The Mongo Wrestling Alliance creator talks about bringing the wild world of professional wrestling to Adult Swim.
To look at his resume, Mongo Wrestling Alliance creator Tommy Blacha has done a little bit of everything: in the 90’s, he was a writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien, where he developed the PimpBot5000 character. He’s also written for SNL’s TV Funhouse, Da Ali G Show, and he co-created Metalocalypse with Brendan Small. One of the most interesting entries in his resume—and most relevant to our interview—was his time as Creative Director for the WWE, where he crafted storylines and even had minor appearances in a couple of fights.
Mongo Wrestling Alliance follows the rivalries of the titular wrestling organization centered on the Kleberkuh family, former wrestling greats who seek to return to the past glory they had under the family patriarch, Baron (Harry Dean Stanton). The second half of the first season of MWA made its premiere on June 19th.
MTV Geek: Wrestling and metal.
Tommy Blacha: Yes.
Geek: It feels like metal and its fans might be a little easier for a writer to tweak for comedy given how serious it can all be taken sometimes. But given how inherently outrageous and out there wrestling is, was there difficulty creating a comedy out of it?
TB: It’s funny you say that, because it is a smart perception, and I guess a realistic perception. But underneath it all, I think you’d find a lot of the guys are similar. I think there’s like an over-perception of metal guys taking themselves so seriously and a lot of it comes from the fans.
Actually, [with] metal and wrestling, there’s a similarity where both are kind of grandiose and self-indulgent, but they’re both used to not being taken seriously and being the stepchild. So there’s kind of a little bit of savvy there. Sometimes you may even find more pretentious people in rock and acting and comedy than metal or wrestling because I think they’re viewed like their fans are the lowest common denominator, so they kind of have that as a badge of honor.
But then again, it’s a case-by-case basis, because there certainly is—people take it way too seriously. Although, I would say it’s a lot tougher for someone to take wrestling way too seriously than it is to take metal way too seriously. I think that’s why they take steroids and get big and huge, or grow their hair and seem so scary that people leave them alone. So it’s like they both have that similar, “Hey look at me, leave me alone” kind of thing.
You know, I guess that doesn’t answer how I approached it at all other than the same sense where I love both things. You know how you can make fun of something that you love? I think people see that you can’t be derisive of it or dismissive of it when you make fun of it. You know, it’s like if you have a dad who’s a drunk, and you and you’re brother make fun of him and it’s like, that’s cool. But if some kid down the street makes fun of him, it’s like, “F*** you,” you know? So, I think that the approach is to kind of embrace it and really love it [and] point out what’s really ridiculous about it.
Geek: You were actually in the industry for a while, working alongside wrestlers.
TB: Yeah. Actually, it was really amazing. I used to work for Late Night With Conan O’Brien and I was always saying we should have wrestlers on. This was like in ’97. And even back then, it was funny because wrestling wasn’t so accepted in the entertainment world, so it was like, “Really, have a wrestler on?” But we’d have a third-rate sitcom actor—f*** yeah, have a wrestler on! They’re unbelievable when they walk out, they’re smarter than people think, they’re more charming.
We started having some guys on, casting them in bits and stuff. My brother had wrestled years ago, and I have managed him as a high school guy here and there, just like a geek that gets thrown around the ring. So I picked up some of the lingo. Vince McMahon was on as a guest, and I was moving out west, leaving Conan O’Brien and he said “Why don’t you come down to a couple of shows?” And he kind of recruited me.
And at the time, there were these famous cable wrestling wars—Ted Turner stole the whole creative staff away, so overnight [McMahon] was left with no creative staff, so it was just a yellow pad, paper, me, Vince, and his son Shane and we were stuck. And I blinked and I was out on the road with wrestling, right in the thick of it. I called my girlfriend, and said “I suddenly became one of the most powerful men in professional wrestling. I’m not gonna be home for a week.” And then I cancelled my plans for moving to California and stayed at the WWF [as it was known then] for like 16 months and it was unbelievable.
In fact, I was going to stay there forever, because it really was—there’s a reason that people are third-generation wrestlers in these wrestling families. Because the pace is so unbelievable and it either is your life or it isn’t, there’s no “I’m gonna dabble in it.” Sometimes, I still wonder if I made the right choice [laughs].
Geek: So you miss it, then?
TB: Certainly. I mean, a lot of it I don’t. It’s funny, it’s like, here’s four different cities a week, and we were programming five hours of original programming a week, plus one pay-per-view a month, and we have ten TV shows syndicated in 120 countries. Between ’99 and 2000 it was so wonderful. The next high-pressure job would have to be in the Pentagon or the White House or something.
Geek: The way you make it sound—and this comes through in the show, a bit—being a wrestler or being in the industry is like being in a fishbowl and that’s all you see. Was that true?
TB: Absolutely. Being in the actual wrestling biz nowadays, it’s like being on a sports team with the difficulties of managing a sports team with athletic egos and injuries and such. And still being a sporting event but writing for a soap opera for the storylines, while being on the road with a rock group. So you can see how the production is put together and feel the camaraderie.
But it also has these deep roots in carnie families—because that’s where it really came from. The inception of it was “Let’s have a championship wrestler come to this town. And what if we beat up all these people and have a local boy and maybe have him win? People will really be jazzed and we’ll do that in the next town!” And that would really get people to come out and buy tickets. And actually, they say that even Abraham Lincoln did that, [wrestling] at county fairs.
So it had this real gypsy-carnie mentality being on the road. And even within that history you’re conning people a lot. It was like PT Barnum, and even though you want to give them the proper show so they don’t get mad about their ticket price. It’s a sacred world—it’s much less sacred now—but you’re certainly in a fishbowl and you’re certainly separate from everyone else.
And you’ll find that especially with wrestlers there’s this incredible mix of superhuman people who are really arrogant and cynically superior but also kind of insecure and socially awkward, too. With wrestlers, it’s like the insecurities of an actor combined with [the athleticism]. It’s not like a race where you’re the fastest and you win. With wrestlers, if you listed some of the guys who were the toughest, it really wouldn’t add up to the guys who are the most popular or the champions. So it’s a very strange world like that.
When I made Mongo Wrestling Alliance, I was actually—I have to be really careful with my words here because I don’t want any wrestlers to beat me up and you can’t use words like “fake” because that’s a bad word in wrestling. In Mongo Wrestling Alliance, I just have it [where] all of the physicality is real. There’s no behind-the-scenes, worked out, wink-wink world.
Geek: Have you thought about approaching any wrestling talent for MWA?
TB: Yeah, in fact hopefully if season 2 happens, I’ll do that. The big problems are with actually having them voice over regular parts. It’s just their incredible schedule. These guys wrestle anyway from 260 to 300 shows a year. So, it’s going to have to be a lot of guest spots. In fact, we tried a couple that we just couldn’t get through because of planes and schedules. So it becomes like a little scheduling nightmare.
Actually, what’s fun: I did a voice on Venture Brothers with Hulk Hogan.
Geek: Really? When was this?
TB: I guess about three or four months ago, but I’m not sure when it’s going to come out. It’s not about wrestlers at all. But I play—it’s not about wrestlers at all—the mayor of a town and my voice if opposite Hulk Hogan’s and that was pretty thrilling to hear him.
Geek: What are you most excited about with the upcoming MWA season?
TB: Well, hopefully that we just start to nail the lunacy of this world. Always, the most exciting thing is when you make this fake world and then it actually starts to work. And then you have characters that start to live on their own. It becomes a little easier to voice them over or see what they’re going to do next. One of the great things about the creative aspect is that you start to talk about them in terms of real people because of their attributes and what have you. So it’s exciting to see how they’re going to interact and what they’re going to do.
The most exciting thing is that it starts to work, because it’s really hard to pull off a lot of things, especially with animation when there are so many micro-decisions and things you have to do to get it all together. So I’m that it’s just working and that ultimately, I’m like “Wow! An existing world of all these strange wrestlers and characters and how they interact.”
Geek: One of the cool things you guys did over at Metalocalypse is that in the first couple of episodes it’s this comedy about metal and then within a couple of episodes you really nailed the characters and their personalities. And seems like the same thing is happening at MWA.
TB: Thanks, because really that’s everything, you know? It’s so hard, because sometimes you want to have all of your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted, and you want to have the show track and make sense, but sometimes the biggest thing is making a character come to life. Because things could be so flawed, but that character’s funny [and] I’d like to hear what that character’s going to say. That’s everything.
When you know the character’s attributes then it’s so much easier to write because you know obviously, this is how this person feels about something, or here’s a situation and it’s like, how are they going to work it out?
Sitcoms bum me out because it’s like “joke-to-joke” writing, and you don’t really get a sense of characters. Everyone has to say a joke all the time and they can’t just be themselves. And you kind of know what’s coming because of how they are: whether they’re insecure or arrogant. Sometimes with The Sopranos, I stuck around and enjoyed those characters so much when they were just at a dinner. Man, I could watch a whole show of them just eating dinner and saying stuff about nothing—I don’t even care about the construct of the show sometimes.
And that’s why Adult Swim is so awesome sometimes and has that luxury where sometimes you can go down those roads a little bit. Sometimes it’s tricky because it’s not really catching and you have to split the difference and make the story track, but sometimes with those 15-minute episodes you can be a little self-indulgent, letting the characters run wild a bit here and there. I really enjoy that.
Mongo Wrestling Alliance airs on Sunday nights at 12:15 on Adult Swim.