Actor/comedian Richard Belzer died earlier this week. I knew him best from Homicide: Life on the Street, which when I was the right age for it was one of the coolest shows I’d ever seen, with Belzer as Munch being a big part of it.
I’d also heard during the nineties, via the Jonathan Ross interview I reviewed a few weeks ago, of Hulk Hogan going on a chat show and accidentally hurting a man and having to pay a small fortune to settle it. I never knew until later that the host was Belzer!
Luckily, David Bixenspan has uploaded the longest clip available of that infamous episode, so I’m reviewing it for stuff I’ve already seen and some “new” content as well. Enjoy, plus a bonus at the end!
So, we cut straight to Richard bringing out T, who’s either stoned or pissed off or both. Even though he’s from Chicago, he pronounces the event he’s appearing at as “RassleMania”, which I’m sure Vince McMahon loved(!). He gets warmed up quickly and starts talking about being a teetotal Christian who loves his mother despite coming from the ghetto, hence why he’s a hero. “That’s all very moving…” says Richard in a brilliant bit of undermining before bringing up how violent The A-Team. T uses a bit of reverse snobbery by saying Richard uses big words he doesn’t know because he’s from the streets, which Belzer counters by saying he’s from the streets too(!) and learned it himself, not in college. T pretty much admits it as cartoonish violence as wrestling or G.I. Joe but he is really the toughest guy out there and makes “three or four million a year to kick butt”. Richard sends it to a commercial at that point, which I’m sure T loved.
Back from the break, we have a call from Stephanie from Portland, Oregon, who recalls him saying that women don’t like him and whether that makes it hard to have a relationship. T scrunches up his face and is probably wondering whether Stephanie is from Oregon or a researcher from backstage. He refuses to answer the question because it’s “stupid”.
Martha from San Antonio up next, who asks about when he hooked up with Hulk Hogan to be his tag team partner. He has to be a dick about that too instead of answering with a kayfabe answer that would promote WrestleMania. The real, more boring answer is on the set of Rocky 3.
T: “Did you watch it?!”
Richard: “Of course… you think I wouldn’t knowing you’re coming on the show?!”
Bill from North Carolina asks how much training and experience he has ahead of the match with Piper and Orndorff. T says he and Hogan have been beating up muggers on the New York subways. Belzer and the audience laugh at him, which T could’ve gone with, but instead he has a sense of humour failure and goes into a sermon about wimps and men that get women pregnant and skip town. Richard leans forward into shot with a smile like a Cheshire cat to show how much he thinks of this rant.
Repeat caller Mitch from Woodbury wants to know how much “compensation” T is getting for the match. Even though he was bragging earlier about the millions he’s making every year T won’t say. He rambles on about something else, which gives me the chance to note that he’s wearing customised Mr. T red workout suit with a cut off WrestleMania t-shirt over it, workout gloves with a bending bar in his lap and a BIG Mr. T badge on his chest. He says, in a response to a Belzer question about rules, that he doesn’t play by any rules, which is ironic because Piper and Orndorff refused to do anything beyond amateur wrestling spots with him until it came to the end of the match.
Al from New Orleans questions, quite timely, what’s happening with how he’s dressed. Next T tantrum includes that it’s a promotional gig he was forced to do and he was promised there’d be some sick kids he could speak to and make their day. I don’t doubt he was told that, but I can’t see that many being there for a live, late night talk show.
After another break, out comes “the Hulk”, with Richard calling him “the cause of Hulkmania (sic)”. Much more relaxed (and more likely stoned), with a subtle dig at Richard being cocky because he knows T won’t hurt anyone until the 31st. Belzer starts taking his jacket off and T gets grumpy. Belzer tries to give Hulk a chance to promote “the vendetta” that will be settled, but T interrupts and goes off on a riff about having a vendetta against everyone, so Belzer cuts him down by saying he wants to know specifically about “the one you’re going to make a lot of money from”. T takes the bait and Hulk just sits and waits it out.
Hulk gives the kayfabe background to the match and how T ran in and helped him out against Piper, Orndorff and Orton. Belzer shows a little bit more knowledge than he’s being credited for by bringing up how Hulk used to be a bad guy himself. Hulk looks kinda like he wishes that had been forgotten and puts it down to being green and falling under the bad influence of Freddie Blassie. T obviously doesn’t feel like he’s not getting enough attention so he animatedly and loudly starts working out with the flexing bar while Hulk has a playful bit of back and forth with Richard.
Richard makes his big (but profitable) mistake of asking them to show some moves. T says he won’t, but Hulk takes him to the main stage as the band plays the funeral dirge. Richard takes his glasses off and asks about the “camel crusher”, which Hulk corrects him on being the camel clutch and not his move (although he would steal it years later). Hulk prefaces that the floor is really hard so he’ll keep it basic and as he puts his hand towards the host Richard takes a prat fall on it and comes back up. Front chinlock (or facelock) is applied (“Tell me when you wanna hear him quit squealing.”). It never gets to squealing, as Richard stretches his arms out to his sides, then they go towards Hulk’s body and down, then he drops to the floor as the audience gasps.
Richard snorts a couple of times then comes around, as Hulk gently paintbrushes him with the front and back of his fingers. Belzer pops up from the black floor, which you can still see has a pool of bright red blood on it, and goes into a manic “We’ll be right back!” routine, turns around bizarrely, showing off that the back of his grey jacket has blood running down the collar and back of it. The band plays them out as phone calls are promoted in the bumper.
Back from the break, and after they’ve filled time by playing the Phil Collins One More Night video, Richard has been replaced by a producer who looks like he could be Richard’s dad. He explains that accidents happen and Richard was hurt, with Hulk not meaning to do it, and he asks them to explain how to avoid this. Hulk drops the character and appears sorry for what happened. He explains that he would normally apply a lot more pressure (no, he wouldn’t) and inadvertently knocks Richard (“I didn’t realise he doesn’t exercise a lot… No, I didn’t mean that how it came out…”). So, he warns people to not copy what they see wrestlers do if they’re not trained.
T jumps in to “help” and does nothing of the sort, recalling Dr. D David Schultz slapping John Stossel around in recent history to show how tough wrestlers are and how tough he is. The producer cuts him off and says it looked like there was a bit of a “Give it to him!” sign between Hulk and T as they set Richard up. T goes back to the bullshit and says they only came because of the sick kids, which they stretch out to “fifty crippled kids in wheelchairs, one of them was dying!”. The producer says they are there. The camera cuts to and pans across about ten kids in Hot Properties t-shirts who don’t look that bad to me. Hulk gets the last word in and says he’s sorry about what happened and agrees with the host that Richard wasn’t there to make fun of them.
What happened next?
So, Richard showed up the next week with stitches in the back of his head. A lawsuit was launched, settlement terms undisclosed, but enough for Richard to buy a house in France he named Chez Hogan.
What were T and Hulk there for? To big themselves up and promote WrestleMania. The “sick kids” was a wonderful conceit to use to disguise their real intentions. Mission achieved? Barely, unless you go with the “no publicity is bad publicity” mantra.
What did Richard have them there for? To take the piss out of.
Who won? Well, WrestleMania was a big success and Hulk went onto have more success (and worse lows), but it was always Richard who was more ready to talk about it, so we’ll give him the win. People have suggested that he had enough stimulants in him to ride a horse around the moon in sixty seconds, hence why his heart gave out on him here for a moment, but he lived to 78 when his peers didn’t make it out of the eighties, so we’ll give Belzer the win.
Rest in peace, Richard, and here’s one of his (and Ned Beatty’s) best bits on Homicide.