How Ridiculous Should a Gimmick Get?By Laurence SalfordLast week on Raw saw the much critically divisive segment at the end of the programme, where Kane attempted to drag Zack Ryder through a hole in the ring, which I’m guessing was supposed to represent Hell. When Cena had pulled Ryder to safety, a great ball of flame erupted from within the hell-hole, with the camera showing the fear in both Ryder and Cena’s faces. I for one had no problem with this segment, as it represents a part of Kane’s character which has been around since its inception many years ago, but to other people, it seemed outdated and silly, a type of move that belonged during the 1990’s era of wrestling. It got me thinking – just how ridiculous can you push a gimmick, in this day and age of wrestling?<!--more-->It goes without saying that the larger than life aspect has always been part and parcel of the whole wrestling business, with superstars being given blown up characters, sometimes with ridiculous elements to them, all in the name of entertainment. This is one of the real strengths of the wrestling industry, as the theatrics of some of the characters that we see day in day out on our TV screens don’t really happen in other sports, which helps make wrestling more unique. For every straight laced wrestling character like Lance Storm, you have his polar opposite in Doink the Clown. For every mat based technician like Daniel Bryan, you can have a cross dressing man bathed in gold like Goldust. The two elements of the serious and the ridiculous have always gone hand in hand for the wrestling business, and I don’t see why it should change.OK, it has to be said, that they one thing that wrestling should never do is stand still. An industry like the WWE, which churns out programme after programme, week after week should never rest on its laurels when it finds a successful formula in a certain character or situation, as this will lead to the WWE becoming stale, which shouldn’t happen. That being said, people tune into wrestling for various reasons, some for the action, some for the variety, and some for the entertainment. Its true that the comedy on the WWE can be sometimes very un-funny, veering onto the corny side far too often for my liking, but they obviously think that this appeals to someone, otherwise they wouldn’t be making it. Giving people a variety of things to watch when they tune into Raw helps add to the intrigue and uniqueness of each and every episode, and a part of this is the gimmicks that each character portrays.Throughout the years, wrestling has thrown out into the mix a vampire, a porn star, a superhero, an escaped prisoner, a cheerleading squad, a bin man, a golf star, a repo man, a dentist, a massive turkey and a glittery storm trooper. I know that a lot of these gimmicks could be viewed as stone cold failures, but they are remembered fondly by the fans, and really stick out. There have been hundreds of Cheery Face/Cocky Heel characters that have faded into obscurity, but even the most terrible of gimmicks will live on forever, because secretly, I think everyone enjoys these types of characters. They help bring out some of the fun and entertainment of wrestling, and can help detract from the more serious side of things.The main two characters in WWE who have not only the most successful, but probably most well thought out and consistent gimmicks are Kane and the Undertaker. The two characters have the grounded in realism aspects to their characters, when they are just simply brothers with a complicated history, but they have also been bequeathed with sometimes seemingly magical abilities.This part of their characters is probably the bit that I enjoy the most, mainly to do with how ridiculous it is. Whether it’s them rising from the dead, shooting lighting bolts or fire, summoning mystical energies or just plain old disappearing, I love it. It jars so much with the rest of the very realistic characters that litter the WWE that it makes them stand out. I also like that they have never really explained any of it, like for example on Raw, its obvious that Kane wasn’t in hell, or even dragging Ryder to hell, but its always left to look like that. The questions is, should gimmicks like this be able to continue?Recently, there has been a trend for people to be attracted to wrestlers who appear the most sincere and genuine. The flashiness and glitz has come off the top stars, and the ones that are being pushed to the top, are those who are the most earnest. Punk’s character revels in realism and cutting to the core of actual issues that were previously shunned by the WWE as topics.Bryansis a workhouse from the indies, who has earnt his spot. Ryder’s is an affable dork, who has off his own back taken himself out the gutter, to main eventing premier spots on Raw. Laurinaitis’ as well is a typical middle-management character, who lacks all the over the top elements of the McMahon character. The trend over the past year has been to have characters with little depth and glamour, but tonnes of sincerity and believable motivation.This is a huge step away from characters like Kane and the Undertaker, whose character motivations were always hidden, especially so when Kane couldn’t talk. They would instead speak with over the top showmanship type angles, involving a variety of ridiculous stunts, instead of in 2011, where wrestlers speak from the heart to get noticed. Even though these two approaches jar with one another, I still believe there is a place for Kane’s over the top, anger fuelled Big Red Machine character, as it throws the believable, realistic characters like Zack Ryder into situations that they haven’t dealt with before, and helps to get them over as a character to the audience, as how can you face something that is abnormal and seemingly inhuman? It creates a type of threat for the babyfaces, whilst different from the usual “strong heel” type threats, yet still allows them to be put in danger, and storylines can thus be created around them.Not only do angles like this help from a storyline point of view, allowing for a greater diversity of storylines, but it helps to add that nostalgia kick that wrestling sometimes needs to stay relevant. People always want to see wrestlers that they already know of and love, and the larger than life gimmick is a part of wrestling history, and should never be completely forgotten. Some of the characters that I find the most interesting are those who have ridiculous gimmicks, but have only been debuted in the past number of years. Wrestlers like Mordecai, Kizarny and the Boogeyman will all be remembered as flops, potentially for a variety of reasons, but the one that links all three of these men is their ridiculous gimmicks that don’t resonate with the crowd that well, and are never successful. Those who have stood out from the pack recently with a gimmick have pushed the ridiculousness as far as it can be pushed and still connect to the crowd and find success. People like Cody Rhodes, who has employed a successful narcissistic gimmick, transformed into a demented mask wearing Jericho-drawl type heel, but now he has been almost cemented in the main event, he now has a general gimmick of a regular heel. Ryder’s ridiculousness is usually kept to his YouTube videos only, but even then they have been toned down a bit recently. His on screen character is mostly silly and a bit goofy, but never toeing the line of being ridiculous.For a wrestler to be successful, they obviously need to do something to stand out from the pack and get noticed, and make a connection to the crowd, but then the closer they get to the main event, the further away from this character that they get. Only a small handful of superstars, specifically ‘Taker and Kane, have managed to keep a hold of the utter ridiculousness of the character that they first portrayed, and get away with it, still coming off as a legitimate act in the eyes of the fans. With the both of those close to retiring in the next few years though, it appears that the ridiculous may be no more, and for me it will be a sad time. I only ask for a few magical, borderline laughable lightning bolts, or the power to control the lights in the arena, and I’ll be a happy man.Tweet me l_salfordEmail