In the wrestling world, no one wants to be a paper champion.
Paper champions don’t earn their titles the old fashioned way (i.e. by clobbering their opponents in the ring with a folding chair or a diving back elbow drop).
Instead, they receive their titles through forfeit or disqualification, neither of which is especially brag-worthy — and so, in the competitive, hyper-masculine world of professional wrestling, paper champions aren’t really considered champions at all.
But while paper champions are shaky at best in the wrestling realm, they’re a solid premise for a scripted comedy.
Brady Roberts has rubbed shoulders with plenty of champions in his day, including a few of the paper variety.
The Vancouver-based actor and producer is the creative mastermind behind Paper Champions, a Telus Original series that has its premiere at the Rio Theatre this weekend.
Roberts is in his early 30s, and he spent nearly half his life on the independent wrestling circuit. He started training at 14, was travelling the world by 15 and, at 17, was one of the youngest wrestlers to ever try out for the WWE (he lied about his age).
The independent wrestling scene is“very much like the underground music scene,” according to Roberts.
“You’re playing crappy clubs and community centres and piling six guys into a van and sleeping three guys in one bed in a shitty hotel room,” says Roberts. “It’s kind of a travelling, low-budget rock star life. I always thought there was such a great show there because there are so many wild characters in wrestling — almost unbelievable characters, to be honest.”
Those unbelievable characters inspire and power Paper Champions. The series centers on Audrey (played by Kylee Bush), an unhappy, struggling novelist who inherits a failing wrestling company — the focus of a local cable access show — when her estranged father dies of a heart attack.
“Audrey is coming into this all-male, toxically masculine world of pro wrestling, and these wrestlers are like, ‘Who is this chick? Why are we going to listen to her? What does she know about wrestling?’ They see her very much as a paper champion,” says Roberts, who portrays an ego-driven network producer.
Roberts says he witnessed that kind of behaviour when he was on the pro wrestling circuit.
“We really didn’t see many women in the locker room, and that created a toxically masculine environment,” says Roberts. “Now, the game is changing. WWE especially in the last couple of years has put more emphasis on women’s wrestling, but it still isn’t equal. I tried to incorporate as much of that [into the show] as possible.”
Roberts’ priority with Paper Champions is making people laugh; he likens the conceit of the series to 30 Rock.
“You see the wrestling show they produce only a little bit,” says Roberts. “I just want people to laugh. The show isn’t really about wrestling. It’s about these characters that have a dream. They’re not particularly great at what they do, but they’re trying really hard, and I feel like that’s important.”
In this way, Paper Champions is reflective of Roberts’ own experience trying to break into the WWE.
“I had many tryouts at WWE but I never received a full time job offer, so it’s hard when you’re an actor or wrestler or entertainer and you can turn your television on and watch your friends every week on a big TV,” he says. “There’s a lot of cool stuff about that, but it’s also difficult to swallow. I want people to feel inspired about continuing to chase their dreams, whatever it is — that’s what the show is about.”
Last October, Roberts and his team headed to Calgary to film Paper Champions’ seven 10-minute episodes in a defunct elementary school that they transformed into a wrestling arena.
Shooting in Calgary was particularly meaningful for Roberts, who’d moved to Cowtown at age 18 to study wrestling at a school operated by WWE legend Lance Storm.
“People come from all over the world to train there, and there’s a two-year waiting list to get in,” says Roberts, adding that Storm and 20 of his students (all dressed in full wrestling regalia) make a cameo appearance in Paper Champions.
“To return to Calgary at age 31 to film a show that was inspired by my 10 years wrestling was really cool.”
Paper Championsalso features former pro wrestler and stuntman Paul Lazenby, Adam Kozlick, Patrick Gerber, Peter Chao and Tunji-Taylor Lewis. The series was directed by Theo Kim.
Paper Champions will screen in its entirety April 7 at the Rio Theatre; tickets at eventbrite.com.