Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Steve Austin Show Ep. 369/371

Ventura is Austin's guest for this doubleshot
Photo Credit: WWE.com
If you’re new, here’s the rundown. We listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are many wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but this feature largely hews to the regular rotation we feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If we can save other folks some time, we’re happy to do so.

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 369 (Oct. 18, 2016)
Run Time: 1:18:37
Guest: Jesse Ventura, part one (15:52)

Summary: Steve Austin’s in-person interview with Jesse “The Body” Ventura opens in the middle of a discussion about dogs. After Ventura gives an update on his general physical condition, he talks at length about his unique travel experiences in Mexico, as well as how he’s managed to stay married since 1975. Shifting to wrestling, Ventura reflects on the influence of “Superstar” Billy Graham on Ventura’s character and microphone skills, recalls his earliest days in the business, his first match and some of his negotiations with Vince McMahon. Austin shifts the topic to Ventura’s background as a Navy SEAL, then Ventura explains how blood clots effectively ended his in-ring career. That leads to a look at his commentary and acting work, including why Ventura doesn’t care to work with scripts, choosing to keep his family in Minnesota and a long look at his work on “Platoon.” Wrapping up, Ventura explains why he loved working with Tito Santana and how he got mad when McMahon didn’t stick up for his on-camera joke that the B in Koko B. Ware stood for Buckwheat.

Quote of the week: On how his military background prepared him for a wrestling career: “Not only did it make me physically prepared for it, it made me mentally prepared for it, because the thing that going through BUDS, or basic underwater seal, when you graduate — because only about 25 to 20 percent of the people make it — the thing that that really instills in you is the will never to quit, that no matter how tough it’s going or how sad you’re feeling for yourself, most of the time it’s your own sadness that’s doing it. Pick yourself up — whenever I would get in a situation, wrestling or anything, when the going got tough, God, I’d think bad to BUDS and go, ‘This ain’t nothing compared to lifting telephone poles in the mud when you haven’t slept for two days. You know? What the hell? This is a piece of cake!’ ”

Why you should listen: Ventura’s charisma is undeniable. He’s got a lifetime of stories to tell, and Austin’s natural curiosity is on display — it’s always enjoyable to hear him converse with someone he looks up to or to whom he feels a personal debt of gratitude. My biggest takeaway was how clearly Ventura always has and will identify himself as a pro wrestler, despite his body taking that away from him and the myriad opportunities he’s had elsewhere. Ventura’s story is fairly well known, and as such I’ve not done much reading on him, but there were plenty of details and insights here that go beyond what most fans can tell you about “The Body.”

Why you should skip it: This interview only lasts an hour or so, but it’s the first of two parts and there is absolutely a lot of fluff. Austin chose to make the conversation as wide ranging as possible, and that allows Ventura to go too deeply on aspects that are either widely known or largely uninteresting at the expense of so many more potentially captivating topics. Even listening at double speed, Ventura’s deliberate speech patterns often grew tiresome.

Final thoughts: I don’t know where else to put this thought, but while listening to Ventura rave about his experiences with whales in Mexico I couldn’t shake the sensation I might as well be listening to a Bill Walton interview. That’s not an argument for or against your decision to listen, but if you have any experience listening to Walton, you most certainly know what you’re getting here. For any faults this one may have, it’s immeasurably more entertaining than another catch-up phone call with Teddy Fowler or having Austin’s wife read him emails from listeners. It’s hard to control Ventura, but having Austin on the other microphone is a fun experience for fans of either man.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 371 (Oct. 25, 2016)
Run Time: 1:07:50
Guest: Jesse Ventura, part two (8:26)

Summary: Part two of the Austin-Ventura interview opens with a look at Ventura’s one brief run as a good guy and then his assertion of how it’s impossible to compare wrestlers from different eras. He talks at length about the differences between Vince McMahon Sr. and Vince Jr., and tells the full story of the time he tried to unionize professional wrestlers, including how he learned Hulk Hogan was the one who scuttled the plan. Jumping forward, Ventura revisits his 2009 Old-School RAW appearance as well as his biggest wrestling payday, as guest referee for the main event of SummerSlam 1999. Then there’s a lengthy discussion about his book, “Marijuana Manifesto,” which bleeds into a rundown of some of his current controversies, including his lawsuit regarding Chris Kyle, his deal with Russian state television and being blackballed by American media.

Quote of the week: “Vince is lucky I didn’t go for the Senate. Because had I gone into the Senate, I would have started a senatorial investigation as to why pro wrestlers are called independent contractors when they’re not. You work for one company, they order you around, they control your whole life, how are you possibly an independent contractor? Except for they don’t have to pay your Social Security. That’s why. … Look at the thousands of dollars it’s cost all of us wrestlers to have to pay, 15 percent or whatever it is, as an independent contractor on our taxes. That’s a bee that’s been under my saddle since I began wrestling.”

Why you should listen: If you’ve got an appetite for more Ventura after part one, you’re rewarded here with some arcane details about Ventura’s early wrestling career and a window into the mind of someone who can put aside substantial personal differences to make money with the McMahons. Also, if your favorite Ventura is AARP-age conspiracy theory crackpot Ventura, you are in luck, my friend.

Why you should skip it: Of the two parts, this is the one that spends the most time covering familiar territory, either from Ventura’s own life or the broad topics many in the business have discussed on countless podcasts. Also, if you are like me and listened to this interview after Austin’s concurrent two-part session with Rob Van Dam, you’ve already heard more than enough about marijuana laws in recent days — and from a slightly more reputable source to boot.

Final thoughts: Jesse Ventura’s No. 1 fan is and always will be Jesse Ventura. So as good as you might feel hearing him take broadside shots at Vince McMahon, or as amusing as a 40-year-old personal anecdote might seem, it must be balanced against the segments of the interview where is unabashedly serving his own self-interests by painting himself as the heroic victim of every story. It’s certainly worthwhile for anyone interested in wrestling history to consider Ventura’s career, and there’s always some value in getting a firsthand account, but at the end of each episode Ventura unwittingly does more to undercut his own performance than any outside analyst could achieve. Most wrestling fans are quite likely to enjoy the majority of both episodes, yet there remain a few notable flaws that handicap each from rising to the level of essential. Spending two weeks going deep on RVD and Ventura is a great treat for longtime listeners, but it would be dishonest to convey either as some sort of transcendent listening experience.