Professional wrestling might get clotheslined from time to time, but one thing’s for sure — it’s never down for the three count. Just when you think it’s a goner, trapped under the fickle crush of pop culture, it bounces back on its feet to deliver a flurry of punches theatrically accompanied by plywood-rattling foot stomping.
The big league of World Wrestling Entertainment — still better known to certain generations as the WWF — surged to such lofty levels of popularity in the 1980s that many peanut butter sandwiches were being carted to school in lunchboxes plastered with Hulk Hogan’s face.
Another wave hit in the mid-1990s when numerous kids hurt themselves emulating the Stone Cold Stunner move on playgrounds, prompting some Lower Mainland schools to ban recess wrestling.
All the while, though, smaller professional wrestling companies such as Vancouver’s Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling and All-Star Wrestling wildly entertained the die-hard fans at community halls across the Lower Mainland.
It was at one of these halls, the Russian Community Centre in Kitsilano, a couple of years ago when Norm Elmore was hit with a facebuster of an idea — to produce his own wresting show.
He marvelled at the athleticism and showmanship of the wrestlers, two of whom were the reason he was at the hall in the first place as they were also doormen for Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society run by Elmore and wife Melody Mangler (real name Rebecca Franklin).
Elmore has a long history of being creatively inventive, from making up event-manager jobs at ski resorts so he’d have an income while ski bumming to producing an R-rated game show night with Franklin at the Cobalt when it was an old punk rock dive bar 16 years ago. A year later, the couple started the innovative, burlesque-based Screaming Chicken. While Mangler has added wrestler to her impressive repertoire of performance art, Elmore prefers his role of pacing behind the scenes to appearing on stage (although he has when needed, “as a rock, or a tree.”)
It’s no surprise the wheels turned in Elmore’s mind as he watched wrestlers backflip off the top turnbuckle — after all, burlesque shares the same sideshow history as professional wrestling. Elmore discovered others were doing the kind of carnival wrestling show he envisioned, such as Freakshow Wrestling in Las Vegas and Hoodslam in San Francisco, and he reached out for support. Some of their wrestlers occasionally appear in Glam Slam.
“The wrestlers were incredible and the production value was strong,” Elmore said of the Kits show. “I thought maybe I could put a little bit of a twist on it, make it a little bit more adult.”
He brought friend Kenny Lush — one of the two doormen/professional wrestlers he went out to watch — onboard with the idea of a wrestling-burlesque mash-up. Fast forward three years, Glam Slam celebrated its seventh raucous show at the WISE Hall in late September.
The ring has a pink canvas floor, a loaner from All-Star until they discovered cake was embedded in the seams after the Glam Slam 5 fight/food fight between Dwight Privilege and Nick Price and didn’t want it back.
The Ladies of Glam Slam performed their burlesque aerobics number sandwiched between the opener between Price and Todd Quality, while Kate Carney made her way from Washington State to East Vancouver to show Nicole Matthews who’s boss.
“It’s something to see when the crowd gets caught up in the story lines,” Elmore said, recalling a recent match where two female wrestlers were dragged across the ring by a male wrestler. The audience leapt to its feet in outrage.
“It’s the classic good versus evil. Everybody loves it,” he added.
The arrival of the Son of God, Jesus Christ to the ring with over-eager nuns in tow was met with a wall of boos and other jeers inappropriate for print in a family newspaper. His opponent, naturally, was the Devil, who contributed to the perils of ringside seating by thrusting his crotch onto the head of a fan wearing a Kenny Lush T-shirt.
The crowd went crazier, still, when the Devil pulled down Jesus’s pants to expose his bare bum. It was clear by now, to borrow an old WWF character comparison, Glam Slam is decidedly more Val Venus than The Rock.
“Burlesque has always been almost symbolic of a hyper-feminist feminine art form with the larger-than-life characters,” said Elmore. “Wrestling is really the same thing for me. It’s a hyper-masculine art form where the men are fighting — there are muscles and big guys… That’s the line we really saw as the connection and we also really wanted to play with it.”
Playing with it meant not separating the two art forms, Elmore added.
“We really wanted to mush it up… We wanted to keep the audience on their toes and not make it predictable. Sometimes it’s burlesque and sometimes it’s wrestling and sometimes you’re not even sure which is which.”
Glam Slam also includes more women than a typical pro-wrestling card. Some of the female wrestlers started after being in the WISE Hall audience for a previous Glam Slam, while others, such as Calamity Kate (real name Kate Kroll), entered through the sparkly door of burlesque.
“Melody Mangler wanted girls to be involved and asked us to go to training to learn a couple little moves,” said Calamity backstage before the show. “Oh, I didn’t want to do it. But I fell in love with it. It’s a lot like dancing with your opponent in the ring; your bodies are listening to each other.”
After her first match at the WISE, a wrestling promoter invited Calamity and Mangler to the ring in Monterrey, Mexico as part of the fast-paced and high-flying Lucha Libre Femenil in 2015.
“We were so nervous. It was our second match and we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Calamity. “They even had a huge poster of us.”
After a year of practice, Calamity views herself a “wrestler-in-training” and used an aerial move called the “hurricanrana” to sweep the Canadian Border Patrol off their feet in a tag-team match. After she successfully pulled it off, the night ended with a match between ECCW wrestlers The Weirdo Hero Randy Myers and the psychedelic-singlet wearing Bishop.
The twist? Both joined forces to lay a beat-down on Jesus, who reappeared to make a nuisance of himself, all to the crowd’s delight.
The next Glam Slam is Nov. 4.