Interview: Dave Rueter, Author of 'Kayfabe: A Love Story' | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Interview: Dave Rueter, Author of ‘Kayfabe: A Love Story’

If you’re a professional wrestling fan of a certain age, it’s impossible to look at the cover of Kayfabe: A Love Story and not know exactly what it depicts: The window of “The Barber Shop,” which was Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake’s interview segment on WWF broadcasts for a while in the early 1990s. As we see it on the cover, the window is broken, presumably after Shawn Michaels super-kicked Marty Jannetty and then threw Jannetty through it. 

A lot of books get published about pro wrestling, whether it’s wrestler autobiographies, histories of specific events, or exposes of the abuses of the industry, with a new glut of the latter, due to recent events, likely on the way in the coming years. 

But Kayfabe: A Love Story is something very different; written by Dave Rueter, a Philadelphia-based finance professional whose previous books were about Philadelphia sports, the book consists of more than 70 short chapters, all based on vignettes that happened in the then-WWF in the 1980s and early 1990s. The key is, that they’re all written as if wrestling were real and not scripted. 

So if you’re of the age where you remember the heyday of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, you’re likely to remember most of the stories Rueter tells.

There are the big ones, like the Barber Shop window, the Ted DiBiase bribery scheme with the two refs and the Macho Man getting bit by Jake the Snake’s cobra, as well as more obscure details like things that happened on random episodes of WWF Superstars. One through-line: WWF president Jack Tunney’s suspensions and other decisions never made much sense. 

“After the Phillies book and the Sixers book my wife said, you should write a book about wrestling,” Rueter said in an interview. “Because I like to kind of blend in nostalgia…and mix in stories from my childhood in some of these chapters and it’s kind of [auto]-biographical in some way and I thought, maybe my wife’s onto something.”

“But what I knew I didn’t want to do was write in the shoot style,” he said. “Every wrestler has a podcast. Every wrestler has a biography or autobiography there and it’s like all the stories have been told ad nauseam. So I didn’t want to write a book about a topic like pro wrestling if I couldn’t be different.”

So he went on to the WWE Network, now on Peacock, which offers access to most of wrestling history, and gave him some ideas. Rueter and I both said that when we first got access to the Network, the first thing we did was call up the match between the Macho Man and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat from Wrestlemania III. 

 One thing that encouraged the idea of the book was when he watched an old Saturday Night’s Main Event episode in which Dusty Rhodes was wrestling the Big Boss Man, and the Boss Man’s manager, Slick, was distracting the ref, and the announcers (Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura) pointed out that he was showing the referee his “manager’s license.” 

“All that, right there- that’s the book. To me, that’s the beauty of pro wrestling, they’ve always been in on the joke,” he said. “But when you grow up and you’re a kid and you’re watching this… you maybe, in the back of your mind, knew it was scripted, but when you’re watching at the time, you didn’t think so.” 

This, more than anything else, formed the basis of the book’s conceit. 

“So I thought, what if I went back as a 39-year-old guy and started watching all this wrestling as a kid with using that same lens as if eight or nine-year-old kid and wrestling isn’t scripted and the matches aren’t predetermined.” 

The famous Gawker trial of nearly a decade ago hinged in part on the question of whether there was a distinction between the character of Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea, who played him. For Rueter, there was no distinction. 

“Hulk Hogan is Terry Bollea- Hulk Hogan, for the purposes of this book, is Hulk Hogan.” 

Rueter says his favorite parts of the book were the ones where he got to share personal stories. 

“I have one where I tell the story about playing intramural dodgeball in college and I got hit in the nose. And that’s how we won because you couldn’t hit people in the face. And partly I did tell a story about Shawn Michaels and Rick Martel at Summerslam ’92 couldn’t hit each other in the face,” he said. “I’m certainly cognizant that nobody knows who I am. I am not this famous author, but I didn’t want to interject myself into every chapter. But I felt that there was maybe a relatability.” 

Sticking to storylines made it somewhat easier for Rueter to skip over some of wrestling’s more unsavory elements, the kind of stuff that comes up in Dark Side of the Ring episodes and, more recently, the mainstream business press.

The book came out in December, which coincided with the major scandal in which longtime WWE head Vince McMahon was accused of terrible sexual misconduct in a lawsuit that also implicated other top people in the company, such as longtime star Brock Lesnar. 

“I’m almost like, thank goodness,” he said. “I didn’t go down that route and kind of write about the humans… I’m just talking about basically television characters.” McMahon is barely mentioned in the book, aside from his role at the time as an announcer, and the book does not touch on the “Attitude Era,” around the year 2000, when McMahon made himself WWE’s primary on-camera villain. 

“I think that hopefully, that’s kind of the beauty of the book. It’s not me just giving a play-by-play of… everyone knows who won Hulk-Andre WrestleMania III. But if I can mix in my stories and my memories of watching that match, hopefully, that’s relatable for the audience.”

Dave Rueter’s Kayfabe: A Love Story is available in paperback and on Kindle here:

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