Understanding the Painmaker, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become Judas in My Mind

Maybe the real Judas Effect was in our hearts all along

Chris Jericho came to the ring last Wednesday night in shitty, sloppy makeup, a black fedora, and a leather jacket covered in huge spikes. The aesthetic change had been talked up in promotional tweets leading up to the show. The “Painmaker” persona Jericho had used when challenging Kazuchika Okada in New Japan would make its debut on AEW Dynamite for Jericho’s first title defense. It makes sense because Darby Allin wears face paint, but this look is also an integral part of Jericho’s whole vibe these days. You can call it a persona, a character, an aesthetic, or any number of words that try and fail to pinpoint something that can’t be bogged down by something as static and limited as language. I just call it Judas, because “Judas” is where it all started.

Power Struggle, 2017. Kenny Omega had successfully retained the IWGP US Championship in a (fantastic) match against Beretta. As Omega thanked the audience in Japanese, I heard the chords to a song I vaguely recognized, but couldn’t place. Chris Jericho, the Canadian Gordon Ramsay-looking hottie I had fallen in love with in WWE, appeared on the screen. A leather jacket on his back and hair pushed back neatly with a headband, he declared himself the Alpha and challenged Omega.

The date was November 5, 2017. That was the week that “Judas,” the lead single from Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy’s album “Judas” peaked on the charts at #147, six months after it came out. I remember hating it, at the time.

New Japan Pro Wrestling

I’m becom- I’m becom-

When the Alpha Chris Jericho entered the Tokyo Dome for his Wrestle Kingdom co-main event two months later, he had pyro, a light up jacket, and “Judas.” Alpha failed to defeat Omega that January night, so the next day in Korakuen Hall, he went after another man who had come up short in the Tokyo Dome: Tetsuya Naito. Jericho was dragged out of the building while Naito sat in the ring, tranquilo as ever. “Judas” didn’t play again in New Japan Pro Wrestling until May, when Chris Jericho attacked Naito while dressed as a BUSHI fan. Under the mask he had black lipstick and eyeliner on, poorly, smudgily applied. He struggled to get the mask off of his head for the reveal. The audience laughed. I did too. In fact, I laughed again getting the screencap for this article.

The occasion was commemorated with a new Jericho t-shirt, Lista Ingobernables de Jericho. That made it official. This was happening.

I loved this angle. The lead-up to their match at Dominion included shirtless Jericho by a stream yelling a turtle and cussing into his phone as he filmed himself (vertically). “Judas” played twice in Osaka on June 9, first as the Alpha made his way to the ring, then once again after a low blow and a Codebreaker, as Jericho held the IWGP Intercontinental Championship over his head. The match itself was killer, gnarly and intense with a chemistry I thought he had lacked with his fellow Winnipegian.

New Japan Pro Wrestling

I’m becoming

Long before I was a wrestling fan, I was drawing David Bowie in the margins of my social studies homework. First fixated on Ziggy Stardust, I moved through his catalogue and the looks and personas that went with the changes in sound. If Judas or the Painmaker is Jericho’s Thin White Duke, then his entrance at Dominion that year was his Young Americans. Not fully realized, but the key elements were present.

Don Callis exclaimed “what is he wearing” while Kevin Kelly hastily tried to make a connection to Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Chris Jericho, the Alpha, had forgone his sleazy dilfy blonde spikes and handsome stubble. Instead, sloppy makeup was smudged across his face, reminiscent of the BUSHI look, and of a harlequin’s paint, but shadowed by a black fedora, and also like. Really shitty.

He looked like a fucking idiot, and that’s kind of the key to this whole Judas Effect.

Judas in

By the end of June 9, 2018, New Japan’s two top titles were both held by men from Winnipeg. Omega stayed, but Jericho left, taking the white belt with him. He had a cruise to promote, after all. He attacked Kenny Omega at proto All Elite Wrestling show All In, dressed up as Penta El 0M, with yet another face of sloppy makeup. He sabotaged the much-anticipated-by-me King of Pro Wrestling battle between EVIL and Zack Sabre Jr. Another mask, another face of shitty makeup, and another anti-Los Ingobernables De Japon Chris Jericho t-shirt. (Still available on Pro Wrestling Tees and the Hot Topic website). I grieved for the pursed lips, slick outfits and affable comedy of late WWE Jericho.

Judas in my mind

2019 was when it all came together. The year itself more or less began with the debut of the fully realized Judas Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom: complete with artfully pre-smeared makeup, Chris Benoit tribute tights and huge spiky jacket. And “Judas.” Always “Judas.” Four days later at a rally to announce a brand new wrestling company, the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders shook their pom poms to “Judas.” Chris Jericho, legendary wrestler, podcast impresario, and Fozzy frontman, had signed with All Elite Wrestling.

In May, Jericho (with makeup) challenged Kazuchika Okada for New Japan’s top prize before defeating (without makeup) Kenny Omega with a brand new, MMA-inspired finisher called the only thing it could possibly be called: the Judas Effect. On August 30th, Chris Jericho became the first ever AEW World Champion. He cut an impromptu promo on the catering spread, and then promptly lost his championship belt at a steakhouse.

Any remaining doubts about whether a 48 year old man with a podcast network and vanity butt rock band should be the first champ vanished. It was a perfect way to establish a new championship. And I had been a chief doubter. I had doubted all of it, from the song to the hat to the finisher to the choice to make him champion.

With my doubts lifted, I found myself in a giddy daze, listening to “Judas” on repeat, watching that original “a little bit of the bubbly” clip on a loop, getting updates on the latest with the title belt. I was exuberant. The seven day period dubbed ‘Judas Week’ was like a nightcore version of a week: sped up enough to be funny, but not so much that it stopped being pleasurable. I joked that I had become Judas in my mind. I’ve been completely on board with Chris Jericho ever since.

Lee South / AEW

What have I become?

On Wednesday night, Chris Jericho and Darby Allin had my favorite Chris Jericho match since Dominion 2018. Darby Allin is another performer who lights up the part of my brain that makes me feel almost unhinged with joy. Their match was everything I could have asked for, complete with Darby’s hands taped behind his back, skateboard shenanigans, and plenty of face paint.

I watched, overjoyed, as Chris Jericho and his new crew of buddies (the Inner Circle) celebrated in the ring with “Judas” and some (memed into the ground) bit of the bubbly. I tried to imagine AEW Champion Chris Jericho with a full coif of hairplugs, a glossy tan, a slick outfit and sparkly aesthetic. I don’t want that. I want pro wrestling in all its messiness and bad taste. I want to close the YouTube tab where I’ve listened to “Judas” six times and open the one for “Nightcore Judas Fozzy.” (I love “Nightcore Judas Fozzy.”)

The thing about Chris Jericho is that he understands every aspect of his job. He’s not great just because he’s great in the ring or because his tweets are funny or because he can cut a promo. Chris Jericho can’t take three steps without tripping over a natural meme or catchphrase for the simple reason that he has honed his entire persona into something that pushes you past giddiness, past sanity and reason and comfort into desperate, manic transcendent joy. Anthropologists posit that the first form of entertainment was storytelling, which is why stories affect us in such a primal way. Chris Jericho makes me think that maybe the first form of entertainment was spinning in circles until you’re sick and dizzy and screaming.

In a year so full of such high-profile, big budget, violent clowns as sexy Pennywise and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, the low-fi harlequin makeup and spinning back elbow of Chris Jericho stand out to me most. What is a clown if not a carny? What is more carny than accidentally starting a meme and having a t-shirt ready to go on a direct to print website a day later? The week of the title belt fiasco, many people joked “Judas Trick,” (a reference to the Joker’s Trick Twitter account) but what was the trick?

From the sloppy makeup to the cringe-inducing fedora to the lame finisher to “Judas” itself, a song that Pitchfork has never made any mention of, the greatest trick the Judas ever pulled was convincing us that he isn’t a perfect wrestler.