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(Book Review) Kayfabe

Pro wrestling is built on a solid foundation of make-believe.  Overgrown men loudly threaten to beat each other up over a fictional dispute in a match with a predetermined ending.  When done well, it's a soap opera crossed with a rock concert, and it's entertaining as hell.  However, there's a subset of wrestling fans who know that the industry itself has its own fascinating stories to tell, and the reality tops the fantasy every time.  There's a passionate market for what are known as "shoot interviews," where these behind-the-scenes stories are shared. 

A number of companies and individuals do these interviews, but one stands out above the rest.  Kayfabe Commentaries (KC) offers a variety of series that examine different aspects of the business of pro wrestling.  Their videos are well-researched and have much higher production values than the rest.  Now, Sean Oliver, KC co-founder and front man gives fans a look into the insane world of shoot interviews in his new book, Kayfabe:  Stories You're Not Supposed to Hear From a Pro Wrestling Production Company Owner.

Kayfabe is a no-holds-barred look into this sliver of the pro wrestling universe.  Oliver and his partner Anthony Lucignano decided to enter this world ten years ago with no wrestling connections beforehand, and they burst through the front door.  As Oliver details, they were determined to differentiate themselves from their competitors with a higher quality product than anyone else was offering.  Over the last decade, they've worked with a long list of retired wrestlers/managers/promoters to help them tell their stories.  As the reader will quickly discover, many of these performers are still working everyone around them 24/7.  Kayfabe details how challenging working with the talent can be, as you might expect when dealing with entertainers, and the book names names.  You'll hear outlandish stories involving Buff Bagwell, the Iron Sheik, Brutus Beefcake, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Raven, Jim Cornette, and many more.

There are stories about money demands, scheduling demands, and a detailed look at all of the work that goes into creating a show and pulling together the logistics for a shoot.  One of the biggest surprises was to learn how often these interviews are conducted after 11:00 at night.  Given how much work goes into all of this, Oliver and Lucignano are clearly dedicated wrestling fans who know what their fans want to hear about.    Oliver has a casual and engaging style to his writing, and it's easy to picture sitting at a bar listening to him tell these stories over a scotch.

Kayfabe has a two missteps.  The first is a typo, where the Mid-Atlantic wrestling territory is mentioned when it's clearly Mid-South that's being discussed, that an editor should have caught.  Second, it would have been helpful to have a clearer sense of both Oliver and Lucignano's backgrounds at the beginning of the book.  As mentioned before, what differentiates KC from the rest of the industry is their production values, programming creativity, and research.  Oliver clearly has experience in the entertainment industry, but the mentions of it are scattered in bits and pieces throughout the book.  The reader has even less sense of Lucignano's history.  It would have been nice to more fully understand the experiences that enable these men to produce these products.

Having said that, if you're a fan of shoot interviews, this is the book for you.  If this is the first time you've heard of them and think they sound interesting, this the introduction you want.  Only a select group of people are in position to tell the story of this crazy little world.  No one would make it a more entertaining read than Sean Oliver does in Kayfabe.


Kayfabe Cover

A fun read for any hardcore wrestling fan.  (pic via Kayfabe Commentaries)



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