On the most recent Last Week Tonight w/ John Oliver, the titular Oliver takes aim at World Wrestling Entertainment. Oliver’s primary focus is on the WWE’s questionable practice of categorizing its wrestlers “independent contractors” to avoid providing benefits and to absolve the company of any liability if the wrestlers get injured doing their incredibly dangerous job.
I know what you are thinking, “He’s the Undertaker! He’s from Death Valley! He doesn’t need insurance!” Yet after some soul searching, even the Dead Man would admit he could use an occasional check-up. The WWE’s biggest spectacle, Wrestlemania 35, is this Sunday, and Oliver thought it could be helpful if the fans reminded the WWE and Vince McMahon the importance of workers’ rights. We at Punch Up Creative wholeheartedly endorse this initiative and would like to get the ball rolling with some ideas for chants and signs all wrestling fans can get behind.
AUSTIN 1099 - The original “Austin 3:16” is one of the most popular catchphrases in wrestling history, as signs and merchandise bearing the phrase have long been a staple of the wrestling ecosystem. Now, “Austin 1099” signs can remind everyone that the WWE’s biggest star was still an independent contractor without basic health benefits.
W2J - In reference to former WWE superstar “Y2J” Chris Jericho, who recently left WWE to join the progressive, newly-formed promotion All Elite Wrestling, where wrestlers’ rights and health have been a focal point.
“They Deserve It! (401k)” - Often times, the crowd will chant “You deserve it” to a wrestler when they achieve an important milestone. We will see one such milestone this Sunday, when “The Man” Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Ronda Rousey collide and make history by being the first-ever women’s main event at Wrestlemania. They should get all the “You deserve it” chants. Also, they probably deserve to be actual employees with retirement pensions and health insurance.
“You’re Not Covered!” - At the Showcase of the Immortals, every wrestler is looking to steal the show. This could be done by jumping off a ladder, steel cage, and/or through a table. On Sunday, remind your heroes of the risk they are taking. If Jeff Hardy climbs the top of 20 foot ladder, let’s all politely chant “You’re not covverrredddd!” to remind him that if he breaks his neck, he’s on his own, as WWE wrestlers are exempt from most occupational safety laws.
“Health and Dental! (Clap, clap, clap clap clap)” - If a match is going exceptionally well, the audience will chant “This is awesome! (clap, clap, clap clap clap). At Wrestlemania, Real World alum turned Hollywood A-Lister, The Miz will face off against Vince McMahon’s son, Shane. As an executive with the WWE, Shane has access to robust benefits. As a wrestler, The Miz is considered an independent contractor and does not have said benefits. Maybe that’s the reason Shane takes so many risks? On Sunday, when Shane is inevitably poised to jump off something high, it would be great to remind him that he’s the only one with the luxury of “Health and Dental, clap, clap, clap clap clap”!
“Holy Sh*t!” - Wrestling fans save this chant for only the most extreme and dangerous moments. What if during his WWE world Title Match on Sunday, Brock Lesnar pulls out of his pocket a list of all his health care costs from over the years and has his violently verbose manager, Paul Heyman, read them out loud while he battles Seth Rollins? That would truly be extreme.
Wrestling fans have the unique ability to decide the success of a show, based on if they buy or reject the reality being presented. The show requires good will between both parties. Vince McMahon may be a billionaire, but he needs his audience. If the fans loudly voice displeasure with how performers are treated, they can force a new, more equitable reality.
Those are some of our ideas - please feel free to share your own! John Sabine is a writer & performer for Punch Up Creative, host of Bulls Outsiders on NBC Sports, alumni of the Second City touring company, and currently performs with The Improvised Shakespeare Company and The Late 90’s. Find him on Twitter @jsabine214