Prior to joining the WWF in 1992, Jerry Lawler was the King of Memphis Wrestling. He wrestled in numerous territories and held more recognized championships than any professional wrestler in history. But on December 3rd, 1994, an hour before going live, his career changed forever after ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage unexpectedly walked onto WCW television. Savage left without saying a word, leaving Vince and an empty chair at the commentary table behind in his wake.
Jerry Lawler on Vince McMahon: “Before he was the overbearing CEO of the WWE, I got to make so much fun of him! Every week, I would say something about his toupee.”
In a Q&A session with the Baltimore Sun, Jerry Lawler opened up on the twist of fate that made him a WWE commentator, what it was like to work with Vince and JR, and the transition from the ‘Attitude Era’ back to PG:
“When the Monday Night Wars really got started, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage was doing the color commentating with Vince McMahon, and I was wrestling on Raw.
Several guys jumped ship and left WWE without notice and showed up down in Atlanta for WCW, and Savage was one of them…
“I’ll never forget we were about an hour away from going on the air live, and at that time WCW went on the air an hour before us. I remember Vince was looking around, ‘We need to find Randy…’
“Suddenly somebody came in and said, ‘Vince, you need to turn on your TV,’ and he looked, and there was Macho Man Randy Savage, walking onto WCW.
“He left, jumped ship, without telling anyone.
“So Vince came to me and said, ‘King, can you help me out and do color commentary tonight, and by next week I’ll find somebody else to do it full time…’
“So I agreed.
“Vince McMahon was so much fun to work with. He never really came out and said it, but he was the perfect foil for me. This was before he was the overbearing CEO of the WWE. I got to make so much fun of him. He even perpetuated the myth that he wore a toupee. Every week, I would say something about his toupee — which of course he didn’t have; he always had a healthy head of hair. I would make fun of him in all sorts of ways and he was so gracious and went along with it. I really enjoyed working with him.
“Then, of course, it switched to me and good ol’ J.R. for years and years and years. Man, I don’t know if there’s ever been or will ever be anyone who’s as good at wrestling play-by-play as good ol’ J.R. Nobody who’s going to be more prepared, nobody that’s going to know any more, know all the facts, know all the history, know all the statistics.
“That’s just J.R.; he was perfect. He made my job so easy in the fact that I just had to show up and off the cuff come up with a few hopefully witty remarks. J.R. did all the groundwork; he did all the real hard work on the team.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been or will ever be anyone who’s as good at wrestling play-by-play as good ol’ J.R. He was perfect.”
“Back during the Attitude Era, we really, really pushed the envelope, and it worked. We got the attention of the demographic we were looking for, and that was the college-aged students. I went back just a few weeks ago and was watching one of the DVDs from that particular time and I just said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, how on earth did we get away with that?’
“Some of the things we did and said were literally shocking, but that’s what it was intended to do. We shocked the world into watching every single week, and we got them coming back every week by saying, ‘How much further can they go? What are they going to do next week? How do they top what they did last week?’
“In the WWE, we kind of mirror society. We became such a big company – suddenly we’re on the New York Stock Exchange being publicly traded – and when you’re that big of a company, you’re going to go after major advertisers. And, to be quite honest, there are a lot of major advertisers who would not risk being a show that was as edgy and over the top as Raw was during that Attitude Era.
“So we just reigned it in a little bit and we became a very family-oriented entertainment product and then that suddenly was appealing to all these advertisers you see on our show now.
“I think we did it seamlessly. I do hear people sometimes say, ‘Man, I miss the Attitude Era…’ but I think the transition was so smooth that Raw still to me seems to me edgy. There are still things that push the envelope, but by the same token, we’re always cognizant of the fact that we are now full-family entertainment and we keep that in mind every single week we go out there and do a show.
Jerry Lawler on the Attitude Era: “How on earth did we get away with that?”
“I feel like the most fortunate guy in the world in the fact that I’ve had a great career and had a very financially successful career by doing something that I absolutely love to do. Most people, unfortunately, have to go out and work at a job they really don’t like just to make ends meet.
“I’ve had the lifelong good fortune of getting to do something I absolutely love and getting paid to do it.”
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