Jim Ross said he could dedicate an entire chapter to the Chicago area in his autobiography — if he ever writes one.
The legendary WWE announcer — known for his enthusiastic delivery and black cowboy hat — has for now opted to share his stories onstage during his one-man show, “Ringside: An Evening With Jim Ross,” which comes Saturday to the House of Blues, rather than on paper. It makes sense. Crowd response and interaction have always been integral parts of the wrestling experience. And according to Ross, few cities, if any, do it better than Chicago.
“If there was a Mount Rushmore for pro wrestling cities, Chicago and New York would be on there,” Ross said by phone last week from Oklahoma. “After that, it's debatable.”
During the 100-minute show, Ross discusses some of the more memorable moments of his 40-plus-year career and answers questions from fans. He's no longer a full-time employee with WWE (Ross signed with Fox Sports 1 in January and announced his first boxing card Monday), so expect a little more candor now that he's not answering to CEO Vince McMahon — and some humor as well.
Here, Ross provides a glimpse of the humor, discussing the time he had to hold back his laughter on live TV, and shares one of the Chicago-area stories you would find in his autobiography that may or may not happen. The following is an edited version of a longer conversation.
Q: What is your favorite memory of the Chicago area?
A: I hope this doesn't sound self-serving, but it was when I was announced to go into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. I found out I had been selected early in the day, and then they announced it that night at a “Monday Night Raw” taping (at Allstate Arena in Rosemont). The ovation I got that night was breathtaking. They cheered me like I was a Chicagoan. I had tears running down my face. I'm not trying to write a country song, but it was very emotional. I had gone through three bouts of Bell's palsy facial paralysis and was hanging onto my career by a thread. That night I felt like the king of broadcasting. I felt like I was home.
Q: Knowing how boisterous and rowdy wrestling fans are, have you had a hard time getting them to stay quiet during your one-man show?
A: They're very respectful. They want to go on the journey. The only time I've had what you would perceive as a rowdy crowd was when I did a real late show in New York. There was a vocal group that had been overserved. They sat in the front row and had their own show. I brought it to their attention that they were being disrespectful to the other fans and suggested they calm down. Ironically, they paid for the highest-priced tickets. After the show, they came to the meet-and-greet like they were walking to the gallows. They thought I was going to be angry and lecture them. I basically laughed it off: “You guys had more fun than anyone.”
Q: You called football games with Dick Butkus for WWE's short-lived XFL. What do you remember about working with the Bears legend?
A: Dick would admit he's not a professional broadcaster, and I'll admit I'm not a trained and experienced football broadcaster, even though I've called some Atlanta Falcons games. We both kind of were feeling our way through the whole thing and having a lot of fun in the process. Dick was very outspoken. You didn't have to wonder what was on his mind. He was very willing to share it with you. But I had a blast with him.
Q: Speaking of Chicago celebrities, you've gotten to know Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan pretty well over the years. What's your relationship with Corgan like?
A: He's the curious type — highly intellectual. He's now got his own promotion in Chicago, Resistance Pro Wrestling, and is giving independent guys who want to live their dreams an opportunity. I really admire what he does. Lord knows he's plenty busy with touring, but he still finds time to be devout to wrestling. We'll brainstorm ideas from time to time. He knows I'm always available. Billy's got an AMC reality show now (revolving around Resistance Pro). We talked about me appearing on that as a guest for an episode or two.
Q: You were dealing with live TV on a weekly basis. Has there ever been a moment when you couldn't control your laughter during a broadcast?
A: We had a couple of wardrobe malfunctions. We had a guy named Al Snow who forgot to wear undertrunks and got into a vertical suplex and was exposed on live TV. We knew the audience knew that we knew, but we couldn't go there. I remember we couldn't control our laughter.
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"Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross"
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St.
Tickets: $35-$80, houseofblues.com/chicago