In a strange collision of wrestling and electioneering, Joel MacManus talks to ‘Mr. Burns’, the pro wrestler behind the parody billboards taking the internet by storm.
Billboards bearing the name ‘Young Nats’ started popping up around Auckland and Hamilton this weekend and immediately began stirring up controversy online. Slogans like “It’s Probably Your Fault” and “Putting the ‘Our’ in Aotearoa” seemed a little too ridiculous to possibly be real, but the internet had sniffed racism – or political dirty tricks – and immediately took out their torches.
In one of the better twists of the election, the billboards were not put up by either the Young Nats or their political rivals, but by a team of professional wrestlers.
Jason Burns, who fights for Impact Pro Wrestling New Zealand under the name ‘Mr. Burns’, appears on the billboards as the leader of the ‘Young Nats’ – not a youth political organisation, but a super-team of right wing wrestling villains.
The billboards have been all over the internet since the weekend. What kind of reactions have you had since they went up?
We’re doing a series of parody billboards in the lead up to promote this event. They were just playing on the negative perceptions that are out there of National being cold and out of touch. We were quite surprised that a few people took them seriously, but it just went nuts. The “Putting the ‘Our’ in Aotearoa” in one in particular. I think most people still get the satire of it, but there was definitely a minority that took it as a legitimate billboard. It was certainly never our intent to have any of the billboards be taken seriously. I was surprised, I just thought it was so absurd that anyone could think National would ever actually use that slogan. I think that’s probably the most interesting outcome from this: how badly the National government is perceived to be out of touch with New Zealanders that that slogan could actually be used. They’ve got a major issue if people could find that slogan believable. We underestimated that.
Whether it was your intention or not, is this the most attention you’ve ever gotten from a wrestling promo?
It’s gotten bigger since even yesterday. Te Karere just talked to our national spokesperson to confirm that it’s a fake billboard. It’s definitely taking off… or getting out of hand.
Where did the idea for a ‘Young Nats’ wrestling character come from?
I spent a lot of time wrestling as ‘Pirate Burns’, who was a fun-loving guy with braids and beads in his beard, dressed up like a pirate and was a really fun sort of character. Then I became ‘Mr. Burns’, a corporate bad guy who would wear a suit. We formed the Young Nats faction, who were a group of bad guy characters who satirically play out the worst of the Young Nats and the hardcore National supporters. Our working class crowds love to boo us as an outlet for their frustration with our actual government, but they also boo with a smile on their face because they know it’s a parody that we’re doing.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen political satire and professional wrestling mixed, is there much history of it?
Not particularly, no. It’s kind of me combining all my loves. I’m very passionate about our collective ability to make our world a better place. Politics has been a big part of my life since I was 7 years old. I love satire, [John] Clarke and [Bryan] Dawe are my favourite sketches that exist out there in the world and we’ve started doing some wrestling promo videos in the style of Clarke and Dawe.
I just saw your ‘We didn’t measure it’ one. I really liked it.
I’m quite enjoying those, they’re very different to the usual pro wrestling videos. And my other love is pro wrestling, which I’ve loved since I was a kid and got involved with about 17 years ago. Back then, the pro wrestling scene was just rising out of nothing in New Zealand. A bunch of guys were building it with no experience, no one had been a wrestler in the past. But we’ve got to this point now 17 years later. We’re really thriving and we’ve got people in the three biggest wrestling companies around the world now.
How long have you been using the ‘Young Nats’ character?
I would say two years. It definitely wasn’t at the last election, but it probably wasn’t long after that.
Have you had any response from the actual Young Nats?
No, we haven’t. To their credit, they’ve just played along. They know we exist and I know they’ve seen our stuff, but I think they know it would look bad on them to react.
Did you ever consider creating a left wing character so you could do a National vs. Labour thing?
The idea has been thrown around, but it’s kind of unnecessary. Anyone who is against us is automatically the good guy. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to play politics against politics, it’s just human against the worst parts of politics, which these characters represent.
What is the ‘September Selection’ event that you’re promoting?
It’s an event where fans either on the night or online in advance can vote to decide who is in those matches or what the stipulations of the match are going to be. There’s only one match that’s set in stone at this point and it’s a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, which means those are usable as weapons. That’s featuring a guy who is 7 feet tall, 140kgs and used to have a WWE contract. It’s his last ever match with us.
So, people are going to vote to see who you are going to fight?
I will be fighting someone, but the fans will get to choose between two guys or they will let me decide who I want to fight. Which is incredibly unlikely because I’m incredibly unpopular.
Who do you hope you’ll come up against?
Well, I hope I get to choose. I hope the fans do the right thing and let Mr. Burns determine his own destiny. That’s what democracy is all about, isn’t it?
If you get to choose, who do you plan on choosing?
Well, I’ve got two options. I could either choose someone who I’m going to beat really easily, so I get to have a nice night off watching National win the election, or I could challenge the New Zealand Heavyweight Champion Brook Duncan and we could have a massive double celebration with National winning the election and Mr. Burns and the Young Nats winning the Heavyweight title belt.
Do you have a signature move?
Yes, there’s a couple of them. There’s the ‘John Key Lock’, which is a kimura arm bar, which is a headlock in mixed martial arts. Also the ‘Sky City Headbutt’, which is a top rope diving headbutt to a standing opponent.
If you could get in the ring with any current MP, who would it be?
I’m gonna go with James Shaw. The reason being that one of our wrestlers is called James Shaw, and they’ve actually had a few interactions on Twitter, so I’d really like to referee a match between those two over the rights to the name James Shaw.
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