Jan 23, 2020
Drew McIntyre On Monday Night Raw
Seemingly overnight, Drew McIntyre became a guy you'd like to get a pint with.
For the past month on RAW, he's been sauntering to the ring as a big, surly, sexy bastard, perpetually grinning, cutting funny promos, counting down Claymore kicks, and connecting with the crowd.
If you're a WWE-fan his energy, at long last, is in alignment with your perception of his potential.
If you had the good fortune to watch Drew's work as Galloway on the indies from 2014-2017, then you've likely already had this experience. His excellence, for you, isn't merely theoretical (which made it all the more frustrating to watch him play second fiddle to heels upon his return to "the main roster").
Drew was always going to have a hard time returning to WWE, though. His gimmick on the indies was built upon the idea that, fresh off a dissatisfying run in the land of Sports Entertainment, he was going to "take a stand for Professional Wrestling". At the time, this message was incredibly resonant.
In 2014, the phrase "Professional Wrestling" was a far dirtier word in WWE than it is today, and a rallying cry for frustrated wrestling fans. Drew Galloway was an early modern example of a wrestler who embodied the ideological divide between Sports Entertainment and Professional Wrestling; how the former fails talent in a way the latter doesn't.
His argument was convincing because he'd been through the WWE system, he knew what he was talking about, and every promo and match that followed proved his point. He quietly pioneered, for a new generation of wrestling fans, a creative philosophy that's since been taken for granted: the only way to "get over" today...is to leave.
And that's why Drew was going to struggle upon his return to WWE.
How does one “get over” when they return to a system that failed them?
Furthermore, Drew faced a greater challenge regarding his character’s identity. Flaws in WWE's "star-making" mechanisms aside, Galloway's mission-statement no longer resonates because Professional Wrestling won the argument. Marriage ceremonies, cuck angles, goth stables, and librarians aside, Sports Entertainment has gradually tiptoed into the background. It's not gone (not by a long shot). And it can come back, in force, at any moment.
But, for now, great professional wrestling is en vogue.
Drew McIntyre stands victorious on Monday Night Raw
Almost every week, wrestling fans are guaranteed a five star match from a promotion of their choosing, be it mainstream or streaming.
Our community’s interests, tastes, and priorities are less defined by McMahon's goofy mini-movies and more defined by our understanding of Pro-Wrestling's inherent value and versatility. Our hunger for improved quality, both inside and outside the ring, has nudged the business in a positive direction.
So where does that macro-growth leave someone like Drew...McIntyre?
What stand could he take for professional wrestling that wouldn't feel redundant today?
He needed to find another way to connect, to service an overlooked need. And that's exactly what he's done on RAW in 2020.
What did he find?
Drew McIntyre counts down to a Claymore Kick.
Pure. Simple. Fun.
And he's fun to watch because he's having fun.
This is a deceptively simple revelation.
I was on my way home from work, listening to a wrestling podcast, thinking about how much I've enjoyed his work of late, wondering what, specifically, was so endearing about it. Why was he "getting over" with WWE-fans in a way he hadn't before, even in NXT? Why did it look so easy? Then it occurred to me that one of the largest threads that binds all acts who "get over" is that surprisingly elusive ingredient: fun.
Think of New Day, Becky Lynch, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, etc. Each of these acts, in their own way, is extremely fun to watch. We take this aspect of their character & performance for granted because it seems a given, but it's not. It's incredibly difficult to be fun and perform fun given the pressures of show business. It takes a particular mindset and a profound amount of courage to convey that positive, joyous energy to millions of people. If one’s performance isn’t calibrated perfectly, their attempts at fun will read as insincere. These "over" characters represent a wish fulfillment that gets us "regular people" through our days. If it doesn’t seem like they’re enjoying it, the myth is dispelled.
Whether they're playing a trombone, celebrating their broken face, raising their eyebrow, driving beer trucks, holding up tiny cups of cream, or luxuriating in their limousine lifestyle, they can do what we can't. In watching and enjoying them, we're subtly (if not overtly) invited into their world, able to ride along with them, high on the vapors of their liberation.
In real-life, it's very clear when these performers are legitimately enjoying themselves and their craft, and when they’re not.
This magical period usually occurs right after they've "found their voice", and the WWE (ideally) cashes in on their newfound magnetism in the form of a push. Maintaining that energy depends upon an assortment of increasingly complex factors, but once a talent forges a genuine bond with the audience, it's hard to break.
Drew McIntyre has found his main roster voice, and it’s rooted in unselfconscious fun. He couldn't have found it at a better time.
Consider how absent genuine fun is from our present world.
Consider how hungry you may be for uncomplicated fun.
For some of us (like me), the world is burning, we’re doomed to water wars, ancient viruses, widespread violence, and the dissolution of democracy. For others, everyone has a stick up their ass, can’t take a joke, is in hysterics over nothing, and insists upon unraveling long-held values for the sake of one's feelings not getting hurt.
The only thing we have in common is how much fun we’re not having.
Take NXT vs AEW as an example, a lighthearted contest that has resulted in some of the best wrestling this generation has ever seen (the actual takeaway of Wednesday nights). It’s a “war” invented by promotions and wrestling fans who have a financial or emotional stake in it being realized as a war. Someone spray-paints "AEW" and "TNT" over "NXT" and "USA" on a subway advert and it's considered a “shot fired”. Meanwhile, those firing shots in retaliation fail to consider the commonality of graffiti in subways, the tradition of being "worked" in pro-wrestling, and the existence of “guerrilla marketing" in media.
Our investment in appearing "right" overrides our investment in the experience of communal joy, mutating pleasure into a self-inflicted mental pain deemed "morally correct". As a result, fun gets sucked into the quicksand of our collective self-righteousness, sincerity, idiocy, and inability to have complicated, often contradictory beliefs & experiences simultaneously.
In such times, genuine fun has immense value.
We must guard it against the onslaught of our own minds.
Drew McIntyre celebrates on Raw.
The fun I describe is not the dopamine-infused fun of distraction, nor the fabled "wildness" of one’s twenties.
Do not confuse this defense of fun for a "boomer" comedian’s complaints about today's teens and twenty-somethings being “too serious” (as if "fun" is a specific set of self-destructive behaviors prescribed to a particular age-group by way of social conditioning).
I'm describing fun as defined by friendship, love, camaraderie, banter, play, mindfulness, discovery, invention, insight into self, and gratitude. Fun that doesn't need to justify itself, concede anything, or adhere to a destructive social construct.
This kind of fun is timeless, benevolent, and communal.
That's the sort of simple, meaningful fun I experience when I watch Drew McIntyre countdown to a Claymore.
That's the fun I had when he "Didn't even drop the microphone!" after delivering said Claymore kick.
That fun is just as important now as "taking a stand for professional wrestling" was in 2014.
Getting to watch Drew have a good time in his match against Randy Orton made this week's RAW more entertaining, and it helped me forget whatever caused that day's ruminations. His promo after receiving a RKO didn’t just protect his revitalized gimmick. It allowed us to see, in yet another way, how he's enjoying (rather than enduring) his attempt to become WWE Champion. That is especially refreshing after years of watching "disgruntled employees" (e.g. CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, etc), fueled by their legitimate frustration or the anger of fans, seek success out of spite more than hope.
Drew's chase for the title, no matter the outcome, isn't a slog through internet angst and unrealized superstar potential - it's an enjoyable adventure undertaken with good cheer and determination.
While this model could be applied elsewhere on the card, it does not represent a strict “one size fits all” solution to WWE’s creative missteps. It’s all too easy to take my argument in favor of fun, extract the meaning, and reduce it to “WWE Superstars just need to go out there and have fun...pal!”
That is not what I am suggesting.
WWE Superstars, like any artists, need to find their voice.
But, just as importantly, WWE needs to create the conditions, for all superstars, wherein that is actually possible. Then, when that superstar finds their voice, WWE needs to support them with enthusiasm and foresight. That experience of discovery, regardless of a character's particular temperament, is pleasurable.
We are witnessing that process unfold for Drew McIntyre, and all we can do is watch, enjoy, and hope for the best.
His transformation into Banter King seems like it happened overnight, and that's yet another testament to his skill. In reality, it's taken years of diligent work and commitment to his craft to arrive at this point. He has graciously invited us to participate with the simplest, most brilliant call and response of the past several years, "Three! Two! One!”, just in time for The Royal Rumble, where counting aloud is reason enough to attend.
Should he continue on his present course, and should WWE allow him to showcase his charm in suitable segments and matches, Drew will successfully claim his prize and give wrestling fans exactly what they need (even if they don’t quite know it yet).
Follow Tim on Twitter @WorkOfWrestling