As an 11 year veteran of the WWE and an aspiring stand-up comic, Dolph Ziggler was the perfect fit for the Savage Henry Wrestling issue. Ziggler’s wrestling persona has gone through several phases over his career and led to him being one of the most talked about – and possibly, most underrated – athletes in professional wrestling today. In the ring, Ziggler is a cocky show-off. But outside of the ring, in a one-on-one setting, he shows himself to be humble, hardworking, and very self-aware. I talked to Ziggler about his role in the WWE, his stand-up comedy and his plans for the future.
Isaac Kozell: 2014 was a big year for you. You were sole survivor for the second time in your career and were named Wrestler of the Year by Rolling Stone. How do you feel 2015 is treating you so far?
Dolph Ziggler: 2015 is actually going pretty well. A lot of this business is timing and luck. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – in the world who are better than me, yet here I am 11 years later, just a step outside that coveted gold circle, fighting for my career every step of the way. It’s not always about wins and losses, but winning two Survivor Series matches is something I will never forget.
IK: I imagine that you rarely have breaks in your schedule. Give me a Reader’s Digest version of your daily routine.
DZ: I measure my time off in hours. Usually 36-40 a week at home. Friday morning [I] fly out to show. Land. Get rental car. Find food. Find a gym. Find food to go, get to arena. Do show. Drive on to the next town and repeat until Wednesday morning. That day I fly home, only to fly out Friday morning again. It’s nonstop and there’s no off season. We never stop! WWE does over 300 live events a year and that’s not counting charity events and outside appearances.
IK: Which city has the best wrestling fans?
DZ: The best fans for me are all of the East Coast and the very West Coast. But so many cities are unique. That’s what makes this job so great. You may have a plan, but things change all the time. That’s where being a ring general and having improv skills take over. It’s my fav. I will never forget that without these fans I would have to get a real job. I thank them whenever I can.
IK: At the time of this interview, you’re working in the UK. I also just saw that you’ll be in Malaysia next month. What kind of response do you get from non-North American fans? Do they connect with your character?
DZ: At the end of the day, even if you are in a brand new market and no one knows what a WWE show is, the bottom line is to entertain and put smiles on faces. All fans are different, but it’s supply and demand. If we only get to your country once in a while, it’s gonna be a hot crowd!
IK: You’ve been wrestling since high school. At 34, how is your body holding up?
DZ: I’ve actually been wrestling since five years old. The first time I saw a WWE show, I told my dad I wanted to start wrestling. At five, I wrestled once or twice a week. It became much more vigorous and nonstop going into high school and all through college. I’m 34, and except for two concussions and some teeth knocked out, I’ve had no serious injuries. I’ve been very fortunate. Several other superstars have had countless injuries and taken time off, but I have not. I think I’ve missed maybe 3 weeks in almost 11 years – because of said concussions – which is probably the least amount of time of any WWE superstar ever … that’s been here for 11 years. Google it. (Laughs) My body holds up because of my core workouts. I have been circuit training and intense cardio training since college, years before CrossFit became a thing.
IK: In a recent post-match interview, you said, “For years I’ve been sitting around thinking. Thinking what I can do to make myself better. Thinking what I can do to make the business better.” You’ve been with the WWE for 11 years. Can you elaborate first on where you think you could improve, and second, on where you think the business could improve?
DZ: I spend all of my free time – which isn’t much – thinking of ways to improve my role and the business. In this reality era, blurring those lines of reality is key. There is an open door to our show and what goes on behind the scenes. The fact that years ago I was feuding with The Authority and Randy Orton, that I could use social media and appearances to blur the lines of reality and my storyline issues TO THIS DAY has people thinking I’m constantly punished for doing my job so well. (Laughs) That’s the power of social media. That’s how the business can continue to grow. If I had to improve anything from my end, I would try to be taller, but that’s it.
IK: There has been a lot of recent speculation about you leaving the WWE. If – and this is purely hypothetical – if you were to leave, what would be your next move?
DZ: In the last year I got an agent and a manager, just because I’m constantly asked to be a part of different outside projects. Even though I only get a few days off, I do not stop. Whether it’s getting some stage time at an open mic, or flying to L.A. to watch a ton of stand-up shows. I’m slowly moving into movies and tons of outside projects in the next few months. I’m finally starting to book some stand-up dates too. At the end of the day, it’s just to be a better WWE superstar [and] also make myself a bigger asset, that is in demand. There’s a few months left on my current contract and I’m in the process of deciding. I love this business more than anything; hopefully it loves having me.
IK: You mentioned working on a stand-up comedy career. What drew you to stand-up?
DZ: I love stand-up because the spotlight is on you and you have to deliver or fail. There’s no one to blame or celebrate, except you. I’ve been into comedy since I was five or six years old. I used to watch Don Rickles on the Johnny Carson show and old reruns of SNL. I’ve been a student of comedy and live theatre forever. I stay involved by participating in improv shows monthly, classes on my one day off, hitting up open mics and just watching.
IK: How do you find time to write and perform?
DZ: I have a lot of downtime in airports and on flights. I make it a point to write something everyday. I try tons of ideas out on Twitter and even though most wrestling fans don’t always get it, they also had a little trouble connecting to Dennis Miller when he hosted raw once. (Laughs)
IK: Does the WWE have any issues with you pursuing stand-up?
DZ: WWE has no issues with my stand-up. I do not miss work for any reason and will continue to work around my schedule because I’m a professional and do not allow complacency or laziness.
IK: Who are some of your favorite comics right now?
DZ: My favs right now are Bill Burr, Daniel Tosh, Dave Attell, Louis CK, Whitney Cummings, David Spade. Andy Richter is great and one of my all time favs. Andy Kindler has been very cool to me for years! So many others …
IK: You dated Amy Schumer for a while. She had many flattering things to say about you, including that you were great in bed, but that sex with you felt like wrestling, which wasn’t necessarily her style.
DZ: The only thing I’ll say about Amy is we had a blast hanging out together and the rapport was unbelievable. We would just go back and forth outdoing each other with jokes and laughs. Her work ethic was and is incredible. That’s very attractive to me. Busting your ass and always working at getting better is hot and also the key to success! She deserves everything coming to her.
IK: Plug time! What can we be on the lookout for this summer?
DZ: This summer is already heating up. I have two stand-up dates I’m about to announce in Boston in June and several more to come after those. My Twitter is the spot to hear my dumb/smart jokes – my love letters to Britney Spears and Chipotle – and catch up on where I’ll be appearing next!