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    Thursday, October 22, 2020

    Mic'd Up: Chris Jericho, At His Most Hated

    Chris Jericho celebrated his 30th anniversary in the wrestling business earlier this month, which was a testament to his consistency, adaptability, and excellence as a performer. Since he debuted in 1990, Jericho has won it all and done it all, and now he's at a point in his career where he's still a top draw while simultaneously building up younger talent to eventually be the future of this business. There aren't a lot of names in the industry who can say that they're able to do that.

    If there's one thing Jericho excels at the most, it's evolving as a performer by tweaking his character. His most memorable gimmicks include Corazon De Leon/Lionheart, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla, Suit Jericho, The List, and Le Champion. Each character bears some of the signature ticks and traits that make Chris Jericho recognizable, and yet ultimately set it apart from the other versions of Jericho through the years.

    On this edition of Mic'd Up, we're zeroing in on Jericho's critically-acclaimed heel run from 2008-2010, which was mostly known as Suit Jericho, and directly inspired by Javier Bardem's Oscar-winning performance as Anton Chigurh in the 2008 Best Picture No Country for Old Men. In a 2012 interview for Rock Cellar Magazine, Jericho talked about how compelling Chigurh was in his absolute commitment to what he did. 

    Jericho took Chigurh's steadfast belief in his own moral compass and how the latter did not care what people thought of him and incorporated that into what many people consider the best run of his in-ring career. "I liked how he was so calm, cool, and collected even though he was a complete psycho. I thought: these are the perfect elements and traits for a great wrestling character!" Jericho was quoted as saying in the interview.

    When Chris Jericho turned heel in June 2008 by smashing Shawn Michaels through the Jeritron, he underwent a transformation that had so many nuances. Jericho started by ditching the rock star look (loud, acid wash shirts—it was the late 2000s, after all—and jeans) and replaced it with a full suit. His in-ring look also changes dramatically when he trades in his tights for trunks.

    His entrance music and fireworks remain untouched, but he stopped doing his signature pose on stage. Instead, your first image of Jericho during his entrance is always him walking to the ring slowly and purposefully. You can already see it in one of Jericho's first promos as Suit Jericho below:

    When Jericho starts talking, you'll notice that he's begun talking in a monotonous way. The Jericho of old was known for cutting energetic promos with burns and zings that sent crowds into a frenzy, regardless of his character's alignment. In talking like that, Jericho takes away what you expect from him and gives you something you don't like: a boring speaker—or at least, one of the identifiers of a boring speaker.

    Think about it. All of the dull speeches you've heard through the years at graduation ceremonies, general assemblies, team meetings, and the like were delivered by monotonous speakers. Did it make you want to listen to them? No. Did it endear them to you? No. See the logic?

    Jericho also noticeably slows down his cadence. He doesn't have to be energetic on the mic anymore, so that allows him to bring the energy down to suck the life out of the room. Again, it's a 180 on what Jericho promos of old used to be. In the example above, Jericho hasn't perfected the deliberate pace of Suit Jericho's promos yet—he still gives in to some of his tendencies to pick up the pace at some points in the promo—but he will in about two months' time, and you'll see that in the next example.

    One more thing he does with the last edition of the Highlight Reel—at least up to that point—is to play a highlight reel of some of his greatest hits on the mic. That bit is brilliant because he tells the crowd how ashamed he is of who he used to be, while also deliberately contrasting that with the version of himself that he's now presenting to the world. In doing so, he literally shows you what you liked about the old Jericho and then takes it away by giving you Suit Jericho. It's a dickish way of saying "the old Jericho can't come to the phone right now. Why? 'Cause he's dead."

    In the meantime, what we get out of the first video is a harbinger of what's to come. He already started with the altered cadence and lowered energy. He also introduces his penchant for using big words like "vilified" and "ostracized," when he could have simply said "booed"—something he adds, by the way, as an act of condescension towards the audience!

    By September 2008—about two months since the promo above—the man has gone full-on Suit Jericho. Before I get into this particular promo, I want you to notice how he just sat smugly on top of that ladder for a whole minute without saying a word and just soaking in the hatred of the fans. What a nifty foreshadowing for Jericho's second return in 2012, when he had three successive segments in which he appeared and teased the audience with a classic Jericho moment, only to take it away from the fans to get us to boo the returning legend.

    In this case, Jericho's a full-time performer that's so reviled by the crowd that his mere presence angers them and he knows it. So he's perched atop that ladder, just pissing the audience off by being there. The fans know he's got something to say and in delaying it and taking his damn time, he makes you even madder. Genius.

    Once he finally speaks, you'll see that Jericho has gotten used to taking the energy out of the room by talking slowly and monotonously without defaulting to his old tendencies. He's also begun using his favorite words from that run of his career: "hypocrites" and "sycophants!" He even starts talking with a softer voice by this point.

    According to Jericho's third book, The Best in the World: At What I Have No Idea, when he was experimenting with that character at live events, he would speak in such a hushed tone so that the crowd couldn't hear what he had to say. He did it to force the audience to shut up and stop booing him because he knew that the fans ultimately did want to hear what he had to say. Once the booing had subsided, he'd speak slowly and quietly just to annoy everybody even more. Truly, this man is the best in the world at what he does.

    Jericho writes in the book that he took a lot of those ideas from the late Nick Bockwinkel, who was also known for wearing suits while cutting promos, talking slowly—or y'know, speaking like a normal human being would instead of like a wrestler would—and using big words like "skullduggery" and "conjure" in a wrestling promo, where we're more used to hearing conversational words to be used.

    He explains in the book that Bockwinkel's promo style—a slow cadence and the use of big words—was very effective in drawing heat because when you talk to someone like that, you're treating them like a stupid person. And, well, who likes being talked to like they're stupid? Nobody! He added that nobody was cutting promos like that in the late 2000s, which made Bockwinkel's style stand out even more. The fact that a lot of wrestling fans from that time—and even now—won't even be familiar with Nick Bockwinkel anymore allowed Jericho to embrace it and really make it his own, without drawing comparisons to the Hall of Famer.

    By 2010, Jericho was on his way out of WWE again, but not before having captured the World Heavyweight Championship three times, the Intercontinental Championship a couple of times, and having memorable feuds with Shawn Michaels and Edge, as well as Tag Team Championship runs with Edge and the Big Show. Throughout the course of Suit Jericho's run, he'd add another layer to the patronizing way he'd do his promos. 

    In this last example, Jericho reverts to a couple of old tricks at this point: saying nothing for a good few seconds to draw out the audience's antipathy and saying big words like "restitution" and "esteemed." And then he asks, "Do you understand what I'm saying to you right now?" Not only does he talk slowly as if you're Kevin Malone from Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, but he also uses words that aren't as common to the everyman, and then he asks if you can comprehend what he just said. What an asshole!

    What makes Suit Jericho the best run of Y2J's career is how he really put a lot of thought into every facet of his character. This is a guy who went as far as remaining in character, even when he was on the road. When he'd encounter fans at hotels, airports, or other public places, he'd sneer and behave the same way his character would on-camera. This was in the late 2000s when social media was already a thing! Hell, a lot of these are classic heel schticks that you don't see a lot of anymore in the modern era, save for some up-and-coming prick on AEW who wants to consider joining Chris Jericho's Inner Circle.

    He also went the distance by telling WWE not to produce any merch for him throughout this heel run because he wanted to be so hated that nobody would want to wear his T-shirts anyway. Besides, if you despise a guy so much, why would you want to support him by wearing his merchandise or giving him the merch money?

    Chris Jericho's heel run from 2008-2010 was a masterclass on how to properly draw heat as a wrestling villain. He understands exactly what makes a heel so hateable, especially now that audiences have grown up and become smarkier. To truly get under someone's skin, he realized that the key is to take away what the audience wants instead of always giving them something to like or cheer for. That's what makes Chris Jericho a wrestling genius and helps explain why he's stayed on top of the industry this long.

    Happy 30th anniversary in the business, Le Champion! You truly are the best in the world at what you do.

    Header image from WWE 


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match. 

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    Item Reviewed: Mic'd Up: Chris Jericho, At His Most Hated Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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