A clown, a stripper, and a banana walk into a bar... It’s not the start of a joke, it’s the setup of our film, Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana.
Bodyslam is a strange, twisted, life-is-stranger-than-fiction tale following a group of underground performers in a local “theatrical wrestling” league in Seattle. This is a scene of punks, geeks, and outcasts—the sort of guys who work crap jobs by day and guzzle down pints of beer by night, all the while throwing each other across a 40-foot stage (not a ring) and waving proud middle fingers at the hissing and raging crowds before them. Decibel levels up to a hundred, a guy flips off a ladder 50 feet up in the air and belly flops on top of his opponent’s seemingly lifeless body. As a fan spits and throws beer at them, the two opponents hug warmly and bask in their shared glory. Yes, there are acrobatics, crazy costumes, foul-mouthed freaky clowns and all that, but there are also warm hugs, lots of tears, and more talk about friendship than face punches.
If you don’t know anything about the film, here are the basics: Paul is an eccentric loner who‘s shut himself away in the house he grew up in. His mom was an alcoholic, and to escape the late-night parties and shotgun blasts, he’d lock himself in his room and watch wrestling on television.
Now Paul’s 40, and still watching TV alone in that house, which he recently paid off from the bank by riding around looking for loose change on the ground. One day as he’s searching the ground “looking for something,” he finds a flyer advertising the wrestling show, Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling.
SSP is run by a drunken, foul-mouthed clown named Ronald McFondle whose finishing move is to give people “The Shocker” on stage. He’s a former runaway who’s created a family of misfit wrestlers with names like Eddie van Glam, Mr. Fitness, and Domestic Violence. Their shtick is a spoof of classic ‘80s WWF, with an emphasis on hilarious pranks, raunchy chants, and dirty humor; a place where throwing cans of beer at the performers is not only accepted, but encouraged. Make no mistake, these guys aren’t MMA, and this isn’t fight club. SSP is more like a family of freaks who only have each other. Their motto is that they are there for the rejects, and they never turn anyone away.
Paul joins up with SSP, but since Paul doesn’t drink, smoke, or party like the rest of the guys, he has trouble fitting in. While the other fellas throw back tall boys and high five each other at the bar, Paul stands by the door awkwardly holding a bag of chips so that he can “be part of the group.” As he watches them from afar, someone hands him their ID, mistaking him for the door guy.
In an effort to give Paul a “personality,” McFondle hatches a plan. The SSP guys dress Paul up as a giant banana and tell him to “act goofy” and dance around. But the joke seems to be on Paul, as he looks completely ridiculous in front the laughing crowds. He’s deeply hurt when they throw beer at him and ride him around the stage like a fool.
In response, Paul decides that if he is going to be a banana, then he is going to be his type of banana. He’s going to go out and play it like a six-foot bad ass. He runs out on stage like Stone Cold Steve Austin, knocking down everything in his path with his “Banana Stomp,” a variation of the brutal “Curb Stomp.” It goes down like a lead balloon.
After months of struggle, the SSP guys get fed up with Paul’s antics and decide to replace him. They bring in a funny, dancing version of his character—dubbed The Second Banana—who instantly becomes more popular than he is. Everyone loves the Second Banana. Everyone forgets about Paul.
Nursing his wounds, Paul decides to plot his revenge against SSP. He betrays McFondle and his buddies to the government by providing the Department of Licensing with videos and detailed accounts of alleged law violations, claiming that the SSP are a hazard to themselves and the public. The DOL and the police come down hard on SSP and force them to quit or face arrest.
With their family shattered, the group scatters to the four winds, and it’s up to the wrestlers to fight back or give up. They decide that they aren’t going to let Paul destroy their family and the organization they love most in the world. And that’s when things really get strange, as McFondle and his crew start devising their own way to fight back against Paul and the government, using punk rock humor and a never say die attitude in a last ditch effort to save the only family they have.
In setting out to tell such an offbeat story, our first rule was not to take sides. We wanted each character to have a strong argument and to really see their point of view, no matter how ridiculous. We wanted the audience to feel conflicted about which side is right. Our second rule was to avoid the usual tropes of documentary films whenever we could. We wanted the piece to have a narrative feel, like you were watching a movie unfold, not some talking head-driven book report on “underground wrestling,” or a film crammed with doc gimmicks like slow motion and flashy graphics.
During our strange journey filled with unexpected twists and turns, we discovered that Paul, The Banana, was a truly captivating subject. He was at once completely open and honest, but at the same time shut off from us and the rest of the world. And with the other wrestlers, as raunchy as they were we soon began to decode that behind all the dirty jokes and drunk ramblings was a certain poetry in their words that touched on universal themes—like creating a family, how we define our own identities, and the constant driving urge to get up on stage and perform.
So, yes, Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana features a giant banana fighting a drunken clown, and we’re proud of that.
Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana is now playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. You can get tickets here.