The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana
Howl Presents ‘Pro Wrestling Fringe’ – Laugh ‘Til It Hurts
Release Date: June 23, 2016
Recap by Chris Davidson
– Colt Cabana chronicles the life and comedy wrestling career of Les Kellett
– Preview of “Pro Wrestling Fringe” on Howl.fm
0:00 – Introduction
2:54 – Pro Wrestling Fringe Intro
4:19 – Laugh ‘Til It Hurts Episode Intro
6:46 – Who is Les Kellett?
10:26 – Les Kellett’s true calling
14:31 – John Lister weighs in
18:46 – Colt wraps up Pro Wrestling Fringe
20:33 – Bonus Clip
0:00 – Introduction – Colt introduced this week’s episode by noting that it is a new episode of his Pro Wrestling Fringe podcast on Howl.fm. Colt also reminded listeners that his episode archives are now on the Howl app, ad free, and he talked about his decision to put archived episodes behind a paywall. To ease fears, Colt reminded listeners that the Art of Wrestling will always be available for free first, and advised listeners to download episodes when they are released if they do not want to get Howl. Colt thanked The Midroll for teaming him with great sponsors.
2:54 – Pro Wrestling Fringe Intro – The Pro Wrestling Fringe opened with Colt introducing himself to new listeners who may be discovering this podcast via Howl, discussing various bizarre places he has wrestled over the years, and stating that Pro Wrestling Fringe will focus on unique stories from a unique genre. Colt introduced this episode noting that John Lister, British wrestling expert, will help introduce listeners to one of Colt’s heroes who has influenced his career path. Colt calls this story “Laugh ‘Til It Hurts.”
4:19 – Laugh ‘Til It Hurts Episode Intro – Colt began the episode setting the scene: England in the 1970s, where comedy was a thriving industry. Colt said that wrestling seemed like an easy topic for mockery, but the wrestlers of the time weren’t being laughed at. They were being laughed with. On March 23, 1974, British TV viewers watched one of the funniest wrestling matches of all time, portraying an athletic competition. Colt said that when a wrestling fan buys a ticket, they are there to see pro wrestling and nothing else. A comedian must fall into line for the fan’s expectations, or they will lose the trust and compassion of an audience. Leon Arras faced off against Les Kellett, the king of the comedy wrestling match known for making his opponent look foolish. This match occurred at the height of Kellett’s fame, shockingly, at age 58.
6:46 – Who is Les Kellett? – Colt talked briefly of Kellett’s early life in no-nonsense Yorkshire, England. When Kellett joined the Merchant Navy, he found a love of amateur wrestling, eventually “turning pro” in 1938. Kellett was a “fill the bill” promoter, who only filled in if someone didn’t show, and often refereed or helped with promotion. Kellett didn’t appear on television until 1957 when he was 41. Colt noted that, unless you could stand out, being on TV wasn’t as big of a deal at the time, with hundreds of wrestlers rotating through TV appearances as “just another wrestler”. Kellett finally had his “a-ha moment” two decades after his debut. In a match against the much bigger Seamus Dunleavy where Kellett was getting beat up, Kellett had enough and stopped trying to retaliate, instead ducking punches to the crowd’s delight. Kellett became a big star building a routine out of moving out of the way of punches, pretending not to hear the bell, pointing at the ceiling and slapping his opponent when they looked, and acting like he was knocked out on his feet. Years of wrestling had helped Kellett have great timing in the ring, but wrestling wasn’t his true calling.
10:26 – Les Kellett’s true calling – Kellett’s true calling was comedy and because of his seniority, he could call his own shots and have his hand-picked buffoonish opponents play the straight man in their matches. Kellett’s in-ring style wasn’t very dangerous or hard-hitting, but outside the ring he was as tough as they come, and mean to boot. Kellett once burned a fan’s face for questioning the legitimacy of wrestling and made another wrestler stomp on his infected hand without flinching. But occasionally wrestlers would stand up to Kellett, and they would earn his respect and friendship. Kellett’s match against Leon Arras was another classic comedy match in Kellett’s history that blurred the lines between comedy and athletics. Arras was a character actor named Brian Glover who played a heel, but was a “sweetheart” behind the curtain. Many fans didn’t know that Kellett was really a mean tough guy putting up a front to his trusted few. Outside the ring, no one was really sure who the real Les Kellett was.
14:31 – John Lister weighs in – Colt welcomed John Lister, who helped Colt put this story together, and asked why Lister immediately told Colt about Kellett. Lister mentioned Kellett’s different layers, as a comedian in the ring and a tough guy outside the ring. Colt asked about Kellett’s age, and said he wasn’t sure the tough guy stuff was really that big in Kellett’s story. Lister told the aforementioned story of Kellett burning a fan’s face on a radiator, and receiving a massive burn down his own arm that he didn’t even seem to notice. Colt wondered why Kellett kept wrestling into his 40s with little success, and Lister suggested that Kellett enjoyed the performance, and wasn’t going to let anyone tell him when to quit. Colt asked about adding comedy into the kayfabe wrestling of the day. Lister said that the show was filmed like a legitimate sport and, while there may have been a “wink-wink” with some fans, wrestling was still presented as real and Kellett would have to be careful to make his spots plausible. Colt asked about why Kellett stopped wrestling in his 50s, and wondered if it was because of his age or because his shtick got old. Lister commented that he faded away due to fewer wrestlers that he could trust to take care of him in the ring. Lister signed off saying that in British wrestling, no one really retires, the bookings just get “further and further between”. Colt plugged Lister’s book reviews and social media.
18:46 – Colt wraps up Pro Wrestling Fringe – Colt plugged his theme music composer, the Art of Wrestling podcast, his website and merch site, his sponsors, as well as other shows and comedy albums on Howl, including his appearance on Mark Maron’s WTF podcast, and signed off.
20:33 – Bonus Clip – Colt played a short clip of commentary from the beginning of the Les Kellett vs. Leon Arras match.
Score: 7.5 – This was an entertaining episode of Pro Wrestling Fringe. However, I didn’t like it quite as much as the first episode Colt premiered in February. The production values and background music continue to be great, and Colt sounded much more relaxed this episode than in the previous one about Tom Magee. The story itself seemed somewhat unfocused, as Colt kept mentioning the Kellett vs. Arras match, but he never actually talked about the match. This episode created some YouTube homework, but it was unclear whether Colt was trying to focus more on Kellett’s tough guy persona or his age during his success. Regardless, this was another fascinating look into a somewhat obscure facet of pro wrestling that fans should really investigate.