Kayfabe may officially be dead, and I think it’s going to be okay. Last Monday night on Raw, we witnessed Braun Strowman singing...or what was close enough to it. Since the beginning of Strowman’s rise to the top of the Raw roster, I’ve been wondering how long it will take before he becomes a complete joke. It doesn’t seem plausible now, but the same career trajectory has befallen the likes of Big Show, Great Khali, Kane, and so many other monster heels who were pushed to be an unstoppable force. I thought it was only a matter of time before we’d see Strowman having a pie eating contest with Hornswoggle.
But there’s something different about Braun and the time we live in. Somehow, The Monster Among Men is simultaneously hilarious and intimidating. The sheer ridiculousness of his destructive force is where so many are sold on Braun. We know that Braun Strowman flipping over a Mack truck is silly, but we can also believe he can do it. While his attacks on his rivals are bordering on attempted murder, it also serves as a weird form of comic relief. Because this is truly an age beyond kayfabe.
When Braun interrupted Elias last week with a song of his own, and a huge upright bass guitar to mock the Drifter, I had two thoughts:
1. Wow. Kayfabe really is dead. Is nothing sacred?
2. This is fantastic.
We would never see Andre the Giant or The Undertaker playing a comically large instrument to progress a storyline (Okay, I take that back. I could totally see Andre doing that). But now that us wrestling smarks are all somewhat familiar with these performers outside of the ring; be it from a podcast or the occasional shoot interview on the WWE Network, even the most terrifying of characters can be humanized. And we appreciate that.
Braun is as over as one can be right now, and his smooth transition into being a fan favorite is only enhanced by this use of comedy. A younger, more bitter me would pick apart this segment as failing to “protect” the Braun Strowman character. But wrestling fans can fall from grace and forget to just enjoy the product. It’s easy to become a snob; and when you do so, you lose sight of what matters and, for lack of a better term, get stuck up your own ass.
So, Braun smashing an upright bass guitar over Elias was a great and memorable segment. This, alongside his popular participation with Alexa Bliss in the Mixed Match Challenge, shows that WWE isn’t very concerned with Braun losing steam by being perceived as a relatable human being. Newer programming like the MMC, Table for 3, and Total Divas play around with that fourth wall, pulling back the curtain to show us lifelong villains like Alexa and The Miz as kind and decent people. So, bringing that to Raw and Smackdown is excusable. Not only do we accept these characters behaving counter to their on-screen personas, but it also adds some complex dimensions to an otherwise predictable archetype.
Furthermore, it keeps fans guessing what’s real and what’s not. If we watch a reality show with pro wrestlers, we are led to believe that this is their true character; and if that character is brought into the wrestling storyline, they have a chance to convince the most jaded of wrestling fans that something is real. Even if it’s scripted from the start, creating a “real” world parallel to a “fake” world is pretty brilliant. And that creates a sort of new kayfabe in and of itself. While we don’t believe these performers live their personas outside of the ring, we are being taught that there is a more evolved form of kayfabe in their everyday lives. As what we knew as kayfabe dies, a new version rises. On this Road to WrestleMania season, enjoy the show and try not to have an existential crisis, because we really don’t know what reality is anymore.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke