When Curtis Hussey, better known to WWE fans as Fandango, was getting ready to debut his new gimmick, the more cynical fans in the WWE Universe (i.e. the ones who won’t repeat a silly marketing buzzword like, “WWE Universe”) balked at the idea. Week after week, ridiculous vignettes aired that seemed to guarantee a spectacular flop and a trip back to developmental for the 29-year-old. Then, he made his long-awaited debut and proved all of those naysayers absolutely…
…right. What, did you think I was talking about his ballroom-dancing gimmick? No, the gimmick I’m talking about is one you would have missed completely if you skipped Smackdown on Friday nights during the summer of 2011.
So, yes, you missed it completely. Let me catch you up to speed:
As Johnny Curtis, Hussey shocked whatever miniscule portion of the world that watched NXT by winning the show’s fourth season, beating out favorite Brodus Clay. Those of us who read the rag sheets (or the internet, brother! The internet’s got the scoops!) were assured that this odd decision by WWE was purely for storyline purposes. Brodus Clay would do just fine backing up Alberto Del Río, and later, adopting a dancing gimmick completely unrelated to Fandango’s, but Johnny Curtis was guaranteed a tag team title shot along with his partner and mentor, R-Truth. It wasn’t as lofty a prize as the title shots guaranteed on NXT Season 1 or 2, but it was a nice way to keep two lower-card wrestlers occupied for a while with a meaningful storyline.
Problem was, R-Truth suddenly wasn’t low on the card anymore. In April of 2011, shortly after the NXT season ended, Truth turned heel by beating up John Morrison, smoking a cigarette at ringside, and popularizing the water bottle as the hot new foreign object of choice. Suddenly both a heel and a main-eventer, R-Truth had no reason to associate with Curtis, who disappeared from foreign television. He didn’t disappear from American television, though, as NXT 4 had never even aired on U.S. TV to begin with.
Finally, on June 3rd, Curtis resurfaced on Smackdown explaining his woes and assuring the crowd that he would do “what any superstar would do.” He proceeded to spill milk onto a plate while weeping. Get it? Crying over spilled milk? Well, you might have gotten it, but someone watching in another country and speaking another language that doesn’t have such an expression would have had no earthly idea what was going on.
Sort of like how everyone else felt when Curtis started dumping the milk over his own head.
It may have been bizarre and more than a little nonsensical, but it was enough to leave an impression on the announcers… two of whom immediately started talking about R-Truth for the next thirty seconds. Apparently only Josh Mathews had been paying attention, because when he brought up the “spilled milk” promo, neither Cole nor Booker appeared to have any clue what he was talking about. Hmmm… announcers not being shown the backstage segments? Didn’t WCW try that for a while on Nitro?
The next week, Johnny Curtis briefly reminded us who he was, then demonstrated that he had a “chip on his shoulder,” which he then ate. Viewers in Romania likely didn’t know what to make of Johnny’s tiny tortilla snack.
Curtis continued to promise his debut on Smackdown, this time with a putter in hand and a miniature strip of artificial turf at his feet.
And what should appear at the end of the turf but an “ace in the hole!” Barry Darsow rejoiced at his paycheck for lending out his home putting set, but everyone else watching just scratched their heads.
Next, Curtis proved that he could “cut the mustard” by selecting bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise, but excluding the aforementioned yellow condiment. If fans were having trouble making heads or tails of any of this, they could at least rest assured that this gimmick wouldn’t last long enough for him to use “making heads or tails” as a sight gag.
The NXT Season 4 winner next promised an end to this foolishness, vowing not to paint himself into a corner, which he demonstrated on a piece of canvas while explaining the joke. If WWE could be edited for Indian audiences to portray The Great Khali as a babyface, even when he was “praying to the most evil of Hindu gods,” I’m sure they could use studio magic to make these segments at least somewhat comprehensible to foreign markets.
Then again, try explaining what the hell was up with Curtis’s pointing and laughing in any language.
A Ralphus wannabe got some brief screen time in Johnny’s next skit, only for the NXT winner to abscond with his birthday dessert. “I’m gonna take the cake!” said Curtis. I guess by this time, WWE noticed that these segments weren’t connecting with the fans, so they got Johnny to explain each high-brow work of comedy out loud.
I bet that even more disturbing laughter would have helped them get the jokes.
When his idiot assistant put a stuffed elephant into a bag for his “the cat is out of the bag” sketch, Curtis’s follow-up “elephant in the room” sketch was ruined. The writing was on the wall…
No, sorry, that was the next week’s gag.
Finally, after weeks of beating a dead horse (Thank God that wasn’t one of his gags), it was the night of Johnny’s debut. Mark Henry, his opponent, gave him another idea for a sight gag: “break a leg.” That one comment made the whole dumb set-up worth it. Well, maybe not the whole set-up, but at least the last 20 or so weeks of it.
I’m surprised Curtis was put in a babyface role after testing the fans’ patience for so long. Besides, can you imagine anybody getting behind a guy who looked like this?
I’m even more surprised that Johnny didn’t tally up a bunch of incandescent bulbs so that he could “count the lights.”
Predictably, Curtis lost his match to Henry…
…then entered a battle royal the next week, where he was tossed over the top rope with both feet landing on NXT. Fans were no doubt disappointed that after all the hype, Johnny had such an unceremonious exit from TV. If he were going to go out with a bang, the least the WWE’s resident literalist could have done was, say, make like the Ultimate Warrior and “blow up” on the way to the ring.
Speaking of NXT, the season Curtis ended up on was called “Redemption,” the premise being that the losers of previous seasons would compete to earn a spot on Season 6. The fact that the winner of the last season got booted off the main roster obviously didn’t bode well for the competitors. The WWE equivalent of a black hole ended with no winner after more than a year, and the NXT name was used to re-christen WWE’s developmental league, Florida Championship Wrestling. Curtis finally got his guaranteed tag team title shot, albeit with Michael McGillicutty, and earned his guaranteed loss.
It’s hard to see what exactly WWE had in mind when they slapped this gimmick on Johnny Curtis. Perhaps they wanted Curtis to promote a new line of talking WWE toys from Mattel with his “figures of speech.”
Maybe they were setting up a feud between the Undertaker and Curtis, who would moonlight as a real-life “tombstone-pile driver.”
Or maybe they were hoping that his literal interpretations of famous phrases would go viral on the internet. As if the guy could ever spawn a meme….
Fandango-ing aside, one thing’s for sure: “sight gag” Johnny Curtis never drew a dime.