Orange Cassidy is pro wrestling's logical next step

June 5, 2020

The world’s most famous and popular pro wrestler is also one of its funniest. From the start, The Rock was exceptionally charismatic both in the ring and on the mic, and at his peak he took multiple opportunities to perform extended comedy sketches and long standup routines. But when it came to the wrestling, itself, he usually stuck to the established combat format.

Orange Cassidy might be the funniest high-profile wrestler today, but instead of snapping off funny one-liners to the crowd, most of his work is physical in-match comedy. Even though I haven’t been a regular wrestling watcher in more than two decades, his character feels like a logical step in pro wrestling’s evolution because everything he does is a commentary on pro wrestling, itself.

Watch any of his many matches posted to YouTube, and you’ll see someone who completely subverts what wrestling “is”. As he explained in a short documentary posted in 2017, the Orange Cassidy character is driven by not wanting to wrestle and therefore does the bare minimum to get by.

But crucially, what makes the comedy work is that everyone understands he’s making light of pro wrestling’s regular rhythms, where there’s a bit of a sizing-up, followed by some feeling-out moves, then one side, usually the heel, starts dominating the battle before a comeback by the face, then some “we’re not messing around anymore” moves by the heel to re-establish dominance, a more dramatic comeback by the face, and then finally the finish where the match outcome is determined.

Cassidy’s matches will follow this outline, but at any point he might slowly roll across the ring and out under the ropes, or stand in front of his opponent and lightly tap the other person’s shins with zero-hearted “kicks”. He’ll also perform many of his moves with his hands firmly jammed in his front pockets. It’s hard to explain, but when you see it, it’s objectively hilarious.

Sometimes, the opponent is also a comedically-inclined performer pushing the bounds of what pro wrestling can be, and in those cases you have the potential for sublime absurdity.

But the Cassidy joke is best when the opposing character thinks he's a piece of shit and wants to teach him a lesson. Observe Cassidy’s match against PAC.

The difficulty in staging these matches would seem to be that if this were a legitimate competition, the opponent would simply beat the crap out of Cassidy before he could pull any of his shenanigans, only no one ever takes him seriously — “Every week there’s a canal,” et cetera — but it turns out that’s hardly a difficulty. The gimmick works because A) virtually every pro wrestling character is a raging egomaniac, solving the “why is everyone overconfident or confused when they face him” piece, and B) marks are dead, every fan knows it’s a show, and Cassidy is a metafictional character that rewards fans who know it’s a show.

When Cassidy performs his Kicks of Doom, the fans cheer as if he’s performing a high-impact maneuver, even though he’s barely moving and barely touching his opponent. They’re in on the joke, it’s even funnier that they’re participating, and so it creates a positive feedback loop.

The final element that makes everything work is that Cassidy is legitimately solid at “regular” wrestling. In a previous gimmick, he was Fire Ant, and looking at various videos from that period you can see he’s capable of carrying lesser wrestlers and hitting all the traditional beats with traditional buildup. Additionally, as Orange Cassidy, the slothful side of the performance only makes sense when contrasted with his excellent athleticism, ability to sell bumps, and willingness to fly through the air.

You could get a good actor to act nonchalant in the ring, but it would feel fake, hollow, and hostile to the audience if he wasn’t able to perform wrestling moves because, again, even though Cassidy doesn’t want to wrestle, he’s still a wrestler in the pro wrestling universe. The character may subvert the universe’s rules, but he does not violate them.

Ever since Vince McMahon openly began referring to his company’s product as “sports entertainment”, there have been wrestlers who broke character (maybe?), some who blurred the line between performance and reality, and all sorts of other permutations. However, I’m hard-pressed to think of a wrestler who successfully performed an exploration what it means to be a pro wrestler by comedically calling out and highlighting the artifice of the form.

Freshly Squeezed is the best and is already an icon. What could possibly be next?