Here’s a reprint of my review of the recent Roddy Piper show that ran in Hot Press last week.
LIVE REVIEW: ROWDY RODDY PIPER IN THE EMPIRE MUSIC HALL, BELFAST
Wrestling villain turned pop culture icon treats Belfast to plenty of rib-tickling tales.
In the weird and wonderful, spandex-clad world of professional wrestling, the word “legend” gets thrown around as regularly as a 90 pound grappler, but when it comes to Rowdy Roddy Piper, the title is very much deserved. A member of multiple Hall of Fame’s, a pop culture icon and, according to the kilt-wearing Canadian himself, “the reason why Hulk Hogan lost his hair,” the veteran has seen and (just about) done it all in the evergreen industry and tonight, he’s holding court in the Empire Music Hall, Belfast.
After being briefly warmed up with a selection of saucy, wrestling-themed gags courtesy of compere’s/stand-up’s Billy Kirkwood and Chris Brooker, Piper arrives onstage and is primed and ready to pit his wits against the fired up crowd. While Roddy has crossed over into the mainstream to appear in films and TV, this evening’s spoken word show is solely about his time in the squared circle and rightly so. After all, you wouldn’t go to see Mike Tyson for any reason other than to hear him wax lyrical on his hunger for human flesh, so why would the assembled masses want anything else but stories about the Nature Boy Ric Flair and Vince McMahon?
However, though the tales about Andre the Giant’s impressive beer drinking (119 brews in one sitting) and Mad Dog Vachon’s penchant for faking heart attacks to get out of paying for his dinner do involve characters that the unenlightened mightn’t be aware of, Piper peppers his anecdotes with enough humour to ensure everyone is on-board from the very beginning.
A master story-teller both in the ring and with a mic in his hand, the wrestler is a natural onstage. Over the next two hours he tells us about Ric Flair’s, erm, unusual dancing (let’s just say it involved “Little Ric”), Haku biting a would-be bully’s nose off in a bar, why he bought a first class plane ticket for a four foot Mickey Mouse toy and lots more.
Appearing genuinely pleased to be in Belfast (“You’re all so happy and full of life and you’re standing next to Satan himself,” laughs the “bad guy” wrestler), the crowd are equally as enamoured with Roddy and they give him time to tell his tales in full.
Though occasionally he forgets what he’s talking about mid-sentence (“I’ve had 7000 pro-fights, it ain’t that fake” he says, telling us that you pay a price for getting regularly hit on the head) and sometimes the references to his wrestling “family” are a little too sweet and sentimental for this slightly cynical reviewer, it’s an absolute pleasure being in Piper’s company for a few hours and the eye-poking, privates-kicking, Mr. T-punching pugilist leaves the packed crowd clamouring for a rematch.