There are few things I hate more than those people who get all sentimental when a famous person – whom they’ve never met, and whom never even knew they existed in the first place – dies. But in the case of the recently deceased pro wrestling manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, I nonetheless feel the need to eulogize him.
For one thing, it’s a refreshing change of pace to write about somebody who died from natural causes. I’m sick of lauding and celebrating washed-up musicians, actors and sports stars who killed themselves, and that The Weasel managed to last 15 years with throat cancer is something you ought to applaud, regardless if you’re an old school pro wrestling fan or not.
Secondly, Heenan was an absolute comedic genius. In a way, it’s almost tragic that a dude as witty as The Brain relegated his talents to the world of ‘rasslin. Had he gone the Vaudeville route, he very easily could’ve become a Henny Youngman or Rodney Dangerfield-type sensation. It’s not hard to envision a guy with his comedic chops making it pretty well for himself doing stand-up or bit television parts. Have you ever seen his work on the short-lived, non-wrestling The Bobby Heenan Show that briefly ran on USA back in the day? The dude was funnier than Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver could ever dream of, and he was able to do it without EVER relying upon topical political or pop culture humor. Heenan just had a knack for what was innately and instinctually funny. Simply put, he’s the greatest insult comedian who never actually was an actual insult comedian.
Heenan was a Don Rickles caliber comedic sniper. He had such an uncanny knack for setting people up in linguistic traps, as this WWF Prime Time clip exhibits. He did such a brilliant job toeing the line between the hilariously irreverent and the hilariously offensive that it’s hard to pick just one of his classic, off-color remarks as a favorite. This massive menagerie of all-time classic Heenan one-liners, I assure you, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Do you go with all his barbs directed toward Tito “The Flying Jalapeno” Santana, whom he oft said reeked of picante sauce and whom he declared the brother of non-existent country musician Arriba Mcintyre? Come to think of it, Bobby Heenan really had it out for Mexicans in general. Remember that one episode of Nitro where they showed images of Eddie Guerrero’s wrecked car, and Heenan’s sole comment was something to the effect of “you know, the real tragedy is there were 50 people in it?”
Or do you go with all of Heenan’s jokes at the expense of Virgil, Ted Dibiase’s one-time bodyguard-cum-slave? Upon learning the African-American grappler drew the 23rd out of 30th slot in the Royal Rumble, he remarked “just think, who knows how many bags he’s gone through in the back?” On another occasion he wondered aloud whether or not the grappler used the winnings from a recent match to “make a down payment on a boombox.” After winning his former boss’ illustrious Million Dollar Championship Belt, Heenan predicted the title would be sitting in a pawnshop window in half an hour.
Or maybe it was all the times he made fun of the Natural Disasters for being fat? Or all the jokes he made about eating Koko B. Ware’s pet parrot? Or the multitudes of senility jokes at the expense of Stu Hart and company? “You know why they’re nervous?” Heenan famously remarked during the Bret Hart/Mr. Perfect tilt at SummerSlam ‘91. “They’re looking out for the usher.” Maybe it was all those jokes about the Big Boss Man’s never seen mother, whom Heenan always criticized for having a goatee thicker than her son’s? Hell, you might as well go with the entirety of Heenan’s commentary during the 1992 Royal Rumble, in which he tried his darndest to mask his unhideable bias towards Ric Flair (complete with a litany of extremely rare for its time swear words thrown into the mix.)
Personally, I was always keen on his digs at Hacksaw Jim Duggan, which I guess these days you’d call blatant retard-shaming. Alas, just try and get through the video below without laughing your ass off – and if you can, you’re definitely not the kind of company I’d ever want to keep.
It was always a bit of a downer watching him languish in WCW later in his career, when they stuck him with a half-autist like Tony Schiavone who had no idea how to banter back and forth like the great Gorilla Monsoon used to. Still, even calling PPVs legit drunk, Heenan was an absolute hoot. I’ve always heard he was actually a pretty good wrestler in the 1970s, but that was way before my time. To me, he’ll always be that guy in the red sequin jacket that cut hilarious promos and put Vince McMahon in his place in the commentary booth.
It’s sad – and grimly ironic – to see a man who was infamous for running his mouth wind up losing his jaw. Be forewarned, this footage from last year isn’t for the faint of heart. But that’s not the Heenan I’m going to remember. Instead, I’m going to remember the smartass from Tuesday Night Titans and the guy who made fun of Sgt. Slaughter for having erectile dysfunction at WrestleMania 17.
But more than anything, I’m going to remember the guy behind the banana phone, whose broad tableau of disparaging and denigrating humor influenced my own comedic style just as much as heavy hitters like George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
Thank you for the laughs, Weasel. We’ll always appreciate it.