Directors: John Paul Horstmann (left ) and Ryan Harvie (right). Photo: Shea Vanderport.

Directors: John Paul Horstmann (left ) and Ryan Harvie (right). Photo: Shea Vanderport.

Professional wrestling is quite admittedly a bit of a sham, but the joy derived from the spectacular performances is nothing short of real. While it is undeniably authentic and valuable to the audiences who cheer with glee and boo with equal enthusiasm, it is even more important and soul-defining to the performers who devote their tender bodies to the high-flying shenanigans. The wrestlers’ willingness to don flamboyant costumes and take on new personas is real. Their athleticism and comradery are real. And sometimes, even their grudges are real. Until recently, the Seattle Semi-Pro wrestling league performed this faux sport with endearing panache. But unlike the conclusions to their every match, the wrestlers could never have foreseen the actions of one very angry, fruit-costumed nemesis or the consequences of his fruity grudge.

Informally known as SSP, for several years this “cabaret” of fighters put on a raunchy wrestling show at a local bar filled with liquor soaked humor and vulgar finishing moves. The players were led by Josh Black, aka dirty clown Ronald McFondle, who was known to beat opponents into submission with a rubbery pair of fake testicles. Such a provocative act demands audience participation, so attendees often threw beer cans at performers, both in objection and approval of the staged theatrics. Simply put, SSP put on a good time.

There was a danger lurking in all this rough humor, though — laughter could mask a real dispute, one simmering beneath all that mock conflict. In this way, the grudge between Paul Richards and SSP began innocently enough, but soon spiraled out far beyond a simple misunderstanding. When Paul joined the group, Josh assigned him the role of “The Banana,” intending the character both as a whimsical victim to tougher, cocky fighters and as an initiation process for the newbie. But Paul refused to play along, instead acting out a machismo-infused version of the assigned role. Sensing the crowd’s displeasure with this jarringly tough banana, Josh and SSP organizers brought in “The Second Banana,” Luke Keyes, as a foil to Paul. Feeling disfavored, “The Banana” refused to be upstaged. He quit the group without warning and reported SSP to city authorities for safety violations. After the city threatened to close the bar where the group performed, the wrestlers officially disbanded, until a fortunate legislative hearing gave the fighters their day in court.

SSP’s epic struggle with Paul (and the subsequent legislative campaign) plays out in a new documentary, Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Co-directors Ryan Harvie and John Paul Horstmann are friends of Luke’s, and they came to the story after Paul had broken ties. Their friendship with “The Second Banana,” however, doesn’t skew the events recounted in the film. Rather, Ryan and John Paul present an evenhanded, nuanced account through interviews with wrestlers, including Josh and Bill Bates (aka Eddie Van Glam), event organizers, and Paul. While SSP performances may seem crude on the surface, Bodyslam reveals the heart and passion of these masked wrestlers, and the intense commitment of several fighters that nearly tore the act apart.

GALO sat down with John Paul, Ryan, Josh, and Bill at the Tribeca Film Festival to talk about finding meaning in the crude, villainous heroes, and a family of fighters.

GALO: I’m really excited to have you [Josh and Bill] here, in addition to John Paul and Ryan. It’s a great surprise.

Josh Black: Yeah. We didn’t know we would be in until last night.

Bill Bates: I did.

GALO: So John Paul and Ryan have already been to several screenings, but what about you guys?

Josh: I was at both of them.

Bill: And I saw the movie for the first time last night.

GALO: Wow. So, what did you think?

Bill: I loved it.

GALO: How did the audience here compare to the typical crowd at an SSP show?

Josh: They weren’t as drunk at the movie.


Bill: Yeah. They were much more conservative. There were no chants for anal fisting.

John Paul Horstmann: No beer cans were thrown at us either.

GALO: The audience didn’t throw anything at the screen? That seems like a missed opportunity.

Bill: There are some circles where throwing things is not taken as a compliment [laughter]. At our show, [if] you get a beer can thrown at you, it means someone likes you. Or they like hating you.

Josh: In general, it’s better to get booed than to get silence.

GALO: What do you think, Ryan? Is it better to get booed than to get silence?

Ryan Harvie: Well, I think we would prefer cheers to getting booed. Boos probably aren’t ideal in our situation.

GALO: So Ryan and John Paul, you’ve both done a number of films in different genres, but this is your major directorial debut. How was the first time out?

John Paul: It was nice to be funny and not be all serious. A lot of the films I’ve worked on have been very serious. Well, they’re funny, too, but not laugh out loud funny like this.

Ryan: There was a point where we were in the editing room, watching the film for the 100th time, and we were still laughing. Having likable characters like these guys — watching them over and over again — you know there’s something good there.

John Paul: We were still laughing on the last day when we were really tired.

[At this point, John Paul pantomimes a combination of himself laughing, collapsing and coughing.]

GALO: What about co-directing? Did you agree most of the time or were there debates about how to execute the project?

John Paul: No, it was great. We really have the same opinions about everything.

GALO: Well, that’s certainly helpful.

Ryan: We did spend a lot of time hashing out where we thought the editing should happen. When we were directing together on location, we would just try to coordinate.

John Paul: Like, “You do that, and I’ll do this.” Because it’s all happening live. So one guy has to go over here and one guy over there: “You go film his ass and I’ll go…”

Ryan: “Film the other guy’s ass.”

Bill: Ass, ass, ass, ass, ass.


GALO: So you guys first learned about SSP from Luke, who is known as the “The Second Banana.”

Ryan: John Paul and I went to [the] University of Pittsburgh with [Luke]. He told me about the situation with the wrestling. I was like, “That’s a crazy story.” So I told John Paul and we became obsessed. When we came out to Seattle and I met these guys, we knew they were characters. They were a story. What could go wrong?

GALO: Josh and Bill, what did you think the first time you met Ryan and John Paul? What did you think about making a film?

Josh: We’ve had a lot of people come to film our shows. So I just remember saying, “Oh, sure. I just have to go clown up.” [Laughter] I have so much going on. I’m not only performing in the shows. We usually have a hard enough time running them and all that. It was like, “Come on in. Film us and we’ll see what happens.” But the more they came in, the more we got to know each other.

Ryan: We just kept coming back.

Josh: A lot of people say they’ll come film us, but it usually turns out to be one time. So when [John Paul and Ryan] were around a lot, I think more of a relationship developed.

Bill: [In a stage whisper to Josh] They’re not going away.


GALO: There’s some talk in the film about your onstage personas versus your offstage interactions. In the initial interviews, Josh, did it feel like you were onstage performing or did you feel like you could open up immediately?

Josh: [John Paul and Ryan] were really nice and easy to get along with. If I’m not in the clown suit or don’t have the makeup on, it’s hard for me to get into character.

Bill: Usually, [Josh] needs a shot of whiskey and a PBR [to get into character].

Josh: Or half a bottle of whiskey.

GALO: And what about for you, Bill?

Bill: For me, it’s kind of the same thing. My character is very over-the-top. He’s very flamboyant. He loves that audience interaction. However, I’m kind of like a hermit. I like being at home. I like being quiet. I have a social job — I’m a hairstylist. And then doing the burlesque thing, and then on top of that doing the wrestling thing…once I’m home, I’m just like, “ugh.” [Bill goes limp in his chair. Then, in a whisper, he says, “don’t say a word.”]

GALO: What was it like being interviewed at the salon? I loved that juxtaposition of you cutting someone’s hair and talking about SSP.

Bill: Again, I was in that social aspect. I felt a sense of comfort. I was like, “Oh, I’m at the place where I talk.” It’s like when I’m doing my wife’s hair, [Bill pantomimes hairstyling] I can just talk. I felt very comfortable.

John Paul: That was one of our whole things. People sitting and talking to a camera is just so awkward. We thought about what we could do differently. We thought, “Just give Josh a drink in a paper bag. We’ll walk around the streets with him.” And better stories came out.

Bill: They found ways to get the story out of us. It’s weird. When the red [camera] light is on, for a lot of people something changes.

Ryan: But if you just put them in the situations that they deal with in their everyday life, then it becomes real. It is real. It makes the subject more comfortable. You’re never going to ignore that there’s a camera.

John Paul: We tried so many ways. We did tons of interviews first and realized we weren’t getting what we wanted.