I just showed him the simplest hold I knew.
Here’s a story that was always on the periphery of my childhood memories, but which I have apparently confused with that of 20/20 reporter John Stossel’s own unfortunate run-in with a pro wrestler in the same year.
In 1985, a pre-Munch Richard Belzer hosted a show called Hot Properties, and two of his guests were Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. Hogan is asked to demonstrate a wrestling move on Belzer, puts Belzer in a sleeper hold, and apparently renders Belzer unconscious. The comedian then slips onto the floor and literally cracks his head open.
Hogan seemed truly apologetic about the incident, but Mr. T was far more cocky, insinuating that Belzer deserved it for questioning whether professional wrestling was “real” or not. This was the same theme as that of the Stossel incident, when wrestler David Schultz apparently hurt the reporter in specific response to the wrestling “authenticity” question.
The irony is that by 1985, the line between sport and entertainment had blurred in pro wrestling to the nth degree—which is why A-Team/Rocky III actor Mr. T was teaming up with Hogan in the first place.
And yet what happened to Belzer and Stossel did underline the fact that beneath all the glitz and “family-friendly” spin of the “Wrestlemania” era were really big, strong, and in some cases jacked-up-on-steroids athletes. Athletes who were—regardless of the “fakeness” of the matches themselves—still engaging in brutal and dangerous physical activities. And when you look up how many wrestlers of that era have died relatively young, as I have done a couple of times, you can really get a sense of how punishing that lifestyle and career could be.
After the show aired, it was rumored that Belzer’s accident was a hoax, similar to the stuff Andy Kaufman used to do with his own adventures into the world of wrestling. So the next episode, he showed off the stitches on the back of his head. He later sued Hogan and settled for around the same amount of money Stossel did in his own case of wrestling-gone-wrong.
But Belzer has also, in a way, gone the “meta” route that pro wrestlers like Hogan did back in the day, existing in the liminal realm between “real” and “entertainment.” For his television series-hopping character Detective John Munch is, in many ways, Belzer himself. Certainly, there would be no Munch without Belzer.
In fact, in 2008 Belzer wrote an entire book with this “metareality” theme, called I Am Not a Cop!—and in a promotional interview with Vulture he said:
The inspiration partly comes from when I was filming Homicide years ago and we were doing a scene in an alleyway and a shoplifter ran around the corner into the middle of the set. He dropped the bag and raised his hands and then he recognized me and said, “Oh shit! It’s Munch!” It was the convergence of reality and celebrity. I’ve always been fascinated by that.
And haven’t Hogan and T continued to do the same thing with their careers, up to the present day? Careers in which their “true selves” are an amalgam of fact and fantasy? It seems like all three men have become a lot more comfortable with this strange existence. And who is to say that we too are not living some variety of this metareality with our own personas, especially in a world in which a great deal of our identity is also shaped on the glass screen?