There was a magical time in the 1980s where television executives knew two things, and two things only: “Cartoons” and “sex monstering.” Everything and everyone got a cartoon adaptation. There were so many cartoon adaptations that studios in no way had time to read a brief summary of what the original property was about. Chuck Norris got a cartoon and it was about him working for the government. Gary Coleman got a cartoon and it was about him being a literal angel. While it’s true Chuck Norris has always been a narc and Gary Coleman was too precious for this world, one of those claims is figurative.
So of course professional wrestling got a cartoon, and of course it was not about professional wrestling. Whoever pitched the show started with ‘wildly unhealthy but still musclebound maniacs get together-’ and the show was greenlit on the condition they never finish their sentence. Hence, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.
This is the real Hulk Hogan.
This is cartoon Hulk Hogan.
Observant readers may have scrolled back up two inches to the picture of actual Hulk Hogan, who looks like you stuffed fury into a sausage casing, and noticed some subtle differences between the two images. Cartoon Hulk looks handsome, wholesome, righteous and true. He looks like your least favorite character in the D&D party. His eyes bespeak a friendly paternal figure who might not say it enough, but you know he’s proud of you. Real Hulk Hogan’s eyes also contain a lot of things, but most of them are unsettling nicknames for your various orifices.
He looks like he’s always running physics calculations for the running leg drop he’s gonna pull on you before introducing himself to Little Miss Mouth and The Down South Trout.
The animation in Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling is so janky, I’d say it was an early Korean outsource, but I don’t want to start a war.
Besides, everyone knows how desperate professional wrestlers are for cash — I’m going to lay odds this was actually done by The Dream Team in exchange for two platters of Waffle House flapjacks and the right to sleep in the bathroom for an hour.
The sound design for Rock ‘n’ Wrestling is what the inside of your head is like in hell. Instead of laugh tracks we get ghostly, disconnected guitar riffs that signify both everything and nothing. They’re your cue to laugh, cry, transition scenes, or get to your bunkers because Macho Man Randy Savage is headed this way and the watchtower guards thought he looked lonely through the spyglass. Sound effects are chosen at random, happen at random, and present at random volumes — there are slide whistles in total stillness, wacky Scooby-Doo scrabbling noises in the middle of sentences, boings when somebody sits down and bicycle horns when they walk through doors. This show is not scored, it is haunted by the ghost of a sound engineer who died trying to cut together Rowdy Roddy Piper’s insane yapping into a credible sentence.
I’m only going to cover a very small subsection of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling: A meager handful of the live-action comedy sketches they play between episodes. There are very good reasons for this: First, because we reserve the right to come back to this well. I can write a hundred thousand words on this show’s two short seasons and if you think I’m joking you fucking try me. Second, if you think I’m hogging all of Hulk Hogan’s 1980s cartoon from Seanbaby, then either you have not felt his flying roundhouse or you have come up with a way to counter it. If it’s the latter, for the love of God, message me. At night I dream only of feet and not in the good way. But mostly, I need to tackle Rock ‘n’ Wrestling in small pieces because I’m currently taking medications that leave me immunocompromised, and my doctor has warned there’s a very real chance Hulkamania could run wild on me.
The very first thing we see after the opening credits of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling is a close-up of Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, a man whose skin seems to be greased specifically to prevent being pinned by any human camera.
This is the first shot they went with for a children’s show.
A huge, sweaty dude in a onesie making grab hands at you is the very first thing they teach you to run from in Stranger Danger class, but that’s as presentable, photogenic, and safe as The Brain can look. This particular sketch is a funny little bit wherein Bobby advises you to lift weights-
…in a highly dangerous way guaranteed to cripple young children. The joke is that it’s hilarious how bad his form is, but nobody ever points out that what he’s doing is incorrect, and he suffers no consequences. So the whole sketch relies on the kids watching at home already knowing proper weightlifting technique, and the stakes are their spines. That is an excellent first step in weeding out the weak to start a race of child super-soldiers, but I don’t know how many times I have to say this: Bobby The Brain Heenan, you are not the man to lead that revolution.
Our next sketch starts with Nikolai Volkoff wandering up to a woman whose posture and body language is how you transcribe the sound of a rape whistle into semaphore. This is a common theme in these bits, actually: Wrestlers are always wandering up to lone, stranded people who begin mentally calculating the seconds until they die, even before they hear the slurred Russian accent.
You feel like you’ve seen this porn, don’t you? You can almost picture the soundtrack: those jazzy guitars over the distorted, lo-fi moans. You can picture the man’s cadence as he says, “car trouble? Maybe I can give you a ride,” and you can hear every ounce of the boredom in the woman’s voice as she answers “ooh…. yeah.”
The whole bit is that this lady has locked her keys in the car, so Volkoff pulls the door off its hinges. This is a solid premise for a sketch: professional wrestlers trying to interact with normal people, even as they struggle with their own drug-induced rage and overclocked bodies. And it’s a great lesson to teach children: Do not request assistance from anybody that looks like a professional wrestler. Your best case scenario is that they accidentally pull the head off your cat and lay down to cry at the monster they’ve made themselves into while you run away to gather a mob.
Here’s the punchline, and you tell me if you get it: He puts the door back on and it works perfectly.
Is that the joke? Because Nikolai seems to think so. He leaps at the camera and immediately bursts into hysterics. It’s not the kind of laughter that speaks of humor, but rather of a deep, reeling madness. This is the sound a great ape would make if you used sign language to successfully teach it the plight of the endangered Mountain Gorilla, just before it gave you the gestures for ‘no thank you,’ ‘no thank you,’ and ‘please shotgun.’
This man is standing utterly alone, in the middle of an empty field, peacefully fishing, when…
Andre the Giant just sidles up to him. Emerging out of the woods in total silence, dressed in a missing coach’s gym uniform. The man says hello, and Andre doesn’t even have the decency to respond “this is the view from where you die.”
Andre asks the man, “want me to show you how to catch a fish?” and you can plainly see the guy is trying to puzzle out how that’s an idiom for “I’d like to know how you taste.”
But no, it turns out Andre really is just talking about fishing, which he does by screaming “I want a fish!” at the river.
And a fish just flies into his hands. Is the joke that the river is so afraid of Andre, they will sacrifice one of their own to appease him? Because that is a very insensitive reference to what happened to the McGill High Cheerleading Team at Wrestlemania ‘85.
Nobody told the wrestlers anything about the sketches they’re in, but that’s okay, because there’s only one thing you can never pay a wrestler to do, and that’s “care.” And if a wrestler is defined by their utter apathy towards the conventions of mankind — and they are — then Rowdy Roddy Piper is their unfeeling king.
I don’t even have a guess as to what this sketch is about. Zero people involved in the production of this bit cared enough to communicate any kind of message. The sound is garbled and unintelligible — the clanking of weights and the panting gasps are louder than the words, and that’s amazing because every single person in this image is screaming at one other. Eventually Roddy plays his bagpipes, and they all flee. This is what it looks like if you go over the Event Horizon and enter the hell dimension. This is the tape they send back to warn you away.
It’s clear much of the stage direction for these scripts was “just have fun! Improvise.” I promise you, after meeting Rowdy Roddy Piper, that director never said those words again. I don’t mean “that phrase.” I mean any of those words. He never risked saying “fun” again, for fear of the flashbacks it would bring. Rowdy Roddy Piper jumps into improv with the disastrous enthusiasm of a toddler running in front of somebody using a swingset. He thinks every sentence could be improved with the addition of eight more sentences in the middle of it. Trying to wrangle Roddy into a coherent thought is like trying to dive-tackle the seagull that stole your french fry. You will never succeed, you will only hurt yourself trying, and even if reality flipped upside down and you actually managed this feat, you wouldn’t feel good about it.
I asked YouTube’s caption system to tell me what Roddy was trying to say, and this is not a joke: It wouldn’t even try.
It just thought “this must be music,” because that’s how a robot classifies something it can never understand. “This must be human art,” YouTube insists, “because there is no part of this which can be quantified.”
It actually did muster up enough courage to dive into one sentence and here’s how it turned out:
You useless robot. This is going to take a human touch. I listened to this audio twenty times, and I’m going to give you a perfectly accurate transcription of Roddie’s dialogue:
Roddie: “Y’know I am Hot Rod, I have wha teak wha’m tell me something: What did you think I did I Sam, I had women I have I have fans coming out of my ears yenndergh, and y’know I’m the kinda guy I ju- a they IIII ahhh mm Roddy Piper they can wait for, are you kidding me? I am someone my fans whatdj- what do you mean laughing at me?! Gram narg narg my fans [screaming].”
I tricked the robot into trying a few more times by only turning captions on just before Roddy showed up on screen, so it would not know to flee. Here are its efforts in their entirety before — and again, I am not joking — the computer just gave up completely. It will only attempt to transcribe two or three of Roddy’s freeballin’ sentence jams before fritzing out and going blank.
Solid effort, robot, but here’s the actual transcript:
Roddy: “Ju the only way you can do that is equal rights I have something that makes everybody everybody work out harder duju-ju- see that pretty lady back there watch how hard begrok begrok blow these bagpipes [screaming].”
I like to think Roddy would be proud to know that, thirty-some odd years in the future, he would break a robot so hard it invented a character named Train Eric — a proper noun with capitalization and all — just to explain the noises he makes with his throat.
I actually think he did say that, but the robot was so sure that couldn’t be right, it grew embarrassed again, threw up the [music] placeholder, and went to sulk.
Here are the real words:
Roddy: “Hello you beautiful bombshell you yuh aguh- I have people that do you wanna take this car and just move- Ooh your car won’t start ooh maybe it ran out of your churchman merblop ooh- I jerkcan Jeremy joo talkin to Hot Rod- *knocking* yo gas get in there! Your hair is plump you are pretty, are you ready to move yoho! Car start now!”
I don’t feel good about doing that to this poor robot. The YouTube captioning bot already has to wear a helmet just to be on the internet, and here I’ve thrown it the wildest curveball human language has ever produced. This might be the last straw for all robotkind. I truly fear that I may have just kicked off the AI Wars, and I can’t even say I’m sorry with a straight face.
If this is how humanity ends, I only ask that Junkyard Dog be the one to send us off.