“The virtue of wrestling is to be a spectacle of excess,” the great French cultural theorist Roland Barthes once observed. Proof of the faux sport’s enduring appeal, if any were needed, could be found on a Saturday evening last fall in North Austin, where almost eight hundred sweaty, screaming young men and women crowded around a ramshackle ring set up in the 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op’s warehouse on Metric Boulevard. “Welcome, human scum, to Robot Slamming Event number 33824!” proclaimed the announcer, a zaftig woman in a black leather jacket and combat boots. “You have all been allowed to take a break from your regularly scheduled productivity cycles to participate in mandatory work violence!”
The cheering and jeering crowd had assembled to watch the latest production of Party World Rasslin’, a wrestling league cum theater troupe founded in Austin a little more than two years ago by pro-wrestling aficionados Jared Blondeau and Chris Monica. It all began at a house party for Blondeau’s twenty-eighth birthday. “The idea was to show up as a made-up wrestler and yell at people on a microphone, and then presumably as we got drunk, people would wrestle each other,” Blondeau explained. “It was sort of a beautiful, awkward failure, but the consensus we all came away with was that we should try this again, with more planning.”
Subsequent events, held every few months, were moved to a friend’s backyard to accommodate the ever-larger crowds. There, organizers built a ring out of plywood and mattresses and gave away free beer. One night a policeman stopped by to investigate the proceedings and ended up staying to watch a few fights. “He was like, ‘This is too cool to shut down,’ ” Monica remembered. Still, he and Blondeau worried that they’d eventually draw the wrath of the authorities, not to mention the neighbors, so they began looking for a more legitimate venue. They moved their operations first to the Midway Field House sports bar and then, when they outgrew that space, to 4th Tap, which allowed them to install a used, full-scale ring near its giant steel fermentation tanks. Last month they took their show on the road for the first time, staging an event on the UT-Dallas campus. Their next spectacle, dubbed Wrestleslam II: Wrestlevania, will take place at 4th Tap on March 12 to coincide with SXSW. Rather than charging admission, PWR has held a series of Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns; a recent one raised almost $2,500.
A PWR event is an unlikely combination of rock concert, improv comedy show, and underground boxing match à la Fight Club. The recurring characters are as numerous and varied as the deities in a Hindu epic and are nearly as difficult to keep track of as the shows’ baroque, dystopian plots. But there was nothing contrived about the beery catharsis evident in the screams and moans of the packed crowd at this latter-day charivari. “At the last event, I cried twice—like, flat-out bawled,” admitted Sofia Rybin, a video producer from Seattle who has flown to Austin on two occasions to attend shows. (Barthes: “In wrestling, as on the stage in antiquity, one is not ashamed of one’s suffering, one knows how to cry, one has a taste for tears.”)
Just then, in the ring, a Crocodile Dundee look-alike named Dazza Longbarrel slammed Randy “The Eagle” Eagleman to the mat and used a pair of garden shears to cut off his fabric wings with great dramatic relish. “Oh no!” Rybin screamed, in unison with the crowd. “No, no, no, no, no!” Then, in a quieter voice, “Oh, I’m going to be sick. I hate that guy.”