The weird wedding of politics and wrasslin' in East Kentucky.
If you needed further proof that we've crossed over into a bizarro world, an alternate reality where U.S. politics has devolved into pop tribalism and the line between entertainment and governance has been severely blurred, behold The Progressive Liberal.
No, not the millennial grad student. The wrestler. He parts the black curtains and the crowd goes ballistic inside the Leatherwood Elementary gymnasium in Perry County, Kentucky. They see the Democratic donkeys on his kneepads and Hillary Clinton's face repeated into a psychedelic pattern on his signature T-shirt and they start foaming at the mouth.
"Lock her up!"
"Get outta here! Get back over the wall!"
He makes a weird villain in that he's not here to steal your woman or hack you to bits with a chainsaw or anything like that. His only weapon is a clipboard.
"Me and my liberal friends need 500 signatures," he says into a wonky mic from the center of the ring, "because just on the other side of this mountain we're trying to build a beautiful windmill farm that's going to supply a lot of clean energy —"
He can't even finish.
"Trump! Trump! Trump!"
These are mostly kids, by the way. Like 12 years old and younger. The vitriol is off the charts. In the wild world of wrasslin' that's a good thing. They call it "heat", and these days The Progressive Liberal stokes the fire like nobody else.
"Break his arm!" screams a cute little girl in the bleachers.
"Hush, Courtney," says her mom.
The little girl clenches her fists and rocks back and forth, trying her best not to explode.
They call it "heat", and these days The Progressive Liberal stokes the fire like nobody else.
The man behind/inside/whatever The Progressive Liberal, Daniel Richards, has been a diehard wrestling fan since forever. He says he actually is a progressive liberal. Like everybody else his age (he's 36), he was a Hulkamaniac, but it was the WCW villain Lord Steven Regal that really fascinated him. Makes sense.
Regal was this aristocratic Brit who blue-collar fans loved to hate. He had this perfectly coiffed hair, and he'd say things like, "I do hope this doesn't take dreadfully long. I'm missing a rather important polo match."
His manager was a gent named Sir William who wore an ascot and a bowler hat.
"William," Regal would say, his nose in the air and a look of disgust on his face, "did you see the dirt beneath my opponent's fingernails? I shall require a baaahth immediately."
And the crowds in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, et al., would lose their marbles. "Who does this prick think he is?" they wondered.
But Richards saw a genius; the proto-troll.
"It was his facial expressions," he says of Regal's ability to annoy people without even talking. "They were tremendous."
He studied them, and put them in a folder in the back of his brain until the time was right. Or wrong. However you want to look at it.
Right around election time, Richards debuted The Progressive Liberal with a new Hazard-based outfit called Appalachian Mountain Wrestling. The getup was his idea, but a friend tailored it for him: Trunks with his name on the back and a big star on the crotch flanked by a couple of Democratic donkeys that are echoed on a pair of custom kneepads. He tops it off with a Hillary Clinton T-shirt and/or a sleeveless "Not My President" number.
"The right ass cheek of my trunks sagged a little bit when I first got them, but we fixed them and now they fit like a glove."
They definitely get the job done. When coupled with his Steven Regal-style aloofness and an urbane sort of accent that really shines on words like AppuhLAYshuh, Mountain crowds pretty much want to murder him within milliseconds.
A couple months ago, he told a crowd in Sabine, West Virginia, that he didn't care about Mexico, he'd rather build a wall around their little town to protect the rest of the country from their hillbilly stupidity. There wasn't any security to speak of and he honestly thought he might get stomped. But it made for some mighty fine entertainment. Has ever since.
The Progressive Liberal and the rest of the crew certainly brought them out in sleepy Leatherwood. The old elementary school gym was probably as full as it's been in a minute. It's a familiar scene to anyone from this edge of the state. The WPA aesthetic. The old flag. The buzzing lights and electric ceiling heaters. One black guy in a Carhartt jacket and an almost comically over-armed sheriff's deputy who taps you on the shoulder and says, "Just outta curiosity, who you with, Bub?"
It's intermission. Backstage in a classroom plastered with cartoon cutouts and vocabulary words like "clunk" and "pudding", all the big brutes — Kyle Maggard, Clinton Stacy, Stan Sierra, Stan "The Man" Lee, "The Driller" Eddie Browning, "The King of Kingsport" Beau James — review the rest of the night's card on a teacher's whiteboard. The Progressive Liberal is up first versus the clean-living, hometown hero, John Noble. They exit through the black curtain in that order.
"Do-nald Trump! Do-nald Trump!"
Noble gets a much warmer welcome. You know the rest. Good guy falls behind. Claws his way back. At one point he steals The Liberal's Hillary shirt, pretends to wipe his ass with it, and everybody goes apeshit.
"Rip it! Rip the shirt!"
"Trump! Trump! Trump!"
Noble throws the evil Liberal out of the ring, and as the evil Liberal catches his breath in a ringside folding chair he's mobbed by bloodthirsty kids that slap him on the back and call him a loser.
And guess what.
"I'm an adult," Richards says afterward, his chest graffitied with bruises in the shape of Noble's righteous, real American hand. "This makes no sense. I just love it for some reason."
Follow the fate of The Progressive Liberal by liking Appalachian Mountain Wrestling on Facebook.
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