Diehard baseball fans are probably familiar with Ball Four, the classic 1970 book in which pitcher Jim Bouton retraced his time spent in the drunken and drug-addled big league. Controversial in its own era, the tell-all opened floodgates for the endless celebrity dirt that we get to ogle these days.
Standing out from from all the paparazzi propaganda, Jim Ross, better known to professional wrestling fans as JR and as one of the sport’s greatest ringside announcers, tells stories that have proven over and over again to be both entertaining and reliable. Like Bouton and others who have told the raw truth and still more or less remained in the good graces of contemporaries, JR’s a refreshing font of honesty and a cultural gem—from his writing, to his barbecue brand, to his nonprofit endeavors for Bell’s palsy patients (Ross is one himself), to RINGSIDE with Jim Ross, his traveling show that comes through Laugh Boston on Saturday.
We caught JR on the phone between stops on a recent book tour. Among other things, he told us Boston fans can expect a serious autograph session—Ross is a proponent of personalizing merch and thinks it’s selfish when performers shy away from such requests—and promised that he’ll open up the floor for what is guaranteed to be a no-holds-barred array of audience questions.
You’re a man who is used to large arenas. What’s it like to get more intimate with your fans?
Oh, I like it. It’s more personal, it builds more of a relationship. We can interact, and that’s a good thing. I’ve been doing these ringside shows for about three years. A lot of my peers are trying to do the same sort of thing, which is great, because imitation is the highest form of flattery. The show in Boston is my last one of the year … We don’t screen questions, nothing is off-limits, we don’t get the questions ahead of time. It’s an opportunity for fans to really express themselves, get things off their mind, and not feel shamed.
Is that a thing you find? That it’s unpopular to publicly like wrestling?
When you sit in first class with executives, they all know who you are. They just don’t want to admit it because they don’t want anyone to know they watch wrestling. They have to qualify themselves and let you know that they know it isn’t real. For that reason, people who come to my show should feel like they are in a wrestling sanctuary and that no one will be there to shame them.
Do you pose for selfies?
I do. I love the fans, plus if you don’t, you get shit on.
So would the lifestyle that a lot of these guys lived during, say, the Hulk Hogan era have been able to fly in this day and age?
Uh, probably not. Some inside of wrestling have described it as a “nonviolent mafia.” You had to know somebody, you had to be somebody, you had to have some value to get a seat at the table.
Social media has changed everything. Big time. Now all this information is out there and available. But here’s the problem—a lot of it is bad information…
I don’t know if it would have been for better or for worse, but when Hogan was red hot, this kind of information distribution would have only made him hotter.
A lot of announcers are larger than life these days, and bigger than just announcing. How much credit do you deserve and get for that?
All the guys I’ve met at Fox over the years, doing boxing and voiceovers, have been very respectful. What I’ve found out from a lot of these guys is that they watched [Monday Night Raw]. So consequently, for better or worse, JR was a voice they grew up with. I was just at the right place at the right time. I never played a role. I never played a role as a wrestling announcer. I was just myself. I see that as one of the problems today [in wrestling], which is that they’re not being themselves and they don’t come off as genuine. There are some people in the business who are playing the role of a pro wrestler, or at least what they perceive it to be, and they’re not going with their natural instincts or the natural extensions of their own personality.
Anything in particular fans should ask about in Boston?
I had some great times in Boston. I’ll get some questions about that, and I’m sure that there will be some football questions. My favorite memory from Boston isn’t even ringside—it happened in a small room the size of a closet with Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan. We shared this little dressing room in the old [Boston] Garden—it was steamy, it was hot. Monsoon was sweating like he was going to the electric chair, and Heenan kept messing with him.
RINGSIDE WITH JIM ROSS. SAT 12.16 @ 1PM. LAUGH BOSTON, 425 SUMMER ST., BOSTON. LAUGHBOSTON.COM