March 25, 2009, - 11:53 am
The Tax Man Cometh: Washington State Taxes Fake Wrestling Lampoon as a “Sport”, Putting It Out of Biz
By Debbie Schlussel
The Obama White House announced it’s looking for new “revenue streams.” Translation: New ways and things to tax.
It’s hardly an Einsteinian insight that more taxes send more businesses–and jobs–to the grave, something we already have more than enough of, right now.
And the status of Lucas “King Fu Banana” Keyes is yet another lesson, another microcosm of the larger damages to come with Obama’s taxes. They’ll put America out of business, like Washington State’s new taxes put Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling–a lampoon of WWE wrestling–out of business for now.
Among the enduring questions of modern times is whether professional wrestling is real or pretend. Washington-state bureaucrats have opened a new chapter in the debate by ruling that wrestling is a real form of sport even when it consists of a man in a banana suit performing fake kung-fu moves in a tavern.
A group called Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling has for six years packed bars around this city with its lampoons of World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro league. Cast members have included a husky everyman who likes to tick off environmentalists by boasting about chopping down trees, and Ronald McFondle, a raunchy rendition of a clown character, who finishes off his opponents with a lewd gesture. They grapple on foam pads placed on stages in bars, not in rings.
The SSP, which calls itself a “fight cabaret” — theater with singlets, suplexes and sweat — has entertained crowds for six years in simple settings, fighting on foam pads placed on stages in Seattle-area bars.
Washington state’s Department of Licensing takes the high jinks seriously. Earlier this month, it classified the performances as “sports entertainment.” The ruling means the spoofers must meet safety regulations and could force the league to post a $10,000 bond, station medical personnel at events and buy a regulation wrestling ring.
The league, “SSP” for short, says those costs would bust its shoestring budget. It says it will appeal the ruling but has halted matches for now.
The Seattle league calls itself “fight cabaret” — in essence, theater with singlets, suplexes and sweat, as unworthy of regulation as a Shakespeare play. “It’s a bunch of grown men and women in costumes pretending to be professional wrestlers,” says David Osgood, the league’s lawyer. “It is to wrestling as ‘West Side Story’ is to actual gang relations.”
The licensing department says it doesn’t care that SSP is faking it. State laws define a “wrestling show” or “wrestling exhibition” as “a form of sports entertainment in which the participants display their skills in a physical struggle against each other in the ring and either the outcome may be predetermined or the participants do not necessarily strive to win, or both.” . . .
The Seattle league debuted in 2003 as an “art joke” to make fun of pro-wrestling antics, says Nathaniel Pinzon, a bouncer at a gay karaoke club who started it with friends. There’s little in common between the physiques of muscular WWE wrestlers and those of SSP members, many of whom are under 6 feet tall and don’t appear to spend much time in the gym. SSP wrestlers are volunteers who don’t earn money from performances.
SSP performers do mimic the choreographed violence of pro wrestling, clobbering each other with folding chairs, hopping from ladders onto opponents and pile-driving them headfirst into the floor. The league used to encourage spectators to pelt wrestlers with empty beer cans but stopped when unruly patrons threw full cans; the league began passing out plastic balls, instead. There was usually a cover charge to get into bars where its matches were held, typically between $5 and $8. The league says most proceeds go towards costumes and props.
Most SSP performances are more racy, political or downright absurd than pro wrestling. Mr. Pinzon wrestles as the vainglorious Deevious Silvertongue, dressed like a glam rocker in a satin outfit and cape — a “mix between Liberace and David Bowie,” he said as he tried on the costume in the dingy backroom of a bar near the Seattle Space Needle where SSP has performed.
The smackdown by the state started because of a grudge match between the league and The Banana, played by a wrestler named Paul Richards. Mr. Richards, a driver for a mail-services company, says he left the league in April because of plans to sideline his character.
The league had named Lucas Keyes, a videogame programmer, as the Second Banana to be a sidekick to The Banana. In a match, the league says it planned to have the Second Banana betray The Banana, defeating Mr. Richards’s character. Mr. Richards says he quit rather than lose top-banana status.
After he says he heard that members were making fun of him behind his back, Mr. Richards says he took retribution by emailing the licensing department in June and telling officials he believed SSP was violating the law. “The guy in the clown outfit kept running his mouth,” says Mr. Richards, 40 years old, who says he enjoys playing a real-life “heel” — the wrestler that audiences love to boo.
The clown in question is Josh Kuntz, who plays Ronald McFondle, a perpetually mock-soused sendup of Ronald McDonald who has eyebrows shaped like the McDonald’s arches and wears red high tops. . . .
The SSP league is “a living cartoon,” says Mr. Keyes, the other banana. “The Banana is a joke,” says Mr. Keyes, 28, whose character evolved into the Kung Fu Banana, who boasts of his potassium power. “It’s like you’re given a role in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and try to act like Sidney Poitier.”
In a document containing its March 6 ruling, the state licensing department said two unnamed Seattle police officers reported on an August match. “Although the physical contact was light, there were acrobatic stunts such as the performers jumping into the air approximately four feet and landing on the neck of another performer,” one of the officers wrote in his report. “There were flips, kicks and face slapping all in the show.”
Later, an SSP performer got onstage and boasted: “I’m telling you and the whole world this wrestling is not fake. It is for real!” according to a report from one of the officers.
Ha. Things must be very slow in Seattle when they’re sending out cops to go “undercover” at fake wrestling.
It seems to me that the better case here is not the case for taxing this lampoon of wrestling (which I thought was already a lampoon), but the case McDonald’s has for the attack on its intellectual property with Ronald McFondle (even if it’s parody).
Since the SSP is appealing the tax ruling, I can only imagine the testimony at the hearing:
And then Ronald McFondle said . . . . And then Kung Fu Banana said . . . . No, wait, he’s Second Banana.
The tax man cometh, no matter how ridiculous or absurd his entry.