THE STEVE AUSTIN PODCAST REVIEW
The Steve Austin Show returned to the WWE Network following the June 1st episode of Monday Night Raw. While there weren’t many hard-hitting questions to be asked (as Austin stated in the open of the show), it was still a thoroughly entertaining exchange where Heyman and Austin spoke openly about some of the booking woes and performance issues that plague the WWE’s main roster. Austin seemed even less reserved this go-round, speaking candidly and critically about the misuse of the DDT and John Cena’s “wasted” Springboard Stunner. The intensity and the unapologetic way in which he spoke, eliciting a similar candidness from Paul Heyman, was a refreshing change of pace from Jericho’s friendly, occasionally meandering conversation with Stephanie McMahon a few weeks back.
Austin cuts through the Disneyfictation (as Heyman would call it) of the WWE and the Network, wrangling the reality out of the WWE’s sometimes too sanitary fantasy.
People want to watch authenticity.
Viewers can spot a liar from way up in the nosebleeds, and liars aren’t interesting to watch. The fans are also cognizant of the kinds of issues Austin brings up, especially those viewers who subscribe to the Network. Listening to the beloved “Global Icon and National Treasure” vent his frustrations with the WWE, almost on behalf of similarly frustrated fans, creates a great incentive to tune in and it also makes the viewer feel less alone.
To put it simply, honesty is money where a friendly, evasive podcast on the Network isn’t.
That’s what makes The Steve Austin Show, when presented on the Network as close to its original form as possible, good television worthy of the price of admission. It’s authentic and relatable and positively crackling with life.
Even Austin’s understandably more reserved conversation with Vince McMahon yielded some lasting gems about the millennial generation that got viewers (and perhaps even some members of the roster) fired up. Austin’s conversation with Triple H put the spotlight on NXT and cast WWE’s “Cerebral Assassin” in a different, fascinating light, revealing how “Vince’s vision” has created everything that’s spectacular, but also everything that’s problematic with the WWE.
And this conversation was no different in that it left a lasting, memorable impression on the world of professional wrestling.
Each time Austin has appeared on the Network for one of these interviews, it’s resulted in people talking and thinking. And that will result in Network subscriptions. If there’s a moral to this story beyond Austin knows how to work a viewer, it’s that authenticity garners interest.
And Austin’s authenticity was on full display when he unexpectedly transformed into Stone Cold for the final moments of the interview.
Much of the conversation prior to this spectacular moment revolved around the problem with the scripted promos of today. Heyman reiterated the importance of “selling” a product via oration, and eloquently described why he’s able to connect with audiences and sell a particular talent or a pay-per-view. “Ladies and gentleman, my name is Paul Heyman” introduces him to the audience - a kind of “Hello, I am so and so”. He becomes human and familiar thanks to this simple introduction. “…and I am the advocate for the reigning, defending, undisputed, WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar” tells the audience exactly what Paul Heyman does and why he exists in this competitive sports-world. And then “My client defeated The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania” sells the audience on the idea that Brock is a very special, unique beast of a man or “My client will give John Cena a prison beating at Night of Champions” sells the next pay-per-view, drawing the interest and, therefore, the money of the viewer.
In three sentences you learn everything you need to learn about Heyman.
Today’s promo instantly begins with “pontification”, as Heyman put it, defined by a lack of focus on instantly connecting with the audience through a relatable character or a lack of focus on creating incentive to tune in next week or purchase that upcoming PPV.
Today’s talent is “given enough rope to hang themselves” Austin often quips on his podcast.
And this dialogue is what helped make those final kayfabe moments of the show that much more fascinating.
Either purposefully, or by happy accident, Stone Cold Steve Austin supported his arguments by cutting a fantastic promo that adhered to Heyman’s promo-commandments.
- Tell the audience who you are.
- Tell the audience what you do and why you do it.
- Sell the audience on an event, creating incentive by connecting the 'who' and the 'why' - and then tell them 'when' & 'where' the event is taking place.
This is no different than the basic format of a good article or a good novel.
It’s the all-important who, what, where, when and why.
It's important to remember that at the very beginning of the podcast, Paul Heyman says that he should be the one asking Steve Austin the questions. That nugget of information stays in the back of your mind throughout the rest of the podcast so that when Heyman finally does ask Steve Austin a question, the questions take on greater significance. They become important questions, meaningful questions with massive implications.
And there couldn't be a bigger question than, "Will you face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32 in your home state of Texas?"
Steve Austin responded:
“The only way that match would happen, if all the stars in the universe lined up, and to build that match, to go to Dallas Texas, my old stomping grounds…hell I went to college thirty miles from there, I drove down to the Sportatorium to watch The Von Erichs fight The Free Birds at the Sportatorium, pro-wrestling…”
Heyman, still acting as himself and not entirely in character (which contributes to the natural discomfort of a scene where one man threatens another), interrupts when he receives a text and reads it aloud, “Fire all the writers. And it’s from a writer!”
Stone Cold responds, “I’m talking about the biggest damn match you just brought up and you’re talking about firing writers, I’m talking about a Texas Death Match.”
The uncomfortable silence, followed by a now muttering Heyman, allows the gravity of this proclamation to settle in.
And this is when Steve Austin really flexes his improvisational muscles, creating yet another iteration of the Stone Cold character that’s informed by his desire to see pro-wrestling in the WWE again.
“You want a headline for WrestleMania, that would be the match. Do I want to go out there and get into a scientific scuffle with another human being built like Brock Lesnar…you might as well put bolts on the side of his neck, cuz the guy’s like Frankenstein walking down the street. I have tremendous respect for his ability in the ring, the level that he has advanced to, and his freaky accomplishments just in life in general, UFC, WWE…”
This is Austin putting over Brock Lesnar. He’s frankly expressing his real-world feelings, but it’s coming from Stone Cold’s perspective when posed with the idea of fighting Lesnar. Putting Lesnar over in this way clarifies the obstacle before Stone Cold, demonstrating Stone Cold’s awareness of the beastly greatness of Lesnar. But that beastly greatness still doesn’t scare Stone Cold. It doesn’t deter Stone Cold. And so, in putting Lesnar over, Austin also puts Stone Cold’s bravery over.
We witnessed the birth of a new Stone Cold, a 2015 version of Stone Cold, a Stone Cold born out of his history with the WWE and born out of his pro-wrestling sermons on his weekly podcast. This was a man who believed in professional wrestling. And, as a result of his sincerity, you believed too. The idea that what goes on in the squared circle is a work completely vanished from the interview. Stone Cold was a pro-wrestler talking about legitimately fighting another pro-wrestler in Brock Lesnar.
And the next line, Austin’s steely eyes penetrating Heyman's soul, just might send a shiver down your spine.
“…but make no mistake about it, Paul...if he was to stand across in the squared circle from Stone Cold Steve Austin…see you’re getting the nice guy right here, we’re doing the Stone Cold podcast, you know…this is basically the Steve Austin show, I actually have a sense of humor, I laugh about things, but if you’re gonna start poking Stone Cold then you’re poking the wrong sum bitch. And I don’t give a rat’s ass if it’s Paul Heyman, if it’s Brock Lesnar, if you start messing with Stone Cold, you’re not gonna like what you get back.”
In just a few minutes of dialogue, Steve Austin and Paul Heyman led by example.
This exchange exemplifies the qualities of a good promo by passionately and succinctly providing viewers the who, what, where, when, and why.
Who: Stone Cold Steve Austin, the toughest son-of-a-bitch-born-and-raised-Texan who’s ever set foot in a squared circle versus The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar, a freak of nature who’s dominated the worlds of UFC and WWE.
What: Texas Death Match
Where: Dallas, Texas
When: WrestleMania 32, April 3rd 2016
Why: To “settle the score” - this is something those in the know will recognize as an allusion to the history of Austin vs Lesnar. Austin was supposed to “put over” Brock in a non-promoted match on Monday Night Raw several years ago and notoriously walked out on the match because he disagreed with the booking. He openly regrets this on his podcast and in various interviews throughout the years. This could play a large role in the story, contributing to a sense of historical significance should this match come to fruition.
Those last few minutes where Austin becomes the pro-wrestler Stone Cold elevated the entire show to a place of lasting significance. This interview serves as a masterclass for the younger generation. Heyman and Austin eloquently prove their point and the value of their perspective on the business by putting that perspective into action.
Heyman's comment "Fire all the writers" comes off as good advice as the episode fades to black.
This is not unlike Inside The Actors Studio where host James Lipton occasionally asks the guest to transform into their character. Austin’s transformation is more complete because of the complex nature of kayfabe. I honestly thought he would break and start laughing in the end, and the fact that I thought that made the fact that he didn’t break all the more powerful and unsettling.
It’s as though The Steve Austin show suddenly became the gimmick or "the work", the Disney-fiction of road-stories and jokes and WWE-criticism that fans are treated to every week via Podcast One.
It’s as though Stone Cold was the actual man suddenly, the reality breaking through the fantasy, a giant awoken from a pleasant slumber, hungry for a fight.
This is the complexity and the excellence performers like Austin and Heyman can bring to the WWE. There’s a level of self-awareness and talent that’s simply unparalleled, a style of performance that constantly makes for enlightening, entertaining television.
Through the power of his voice and the straightforward expression of his perspective on the business, Austin has been fighting for the art of professional wrestling.
And maybe…just maybe…in 2016 in Dallas, Texas...he’ll have to fight Brock Lesnar for it.
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