Awesome Men Throughout History: “Mean” Gene Okerlund
This week’s edition of Awesome Men Throughout History returns to professional wrestling, but not in the way you’d expect. The wrestlers are the center of attention in any wrestling promotion you can name, but the support staff—ring announcers, commentators, referees—are also vitally important to the whole presentation, and sometimes they’re so good that they rise above the anonymity (comparatively speaking) their jobs demand. Our subject today, wrestling announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund, did just that, and is remembered as fondly by old school fans as the wrestlers he interviewed.
For the unfamiliar, Mean Gene was a radio announcer (as his velvety baritone would suggest) who became the WWE’s top interviewer during the 1980s, usually holding the microphone backstage so the wrestlers could rant and rave into it. His persona was supposed to be a neutral one, but he fit the WWE’s cartoony product perfectly by being so gloriously white and unhip. For instance, there’s his cover of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”
Indeed, Gene played the drab everyman so well that it was a big deal whenever he broke from that character. The most infamous example of that is an interview with Rick Rude where someone knocks down the backdrop and an exasperated Gene blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.
That’s actually what the real Gene Okerlund is like; according to numerous wrestlers, Gene is a fun-loving, hard drinking, hilarious guy. Former WWE writer Court Bauer told a story about getting into an elevator with an inebriated Mean Gene, who kept squeezing Bauer’s side to “make sure [he] knew where [his] new liver was coming from.”
Gene also closed down the bar with baseball great Billy Martin, which deserves a round of applause. I mean, even surviving that is an accomplishment.
I’ll leave you with Mean Gene Okerlund’s finest contribution to professional wrestling, and the ultimate testament to his sense of humor and willingness to look stupid on camera for the sake of entertainment. This video is his finest hour as a comedy straight man, which is ironic because this is one of the most homoerotic things in the history of a fake sport full of oily, muscular dudes in their underwear. I bring you the Mean Gene/Hulk Hogan workout series.
Now someone get that poor man a beer and a braut, he’s way overdue.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.