ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: Bring it to an honest place: a promo conversation with former WWE creative member, Jimmy Jacobs

Jimmy Jacobs
Jimmy Jacobs (photo credit Wade Keller © PWTorch)

Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.

Jimmy Jacobs is a 19-year veteran of the wrestling business. He’s a multiple time tag team champion in Ring Of Honor and a current performer and producer for Impact Wrestling. Recently, he finished a successful stint on the WWE creative team in which he was the creative force behind major segments including the Festival Of Friendship. Jacob’s creativity in this business is well documented outside of the WWE as well due to storylines involving Lacey’s Angels, The Age Of The Fall, and S.C.U.M.

On Feb. 16, Jacobs fought the King Of Ultraviolence, Nick Gage, at Jimmy Lloyd’s Birthday Party. Ahead of the match, Jacobs cut an artistically ominous promo via social media that’s delivered with intense and scary undertones that exceeds expectations in getting the match sold. On Feb. 19, Jacobs graciously and openly discussed the art of that specific promo and the overall artistic nature of what promos should be in wrestling. The interview is slightly edited for clarity.

ZH: Alright, could you give a quick backstory on the match that this promo was for and a quick synopsis of the storyline?

JJ: Ok, actually there was no storyline. This was for Jimmy Lloyd’s Birthday Party. So Jimmy was just booking this show for his birthday. He hit me up in like October or November saying, can you put a hold on February 16th for my birthday party? So, I agreed to do that and maybe at the end of December I saw online that I was going to be wrestling Nick Gage. And I went, s**t. I’ve been in a tag match with him before maybe like in 2003 or 15 years ago. Right? But he’s got this aura about him and presence about him. He’s got this thing about him that I can only compare to like Bruiser Brody and Abdullah the Butcher. I mean he goes through the crowd and people scatter because they’re scared. I mean Nick Gage has been to prison for a couple felonies. One of which was robbing a bank. No joke that guy. And I know Nick, but we’re not friends or anything so I don’t know what’s going to happen.

ZH: So, the only previous encounter you had with him was in a tag match?

JJ: Yeah, I think we did a six man tag back in 2003 for IWA Mid-South. It was like King of the Death Match night two. It was me, Alex Shelly, and Nate Webb vs. Gage, Adam Flash, and Sonjay Dutt.

ZH: Ok, talk about the promo you cut on Gage last week ahead of the match. You’re lying on a couch and just filming the promo yourself. The delivery was great and we’ll get into that in a second, but walk me through your thought process before you hit record on something like this. Was this something that you thought out word for word or something that you kind of felt as you went along? Take me through that thought process?

JJ: Ok, so Jimmy hits me up two days before the show and said, hey, can you shoot a promo for this match, which I take to mean maybe tickets aren’t selling, I’m not sure. But, he wants me to shoot a promo and I oblige because what else am I doing with my life? So, the first thing is it was just me. I’m just like, I’m home today, whatever day that is, a Wednesday. I’m home by myself and with technology now you can just do these things by yourself. Then, it’s what’s the setting? I’ve done a lot of like white backgrounds recently and they haven’t picked up a whole lot of traction, so I say, oh, f**k it, I’ll just do it laying down on a couch and it’ll have a certain feel to it. I’ll just be chilling. We’ll make the setting part of the show. From there, I think, what am I selling and what are people going to buy? If I go out there and I say I’m going to beat the s**t out of Nick Gage, nobody’s going to believe that. I’m not going to believe that, right? This guy’s legit like a two time convicted felon. So, I can say I’m gonna beat up Nick Gage and that I’ve wrestled big guys and I’ve beat up big guys and I’ve bled with big guys and all that, but if I JUST say that, nobody’s going to buy it.

So then I think, all right, what are people going to buy? Let’s set that stage and let people know that Nick’s a bad mother f****r. Then I think about the elements at play. Nick’s a felon, I’m a princess. How do you entwine that? What are the fans going to believe and what are they going to buy? What’s going to make them buy a ticket? So I thought, what if I just say that I’m going to kiss Nick Gage on his mouth. People will buy that. People might not buy that I’m going to beat him up, but they will buy that I’m going to kiss him. So, I’ll tell people that I’m going to kiss him on his mouth and then we’ll see what happens. That’s not me promising I’m going to win the match or that I’m going to beat him up. It’s just me saying that I’m going to kiss him on his mouth and then see what happens. That’s my promise. That’s my base. So I set the stage and then I play with some stuff. I think, am I going to reference our match from years ago and how far he’s come since then. You have to play with the words and play with the time. Then I play with what the story is. Not just what I’m selling, but what the story is and how I’m going to bring it from the start to the end. That’s the tool that I try to use in these promos. You set something up at the beginning and then knock it down in the end. So what I set up at the beginning was that he calls himself hardcore and calls himself the god of ultraviolence and he is. But I knocked that down by using the elements that I had. I looked at what he’s tweeted out and he talked about how I’m a princess and how I wear a dress and how he was going to throw me through a wall and table. So I’ll let people know that yes he’ll probably do all of those things because I want them to come to the show. Yeah, Nick Gage is going to beat the s**t out me, but you want to know why they call me a princess? Because I don’t need to use tough sounding words like ultraviolence to let people know I’m tough. I just am.

ZH: And that’s you taking down what you’ve set up?

JJ: Yeah, because that works. So all of a sudden, I make him look like he’s a guy that has to tell people he’s tough. I’m the guy that calls himself a princess and that I am tough. So you start playing with these things then people sort of start to buy that a guy that calls himself a princess might beat him. If he kisses Nick on the mouth and catches him off guard, Nick might then kill him. He’ll kill him at some point, but now we’ve told this story with an interesting arch to it and we’ve also told people what they will see and we’ve made them wonder what they’re going to see as well. All of a sudden I’ve put myself in the fight. I’m a kid with toenail and fingernail polish on but hopefully in a minute and 45 seconds, I’ve made somebody believe that this fight I’m going to have with a convicted felon is going to be an interesting fight.

ZH: You really were able to flip your princess character from a traditional Disney-esque princess to a dark character that could cause a lot of pain and problems for a guy like Nick Gage. That process that you just took me through; that’s all before you hit the record button or is any of it done on the fly?

JJ: It’s all before I hit the record button. How it comes out may be open to interpretation or sometimes I’ll do a few takes. That’s one of the things people need to get, you know, the kids in the business and stuff; take two, take three, take four. If you have time, take 100. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Do it until its right. If your process is writing out word for word what you want to say and if that’s the process you need to cut a promo that people will buy, do that. That’s no worse or no better than somebody who does it off the top of their head. Guys who are really good off the top of their head are a handful of guys I’ve met in my life. CM Punk was the master. He was off the top of his head better than anything I’ve done thinking about it for 10 days. But for the most part, I’ve worked with the best guys in the business and everybody’s process is a little bit different. There’s very few guys that are just going to go, I don’t know what I’m going to say. That concept is pretty archaic and not effective unless you’re really good at it. There’s times I’ve done that too, but it’s a different sort of thing. There’s times when I don’t think of the words and I just think about what I can buy emotionally within the promo. Then I just let that go. So processes. There’s different ways to make your stuff. I mean mostly I think about exactly what I want to say and if it doesn’t come out nice I’ll press record again.

ZH: Do you find that you’re more comfortable and more creative when you have something thought out or when someone hands you a microphone and says go?

JJ: When I have it thought out. Well, I mean it just depends on the different things. There’s what you say and there’s how you say it. You’ve got to hit one of them. But, like I said, there’s some times you can just say things and if you can get yourself in that emotional groove, it doesn’t matter what you say at all. It’s just like wrestling in a match. You match the promo and the promo to the match. It’s not about the moves, but it is about the moves. It’s just about how you do them and why you’re doing them. The same thing with the promo. It’s about the words, but it’s really not about the words. It’s about why you’re saying what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. I know if Big Show comes up to me and says “I’m going to eat a cheeseburger” but says it mean enough to me, I might s**t my pants. Sometimes it’s about how you say the words and sometimes it’s about the word. Sometimes the words do help. If I don’t use the fist f****ng Nick Gage wording, if I don’t tell that story properly, it’s not going to be effective. On the flip side, sometimes there’s enough raw emotion there that it doesn’t matter what you say. There’s a balance. I do like to try to find the balance. So, it’s all figuring out what’s what.

ZH: One of the key artistic elements of that promo was the speed of your delivery. You were conveying a certain intensity but you weren’t yelling or getting loud. At the same time you were terrifying in the words that you were saying and annunciating key parts of the promo at the correct times. So, walk me through that process in terms of the idea of that and what exactly you were working to convey with your pace and how that progressed throughout.

JJ: As a performer you have to make these calls, right? Because there are a million ways you can do it. I mean do you say all of this just super quiet? Do you yell at some point? I played around with that. I did a couple takes of the ending. Originally I was going to hit that end a little less. I was going to do it a little quiet, but as it came out, it came out a little more intense. What I tend to do is try to think about how I’m doing. I’ll let the emotions try to take me. A lot of times I’ll intentionally do it with a little less emotion than I think I should. Sometimes almost with no emotion. People have this tendency to furrow their brow and talk in this cadence that nobody actually talks in and they’re pointing at the camera and they’re not yelling at you, but they kind of are yelling at you? So, when I do it, if you pull back a bunch, sometimes you’ll find that that’s way closer to the promo you want then when you try and deliver it with a specific intensity.

ZH: To me, that was really one of the key pieces where I said, oh my gosh, you’re not yelling, but man am I worried.

JJ: To me, I put it to the point of believability, right? A lot of people have these promos that are really based on yelling and you know, nobody talks that way.

ZH: Obviously, the goal of the promo is to make people want to buy what you’re selling, right?

JJ: Hopefully right? Whether that’s a match or your character, there’s a lot of different things you’re trying to get across in a promo. It’s not just time, date, or place.

ZH: For you, outside of the business aspect of this particular promo, what was the main goal?

JJ: My thought process was to let the people know a little bit of what they’re going to see. I was like, they’re going to see that I’m going to kiss Nick Gage. I’m going to let people know that Nick Gage is going to beat the s**t out of me. So they’re going to see a fight. You’re going to see something. I also think a lot of the selling is in the insurance too. It’s in the mystery. I don’t want to let people know everything they’re going to see. I don’t want to give them the whole thing. But, let people know, hey, you’re going to see Nick Gage and this crazy fight. Plus you’re gonna see what the heck is gonna happen if Jimmy Jacobs actually kisses Nick Gage. That’s the sight. He might murder this guy. So, those are the kind of things I was trying to say. It’s two fold. Like, this is what you’re going to see and then build in the intrigue of what else?

ZH: Fantastic. Ok, so then a question out of the arena of this promo. What are some of your favorite promos of all time?

JJ: There’s one from right before my steel cage match with BJ Whitmer. It’s like from 10 years ago. Sometimes it’s referred to as the prom night promo where I talked about how my favorite movies are large romantic comedies because no matter what the conflict is at the end, you know, on prom night, it’s always resolved. That was kind of one of the poetic ones. As far as promos I like, you know, Mick Foley. I always loved Mick Foley promos. I was reading his book, The Hardcore Diaries, and he talked about going to promo land. That was always something that I was always the same sort of way on. You put yourself into this mental space and try to figure out what you want to say. I remember a promo he did that always sticks with me. I remember watching when I was 14 years old. It may have been on Sunday Night Heat or something like that. I think Kane was in the ring with him and he tells this story about going into an amusement park with his daughter who was three at the time and her asking, Dad, why do people say you’re a bad man? I don’t know if I’ve seen it since then, but he tells this awesome story. He also did one where he got fired and didn’t go with The Authority of Triple H and Stephanie. I was just watching it backstage and I’m watching this and it was so good and it reminded me why I was such a big, big Mick Foley fan at 14 years old. Like, Mick was my guy at 14, but watching this at 32 years old, I was watching this thinking like, man, Mick’s still my guy. This is the guy that talks how I like guys to talk. He brings me to a place the other guys don’t bring me to. It was such a great promo.

ZH: On an artistic level, what sets people like you, Mick, and the promo you cut this week apart from everyone else? What sets this apart from somebody who maybe isn’t as in tune with their character or isn’t as in tune with what a good promo entails? What are those keys? Not from a content standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint.

JJ: I think really what it comes down to is bringing it to an honest place. That’s the difference. People, audiences, fans, human beings, they have a way of seeing through bulls**t. And that’s the disconnect. We talk about connecting with the audience, just to connect with somebody, you connect with something that’s real. When something is bogus, when something’s phony, when something feels fake, that’s where the disconnect is. That’s why the characters’ not over. That’s why the character is not connecting with the fans. Because people can sense bulls**t. They can. It’s an innate thing that we all have. So if it doesn’t come from an honest place, if there’s not that little twinge of realism to it, if there isn’t that believability to it, if that character doesn’t believe on some level, some of it, even just a sliver of it and if they’re not using that to deliver their promo, it’s bulls**t. And that’s the difference. That’s the thing. And look, there’s different kinds of promos. There’s promos that are entertaining and those don’t have to be real, but even those, like The New Day. Those guys are having a good time and part of why they’re having a good time is because the audience is having a good time. Look at a guy like The Miz who was a good promo before and then it kinda ended there and that was about it. The Miz broke through in the last couple of years because at some point he stopped playing the Miz and he was being The Miz. It started coming from an honest place. And that’s what separates these guys. On some level it has to.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: Seth Rollins stands up on Monday night and delivers the promo he needed in 2016

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