Speculation about Chris Jericho’s return to wrestling began almost immediately after the former undisputed champion left WWE nearly two years ago. It remains to be seen whether he will come back to WWE or sign with TNA, but this much is certain: Jericho will make a special appearance at the Maryland Championship Wrestling show tomorrow in Dundalk.
I spoke with Jericho in a telephone interview yesterday.
Q: It’s well known that you and Chris Benoit were close friends. Before getting into questions about your career, I wanted to ask what your thoughts are on the tragic events of two weeks ago.
A: It’s hard to separate the man that did these terrible, horrible crimes from the guy that I knew who was like a big brother to me, who was a great friend, a great mentor and a great influence on me in such a positive way. I’ll never understand why he did what he did, but all I know is the guy that I knew was just a sweetheart of a guy and one of my best friends, and I’m going to miss him.
Q: Moving on to something more lighthearted, how much have you missed wrestling since leaving WWE?
A: I was really mentally burned out when I left; I just never realized it at the time. It took me about a year and a half to kind of collect my thoughts. Actually what happened was that I wrote a book on my journey to make it to WWE from being a kid. And once I was done the book, it kind of made me realize how much I love the wrestling business and – not to sound too sappy – helped me find myself as a person and as a professional and to start digging wrestling again. So, probably about the last six months, I’ve been paying attention to wrestling and getting into it and watching it again. Whereas, for the first year and a half, I really just was so mentally fried, I just didn’t have any desire to have anything to do with the business. But now I feel differently.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation about when you will return to wrestling and whether it will be with WWE or TNA. Can you give us any clue as to when you might be coming back and which company you are leaning toward?
A: I haven’t really even come that close to getting into specifics of when or where. It’s funny because I hear those rumors all the time. I’m usually the last one to know. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, I heard you’re going here,” and I’m like, “Wow, I didn’t know that. I wish I could help you with that one.” I like both of those companies. I like Ring of Honor as well. I have my favorites in all three of those groups and it’s fun to watch all three of them because, first and foremost, I’m a wrestling fan. That’s why I wanted to be a wrestler in the first place and that’s why I think I did as well as I did, because I always enjoyed the product and tried to put myself in the fans’ shoes and ask, “If I was in this crowd what would I want to see?” And then I tried to deliver that. I really have no time frame or anything like that. But now I’m lurking in the shadows, so watch out – you never know.
Q: How do you feel about TNA dropping your name a few times on their show? Apparently, Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar weren’t too happy about it when their names were mentioned.
A: I don’t know why they wouldn’t be happy about it unless they’re taking themselves way too seriously. For me, I think it’s great. It keeps your name out there, and who am I to complain if my name has enough value to be used as a teaser for something?. I mean, they wouldn’t use Funaki’s name or Big Bully Busick. I’m smart enough to know that if things like that are going on – rumors on the Web and dropping of my name on TNA shows – that just means that people want to see me come back. I find it a real compliment that whenever I do signings, people ask, “When are you going to come back?” Or they say, “Wrestling hasn’t been the same since you left” or “wrestling needs you.” That’s a lot better than saying, “Man, wrestling’s a lot better now that you’re not around.”
Q: When you do come back, do you want to work a full schedule again or do you want to be a guy who kind of comes and goes and makes special appearances?
A: No, that’s not me. I’m “go hard or go home.” When I left, I never said I was retiring. I just said I needed a break and I said when the time was right and I could come back better than ever, I would. When I come back, it’s to come back and make a difference and to play the game. I don’t really think guys coming in for special appearances and leaving really helps. If you come in for one show every two or three months, it’s a good nostalgia thing, but you really can’t make any forward progress. You might as well just come out and wave at the crowd like an ex-president at a parade and then disappear. If I come back, it’s to do what I do best and become one of the biggest names in wrestling again.
Q: You mentioned mental burnout as one of your reasons for needing a break from wrestling. How are you feeling from a physical standpoint?
A: I was pretty fortunate. They used to call me Hockey Puck in the locker room because I never got hurt. I never missed a show in WWE for any sort of injury, so when I left it wasn’t for a physical reason. I feel great; I’m in great shape. But I didn’t feel all that bad physically when I left.
Q: How much of your decision to take a sabbatical had to do with wanting to spend time with your family?
A: It had a lot to do with it. There were some other things I wanted to do creatively, but that was 50 percent of the reason. The other 50 percent was that I wanted to stay home more with my family, and then almost one year ago we had twins, so now I have a very young family. It’s nice just doing nothing but hanging around with my family. But after a while you start feeling that urge creatively to do some more stuff, and that’s when I would go work – write a book or film a movie or do some stuff with the band.
Q: Speaking of some of your other projects, what was your experience like working with The Groundlings, the improv troupe?
A: It was great. I did MADtv, and one of the producers was a Groundling. He thought it would be great if I went to watch one of the shows, and I did. And the head of The Groundlings was a wrestling fan and thought I should do one of the shows. I did one and they kept asking me back. I worked with them for a year, from April ’06 to April ’07, pretty much on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, basis. I almost became like an honorary member of The Groundlings. And The Groundlings are the best improv troupe in the world. Will Ferrell is a Groundling, Phil Hartman, Sherri Oteri, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Coolidge – some great, great people. So working with them was very difficult, but to hold my own and kind of make a place for myself was actually quite a feather in my cap. I learned a lot. They always asked me, “Have you ever had improv training? You’re really good at this.” Well, yes and no. No, I’ve never had training like those guys had, which is very strict, methodical training But just from wrestling, a lot of the stuff I’ve done is improv. Standing in the ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock for 20 minutes after a match just improving with one another, that’s another form of improv. It helped me to kind of slip in with them really easily and I have an open invitation to go back whenever I want.
Q: You just mentioned improving with Austin. When I interviewed him a few years ago, his feeling was that wrestling was too scripted. He liked working old school, where you know the finish of the match but you don’t script the whole match, and when you do a promo you speak from the heart rather than memorizing something that was written for you. What are your thoughts?
A: I agree with both of those things 100 percent. Sometimes I think a promo has to be a little more scripted, but if that’s the case you can always do bullet points. But I always had a hand in that. I refused to take a piece of paper given to me by somebody who didn’t know my character. There’s some good writers in WWE that I like to work with, but I think it gets to the point now where there’s a bunch of young guys who don’t have the confidence or even the ability to be themselves and to create a character. They’re given a piece of paper; they read it; and I think it’s bad. I think it’s cardboard. I think it’s cookie cutter. I think it’s one of the reasons why there are no real characters breaking through – because there’s no real characters. The last real character was John Cena, and look what he did. He was original, he was unique and look how popular he got because of that. That’s why it’s wide open for a guy like me to come back, because that’s the way I do things and that’s not going to change, and that’s going to be very well-explained before I ever did come back to any company. I think that’s half the fun of wrestling. Nobody told Steve Austin to say, “That’s the bottom line,” or The Rock to say, “Do you smell what The Rock is cookin’?” or Bret Hart to say, “The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be,” or me to say, “Never ever.” I was just screwing around and said that one night, and the next night there was a sign in the crowd from some fan that said “Never ever” with like 10 “e’s” [in ever]. Bingo, I knew I had a catch phrase. That’s how it works. You let the people decide. There have been a lot of catch phrases that I thought were going to go over huge that stunk up the joint, didn’t work at all. But it’s cool to find that out for yourself. There was never a t-shirt of mine sold in WWE that I didn’t help design or come up with in some shape or form, and that’s all part of it, too. Nobody knows your character better than you, and nobody knows how to sell that character and get that character over as good as you. Other people might have ideas, but you can always take those ideas and shape them and make them more of yourself to make people believe in that character, whether they love him or they hate him.
Q: I know that you did a movie called Android Apocalypse. Any other acting projects coming up soon?
A: I did a play last summer in Toronto called Opening Night, which was a lot of fun. That was another goal of mine, and we sold out the whole run of the production, which was awesome. I just finished doing a horror movie called Albino Farm for Lionsgate – that was in May and June that I filmed that. The thing about acting is that it’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy it, but it’s the same as starting in wrestling. It’s a slow process unless you’re very lucky and it takes off right away, but that doesn’t happen too often. It’s fun to be a part of it, to see how one thing leads to another and how your name kind of gets out there and you don’t even realize it.
Q: Earlier, you mentioned your autobiography, A Lion’s Tale. When is that scheduled to come out?
A: It comes out Oct. 25.
Q: Now, this book is a little different from some others by WWE stars in that you really don’t chronicle your time in WWE, correct?
A: Exactly. About two weeks after I left WWE, I got a call from Warner Brothers, who wanted to know if I was interested in doing a book, which I had been thinking about doing. My idea was to base it just on my experiences in Mexico, and they wanted to expand that a bit. So, I thought the story line of the book could be about a kid following his dream from a small town in Canada to WWE, and that’s what we decided on. It’s my whole experience basically from 1990 until I walked out through the curtain for my first Raw in 1999. It’s about all the experiences along the way, from Mexico to Germany to Japan to Canada to Smoky Mountain Wrestling, ECW, WCW and the whole process. I was really, really happy with it, and the few people that I’ve given it to to read – including Mick Foley and Bret Hart – have all said that it’s one of the best wrestling books they’ve read and they really enjoyed it. It was a long process. I wrote it myself. I had a great collaborator that kind of helped me with some of the logistics and things like that, but it took me almost a year and a half to get it right and done. It was done in May of this year, but then last week I kind of had to take it out of print and add and subtract a couple things because Chris Benoit is a very prominent part of the book. I first met him in 1992 and he was very influential in my career, so there’s a lot of things in there that when you re-read them, it’s like, “Wow, I have to take that out.” Something that might have sounded funny at first, you read it back and now in retrospect it’s not as funny. There’s a great picture of me and Nancy and Chris in there that I had to think about taking out. It changes the whole tone of the book from this lighthearted, kind of funny experience to (pauses), you know. I had to write an author’s note explaining that this is the guy from these years and not the guy – basically what I said to you earlier. Having said that, it’s been getting great reviews so far and it’s only now just starting to get circulated. It’s always fun to create something out of nothing, and now I get to add “author” to my list of credits. It wasn’t just some kind of phone-in book where I talk to someone for three hours and now there’s a book put out. And you can tell. You’ll know exactly where if came from when you read it.
Q: WWE has a film division and a publishing division, yet you have done movies and a book independent of WWE. Was that a conscious decision on your part or did it just work out that way?
A: It just worked out that way. The only thing I was conscious about is when I first started with Fozzy, they had Smackdown Records and they wanted to sign us, and I didn’t want to do that – I wanted to keep it separate. As far as the book, I was never asked to do a book when I was in WWE. I always wanted to do one. The fact that two weeks after I left I got a call from a huge book company to do one showed me that I actually had a story to tell. And the movies – I was never asked to be in a WWE movie, which they basically had just started right as I was leaving. I actually take a lot of pride in the fact that I did it myself. I didn’t have the boss of a movie company giving me the thumb’s up. I had to slowly but surely make my way into the ranks. That’s one thing about wrestling: A lot of people in Hollywood don’t understand it. It’s kind of the forgotten arm of show business. People don’t think that wrestlers are talented, and obviously that’s not the case. But to go out there on my own and start the process to show that, I always take pride in that sort of thing.
Q: What’s going on with Fozzy at this point?
A: We did a lot of touring last year in the U.K. We’ve actually made a good name for ourselves in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We toured there five times between February ’05 and February ’06. We also toured Australia, Germany, Canada and a little bit in the States. We did kind of a world tour. Once you do that, in order to tour again, you have to work on a new record. That’s where we’re at right now. I’ve already written all the lyrics for it and the guys in the band are starting to come up with some riffs. But they have another band called Stuck Mojo that they’ve been touring with all summer, so it goes back and forth. It’s kind of on hold just until we can get time together to start working on a new record. We’re very fortunate. The last record did a lot for us and it was cool because we got to headline at a lot of big places, especially in England. We played at the London Astoria three times and sold it out all three times, and that’s a famous venue. The Beatles played the Astoria. Iron Maiden played the Astoria. Some really big bands still play there to this day, so just to go to places like that and sell them out and tear the house down, it’s like you put a little checkmark by that knowing that, “Well, we did that.” It’s cool to know that you’ve been vindicated and know that the band got big enough to do that basically on our own with not a lot of help from anybody.
Q: Whether it’s music or acting or wrestling, you’re used to performing in front of large crowds. Was singing on the reality show Celebrity Duets the scariest thing you’ve ever attempted?
A: It wasn’t scary. The only thing was they had me sing a country song, which was kind of scary, but it’s one of those things where you just have to roll with the punches and do the best you can with what you’re given, which is always my attitude, in wrestling especially. Obviously, it’s never fun to be the first guy kicked off, but on the other side of the coin, I’m so glad I did it. I got to hang out with Little Richard and Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Peter Frampton – tremendously nice people, talented people and I learned a lot from them. Little Richard inspired Paul McCartney, and Paul McCartney is one of my favorites of all time so it was cool to get a chance to hang out with Little Richard and hear some of his stories. Being a fan of music, I would have been angry had I not done it. When it was all said and done, it was a positive experience.
Q: What are your thoughts on appearing on Sunday’s MCW show?
A: Back in March, a friend of mine asked me to do an autograph signing at his restaurant. When I did it, I realized how much fun it was and how much I missed seeing the fans. I really enjoyed doing signings when I was with WWE because it was always kind of cool to connect with fans and see what everyone’s thinking, so I just put it out there and got a ton of offers to do signings. I picked the ones that I thought would be the most fun. They’ve been going great. When you do signings, you’re always afraid it’s going to be like Spinal Tap and two people are going to show up. But it hasn’t been that way at all. It’s great to see the fans again and hear their thoughts about wrestling nowadays. I’m excited to come to Baltimore. I haven’t been to Baltimore in a while, and to see the show and the [Shane Shamrock Memorial] tournament, I’m really excited about it. There’s Jericho-holics all across the country that are excited to see me and I’m just as excited to see them. I’m very fortunate. When I go back to school and I have to write my “What I did on my summer vacation” paper, I can say I had a chance to hang out with some old friends.
For more information about tomorrow’s MCW show at the North Point Flea Market, go to marylandwrestling.com.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.