He may have spent a long while doing it, but Lee Kyle sounds like he was the worst wrestler ever.
Granted, I know very little about the sport, but my understanding (based on the loop of WWF which was on at my boyfriend’s house in the nineties) was that all the best wrestlers have memorable names and a signature move.
I’m talking Randy “Macho Man” Savage and his flying elbow drop; The Undertaker and his Heartpunch; the Ultimate Warrior and the Warrior Press+Splash... you get my drift.
So of course ‘name’ and ‘move’ were the first two bullet points on my list of wrestling-related questions for the now 35-year-old Lee, who was a regular on the North East wrestling circuit for nine whole years. “Nah, I just used my real name. I know, that’s disappointing isn’t it?” he laughs “I should have been called Deathstar Thunder or something. I’m not massively blokey. I was a bit out of place.”
OK, so what about a special move?
“Sadly not. One of my flaws was that I’m not a particularly athletic person, so I wasn’t naturally spectacular. I very much got by on my ability to rile people up. Characterwise, I was quite strong. I’m still not sure how I ended up doing it for nine years though.”
Having always fancied taking a swing at being a comedian, in 2009 Lee decided to hang up his lycra and find an open mic spot.
“I’d kind of fallen into wrestling, whereas I’d always wanted to be a stand-up but had no idea how to get started. Funnily enough, Stefan Peddie (the wrestler-turned-comic who will be familiar to viewers of BBC2 sitcom, Hebburn) had his last match against me. But I would never have asked his advice, in case he laughed in my face at the thought of me being a comedian.”
Despite this reluctance to reveal his comedy ambition, Lee managed to get himself a 10-minute spot at the (now closed) King’s Manor in Newcastle.
“It didn’t go brilliantly, but I did come off thinking ‘this hurts a load less than wrestling’,” he laughs. “So I was happy to have another go. After a while, I realised there’s loads of tie-ins between wrestling and stand-up. “I started creating a character using the skills I’d developed while wrestling, rather than just being a nervous boy, talking fast.” (I just want to point out here that Nervous Boy, Talking Fast would have been the best wrestling name, ever.)
“Wrestling, as much as anything else, is about crowd work – playing up to the audience if you’re a good guy, or knocking them down if you’re a bad guy, proverbially speaking of course,” Lee continues.
“Nobody thinks wrestling is a real sport. We don’t watch it to see a real sporting contest. It’s not a sport – it’s better than a sport. It’s a morality play, it’s theatre, it’s comedy, it’s improv – and two or three times a year, something perfect or surprising happens and it is the best thing on television.”
Lee is hoping to make something special happen on stage at The Stand in April when he performs his first full-length show.
It’s called Ultimate Worrier (another wrestling name contender) and follows his critically-acclaimed joint effort at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 alongside fellow North East stand-ups Si Buglass and Jonny Pelham.
“I’ll be talking about wrestling, which I haven’t really done before,” says Lee, who has also enjoyed supported slots with Gavin Webster and Chris Ramsey.
“People say to me that I’m odd and very alternative. I don’t see myself like that. I think I’m more mainstream... but enough people have said I’m odd, that it must be true. Me assuming that I’m not, is me being odd,” he laughs.
“But other than being with my wife and son, comedy is the only thing I’ve done where I’ve thought ‘I’m where I belong’.
“People are odd in stand-up and people are odd in wrestling... but the people who are odd in stand-up are odd like me. I found a lot of friends who are similarly strange. That’s comforting.”
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