Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Are YOU PEOPLE Gonna Let Me TALK or WHAT? (Exclusive Interview with Johnny Kashmere)


Johnny Kashmere, 31, 6'0", 192#, is a Philadelphia-based indy wrestler who has, over the last decade, won titles at Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, National Championship Wrestling, Jersey All Pro Wrestling, Big Japan Pro Wrestling, and numerous other promotions.  For years, he wrestled with the late Trent Acid as part of the BackSeat Boyz, a wrestling parody of boy-band fever.  This past spring, with Matt Walsh, he launched the even more provocatively named team of Vanilla Man Candy.

In 2004, Kashmere founded and managed the pioneering promotion Pro Wrestling Unplugged (PWU), which has counted the likes of Christopher Daniels, Devon Moore, Juventud Guerrera, Steve Corino, the Briscoe Brothers, Samoa Joe, and Necro Butcher on its superstar roster.

As of late spring, Kashmere is also out as a gay pro wrestler, redubbing himself as "Mr Gay Philadelphia" Johnny Kashmere.  Not a gimmick, the real deal.  He writes a column for the weekly PhillyGayCalendar.com, though he hasn't written a column since Trent Acid's death last month.  You can also follow him on Twitter and MySpace, and he's on Facebook, as well (search "Johnny Kashmere").

Our friend Comptroller brought Kashmere to my attention last week as possibly a good subject for an interview on Ringside at Skull Island.  I contacted Kashmere via Facebook, and he graciously agreed to take my questions.  Thank you, Johnny, and thank you, Comptroller.

Kashmere at last month's Philadelphia PrideDay Parade

Joe:  First off, Johnny, thanks for consenting to talk with me about your wrestling career and professional wrestling in general.  I've been interested in pro wrestling since I was a teenager--before you were born--and guys like Jack Brisco, Tony Atlas, Ron Fuller, Steve Simpson, and Kevin Von Erich were incredibly important in shaping not only my rich fantasy life but also my concept of myself as a man.  So I consider it a privilege to talk with someone as experienced as you are on a subject that has fascinated me for decades.  So then, for openers, how often do you get asked whether Johnny Kashmere is your real name?

Johnny:  Actually, a ton, both by people in the "real world" and in the wrestling world.  Pretty funny actually.

Joe:  Were you interested in wrestling as a kid?

Johnny:  I think that ... and Batman ... were about all that interested me as a kid.  I used to spend weekends at my grandma's and be forced to watch wrestling on TV every Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sundays when Prism would televise the old Spectrum events live from Philly.  After a few weeks of being forced, I was compelled and swept away by the storylines.  I never looked back.  If you read my high-school yearbook, literally EVERY single person who signed it addressed it to "Mr. Pro Wrestling" or "Mr. Wrestler" or "Good luck in wrestling," "Hope you fulfill your dream," etc.  When I was in my early teens, I would lock myself in my bedroom for hours and hours and act out entire TV shows and pay-per-view events with my LJN pro wrestling figures.  I, of course, had something like 68 out of 75 of them, or something close to that.  I wrote all my storylines down in a notebook that I still have.  When I was running PWU, I actually stole ideas from myself as a young teenager, and the angles worked!  I always had it and am not boasting when I say that.  It's fact, and I am extremely thankful for my talent.

Joe:  You should be.  Did you compete in high-school wrestling? 

Johnny:  I didn't.  I wasn't very into sports as a kid.  Only played baseball really.  In hindsight I wish I did wrestle in high school because there is so much collegiate wrestling that you can fall back on in pro wrestling.  It really is the best foundation you can have to become a pro wrestler.


Joe:  What wrestlers did you look up to before you entered the profession?

Johnny:  I always liked The Undertaker the best.  When I first started training with Trent Acid and The Pitbulls in Philly, I still had a stand-up cutout of Undertaker in my room that I asked for for Christmas one year.  One year for Christmas all of my gifts I picked out from the WWE merchandise catalog.  (Laughs.)  So after guys were making fun of me, I kinda caught on quickly that it was taboo to have wrestling merchandise around your bedroom, and at the young age of 18 or 19, I officially retired all of my merchandise to the attic.  I assume it sits there to this day, but who knows?  May have found the curb long ago for all I know.

Joe:  Did you get to meet any of the guys you looked up to when you turned pro?

Johnny:  I did get to meet some of them in person, sure.

Joe:  You recently told another interviewer that your dream opponent would be Rick Martel, but you didn't explain why Martel over other possible wrestlers.  So, why Martel?

Johnny:  I just think "The Model" gimmick was a gimmick I could pull off today in WWE.  I enjoyed the "no punching in the face" stipulation and found it a great way to get a crowd to boo you.  I liked the jumpin' jacks routine and the "Yes I Am a Model" pins.  His own designer fragrance called Arrogance!  How can anyone not love that?  Not to mention he was always a great performer in the ring, in my opinion.  I even got behind him when he made his comeback and won the TV Title on Nitro in the 90s.

Joe:  Your wrestling debut was in 1999 with Combat Zone Wrestling.  What was that like?  What thoughts ran through your head the first time you stepped into a ring to face an opponent, lights glaring, in front of a paying audience?

Johnny:  When I debuted in CZW, I had already been wrestling for over a year and a half.  My first match was at The Derby Firehouse, near my home in Bordentown, New Jersey.  I remember it was May 25th, back twelve or more years ago.  The first time I wrestled, I was too dumb to even be nervous.  I knew so little about the real sport of pro wrestling that I thought it was easy at the time.  Boy, did I find out fast how wrong I was!

Joe:  Given your experience in pro wrestling in both Japan and the United States, I'd be interested in hearing what you consider to be the biggest differences between the two.  For instance, is there a noticeable difference between American and Japanese fans?


Johnny:  A noticeable difference between USA and Japanese fans ... hm.  Aside from their looks, you mean, right?  (Joe laughs.)  Well, I guess the Japanese are more "respectful" in the sense that they will be extremely quiet during the match, except for the parts where they are supposed to react.  American fans will yell "Boring!" or heckle a wrestler all through a match.  Japanese fans would view this sort of behavior as improper.  Other than that, a fan's a fan, no matter where in the world they live.  People are people, ya know?

Joe:  How about pro wrestling in the UK and Europe?

Johnny:  I think the fans in the UK and Europe still appreciate good wrestling.  The USA is burnt out on it, I think, while Europe still can't get enough of it, in some senses.  I'd take a UK crowd over an American crowd any day on the indy level.  The crowd is just more appreciative.

Joe:  I get the same impression.  You have held about fifteen tag-team championships in your career, most of them with the late Trent Acid.  I've often been curious whether wrestlers in tag teams typically are friends in real life, or is the relationship for most tag partners purely professional?

Johnny:  I can only speak on us and for us:  The answer is definitely YES.  We were closer than brothers and knew each other better than we knew ourselves in some senses.  We could literally finish each other's sentences at times.  This brought us to a point in wrestling where our tandem moves were so in sync that we were able to take it to the next level and string spots together that at the time had never been seen before.

Joe:  You once remarked that tag wrestling is more difficult than singles competition.  Why is that?


Johnny:  This is a performance.  If you are in a singles match, you have two wrestlers and a referee out there.  If you're in a tag match you have four wrestlers, a referee, and whoever may be managing the teams out there, and everyone needs to be on the same exact page or it won't look good.  Tag team wrestling is a lost art indeed.  Few attempt it.  Even fewer succeed at it.  I used to be a micro-manager in real life, and it helped me orchestrate chaos in my tag matches.  Now I'm so used to it it comes natural for me.


Joe:  Ever been in an actual fight--outside the ring--in a bar or alleyway?

Johnny:  Actually, no.  I've had to "sneak" a few people in my day, but I never condone violence.  There really are NO justified resentments in this world, and I try to live by that.

Joe:  You recently went public as being gay.  What prompted you to do that?  And how would you say promoters, fellow wrestlers, and fans have taken the news?

Johnny:  When I reached age 30, something changed.  Suddenly it wasn't as easy to lie to myself about who I was.  I got to the point where I just needed to break free, so I did.  I received no negative feedback whatsoever, and my bookings have gone up since.  I'm much more confident in the ring now and with myself as a person, and I know it will translate to better wrestling outta me over time.

Joe:  The general perception is that pro wrestling is homophobic--with wrestlers and fans bandying about the word "faggot" and the gay gimmick so often being used to generate heat.  As an insider to pro wrestling, do you find that that's an accurate perception?

Johnny:  I think society in general is semi-fascinated by anything different, anything on the fringe, so to speak.  Being gay is suddenly everywhere.  It's a new generation, a much more accepting generation.  For years the CZW fans chanted "Kashmere Swallows!" at me, so maybe on some level they knew before I did.

Joe:  Is being a gay wrestler fundamentally different from being a gay rock star or a gay plumber--or, for that matter, a straight wrestler? 

Johnny:  Not for me, no.  I happen to be masculine and always will be.  I don't plan on doing a typical "gay gimmick" ... ever.  No Chuck-and-Billy or Rico stuff outta me, ever.  I wrestle now as "Mr. Gay Philadelphia" Johnny Kashmere and am really going to be in the running for the real deal in Philly, by the way, so it's not just a gimmick in wrestling.  This is a "neo-king" gimmick and will be very masculine and arrogant.

Joe:   What are the chances of our ever seeing an openly gay babyface in pro wrestling?

Johnny:  You never know, I guess.  Depends on how sponsors feel about it, how shareholders feel about it, and how the US Senate would feel about it is my hunch.


Joe:  For me, wrestling--both roughhouse in private and watching pro and underground wrestling on TV and the Internet--is indelibly marked as erotic.  How is it for you?  Do you ever find wrestling arousing?  When you wrestle, are you conscious that men and women alike are looking at you as grist for their fantasies?

Johnny:  For me wrestling is anchored in my childhood.  I see nothing sexual about wrestling ever.  I never check out guys in the locker room.  I'm a nonsexual entity when I'm at an event or practice.  I'm a professional, or I wouldn't have gotten this far, believe me.  This business has a way of weeding the idiots out.  The fact that I'm still around after 12 years shows I'm a professional!


Joe:  Then it's a lot like teaching is for me.  Sometimes guys make innuendos about my getting tight and cozy with hot-looking young jocks, but the reality is, when we're in the classroom, my focus is on their abilities to think critically.  And that's it.  Wrestling, however, is about 88% kinky fantasy for me.  Do you follow any of the gay-oriented eroto-wrestling promotions on the Internet? 

Johnny:   I don't, but to each his own.  If there's a market for it, what do I care?

Joe:  Do you follow MMA at all?  Any thoughts on MMA's impact on the profession of wrestling?

Johnny:  I don't follow MMA.  But don't feel bad, I don't follow pro wrestling either.  I was asked recently if I was to run an event right now, what would the main event be, if I wanted to pack the place.    My answer was simply ... "any two MMA guys."  There is an MMA school on every street corner now, and everyone with a muscle on their body thinks he's an MMA star now.  Ten years ago this could be said for pro wrestling, but no more.

Joe:  Do you think pro wrestling is over?  I just read a biography of Gorgeous George [George Wagner, 1915-1963], who wrestled in the golden age of television.  He influenced James Brown, John Waters, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Liberace, and Muhammad Ali.  What would it take for pro wrestling to have that kind of cultural impact again?

Johnny:  I hate to be so grim and negative because I'm really a very positive person, but I have to be honest, I don't see ... any upswing soon.  In my opinion, we'll be lucky if it's still on the air in another decade.  Sorry.

Joe:  I understand that spirituality is a big part of your life.  It seems to me that wrestling is a way that we experience mind coming together with body and the world.  I can even see wrestling attaining importance for us, as a culture--I'm talking about the physical activity, the body contact, not just WWE, but that as well--if not as a ritual or a sacrament exactly, at least as a means of awakening mindfulness--and animal connection to others.  Um.  How cockeyed is that?


Johnny:  Pro wrestling has its own Collective Consciousness.  I've felt it before, so I know it exists.  It's simply made up of the fans, wrestlers, staff, etc., who are all involved in the business and give it their unique energy.  It's almost a religious experience to connect to the flow of the wrestling business, and let it take you where it wants you to go.  Your career and life seem to take on a perfect momentum at times and brings you to exactly where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there.  It's my close communion with this energy that is the true secret to my longevity.  Shhhh.  (Laughs.)

Joe:  You look amazing for a man who's 500 years old!  (Laughs.)  Okay, back to childhood now, and Batman.  So let's say there's a special Batman 5-man scramble match--Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale, each in his prime condition at, say, age 33.  Who's your money on to walk away the winner?

Johnny:  Christian Bale ... hands down!  Listen to his rant on the stagehand that pissed him off and then tell me anyone else stands a chance!  (Laughs.)

Joe:  I've heard rumblings that Vanilla Man Candy may be adding one or two new members?  Any response?

Johnny:  We were planning to, but have decided not to mess with what we already have.  The BackSeat Boyz were meant to be a four-man unit originally, but we ended up sticking with just the two, as to not mess with what works.  My new tag partner Matt Walsh and I are adopting that philosophy with VMC.

Joe:  Last words for readers of my blog?

Johnny:  Thanks for listening to me, and blessing to everyone.


Four hours after completing the interview, Kashmere e-mailed me, remembering that he had never fully responded to my first question, about whether his name really is "Johnny Kashmere."  He suggested that I say that I brought the question up to him again and that he curtly cut me off ... and has not responded since.  

Always thinking up angles, this guy!

3 comments:

  1. Joe,

    Thanks for this, but I have to admit I was hoping for more…..beyond Kashmere being serious about his craft, and getting insight on what interests him from a wrestling perspective, not sure what we learned here. Maybe it’s the culture we live in, but when you are as rare a commodity as an openly gay professional athlete, the public (my ego forces me to make the supposition that I speak for all gaykind) expects revelations, the Howard Stern in me wants to know who had the biggest swinging dick in the locker room, or how about a listing of the 10 fellow wrestlers he would want to fuck, both figuratively, because I get the impression it is a cut throat business, and literally.

    Though, on the other hand I recognize that the wrestling ring is his workplace and the fallout that may come from fellow wrestlers perceptions could be a problem requiring that he be overly cautious in his remarks. Maybe next time you can ply him with a couple of adult beverages before you start asking the “need to know” questions.

    I have been watching Kashmere for some time now, and my interest in the eye candy represented by the tag spectacle of him and Acid compelled me to long ago purchase several CZW VHS tapes from early in his career. He had talent from the beginning. I might just have to spend sometime this evening looking through the catalog and watching some of the Back Seat Boys (do you think Kashmere fully understood the double entendre gimmick represented by “Back Seat” when they created it as in the suggestion of sexual prowess and bedding partners in the car, cause we’ve all been there, or talking it up the back seat, cause we’ve all been there too) and rediscovering what got me to take notice of him in the first place.

    topher

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  2. Professional Wrestlings always had an image problem that MMA has not. Wrestling has always had to work hard to overcome it's "Carny" roots especially in the U.S. and especially regarding any sort of legitimacy as a sport when in fact it's truly sports entertainment.

    I don't want to debate the fact that pro wrestlers take their bumps, hell yeah they do, and most work hard if not harder than most professional athletes (that goes for training too), but there is after all a script, and rules are unclear (well we love the rule breaking) and there is a predetermination that one wrestler will win and we better damn well be entertained.

    MMA is a sport, sanctioned by local governing bodies with specific rules, refs and so forth. Athletes train for years, make weight, to compete in a regulated sport. I cringe at the impact of pro-wrestling on MMA it diminishes the legitimacy of the sport.

    I see the revolving door of ego-pumped pro-wrestlers dabbling in MMA on a weekly basis at the MMA academy I attend. If they can check their egos, and most cannot, and most wouldn't pass a drug test for supplements anyway, they do pretty well with some training. But most gas out, get smashed in the cage and quit after a few months. They "RUN" back to pro-wrestling where the real emphasis is on the "show" and not the "competition".

    Lets leave the show as the show, and let pro wrestling be, as wonderful and as fucked up as ever. But I must add, it truly has a way of chewing people up and spitting them out. Leave the real sport to MMA guys.

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