The live entertainment genre is one of the most unique in the entire industry, as the performers work for a paying audience and capture the memorable moments as they happen. There’s no safety net for a director to yell cut or for the artists on stage to get another take to erase a mishap. The unfiltered nature of the live performance is one of the reasons that the audience flocks to the box office. There’s a performance that is unique to that time and place, rather than the copy and paste nature of a taped production.
As we know, throughout the history of live entertainment, the demands on the performers, regardless of the field, can be grueling. Professional wrestling, the sports that originated from the carnival circuit, is a venture all its own, but still shares common themes with other live projects. Perhaps, the most common thread that the grappling arts shares with other entertainment is that valuable interaction with the paying customers, as it makes those in attendance not just a viewer, but also a participant in the event they paid to watch on stage.
Given the nature of the eccentric personas that gravitate toward each avenue, the comedy field actually shares some common ground with sports entertainment, as much of the direction of the performance is dictated by the reaction of the audience.
Sam Kinision ranting and raving on stage had some similarities to Brian Pillman ranting in the the ring on the mic.
For Pittsburgh native, Don Arner, he might currently shine under the bright lights of the stage, but his performance roots were in the ring. Not surprisingly, it was that same live event experience mentioned earlier that initially hooked Arner to the glitz and glamor of sports entertainment. Before the Penguins glided on the ice at PPG Paints Arena, Mario Lemieux captained the hockey squad to Stanley Cups at The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, the name that locals maintained even after Mellon Bank bought the naming rights to the building before it was demolished in favor of the new venue. For Arner, he sat in those famous Civic Arena seats next to his great grandmother for Summer Slam 1995, which featured the highly-anticipated ladder rematch between Shawn Micheals and Razor Ramon based on their famous clash from a year prior.
The adrenaline rush from the audience stuck with Don throughout his youth, and pro wrestling became a favorite hobby of his that his shared with his cousin, the grappler that is currently one of the standout stars of the Pittsburgh independent scene, Ganon Jones Jr., who is primarily known as one half of The Mane Event tag team with Duke Davis. Originally from New Kensington, PA, the two cousins found a training center in the next town over in McKeesport, the home base of the now-defunct Pro Wrestling Express organization.
Arner looks back fondly at his introduction to show business.
“Now that I look back on training ten years later, it was a great experience for me and also a really huge building period in my life. I’m glad it wasn’t the old school stretch you to see if you want to quit your dream approach. Ganon Jones Jr. and I were blessed with great trainers at the time we decided to pursue it together. Credit to Scotty Gash, Crusher Hanson, Chris LeRusso, and Quinn Magnum,” Don explained.
After Arner completed the tedious process of landing on the dirt-stained canvas repeatedly to learn the safety aspects of the sport, as well as the techniques of the maneuvers, he broke into the industry the same way any other rookie does, he began to hone his craft on the smaller circuit at sparsely-attended events.
Within just a few years, Don found himself as a pro wrestling persona, with a noticeable level of charisma and Alex Wright-inspired dance moves, Arner gained local notoriety for his ability to entertain audiences. However, he didn’t realize that his break in sports entertainment would happen much sooner than he expected. When the Tough Enough concept was rebooted by World Wrestling Entertainment, this time taking auditions through social media submissions, Don submitted a video more to get a laugh out of his local pals than to get noticed by anyone at The Performance Center. Arner was surprised when he realized his comedy bit for the social media tryout was not only seen, but opened the door for a major chance to be a part of the reality show.
“One night I come home from work to check my email and I have an E-mail from NBC, the parent company of the USA network. The casting agents were interested in interviewing me for consideration, that’s when I had to wake up and realize what I got myself into by joking around. I couldn’t waste this opportunity because there are guys who are seriously pushing themselves to get on the show. The next thing I know, I’m flying down to Orlando. It was great to say I got a taste of the grass on the other side, but with it being a reality show , it was little bitter than what it should have been. Reality TV is more fiction than what I thought, that overshadowed the experience of just a normal tryout. They already had it scripted down to who they wanted as finalist before it started, but I gave it my all either way, and they liked me enough to invite me back to a real tryout that following September,” Arner said.
When the follow-up tryout didn’t garner a WWE contract, Don found himself at a crossroad, he began working small open mic spots throughout comedy clubs around the steel city, including a competition that shaped his next path in the entertainment world.
“I entered the biggest comedy competition in Pittsburgh at the Improv, I took off running in that competition and ended up as a finalist. I even gained my first paid bookings after each round in the competition because people in the crowd would come up to me afterwards and say, ‘hey man , you killed it here’s $30’ to do a small set in their hole-in-the wall bars,” Don remarked.
After four and a half years in the ring, Don had enough of the bumps and bruises for meager pay and late-night gas station food of the independent wrestling scene. He found comedy as a way to still be an entertainer without the toll on his body and better financial circumstances on the stage. Still, he considers his time as a pro wrestler important to his journey into comedy and a valuable experience for how to entertain an audience.
“There are huge similarities in both wrestling and standup comedy, the only difference is one allows you to keep your cartilage in your spine for the rest of your life while paying you way more money. It’s the same exact psychology, especially learning how to do promos in wrestling. Comedy, like wrestling, is its own unique art style that as a performer you can really get your creativity out there in a more appreciative way than any other form of performance art. If anybody wants to dip their toe into comedy, you start like you would wrestling, you go digging locally for all the small clubs,” Arner commented.
In the more than seven years since Arner hung up the boots and picked up the mic, he quite literally worked coast-to-coast, performing all around the steel city and even traveling to appear on stage at Hollywood comedy festivals. Most recently, he agreed to be a regular for The Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh, and plans to continue to attempt to pursue comedy as an eventual full-time career.
“My goal is to eventually quit my day job and be able to pay all my bills with comedy. Hopefully, it can lead me into other avenues for comedy such as radio, podcasting, TV shows, or even acting while still working on the standup game. Other goals are to go on a tour and hopefully put together my own comedy special that even if I do it independently, I can put it out of independent platforms like Amazon, Google, and even Spotify,” Arner concluded.
For more information about Don, you can go to https://www.facebook.com/doooie.arner
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.
Until next week
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, & Threads @jimlamotta89