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Incredibly strange mix of tortillas and turnbuckles
By Charles McDermid
Of The Examiner Staff
Start with abundant portions of tortillas, tattoos and testosterone.
Add the World Wrestling Federation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jerry Springer.
Throw in one dash each of Federico Fellini, Beach Blanket Babylon, and Andy Kaufman.
Let stand one week on the set of John Waters' film "Pink Flamingos" while blasting The Cramps and replaying Monty Python and Russ Meyer movies.
Add more tortillas.
Something that resembles the surrealistic silliness that is Incredibly Strange Wrestling.
This is where junk culture meets performance art, where professional wrestling meets progressive parody and where family fun receives the flying elbow. Check any narrow-minded seriousness at the door with your urban trench coat and get ready for an absolute annihilation of bourgeois civility.
Like your sports extreme? Try a man in a 7-foot furry Chewbacca outfit who calls himself El Macho Sasquatcho doing a "corkscrew moon somersault" onto an equally enormous horned chicken named El Pollo Diablo -- all in the center of a corn tortilla tornado.
News flash: This is fake wrestling! But, unlike it's kissing-cousins the WWF and the ECW, the ISW revels in its stylized, amateurish choreography.
Substitute Vince McMahon with Mel Brooks and you start to get the picture.
Like all the best art, the ISW contains elements of its own parody.
Humor comes first here, logic is derailed, and knowing nods are thrown to escapism, fantasy role-playing and anyone willing to provide a sarcastic send-up of social convention (see El Homo Loco).
Flamboyant, hip and increasingly popular, the San Francisco-based ISW is doing something right. On Saturday night the 1,200-seat Fillmore Theatre reported its fourth consecutive sellout for the combination wrestling exhibition and punk rock show. The act was a recent Lollapalooza sideshow and has toured the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego.
ISW has upcoming arrangements with Kid Rock, the Stone Temple Pilots and will be part of this summer's Van's Warped Tour.
"Our culture is becoming more and more like pro wrestling all the time," said Count Dante, the ISW's play-by-play announcer and sometime participant, who attends performances adorned in a loosely-bound, slightly lecherous leopard bathrobe. "ISW is funny, it's a satire. Look at 'The Jerry Springer Show' and 'Survivor' -- subconsciously, we know these things are scripted. What is pro wrestling? A scripted sport. A drama. We just have a little more fun with it."
The ISW was born five years ago as a $2 after-hours show at the Transmission Theatre - a 500-seat venue next to the Paradise Lounge in South of Market District. The brainchild of 29-year-old music promoter Audra Angeli-Morse, the ISW was originally a San Francisco-styled version of Mexican wrestling or lucha libre. The first show was Morse and her friends dressed in masks, cavorting violently on a pile of blankets.
"The ISW began as an homage to lucha libre but over the years has evolved more into an amalgam of American wrestling and lucha libre," Dante said.
"San Francisco has always had a place for unique acts and shows to develop. Of course back then, it was completely hokey."
From its inception, punk music has been the act's ultra-loud accompaniment. Saturday's show was no different; - highlighting the Bay Area's One Man Army, The Weaklings and Swinging Udders.
"What separates the ISW is that it's one of the few promotions to successfully mix music and wrestling," Dante said. "Go to a lot of independent wrestling shows and you'll find they chase the standards of the WWF. We aren't looking to copy the WWF but generally we end up parodying them."
Saturday's crowd for the ISW show was pure cultural salmagundi: white people, black people, yuppies, hippies, hipsters, squares, senior citizens, and infants. Name the ethnicity, tax bracket or wardrobe, and they were there in full force.
There were retro-outfit types rubbing elbows with people wearing the original gear. There were merlot-swirling CEOs, hard partying locals and trendy urbanites oozing sad glamour all over the place. Out front there were as many Italian scooters as Harley Davidsons.
Flying through the Fillmore like floppy Frisbees and an inch deep underfoot - the first thing you notice when entering an ISW show are the corn tortillas.
"People just naturally want to throw things at the wrestlers," Dante said.
"Fans would get drunk and throw ice, beer, glasses, their shoes. We thought, if we give them something harmless, it'll diffuse that."
The corn tortillas -- never use flour - don't hurt when they hit you, but the smell is overpowering.
"It leads to pretty involved cleaning," said Deborah Bendini, the Fillmore's security supervisor. "The guys have the lift out right now getting them out of the chandeliers."
As projectiles, the corn tortilla leaves something to be desired. They generally crumble after the first flight, leaving the fans only handfuls of tortilla shrapnel for the throwing. However, as a party-favor the tortilla is genius. Shooting starch goes a long way in erasing the barrier between spectator and spectacle.
Some advice: cover your drink.
The Characters and Announcers
"Everybody wants to be a pro wrestler or a movie star," Dante said. "It takes a loose screw to run away to the circus. But it takes even more than that to stay there."
The names of the ISW characters speak for themselves. There's 69 Degrees, the scientology-spouting boy band whose members bash opponents with paperback copies of Dianetics. The Mexican Viking whose war cry is "Viva La Rasa, Viva Asgard." El Homo Loco, perhaps the randiest man alive, who alternately loves and hates his opponent. And of course The Poontangler, The Sheik of Physique and Lil' Emperor, the ISW's token anti-American who, in this case dresses like Napoleon, speaks in an atrocious French accent and enters the crowd swilling champagne.
The action in the ring runs the gamut from high-flying to low brow. Some wrestlers, El Macho Sasquatcho and Super Polka for example, feature a dizzying array of holds, throws and comically viscous slams. Others spend the majority of their time clowning.
The highlight of Saturday's show was The Cruiser jumping off a 10-foot ladder onto the seemingly unconscious Poontangler who was stretched out on a table above a mud pit. The table crashed appropriately to tremendous applause.
All the while, the play-by-play of Count Dante and his straight-man sidekick Alan, provides a hilarious parody to Vince McMahon's famous commentary on the WWF.
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