Although this blog is about work and organizations, regular readers might have noticed by now that I enjoy watching professional wrestling, and I enjoy reading books about it. Professional wrestling includes some very big organizations; World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the dominant professional wrestling company, had revenues of nearly $500 million US in the first half of 2019. So understanding the experiences of workers in professional wrestling is as worthwhile as understanding the experiences of workers in any kind of organization.
People who aren’t familiar with professional wrestling often look at the characters that wrestlers play and criticize what they see as stereotypes that promote racism, sexism, and ableism. I agree with a lot of those criticisms, and former WWE performers have also told disturbing stories of the company’s attitudes toward female and minority performers. So I was really interested in reading Life Is Short And So Am I by Dylan Postl, who wrestled in WWE from 2006 to 2016. Postl has a distinctive perspective on stereotypes in professional wrestling because he’s a midget (Postl says he’s fine with that term).
Professional wrestling has a long history of midget wrestlers, going back to when wrestling matches were part of travelling sideshows and carnivals. Many midget wrestlers are superb athletes, but their opportunities in the industry can be limited because of their physical characteristics. For example, they simply can’t fight very large wrestlers because it would look completely unbelievable. And unfortunately, professional wrestling bookers and writers often have limited and unimaginative ideas for midgets. Midget wrestlers end up being cast as a Mini-Me of a popular wrestler, as some kind of animal or fantasy-story creature, or just as slapstick comic relief in between matches. I wanted to find out how Postl navigated this complex environment, in addition to managing the stresses of navigating the rest of the world as a little person.
Postl’s story starts out the same way as the stories of many other professional wrestlers: obsessed with wrestling as a kid, wrestling with friends, getting professional training, and spending years performing in independent shows, where the payment might not even cover the cost of getting to and from the venue. After several auditions for WWE, in between working at a Target store, he was brought into WWE as “Hornswoggle”, a leprechaun sidekick to Irish wrestler Fit Finlay. In addition to being a leprechaun, the “Hornswoggle” character had two other distinct qualities: he lived under the wrestling ring, and he only communicated in grunts and gestures.
Hornswoggle might sound like a character with limited potential, and to some extent it was. Because Hornswoggle emerged from his lair underneath the ring, not from backstage, Postl spent a lot of time sitting under the ring. He sometimes had to go under there before a show started, and then, after his match, not come out again until the show ended and the audience had left. (In case you’re wondering, he had a TV monitor and a headset so he could follow the action and not miss his cues.) But there were many unexpected problems that Postl faced as a full-time professional wrestler. If his costume got damaged or ruined, he usually couldn’t run out and buy a replacement off the rack. Because of his size, he was often mistaken backstage for a Make-A-Wish kid. The grinding travel routine of planes, rental cars, and hotels was even tougher for someone who had to struggle with luggage and furnishings designed for average-sized adults. And Postl also had some challenging situations to manage in his personal life, such as becoming a father at age 22 and then a single parent.
The Hornswoggle character became extremely popular, thanks to Postl’s convincing acting, and eventually Hornswoggle became able to speak. But after that, it seemed that WWE didn’t really know what to do with the character. What I particularly appreciated about how Postl tells his story is that in some ways he was treated really badly by WWE, but he’s remarkably even-handed in recounting those negative experiences. He played the title role in a movie for WWE Studios – a reboot of the Leprechaun franchise from the 1990s – but was horrified to discover that not only was he barely visible in the final product, he wasn’t even credited in the publicity materials. Towards the end of his time in WWE, the Hornswoggle character was put into even more un-creative gimmicks – such as being revealed as the secret son of company owner Vince McMahon, and then as a miniature alligator mascot for a tag team.
After that, the Hornswoggle character was used less often in storylines, so Postl spent more and more time snacking at the catering table. As he points out, even a small amount of extra weight shows up very quickly on a little person, and his increased size then led to Hornswoggle appearing even less often. Postl could be bitter about this downward spiral of events, or he could twist them to gain sympathy or build his ego – and he wouldn’t be the first professional wrestler to use their autobiography as an opportunity to rewrite history. But Postl takes responsibility for his own actions, while conveying his frustration at the dilemmas he found himself in. (He was eventually dismissed from WWE and built a career as an independent performer, promoter and trainer; he now makes occasional one-off appearances at WWE shows.)
Authors of professional wrestling autobiographies usually have to decide if they are writing for wrestling fans or for a more general audience. Postl and his two co-authors have clearly targeted wrestling fans as their readers, which is a smart choice. The writers assume the reader has some familiarity with the wrestling industry, so in reading this book it helps if you know the basics of how professional wrestling works. If you have that background and you want to learn more about Postl and why his career unfolded the way it did, you’ll like this book.
There are some features of professional wrestling autobiographies that seem to have become obligatory, and they’re in here too; personally, I felt that discussions of what wrestlers such as Triple H and Shawn Michaels are “really like” weren’t necessary in a book which has a very compelling and interesting story of its own. Life is Short and So Am I provides an insightful perspective on professional wrestling from a performer in a demographic group that’s often marginalized or not taken seriously in the industry. I learned a lot from reading it.
Thanks to ECW Press for providing me with a review copy of the book.