Rowdy Roddy Piper on Charlie Sheen and staying in the ring
Watch out, Cindy Lauper.
Rowdy Roddy Piper is one of the stranger interviews I've ever done. He's a hard man to get a hold of -- he juggles a variety of projects from showbiz to professional wrestling -- but once you get him on the phone, he's like a spigot unstopped, a torrent of tangentially related stories and asides that run the gamut from chest-beating bravado in one moment to a surprising degree of ruminative tenderness in the next, all related in exactly the grizzled basso profundo you'd expect him to sound like. But in a long career like that of Piper, who, at the age 56, is still wrestling, a man's bound to accumulate some things to talk about -- which is basically the point of his latest project, a comedic storytelling tour that comes through town tomorrow night. In advance of the show, we talked to Piper about pimps, bagpipes and the true love of the game.
Westword: You're probably best known as a wrestling icon, so it's a little weird so see your name on the bill at a comedy club. Can you tell us a little bit about the act? Roddy Piper: I'm getting this question. And it's cool, and one of the things it's triggered right away is it's not an act. I heard about Charlie sheen, and I don't know what you call that -- and just for the record, Charlie sheen's not a pimple in my ass. This is a show destined for Broadway. It was actually, Jimmy Kimmel and Sal Kimmel -- he's the head-writer of the Kimmel show -- they wanted me to do this one-man Broadway show, like the one Will Ferrell did with George W. Bush. It's hard to define. So they ended up putting me in the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard for a year -- for a year, I did the Comedy Store -- to the point where my name is in the hall of fame there. You know it's one of the most haunted places in America? Yeah, the Comedy Store, it's one of the most haunted places in America. Check it out, bro, I'm telling you.
Listen. I'll tell you a story: I'm on Mancow in Chicago -- you know, the radio show? I'm on the show for an hour. So while the show's taping -- I can't remember what the topic was -- in comes these guys in trench coats and a Playboy bunny. And they're just there. So finally, I say to these guys, what's your name. He says Don the Juan -- apparently he's this big-time pimp in Chicago, I didn't know it at the time. Anyway, so this guys invites me to the Player's Bally -- I have no idea what this is, but I end up going, and I'm, uh, I'll just say I'm the only guy of my ethnic group there. And the situation is getting out of control, and I'm just figuring out what's going on; anyway, at the end of the day, two very large black men with canes that turn into swords walked me to a limousine and I got out of there.
So what do you call that? I mean I kicked Cindy Lauper, I wrestled a bear, I slapped Mr. T. What do you call that? I don't know. But I try not to work blue. And I like to play the piano a little bit, so I hope there's a piano there.
WW: You just play piano if there happens to be one? RP: Yeah. When you get a chance to, bud, look up the Comedy Store on the internet. I know the ghosts there. I play the piano way in the back where you can't even see the keys. I'm not that good yet, but I'm going to get good some day. I'm going to play Carnegie hall, right next to Billy's Bar and Grille.
WW: It seems like there's a certain kind of nostalgic irony going on with what you do -- like, a lot of people my age remember you as a sort of iconic figure of the '80s, and there's this kind of irony to your appeal, which seems like something you've been especially willing to play on in stuff like It's Always Sunny. Do you think that's true of the show?
RP: Well I've been around a lot longer than the '80s. I started in 1969, left home when I was 13. I lived on the streets for two years. When I was 14, I was 5th in the world playing bagpipes -- that's how I got the name Roddy the Piper, and then, you know, eventually it just became "Roddy Piper."
It was by accident I got into wrestling. Somebody didn't show up, and I just filled in. I was an amateur wrestling and boxing champion at the YMCA. My first match lasted 10 seconds, and I lost. And I got beat up every day, I mean systematically, at like 8 o'clock, I got beat up every day. You got to understand, I was 16 years old, 167 lbs, and these guys I was fighting with, they'd all come off the Gorgeous George era and they'd all got cheated off the bench a lot, so here's this 16-year-old kid in the locker room, and they didn't want me there. They didn't want me. So they beat me up. Every night at 8 o'clock, because I always had the first match, they just beat me bloody, to try to make me quit. They'd throw me in the trunk naked and beat the shit out of me -- true story.
They had serious rules, and they enforced them - there was no WWE, no WWF, there was no WW-anything. I'm as real as they come. I've been stabbed three times, I've had cancer, I've been electrocuted, I've been in three car crashes. But I come from a very real, real place.
WW: And all these years later, you're still wrestling professionally. I mean, you've got to be, what, fifty-some years old now, right? RP: Yeah, I had a match last Friday. I mean, I couldn't do it every night anymore, but that's what I do. I'm not sure what you guys think when you see that, but I want to do it til I die. It's like, you're a writer. At what point are you going to stop writing? But I see what you're saying, there's physical element -- I mean, I'm two inches shorter than I used to be.
I just love it. You ever heard 100,00 people screaming your name? You can't buy that. You'd pull your heart out for just that moment -- no amount of money in the world could buy that moment.
WW: I didn't mean to imply that it was a negative thing -- I actually think it's impressive. I mean, of all the guys from that golden age of '80s WWF wrestling that I remember, all those guys, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, you've outlasted all of them. RP: You know why? Because I'm the best. I've always been the best of them. I've got angels around me. I got something inside me, I can't describe it to you -- and I sound like a 15 year old here, I sound like Peter pan on testosterone -- but I just love it. I think if I were to quit I'd die.
Rowdy Roddy Piper appears Thursday through Saturday at Comedy Works. For showtimes, tickets ($28) or more information, call 303-595-3637.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.