For a little while, from the age of about 15, I was the UK’s youngest professional wrestler (I went by the name of Max Voltage and sported a Power Rangers-esque pleather ensemble). It was a surreal chapter of my adolescence; the result of a world-class wrestling school opening up, for some reason, in my hometown of Portsmouth. It’s also a career I’d recommend, in a heartbeat, to anyone.
It’s not rewarding financially, of course. Payment generally stretches to a handful of soggy tenners, hurled at you after your match by a resentful promoter. In fact the lifestyle as a whole is a grungy one – five-in-a-Prius roadtrips up and down the country are the norm, fuelled by bleary-eyed 3am motorway service-station meals.
But all of that is worth it, once you’ve experienced what it is to be a wrestler.
Firstly, there’s the joy of discovering your alter ego. A good wrestling character is an extension of your personality – a pumped up, fantastical expression of something bubbling away inside you. Once you’ve found it, everything flows from there: your entrance music, your costume, your finishing move (I implore you – don’t live your life without discovering the satisfaction of having your own finishing move).
Then there’s the rush. Maybe you’re in a working men’s club in front of an audience of seven people. Perhaps you’re at a town hall in front of 2,000. Either way, the thrill is the same: your music hits, you step out through the curtain and into a parallel universe. You are, for all intents and purposes, a real-life superhero. Whether you’re a valiant babyface (good guy) or a dastardly heel (villain), you hold the hopes and dreams of a crowd in the palm of your hand. You become conductor, storyteller and protagonist in your own epic drama. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world – a primal thrill more potent than any performance-related bonus or glowing HR appraisal could ever be.
As we all know, wrestling is pre-determined; an athletic, choreographed pantomime. But it’s also incredibly demanding – those suplexes really do hurt, those clotheslines really do bruise. Eventually, every wrestler stops pretending to be hurt when they’re not, and starts pretending not to be hurt when they are. That’s what got me, in the end – I would see hobbled, haggard older wrestlers vacantly taping up their wrists at the other end of the locker room (and by “locker room” I of course mean “community-centre corridor”), and think “I don’t want that to be me when I’m 32”. I threw myself into comedy, instead – perhaps the only other performance art that depends on that same crackling connection with an audience. It was, almost certainly, the sensible choice.
But looking back – to 17-year-old me, squashed in the back of a car, bruised, aching and smelling faintly of Deep Heat, heading from Carlisle to Fratton and eating a sloppy double cheeseburger as the sun rose in the morning – I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier.
Max & Ivan’s critically acclaimed show The End is touring across the UK from April 22
An international festival of light
Dinner in a decommissioned 1967 underground carriage
Half-price brunch and a HUGE fried chicken burger