You know Dolph Ziggler as The Showoff, a former World Champion whose grit and perseverance has earned him a level of respect with the WWE Universe that few other Superstars enjoy. What you might not know is that Ziggler has a somewhat secret second career as a standup comedian. When he’s not stealing the show in WWE, Dolph’s performing on comedy stages, gobbling up niche alt-comedy programs like “Kroll Show,” and constantly scribbling jokes on airplane napkins. Now, in a candid conversation, Ziggler talks about the first time he tried out standup, the comedians who inspired him, and what he thought of ex-girlfriend Amy Schumer’s comments about their relationship on Howard Stern’s radio show.
WWE.COM: Did you have a moment growing up that ignited your interest in comedy?
DOLPH ZIGGLER: There are a few that pop into my head. My dad used to work a night shift when I was five years old, so I would get up when he went to work and watch Johnny Carson. I remember not knowing what was going on, but loving it. A couple of years later, I had a friend who had Cheech & Chong records. And my uncle who had shown me Ric Flair had SCTV episodes. I really enjoyed all that stuff. And even “SNL” reruns on Nick at Nite, which were “best of’s” from the first few seasons. And later on, movies like “Fletch”, “[National Lampoon’s] Vacation” and “Caddyshack.” Those are some of my favorite movies of all time.
WWE.COM: Every comedy fan has an “SNL” cast that they love. Who was in your cast?
ZIGGLER: When I started to get the jokes, it was the mid-late ’80s. I was a huge fan of Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, obviously Phil Hartman, and a very young Adam Sandler. I knew it was so funny and cool. It was art.
WWE.COM: Was there a figure in the comedy world that you looked up to or idolized more than others?
ZIGGLER: Two of the first I ever saw were George Wallace and Brian Regan on “The Sunday Comics” on Fox when Fox was a new network. I see them once in a while, because they’ll do things with WWE like Tribute to the Troops, and I’ll tell them, “You were the first comic I ever saw, and it made me keep watching comedy.” I also remember Johnny Carson talking about Don Rickles and mentioning, “You need to hear this album,” which was “Hello Dummy!” from 1968. It’s him live in Vegas, and it is so great. I listened to the entire thing. He made fun of every possible person there was to make fun of, but at the end, brought it around to say, “The reason I do this is because it’s all ridiculous, and we all need to get along.” It’s so hard to bury everybody and have them applaud you on the way out, but that’s what he did. It was such a great thing. He probably had about 10 minutes of written material, but ended up doing an hour. One guy wearing a red sweater ended up being a 15-minute bit for him.
WWE.COM: Is that the first comedy album you started memorizing all the words and jokes to?
ZIGGLER: Yes, that’s exactly what I was doing. I would listen to it going to bed with headphones on in my room, and one way or another, that’s led me to be able to insult somebody at the drop of the hat. I got to see Rickles two years ago in Phoenix, and he was still throwing it out there to everybody. He’s the last of those guys from cool Vegas.
WWE.COM: How did you start dipping your own toe into the comedy world and getting onstage yourself?
ZIGGLER: I’m very adamant on social media about recommending comedians to people if they don’t know them. I think it’s so important to go see them. Or tweeting a link to an [Upright Citizens Brigade] video even if no one knows what it is. After I’d been studying for 10 years and jotting down notes for jokes, I started wondering how I could tie it into what I do for WWE and get some mic time. The more I talked about it on Twitter, owners of comedy clubs around the country would offer me five-minute slots when WWE is in town. It’s constantly reaching out, and going back and forth zinging comedians, and then being asked to perform on a show. The last year or two has opened a bunch of doors to get up instead of just sitting there and watching, which I also love. If I have a day-and-a-half off, I’ll get to a couple of different shows. To be able to write something that day, hop up on stage and do three or four minutes in front of five, 20 or 100 people, I’ve wanted to do it for a really long time. I knew it wasn’t easy. I’ve been a student for 20 or 30 years, and finally had the confidence to do a few minutes, see what works, what doesn’t and go back to the drawing board.
WWE.COM: What was your first time doing standup like?
ZIGGLER: It was all through social media connections in L.A. two years ago. It was in a coffee shop with a little showroom in the back. The Miz, Maryse and a few other people came, but I didn’t tell a lot of people. The spotlight was bright enough that I couldn’t see the crowd anyway. I was nervous out of my mind, and for weeks and months had been piecing jokes together. If you’re not writing every day, you’re losing a step. In two weeks, no one will know what “deflated balls” are. I had all this topical stuff, and on the day of the show I thought, “This is garbage, none of this is funny.” I crumpled up everything and wrote a story that was half-real and half-made up about going to Chipotle with a bunch of jokes mixed in. I was told I’d be following Andy Kindler. Everybody else was doing a few minutes of material they’d written in the Uber over to the show, and Kindler was stopping in to do 20. I was new and had earned nothing, so that made total sense that I’d have to follow him.
Finally, I’m up. I go out there shaking. All I was thinking was, “Don’t drop the mic, don’t drop the mic, don’t drop the mic.” I picked it up, it stayed in my hand, I said one line, heard some laughter and got comfortable. Halfway through I said something I thought would kill, but it didn’t. A sentence later, something I thought was a throwaway totally killed. I looked to the left, and Andy Kindler was against the wall laughing his a** off. I couldn’t believe it. I wrapped up and it went well. I had been told by an ex-girlfriend who is a comedian that my first time will bomb, but it didn’t. I went into their version of a locker room, where I was the outsider, just like how comedians come to do Raw and they’re outsiders in our locker room. Kindler was holding court and giving pointers to the young guys. He gave me some pointers and asked, “How long have you been doing this?” And I said, “That was my first time.” He said, “First time with that material, but how many years have you been doing standup?” I told him it was my first time ever, and he said, “Get outta here.” He couldn’t believe it. He tweeted about me the next day, and I’ve been friends with Andy ever since. I see him as a link to the generation of comics from when I was growing up. He’s like Rickles in that he’ll have one joke he wrote that day on the way in, and then just go off that, analyzing himself halfway through his set.
WWE.COM: That’s not so different than what you do in the ring, right?
ZIGGLER: Yeah, there are so many similarities, like listening to the crowd. I can do one move and just keep going. Hopefully I can get to be like Kindler and correlate that to the comedy scene. I’m getting a little bit better at it, where I just know a couple of things that I eventually want to get to without memorizing words or sentences. Slowly but surely, that’s been getting better, too.
WWE.COM: Are you Dolph Ziggler when you perform standup?
ZIGGLER: No. It’s just me. The hair is up tucked under a hat, and I’m in a black hoodie. I’m just a guy who goes to Chipotle and has weird things happen to him. That’s very much because I want to see what works and what doesn’t, and not have people laughing because they like me from wrestling. I gotta find a way to get true reactions, so I force myself to not be Dolph Ziggler.
WWE.COM: How often do you get onstage?
ZIGGLER: For a long time, I’d get home Wednesday afternoon, and would be back out on the road on a Thursday night redeye or on Friday morning. Even if I came in and out of L.A., I only had a 24-hour window to get some sleep and maybe get onstage for five minutes. But I did it as often as I could. The last couple of weeks I’ve been doing improv shows in L.A. During SummerSlam Week, Matt McCarthy, a comedian who used to be a [producer] here, was doing a live podcast, and he asked me if I wanted to do a set. That day, I wrote some wrestling-themed stuff, and ran it by [my writing partner] Lauren [Greenberg]. She didn’t get the references, but I told her the crowd would. Matt told me, “We all think we never have anything funny. But you gotta do it anyway.” I was so glad he pushed me to do it. Every single day I write something.
WWE.COM: How did you and Lauren Greenberg meet and become writing partners?
ZIGGLER: About five years ago, Evan Bourne told me to follow her on Twitter. We told each other a few disgusting, vulgar jokes and became friends. I told her I was trying to get into comedy, and she lives in a great spot right near The Laugh Factory, The Comedy Store, this weird Russian place [nightlife venue Bar Lubitsch] and a quick Uber ride to 75 other places. Every couple of weeks, I’d crash on her couch, check out comedy clubs, and watch tons of shows. Whenever Lauren is pursuing different writing jobs, she’ll run things by me, which made me feel cool. And I’m OK enough to throw ideas back at her. She usually groans or rolls her eyes at me, but I make her laugh once in a while.
WWE.COM: A lot of WWE fans might not know that your ex-girlfriend is comedian Amy Schumer. How did you both meet? Was it a result of being involved in the comedy world?
ZIGGLER: I tweeted something like, “Amy Schumer is coming to town to do a show. I’ll be out of town, but go see her. She’s really funny.” My schedule changed where I found out I could make the show, and was so excited. That night, the show wasn’t starting and it was getting later and later. Finally, they made an announcement that Amy got sick and she wasn’t going to be there. I remembered by following her on Twitter that she had been doing a show in Vegas the night before, so I thought, “[Forget] this chick. She was partying in Vegas all night and thought she was too good to come to Phoenix.” The next day, she DM’d me and said, “This is real. I was sick,” and sent a picture of her in the hospital with an IV in her arm. I apologized, we ended up DM’ing and eventually texting. It was great conversation immediately.
WWE.COM: How long did you date?
ZIGGLER: Not that long, it just got a lot of publicity. Maybe eight months or something like that. At the time, I had a five-day-a-week schedule, and she had a four- or five-day-a-week schedule, and we’d only get to see each other once in a while. I came into New York a couple of times, and one time she had a show in Denver, so I zipped up there from Phoenix on my day off.
WWE.COM: What was your reaction when she talked about your relationship on Howard Stern’s show?
ZIGGLER: It was funny. She was mostly just doing jokes, and complimentary to me. I felt bad that so many people were talking about it that relatives were trying to help my mom find it and listen to it. That kind of sucked that she had to hear that. Other than that, she was just doing funny bits and making fun of herself and saying how strong I was. We had a good time and I enjoyed it very much.
WWE.COM: Where does your comedy career go from here?
ZIGGLER: I’m doing more and more. WWE has been great about once in a while letting me sneak off and do a couple of things on the side. I just did a cool little web commercial for Kyle Kinane’s new comedy special. Every time I do something like that, it leads to something else. The more I get out there, it shows I’m a real fan and a student. Usually they’re blown away by how funny I am, because they just know me as the guy that wrestles on TV a lot.
WWE.COM: Recently, you had a Twitter exchange with comedian Nick Kroll, and you talk with a lot of different comedians. Does having those kinds of relationships now blow your mind a little since you’re such a big comedy fan?
ZIGGLER: Yeah, it honestly blows my mind. I’m a big fan of Kroll Show, especially Jon Daly, [Jason] Mantzoukas and [John] Mulaney. I also love “@midnight.” I have good relationships with people there and have gone to see a few tapings. It’s because of relationships I’ve made that helped me get booked on standup shows I definitely have no right to be on, or get to send jokes to comedians I think are really funny. I’ll always be a big fan of comedy, so to be able to tweet with people I respect and make them laugh completely makes my day. When people are funny, I like to let them know that they’re funny. There’s so much negativity, it’s cool to get some positivity out there.