You try keeping a straight face when the giant man next to you is potentially drugged, certainly high on adrenaline, and screaming on national television about his ambitions of defeating another giant and stealing his gold belt.
"Mean" Gene Okerlund, a South Dakota native and former Minnesotan, was just about the best ever at not losing it on camera. The longtime WWF/WCW/WWE announcer could hang with the best of them. Interviewed Andre the Giant (great guy!), Hulk Hogan (bad guy!), Brian Pillman (messed-up guy!), Ric Flair (local guy!), and the Rock (the best!), to name a few.
Over the years, Okerlund interviewed everyone, and sometimes became a big part of the act. He relished his role, played the part, and was beloved.
If you ever watched pro wrestling, you saw Gene Okerlund on television. After attending broadcast school, Okerlund moved to Minneapolis and worked in radio and TV. According to this blog post, it was there that Okerlund met local legend (for... some different and assorted reasons) Verne Gagne, who recruited Okerlund into the wrestling game.
Gagne is said to have done some "begging and pleading" and extended a "nice little payout" to convince Gene Okerlund to go on television. He debuted in 1974, and has been on TV ever since.
Well, had been. He died yesterday at age 76. Hard to tell if a guy who spent four decades on TV seemed older or younger than his real age: Okerlund was just always... there. And looked more or less the same every time you saw him.
No cause of death was given by WWE, his employer, which announced that Okerlund had passed on. We do know he'll be missed.
Gene's nickname was a misnomer: He was clearly one of the nicest, coolest, funniest guys in all of professional wrestling, a sport that draws in some pretty huge personalities, and often punishes its competitors and stars to the point they turn to drugs, drink, violence, or self-harm. Okerlund met that violence and drama with a straight face... except on rare occasions, when he couldn't keep it together, and started laughing.
Here's one such example, when (Minnesotan!) Jesse "The Body" Ventura tried introducing his new (stereotyped!) Japanese partner, a guy who wrestled under "Mr. Saito" at that time. "You have got to be kidding me!" Okerlund screams.
Ventura shouts to hype up Saito, who says a few things, then attempts to break a board with his forehead. They botch the stunt. "Faaack," Ventura says. Saito just turns away laughing.
Okerlund stays in the shot, but can't hold back his laughter. It's a charming moment among friends... who are probably gonna have to reshoot this scene.
Remember him like this.