When the WWE returns to Chicago tonight for another broadcast of "RAW", superstar Dolph Ziggler will be in the house at the Allstate Arena. I spoke with the self-proclaimed "show-off" by phone prior to the show. We spoke about how social media has affected his career; what winning - then  ultimately losing  -the World Heavyweight Championship felt like; geek culture; the challenges of stand-up comedy; and whether he likes doing birthday tweets:

(The following is the complete and unedited version of the interview that ran in REDEYE September, 24th)

GEEK TO ME: You’re one of the WWE superstars that’s been most active in social media. I follow you on Twitter and that’s really fun and I know you’ve done stuff on the WWE YouTube channel. How has engaging on social media as you have affected your career and how fans view you?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: It’s great for someone like me who every week is somehow in a match, but usually not talking.  It’s cool to know the character a little bit more in depth. If someone’s not in one of the major scenes [on the program] you don’t get the most time to see the character  in promo time/backstage segments like that. So with social media, you have a chance to let everyone into that role on your own time. You can actually forward your own career and storylines and that sort of thing through Twitter. So it’s kind of cool for someone like me to know “oh I do stand up comedy.” I can think outside and roast people on the show, anything I want. They start to think that there’s this person, not just this character that shows off.  There’s this person who dedicates himself to his job. There’s a reason he goes out there and makes it look so easy. ‘Cuz he tries so hard and does all these things on the side to make himself better.

GEEK TO ME: I saw the match you had with one of the Wyatt’s the other night and [laughs] as they say you can sell ice to an Eskimo. So what do you think when you see a talent like the Wyatt’s who have this big push behind them, and this gimmick that’s really effective, and you see that your careers are going in different trajectories?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Yeah, it appears so right now, unfortunately. They’re some up-and-coming weird guys with a cool creepy entrance, that even though they’ve beaten up some of the fan-favorites the crowd is behind it and excited. Because it’s something new, it’s something exciting, it’s something that they wanna see. So like when you wanna see it, whether they’re good or bad or whatever, you wanna see something cool and different. And I’m a huge fan of their entrance and their ways and the creepiness about them.

But unfortunately for someone like myself, who two months ago literally was World Heavyweight Champion,  would like to be going toe-to-toe and showing my skills even more. You know what? But in this day and age when we have time cues and different things to get to, you just put on the best show possibly you can. And I work as hard as anyone else, if not harder, to go out there and prove that. Last night it was a little bit of a quicker match, came up short, but at least it looked good for those guys coming out. That someone like Bray Wyatt can be in the ring with me, and come out looking pretty good.

GEEK TO ME: I saw that match when you beat Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship and remember that the crowd went insane. It was one of those nights where everything came together. Can you describe that moment when you climbed that mountain and finally hit the top?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: I think it was a culmination for someone who for years, as someone for who the crowd was always a little torn, even though I was a bad guy for seven consecutive years, they new how hard I worked. They knew they were going to see the best match that night when I was out there. They knew they were going to be excited. They knew that there was always going to be a chance that tonight was going to be the night that I won.  And that’s what made it so special. These guys [fans] had been on this journey with me. For years. And we’d seen similar guys in the World Title picture and we wanted to see something new. We thought “this was the new guy”, maybe I have a chance when I cashed in [the Money In The Bank contract]. Or maybe  I’d be the first guy to cash in and not win? Like you never know what’s gonna happen, but they were on this journey with me. They got behind it. They organically started to cheer. They wanted to see something new.

And that whole night before - at Wrestlemania, during the World Title match - when they were chanting my name and I was sitting backstage with the briefcase going “God, is this the night?” And the next day when it was a good, rowdy, raucous crowd, and halfway through that match, again they’re chanting my name. And I’m like again “are we gonna do this tonight? Is this gonna work?” 

And I’ve watched it back on TV so many times, that reaction of those guys just hearing my music, for the first time they went “okay, this is it!” This is something special we‘re finally gonna see. This isn’t  someone who was handed something when he first walked in. Someone who wasn’t given vignettes. Didn’t come in and beat twenty people straight every day. This guy who’s basically lost all the time, but scratched and clawed and earned something on his own, and now we’re gonna finally see the payoff.

GEEK TO ME: And then came the injury, the concussion, and things took a turn there. How did you feel at that point?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: CRUSHED! Crushed! I’d never been injured in this sport. I get hurt every night a little bit, but I’ve been very lucky. What we put our bodies through is dangerous and we tell kids “don’t try this at home.” please don’t try and replicate what we do. I’m a trained professional, and I get hurt a little bit every night. And I’d never been injured. I pride myself on my work. I don’t injure anyone else. I’m great at my job. And an accident left me, basically, where I couldn’t do anything about it as the World Champ and it killed me. It killed me sitting at home, unable to go to the gym, unable to drive my car, unable to go to work. And I just sat there, watching the show, going “I need to be there.” Honestly, it was a crushing blow to me, after all that hard work and everything I’d been through, to literally have it taken away that night.

GEEK TO ME: You’ve done stand-up comedy, so tell me which is tougher: bombing on stage or getting power bombed by Kane?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Wow. Yeah, it totally depends. You know my first ever wrestling match was at an Ohio Valley Wrestling show in front of - you know - sixty people, and I was shaking and nervous and waiting to go out. And I’m trying to remember what I could possibly do, what I would get to. And that was like stand-up comedy.

And a couple months ago, in front of 80,000 people, in a tag-match at Wrestlemania, the biggest showcase in sports entertainment in the world, and I was out there having the time of my life. Not worried about anything. Calm. In control.

And I get my first ever stand up in front of sixty people, I’m shaking when I grab the microphone, I wasn't sure how my voice was gonna sound, so that’s how it goes. It’s scary. I’ve done it a handful of times. I get up there, I’ve done improv and taken a couple different classes and all these different things.

It’s just about advancing your career to me. Being a better sports entertainer. If something works, why does it not work, judging a crowd. Trying different things out. And it’s about being comfortable. I love talking, being on the mic.  I love showing off in real life, it’s my favorite thing to do. And applying that to being a sports entertainer makes it so great.

I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable each time, and I’ve actually done - two nights ago in Toronto - I went to the comedy bar, they let me go up and do six or seven minutes, and I’ve never felt more comfortable. More and more each time. I wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t nervous. I told some stories, told some jokes , and did some improv with those guys afterward.  It’s making me a better sports entertainer all around.

By the way when I perfect this I don’t know who’s going to be better than me, in this business as an all around entertainer. I can’t name one person.

GEEK TO ME: I’m looking forward to it. You were paired up with (WWE Diva) A.J. Lee who has a big following in the geek community. She calls herself the “geek goddess.” Did you pick up any geeky gaming tips or comic book recommendations from her while you were on the road?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: [laughs] I did - uh - you know what at first it was a running joke, and it kind of still is, that she has her comic books and video games. And by the way, half of the entire world is into comic books and video games.  So it’s not like this population of one kid in every class who’s hiding in a corner with his glasses reading a comic book, and we all make fun of him. They’re in right now. It’s cool to do that.  I know grown-ups with children that play video games. It’s what everyone does. And she plays some video games.

It went from a joke to constantly, you know, making conversation and finding out she reading this book, and this thing, and it’s really cool. She loves -uh - the Joker’s girlfriend, I can’t remember her name-

GEEK TO ME: Harley Quinn?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Yeah! And then she started explaining to me the relationship that they had, how she was kind of applying that at work, and I’m like “you know what? That’s pretty interesting.” And she loves playing Tomb Raider. She was telling me about that and all these different things. And trying to beat videe games. And I was like you know what, once you get past the joking around part, they’re pretty cool. The graphics are amazing. I’ve seen the WWE 2K14 video game and it looks more real than anything. They have the cuts that I make in my t-shirt backstage before I go out. They have that in the video game. It’s mind-blowing to me.

So stuff like that is pretty cool.

GEEK TO ME: Speaking of your shirts, your fashion sense - to me - seems to harken back to the Sonny Crockett “Miami Vice” days. Is that intentional?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Oh yeah, of course! Everybody has their style. I saw a long time ago that everyone was trying to be like Randy Orton.  5, 6, 8 years ago everybody wanted black trunks, they wanted to be the tough guy with the bad look on their face, in short black hair. They wanted to beat everybody up and show no emotion. I said “you know what? I’m gonna show each and every one of you guys that when you’re good at this you can do whatever you want.”

I got pink trunks, long blonde hair, danced around, doing whatever the hell I wanted, and still put on a great show. And I did it to stand out. And that’s what got me called up to the main roster, that‘s what got me to stand out. And if you work harder than everyone else at your job, then at some point you get recognized for it.

And yes, I love dressing like the 80’s, it’s so great. No one else does it. It works for me and I’m a huge fan of the 80’s so it all works out.

GEEK TO ME: I was hoping you’d get Big E. to come out dressed as Tubbs, then that would have been-

DOLPH ZIGGLER: [laughs]

GEEK TO ME: But it never happened. Oh well. So what can we look forward to from you in the near future?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Well it’s hard to explain the near future because right now I feel like Triple H is kind of holding some guys down, without really holding them down. You don’t know where he’s going leadership-wise. Randy Orton is - one way or another - being forced to be the face of the company. And with the SHIELD watching his back, right now it doesn’t seem good for a handful of good guys, Daniel Bryan and myself.

But, what I can promise is something that I do every single night, go out there to the ring, and I live for this. I live for that moment of hearing my music. Boos or cheers, you name it, they’re involved because they know they’re going to see the best match of the night. They know they’re going to see somebody put their body on the line for the fans. They know that at the end of the night, they’re going to see a great show. Win or lose. Bad guy or good guy. They’re gonna enjoy themselves. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Entertainment.

GEEK TO ME: And finally, where can people catch up with you on social media?  I know it’s @HELZiggler on Twitter. Where else can they find you?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: That’s pretty much it. I like to use my Twitter for trying out stand-up comedy jokes, routines, and also answering fans back. It’s a good time.

GEEK TO ME: Do you do birthday tweets?

DOLPH ZIGGLER: I hate it.

GEEK TO ME: [laughs]

DOLPH ZIGGLER: Two years ago, once in a while, when I used to do it, it’s so nice. [now it's]“Hey, I have to go to history class tomorrow, can I get a retweet?” Like, NO. Hey, if you have a question, I’d love to answer it or give you some pointers, or make a joke. But everybody’s coming to me and like…no. That’s not cool, that’s not fun.  Have your grandma wish you a happy birthday, you don’t know me.

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