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AICN ON THE MAT: The Dean goes toe to toe with “The Showoff” Dolph Ziggler!

Q’s by the Dean!

@’s by Dolph Ziggler!!!

Welcome, everyone, to another edition of AICN ON THE MAT! The Dean, here, bringing you an interview with one of the top talents in the WWE right now: “The Showoff,” Dolph Ziggler! One of my favorite events of the year is SUMMERSLAM, and this Sunday’s show is shaping up to be a pretty memorable night. Will Daniel Bryan make John Cena tap to become WWE Champion? Can “The Best in the World” CM Punk survive “The Beast” Brock Lesnar? Will The Miz be the Billy Crystal or the James Franco of Pay-Per-View hosts? Why do we need a host in the first place?

All of these are reason enough to tune in on Sunday, but the ongoing question of how Dolph Ziggler will steal the show this time is always one of the top reasons to watch any WWE show. Even though he won’t be main eventing this year, SUMMERSLAM is one of the biggest stages in all of pro wrestling, so the odds that he won’t find a way to create some unforgettable moment are slim to none.

I caught up with Ziggler prior to his appearance at Wizard World Chicago last weekend, and we touched on a wide range of topics including this Sunday’s show, his burgeoning stand-up career, and what it means to be a “heel” these days. Check out the Q&A and then sound off with your SUMMERSLAM predictions in the Talkbacks below!

THE DEAN: Hey, Dolph! How are you?

DOLPH ZIGGLER (DZ): Good, man, how are you doing?

DEAN: Not too bad, thanks. This is actually pretty cool timing because are you in town for Wizard World (Chicago) right now?

DZ: I’m not there yet, I actually have a very rare two days at home first, so…

DEAN: Ah, okay. Well deserved!

DZ: I’ll be there Saturday though, and then at Wizard World on Sunday.

DEAN: You guys seem to be doing a lot of these comic conventions lately! Do you enjoy these shows? Do you get to walk around and check stuff out much while you’re there?

DZ: Yeah, especially since you know it’s not comic books only anymore and other stuff I don’t understand (both laugh). There’s a bunch of stuff – new movies coming out, cartoons, video games, everything you can imagine, TV shows, and uhh…everyone’s realizing how big these are, how popular they are, so they’re joining up with these shows and making them that much cooler. So yeah, it’s cool to see so many WWE superstars doing them now, too.

DEAN: Yeah, I love that because I always thought that the WWE and pro-wrestling in general kind of fits in with all that stuff in a way. I mean it’s so unique that it probably deserves its own convention, but if it’s going to be part of anything it’s probably this.

DZ: Yeah, I totally agree.

DEAN: I think pro-wrestlers these days tend to be more creative types now, too. A lot of you have multiple outlets for your creativity: writing, obviously acting is a common one. But you’re doing something different; you’ve been doing stand-up lately, right?

DZ: (laughs) Yeah , I’ve gotten a couple under my belt, and I’ve been writing stuff for a few years. I’m practicing on Twitter all the time, and getting some things down, but yeah, a day like today I’ve got some interviews to do but after that I’ll be sitting by the pool just writing some more material. Then that week that we spend out in LA for SUMMERSLAM I’ll try to sneak onto a couple more open mics while I’m out there.

DEAN: That has to be the scariest thing in the world. What made you want to do this? How long have you wanted to do stand-up?

DZ: Honestly since I was like 8 years old. I mean, I wanted to be a WWE Superstar but I wanted to be like on “Saturday Night Live,” I wanted to be an entertainer. I loved just trying to steal the show in real life, be it out at a bar, or at a party, and I guess I’ve just been a fan and a student of it since I was a child, since when Comedy Central first became a network, I remember that. I just, you know, I studied, I watched, and any type of entertainment outlet that you can get into and understand, “Oh, why are they getting these reactions here?” It always comes back to play in making myself a better WWE superstar – making my promos better, making my interviews better, finding a way to entertain, and finding out why these guys who are so good at comedy, you know, why they are what they are.

So since I’ve been studying I’ve wanted to do it for years, and finally had the chance – I wrote five or six minutes worth, finally got up on stage in a very small venue in front of about forty people, and I’d never been more nervous in my life than that day.

DEAN: (laughs) so how was the set? How did it go?

DZ: It actually went pretty well. A couple of comedian friends of mine were telling me, “get it out of the way, you’re gonna bomb, you’re gonna be bad, but then you’ll build on it” and it actually went much better than expected. I was lucky enough to have a couple of performers there who were very cordial in letting me into their world and gave me some pointers and things for the next time I do it, so it was pretty neat.

DEAN: That’s awesome! Do you ever like think of a joke and write it down, then think “should I save this for my set, or maybe do it on RAW tonight?”

DZ: Yeah, I mean, all the time! Especially with the WWE being PG, we’re family friendly, and a lot of my jokes are anything but that. The cool thing that’s actually made me more creative is finding a way, saying “okay I have this joke, or I have this bit, this set – how can I make this family friendly and still get my joke across?” It’s like how a long time ago where if you worked blue you couldn’t get on Johnny Carson. That’s what’s in my head now, and I like to think of it that way; having an idea, figuring out how to not swear, have it be PG, and still be funny makes it that much harder, but I like the challenge.

DEAN: That should be your next goal! I want to see you on one of the late night shows promoting a Pay-Per-View or something and then do a five, ten minute set at the end.

DZ: Yeah that’d be great! Hopefully Conan will invite me to come sit down after a set and I can promote SUMMERSLAM afterwards.

DEAN: Yeah! I’m pretty sure that’d be a first, it’s got to be. So who are some of your influences in stand-up?

DZ: Wow, ummm…Brian Regan is a guy who’s been around a long time, never had giant glory or anything, but he’s someone I’ll constantly go back to. Nick Swardson is one of my favorites, and he’s a younger guy who’s been in some Adam Sandler movies. Ummm, I saw Anthony Jeselnik do an hour recently which was really great…I’m trying to think of who else we got here…Tosh is a guy I saw do stand-up a long time ago, before he got his show, and he was great, but yeah a lot of guys like that.

DEAN: Well I know you’re a huge “Archer” fan, too, so anyone that likes “Archer” has to have a pretty good sense of humor.

DZ: Ohhh, man, and literally just last night I was watching it! Those are some of the only things that are saved on my Tivo that no matter what don’t get erased every couple weeks, and like every other day or so I’ll just randomly put on an episode. That show is so smart, funny, sexy, and it’s so great that it’s just…that’s what everyone should try to be, smart and funny.

DEAN: Yeah, and I mean H John Benjamin’s voice behind anything - do you watch “Bob’s Burgers?”

DZ: Of course I do! I watch all those things, and that’s what’s cool about these Comic Cons - those guys, those shows are there, and it’s like, “Okay, there’s something for me to go see.” Like Cartoon Network, the Adult Swim guys, “Bob’s Burgers;” But yeah, H John Benjamin can put his voice on anything and I’d laugh, I’d love it. Even if it was just, I don’t know, some kind of a news show or something.

DEAN: Totally agree, but I suppose I should probably steer this toward wrestling now since that’s what we’re supposed to be talking about…

DZ: (laughs) right!

DEAN: So about creativity and challenges, you kind of touched on this a little with the stand-up stuff, but what still challenges you as a professional wrestler?

DZ: You know, right now in my career I have this weird situation where I had been getting cheered as a bad guy for years, and now I’m kind of evolving into this sort of in between bad guy/good guy thing, where almost every night now I have to work that much harder to win these audiences over, to get them behind me, and it’s actually this new challenge for me, actually almost being the good guy in these matches where in my 8 year career I’d never once been a good guy. So I was studying these bad guy tactics – where to be, how to react, how to move in between – and now I’m almost learning all over again, so that’s a big challenge for me right now, even though I am that good (laughs).

DEAN: Do you get a lot of pressure to change your Twitter handle? Because @HEELZiggler doesn’t necessarily fit you anymore…

DZ: I do, I get a bunch of pressure from….well, idiots on twitter telling me to change my twitter handle (both laugh), but here’s the deal: in this day and age, when I made that @HEELZiggler, putting “heel” on t-shirts, putting it on my gear, it’s almost like, you know, nowadays “heel” doesn’t stand for bad guy it stands for heel , it’s like, “okay, he’s a jerk,” but this day and age where the lines are kind of blurred, and it’s not black or white, it’s gray, it’s fine. I am a “heel.” I’m a “bad guy.” But it’s cool to get behind me.

DEAN: Is it tough for you guys then when you go out to be the villain, to get booed, but then especially in a place like Chicago where we love our heels, you wind up getting some of the biggest cheers of the night?

DZ: Yeah, I literally get cheered more than anyone else except for maybe a hometown CM Punk in Chicago, but it’s been like that almost my entire career, and that just makes it that much more fun for me. In the WWE, if you’re getting a response from the crowd you’re doing your job. If you’re getting a crazy response, even if it’s the other way around, who cares? They’re having fun, and that means we’re going to have fun.

DEAN: Right, right, and most of that comes from the “smart marks,” who you’ve been a favorite among forever. Do you guys differentiate the fans that way? Is there any sort of pride being loved by that internet wrestling community, or is it just, you know, a fan’s a fan to you?

DZ: Yeah, absolutely there is! And here’s the great thing: as I become more and more successful they’re going to turn their backs on me - just chew me up and spit me out (both laugh) which is fine. They get behind the guys that they like, the guys they know work hard no matter what situation they’re in, they will get behind them. And the cool thing is I’m one of the very few guys who did not work the independent scene. I wrestled in college, was a fan since I was five years old, did all my homework and got lucky, then became really good. I studied, went to three practices a day when I first got hired, and just wanted to learn as much as possible.

So they kind of let that slide, they like to think of me as one of those guys, and that’s always going to be a great thing for me. It’s support like that, though, because not everyone gets that TV time, not everyone gets to be “the guy” in WWE, but when the crowd is behind you, or that internet fan base is behind, it’s awesome to have support, going “okay, I don’t suck at this. These guys know I’m good.”

DEAN: Do you think there are any cons to the way you were brought up? I mean obviously you’re one of the top tier guys now, so it’s worked out fine for you! But is there anything you feel you missed out on, or any experience that guys who got to work the indie scene or traveled the world have that you wish you had?

DZ: Honestly I’ve been fortunate enough with WWE to have Japanese wrestlers come in, or to have guys from some different territories, different parts of the country who’ve been overseas come in and I’ve been able to work with them. So I was never, by no means, proud that I’d never been an independent wrestler, because I mean I loved and supported Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling growing up, but I was just lucky enough that I didn’t have to go through those channels.

So that is a huge learning experience, but sometimes -depending on where you live, or where you’re from – you go to these wrestling schools and maybe the person that’s teaching you isn’t so great, and when you get to WWE you have to sort of relearn this style. So I like to think of it as a positive. Like, I got to start from scratch right here with the best and then move on from there, and when we have Japanese wrestlers come in or European wrestlers come in I just get in there, and like when I was in FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) or OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) I always worked with them after matches and would tell them to do something that they would do and learn from them, because I mean I’ve always been a student and always will be because I want to be the absolute best at this.

DEAN: That’s really cool to hear! I didn’t know they brought in guys like that, that’s really awesome. So going into SUMMERSLAM now, what’s the feel like for a show like this? I mean this is one of the big four (SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, WrestleMania), so does this just feel like another Pay-Per-View or is this more of a WrestleMania feel for you?

DZ: It absolutely is! It’s one of my favorites, because WrestleMania is this huge stage, millions of people watching, all these things, and there’s all these outside forces so sometimes, you know, you might get pushed to the side or you might not have the time. This is one of those things where I love Los Angeles, I love being in Hollywood, I go out there as much as I can like just to get mic time, or watch comedy shows. I love the buzz that’s in the air in that city, I just love being there and that is 100% true. This Pay-Per-View, we’re always at Staples now, it’s like this known thing, and we’re going to do Axxess for a couple days, we’re going to sell out Staples months in advance, and it’s a huge show.

The crowds are so great. They are there to have a great time, we love them, and since 2010, I was brand new, just a couple months in as Dolph Ziggler wrestling Rey Mysterio on the opener of that show, and I’ll never forget: five minutes in, the crowd started to get behind me because I was holding my own in there with Rey Mysterio, and they haven’t forgot it since. So this is always going to be a special show for me. It’s a huge show. We try to make it the second biggest Pay-Per-View there is besides the biggest of all, WrestleMania. So that week we’re there, we have the kickoff party, Axxess, we’re all over the place, and that is the week I look forward to more than anything.

DEAN: Yeah, SUMMERSLAM is always such a fun show, and you’re going to be in a mixed tag match this year with Kaitlyn going up against AJ and Big E. So I mean you’re obviously such a competitive guy - does it frustrate you to not be in a better position on the card, or to not be in one of the title pictures for a show like this?

DZ: Umm…yeah, of course not being in the main event does frustrate me, because yeah, I am competitive, and I want to be the best. I had weird situations, too, where I had a title shot but then got it taken away, or then I became champion, but got kicked in the head and was off TV for five weeks. So it is very frustrating sometimes, I look forward to this months in advance, and to not be going for the World Heavyweight Championship or the WWE Championship…yeah, it makes the chip on my shoulder that much bigger for next month, or next year, but…I’ve always found a way to stand out, to steal the show, to go out there and maybe people will go, “oh, this’ll be a fun inter-gender tag match”, or whatever, “maybe Snooki’s in this match, that’ll be funny!” I go out and find a way to stand out, to make people remember that, whatever it is, and go, “next time this guy needs to be in the main event.”

DEAN: Well I can’t wait to see what that’s going to be this year, and we went way over time, so I’m sorry about that, but thanks so much for your time today! Best of luck to you at SUMMERSLAM and hopefully I’ll run into you at Wizard World!

DZ: Alright, man, sounds good, I’ll see you there!

DEAN: How will “The Showoff” be stealing the show this time? Be sure to check out SUMMERSLAM this Sunday, live on Pay-Per View to find out!

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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