The atmosphere is tense, the resentment is palpable. Two men face off in an enclosed space for a power struggle, a fight for dominance. They represent opposing ideologies, even as they are in turns adversaries, friends, partners, enemies, brothers. They’ve been doing this for years, after all, and are bound as much by their sordid history as they are by the fight itself—with twists, turns, and collateral damage that would rival any soap opera. It isn’t pretty. People do get hurt. The body count should probably not be so high, nor should the number of injured (emotionally and physically) by these two men, these two kings, in their ongoing battle for ownership of that hallowed space where they do what they do best.
This Sunday, they will put on an epic on a grand, spectacular stage, itself a reflection of larger, more mainstream spectacles. It is their Super Bowl. The hours-long show displays not only the extents of their talents, but their astonishing levels of stamina. The back and forth manages to be both mesmerizing and at times difficult to watch. This isn’t just entertainment, these are stories of suffering and betrayal, examinations of some of the worst instincts we as human beings are capable of, and the things people do to try to get ahead in the brutal landscape of the arts in late capitalism.
I’m talking about the On Cinema universe, but I’m also talking about pro wrestling. What other two worlds take on petty conflict with the kind of dedication seen in the time honored fake sport and Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s multimedia empire? Who else straddles the worlds of fiction and non-fiction, creating buffoonish and dastardly versions of themselves like the On Cinema gang and pro wrestlers?
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Since this is a pro wrestling site, I will do my best to explain On Cinema for the unfamiliar. Beginning as a podcast in 2011, On Cinema became a film review web series that in turn spawned multiple Adult Swim spin-offs, live tours, a feature film, and an annual live-streamed Oscar Special. Tim Heidecker, best known for being the Tim of “Tim and Eric,” and Gregg Turkington, best known for his anti-comedy comedian character Neil Hamburger, portray fictional versions of themselves. The fictional Tim is a rage-fueled, right-wing wannabe rock star, scam artist, failed nominee for District Attorney of San Bernardino County and alternative medicine enthusiast. He funds his efforts in music, movie criticism, TV production, and politics, with the life insurance money he got from the death of his unvaccinated son (RIP Tom Cruise Heidecker).
The fictional Gregg is a self-styled movie expert (“moviehead”) who loves nothing more than sitting down with a bucket of popcorn to work on his VHS organizing system. His efforts to hold Tim accountable frequently turn into petty sabotage and passive-aggressive barbs. Initially bonded by a shared love of asinine, superficial film criticism, hearing themselves talk, and feeling important, 9 years of drama, deaths, injuries, accidents, and Tim’s repeated destruction of Gregg’s VHS archive have turned their relationship into a pretty antagonistic one.
Much like pro wrestling kayfabe, On Cinema‘s fiction exists beyond the traditional boundaries of fictional universes. So, yes, Gregg Turkington plays Gregg Turkington in On Cinema and all related On Cinema properties. He also plays Gregg Turkington playing Special Agent Jonathan Kington on Decker, the fictional Tim’s take on a 24 style political action thriller. Turkington’s Twitter account is done solely in character as Gregg Turkington. But, say, on the red carpet for Ant-Man, Turkington could be himself in one interview, and playing the character of Turkington in the next. His role in Ant-Man has been a major point of contention in On Cinema, which begs the question: was he in Ant-Man as Gregg Turkington the comedian, or as Gregg Turkington as Gregg Turkington the movie expert?
Tim Heidecker, who still collaborates with Eric Wareheim, releases his own music, and acts, has at least three different public Tim Heidecker personas. His Twitter is mostly done as his real self, but anything relating to On Cinema is done as Tim the On Cinema character. Like Turkington’s role in Ant-Man, Heidecker’s roles in The Fantastic Four and Ant-Man & the Wasp both came up on On Cinema at the Cinema. Did he play Mr. Richards and Whale Boat Captain Daniel Gooobler while also in the role of Tim Heidecker, like he does with Decker‘s Jack Decker? This isn’t the firmly delineated territory of comic book canon—it’s much closer to the blurry, strange goings on of kayfabe.
Tim vs Gregg
It isn’t just the relationship to fiction, though. Wrestling is an institution upheld by the opposing forces of enraged macho carnies and smug, self-proclaimed experts. You can’t take two steps into the world of pro wrestling without tripping over dozens of Tims and Greggs. The Tims of wrestling have far more questionable supplements for you to buy and conspiracy theories to talk about than Tim himself. Meanwhile wrestling’s Greggs would be just as happy to recite 1980s Memphis match lengths and attendance records to you as Gregg would be to talk about Humphrey Bogart runtimes and 90s rom com filming locations.
The Tims are certainly more prominent. Kayfabe Chris Jericho may lack Tim’s incompetence, but from the penchant for “the bubbly” to his enraged, narcissistic promo style to his love of cruelty and power, it’s easy to see a resemblance. Between the whole Sunset Strip rocker thing (much like “Judas,” “Empty Bottle” is kind of a banger) and the proliferation of podcast pseudoscience, there’s a fair amount of Tim to real life Jericho as well. There’s no way of knowing whether or not Dr. San would have gotten a show on the Jericho Podcast Network. We can only imagine.
Chris Jericho may be one of wrestling’s more visually obvious Tims, but Vince McMahon’s megalomania, kinship for conservative politics, complete willingness to exploit his children for profit in some really weird ways, not to mention his good luck in criminal trials, are all distinctively Tim. I mean, both Vince McMahon (real) and Tim Heidecker (fictional) went free after procedural errors led to juries failing to convict them for collaborating with scummy doctors in distributing harmful substances to people who trusted them! Vince’s arrogance, bizarre eating habits, and treatment of his employees all feel rather Tim to me. While it would be in poor taste to directly compare Mark Proksch’s stunts gone wrong on the 5th and 6th Oscar Specials to the very real death of Owen Hart, I will say that McMahon’s stunt safety negligence and cruel “show must go on” mentality is one of the few times that a real Tim of wrestling is worse than the fictional Tim of On Cinema.
But there’s some Tim in every wrestler who’s ever name searched and cussed out a fan making fun of them, in every podcaster with sponsorships that feel a lot like Rio-Jenesis and Money-Zap, in every aging wrestling guy whose thing is yelling at people. There’s some Tim in that one commercial for Ryback’s weight loss supplement where Ryback clotheslines one woman into a swimming pool and a completely different, much thinner woman emerges to endorse it. There’s some Tim in things as innocuous as the Big Show wearing a “vape or die” shirt and as harmful as the ROH concussion protocol. There’s a piece of Tim in every sleazy indie promoter who doesn’t pay their talent or suspends their company for a year so their wife won’t get any of it in a divorce.
Five Bags of Popcorn
Wrestling’s Greggs, on the other hand, aren’t quite as conspicuous, partially because they aren’t as much in the limelight, and partially because there are so many of them. But really, who is more pro wrestling than On Cinema‘s Gregg Turkington, the self-proclaimed expert who will dub anything that fits the superficial trappings of an epic an instant classic the minute he sees it? He’s a smug nerd drunk on the tiny bit of power he’s stumbled into having, obsessed with statistics and records. I mean, shit, he’s even a VHS advocate! There’s some Gregg in every nebbish who ends up on a WWE Network preshow, every Twitter historian, everyone who calls it puroresu and still trades tapes in 2020. I will be the first to admit that there’s also plenty of Gregg in me, a wrestling critic with zero qualifications and a lifelong commitment to passive aggressively sucking my teeth.
Wrestling sees machismo-obsessed, gullible, semi-famous guys fight with uptight nerds who think of themselves as invaluable experts on a daily basis. Often over the dumbest shit possible. I dare you to look at a Jim Cornette/Dave Meltzer Twitter argument and not see a lot of Tim and Gregg in them. Mediocre men convinced of their own importance, behind the scenes squabbles that are even more absurd than than the stuff you see in the ring, and a truly impressive legacy of con artistry are the lifeblood of pro wrestling. Maybe it’s because On Cinema is a universe created around two petty buffoons—one a sociopathic scumbag and the other a pompous dweeb—both overburdened by competitiveness and unearned confidence, and those are just people who are present in any industry where attention is a form of currency, but I really do think they’d be right at home in a wrestling ring. And with AEW’s recent Rick & Morty partnership, maybe there’s some hope they someday will be.
Tim Heidecker announced today that this year’s Oscar Special will stream Sunday, February 9 at 8 PM Eastern on the Adult Swim app. If the Oscars are Christmas for Tinseltown (as Tim sings every year), then the On Cinema Oscar Special is WrestleMania for me, and I can’t fucking wait.