Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: Kayfabe

WILPW

So two days ago one of my favorite sports entertainers, The Undertaker, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and tombstoned a guy wearing a turkey costume. In a bubble, the skit was actually pretty funny. You can watch the video above for context but context doesn’t really do much for that sort of humor. In the interest of full disclosure, I will state that I have disliked Jimmy Fallon in the past because I felt he ruined Saturday Night Live while he was on it. I have since released my grudge but I still don’t really care for him but I respect that he is popular.

I can see why they chose Undertaker for something like this, seeing as we are coming up on Survivor Series. For those unaware, The Undertaker character made his debut during Surivivor Series 25 years ago in 1990. The guy must be close to retirement at this point as he only shows up for big payperview matches and those matches are farther and farther between. The Undertaker also has historically had some of the best pyro and has a history of showing up and beating up everybody just because.

Now, the above video is why I am a little upset at WWE for loaning out the character. Back in the day there was a more strict adherence to something called kayfabe. Kayfabe is a term in backstage lingo that evolved from the secret language of carny workers. The concept of kayfabe is that promoters, writers and performers create a world that the characters live in that has its own rules that are usually strictly followed. Kayfabe is used to enforce a code of acting both in and out of the ring that helps with the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. A heel performer might even refuse your autograph request and insult or threaten you to keep up the illusion.

Let’s stick with The Undertaker as our example. The Undertaker started as a creepy individual who was brought in by Ted Dibiase. He felt no pain and locked people in coffins and was billed as a near unstoppable monster. With a height of 6′ 10″ and a dead-eyed expression on his face, it was easy to understand how crowds would be intimidated by him. Then the character was killed in an event that took pretty much every heel in the promotion and even then it was a close thing. He was instantly ressurected and since then he has been a supernatural entity. He’s basically a horror movie monster but strangely he’s spent much of his career as a babyface. I think it draws on the desire a lot of us have to root for the horror movie villain. He grants that desire by only hunting heel characters.

Let’s get back to my point, though, about the Wyatt Family taking on the Brothers of Destruction and the larger point of kayfabe. As I type this, there is currently a storyline running where Bray Wyatt is calling out the Undertaker and his brother Kane. I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed this before but Bray Wyatt is a backwoods cult leader with a vaguely defined Cthulu-like mythos. He and his family recently took out The Undertaker and abducted him to who knows where. Wyatt claimed to have consumed his soul and later demonstrated that he had control over Undertaker’s spooky supernatural powers. On Monday, November 9 the Undertaker (and Kane) returned to face down the Wyatts.

So what am I getting at? If the Eater of Worlds can’t keep the Undertaker down, how can Jimmy Fallon summon him on a whim for a comedy sketch? It’s actually not that big a deal these days but it raises a lot of questions when a character appears outside of their domain. How did Jimmy get the Undertaker to come? Why does Taker hate the guy in the suit? But, like I said it’s not a huge issue. The slight pin prick of annoyance did make me think about how much I love kayfabe though. It’s ridiculous, it’s strange but everyone plays along with the story and we get to immerse ourselves into a strange world that I enjoy.

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