographer. Cornette could do Lawler’s promos by heart and eventually he got a shot at being a manager. Now in 2001, Cornette is working for the WWF but he always shits on the product. The WWF brass got annoyed with Corny constantly bashing their ideas, so they sent him to run Ohio Valley Wrestling.

Paul Heyman worked Memphis and annoyed Lawler legitimately. This led to Lawler intentionally breaking Heyman’s jaw at a spot show.

Heyman was booked to take a bump in a scaffold match and refused out of fear. Lawler got rid of him soon after. He credits him with getting ECW over to the extent he did though.

Lawler puts over all the great matches he and Nick Bockwinkel had over the AWA gold.

Jerry Jarrett ended up buying World Class Championship Wrestling in the late 80’s when the territories were dying off. Lawler liked working with Kerry Von Erich but drugs and other things derailed his rise to the top.

Von Erich was all messed up at SuperClash 3 when he was set to face Lawler. Kerry was told he was going to win and Lawler was booked to win, so the whole show was spent with the two camps arguing backstage. Kerry was doped up and accidentally bladed his own arm before the match could even make it to the ring. This led to Lawler having to improvise a reason for Von Erich to be bleeding fast once the match began.

Sid Vicious was from the same area as Lawler and shared his love of softball. Sid tended to leave behind big money in the WWF and WCW to go home and relax instead.

Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett went down to Atlanta to work as bookers in the early 80’s, Atlanta workers then made appearances in Memphis. The arrangement fell apart fast.

The WWF tried to come in and take over Memphis’ wrestling in the middle 80’s, even using promotional material citing “The King” will be on the WWF card, meaning Harley Race.  Lawler ended up suing the WWF over that.

Eventually Lawler got to join the WWF while keeping Memphis alive. McMahon figured out that the young workers needed to have a place to learn in.

The fact that Lawler was a booker and top star got him heat in the WWF, and he ended up having his crown shit in by several people one day.

Lawler went to Vince about the ribs and McMahon ordered the guys to quit messing with Lawler.

Being married while being a wrestler is near impossible. Lawler divorced his wife when Brian Christopher was seven and he was not able to be a proper father for him. Their current relationship is more like two friends than any sort of fatherly bond. The most time they ever spent together was when Christopher joined the business.

Summerslam 1993 was Lawler’s biggest payday ever. He loved his feud with Bret Hart.

The Kliq is dismissed by Lawler as being just something that tends to happen in wrestling when a handful of guys are on top and protecting one another.

Lawler thinks the possibility of the Montreal Screwjob being a work is very possible. He was there up close and feels the whole thing worked out a little too well.

Vince Russo was good at getting attention for the product, but Lawler overall wouldn’t consider him a great wrestling mind. Swearing became too rampant and eventually the effect wore out. T&A and violence will always sell with the younger demographic. Lawler also feels that the women should focus on being valets and sex appeal as opposed to being in ring workers.

Good writing and angles will keep the WWF fans invested for years to come. (Nope…)

The XFL seems like a great idea and the football fans will be then drawn to the WWF product and this will lead to the stock going up and everybody will win.  (Ha!)

Jerry Jarrett was not impressed with Jeff’s gimmick in WCW and even told investors that he’d be willing to fire him since “Slap nuts” and guitar shots isn’t very compelling.

The biggest drawing feuds in Memphis was with Andy Kaufman hiring others to face Lawler.

Final thoughts: This was a fantastic 3 hour long shoot. The first half where Lawler went over Memphis wrestling history was particularly entertaining. Since Lawler hasn’t done too many of these, this is a rare opportunity to hear from one of the all time greats unfiltered by the WWE editors.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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