Send In The Clowns – The Evolution Of Doink The Clown

Confession: Doink, who debuted around Survivor Series time twenty-seven years ago on WWF television, nauseated me. 

This stupid, silly clown gimmick was exactly why I preferred the WCW and the independents more than WWF.  In 1992, trying to figure out what to do in the wake of Hulkamania and the inability of the Ultimate Warrior to carry the company in the same way, I thought WWF just couldn’t stop being goofy.  Repo Man, Kona Crush, Doink. Stop being so kiddy, nine-year-old me thought.

Between the silly characters and the WWF putting the belt on then mid-carder Bret Hart over say a Roddy Piper or Macho Man, I just couldn’t, as the Dude once said, abide.

I was wrong about Bret Hart. And twenty-seven years later, I’m here to say I was wrong about Doink too.  Not to mention what a biased and blind eye I turned then to the oodles of silliness going on in WCW too.  In the Fall of 1992 I was simply too in love with Sting and Jake the Snake Roberts to see how bad their rivalry ultimately ended up being (see my previous article on TWM that storied the not so great stint Jake spent in WCW then).

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not taken a 180.  I’ll stand by the idea that most of the 1992 stable of WWF gimmicks don’t hold up.

Doink, on the other hand, has transcended the era and the wrestler, and become what few things in wrestling can be—a sustained touchstone and usable in any context.

How the hell did that happen?  How is it possible that in an era when the New Generation superstars are mostly bumbling through their own version of events as talking heads on the milieu of wrestling docs and podcasts broadcast, or worse no longer with us, Doink still pops up in the mainstream and independent circuit rings?

The answer is two fold.  

First A half silly, half psychotic clown WAS a good idea for a gimmick, if not at the right time.  Think I’m wrong? Look at current WWE Champion the Fiend: half silly, half psychotic. Not to mention the franchise run the Joker gimmick has had since Heath Ledger’s iconic half silly, half psychotic portrayal or the fascination now with the IT story and Pennywise the psychotic clown.

Second, despite the 1993 Survivor Series when we had to endure Men on a Mission Doinks and Bushwacker Doinks and the 1994 Survivor Series when we so lots of little Doinks against lots of little Jerry Lawler court jesters, the Doink character has been, at times, brilliantly deployed in various promotions over the years.

The basic building blocks were there in the beginning for a good character: good entrance music, good mannerisms.  Give credit where credit is due; the character was an idea of a guy not usually known for his good wrestling mind, Road Warrior Hawk (rest in peace).  And the WWF pulled it off well. The entrance music was perfect: silly circus music, then, suddenly, a shift to a demonic intonation, then back to the silly circus act sounds.  And the original and best Doink, Matt Borne (rest in peace), had the mannerisms to match. He danced and paraded and squirted his flower water pistol when the circus music played; he switched suddenly to a manic psycho face when the dark music hit.  Borne took the character seriously, studying psychotic clowns like Pennywise in literature, and created the right mannerisms and performance.

As Borne has told it, the WWF originally envisioned a rivalry between Doink and Hulk Hogan, thus the long introduction of the character, first keeping him out of the ring, only to pop up and bother wrestlers and fans from time to time.  He claims Hogan vetoed it. Of course, take it with a grain of salt as it was Borne who planted that whole rumour of Macho decking Hogan at Wrestlemania IX to give him that black eye (which was fiction; it was a legit jet-skiing accident).

It was at Wrestlemania IX that Borne as Doink got the most interesting match we’ve ever seen pulled out of Crush (real name Brian Adams).  That of course was the kind-of-awesome double-Doink swerve. A second Doink (played by Steve “Skinner” Keirn) came out after a ref bump and whacked Crush with a loaded prosthetic arm so Borne could get the pin.  Unfortunately, rather than play it up as a heel faction of clowns, WWF announcers treated it as an illusion, unsure if there was actually a second Doink.

More tragically, Doink was turned face the next year.  Here, the whole psycho clown thing lost cache and he really was just a dumb clown.

Most tragically, Matt Borne was soon let go from the WWF due to substance abuse issues.  He was replaced in the WWF by a series of jobbers for house shows and tapings (and the gimmick became a jobber too): Ray Apollo, John Maloof, and Steve Lombardi (aka the Brooklyn Brawler).

Eventually, the gimmick infiltrated other promotions as well.  

Perhaps the most interesting Doink, Dusty Wolfe, portrayed the character in NWA.  He is now a college history professor of all things.

Borne though, continues to be the most associated wrestler with the gimmick, and by far the best in-ring talent among the group.  When Borne made his way to ECW, Paul Heyman knew exactly what to do with the gimmick.

Playing off the real substance abuse issues of Borne, and the psychotic clown aspect of the Doink character, Heyman turned Borne into “Borne Again,” a bipolar personality gimmick exemplified by Borne only half painting his face with the Doink face paint, angered and mentally distraught at having been forced to wrestle as a clown by McMahon in the WWF.

Before his untimely death in 2013, Borne took the Doink/Borne Again gimmick farther in the indy circuit, going with a near direct parody of Ledger’s Joker portrayal, referring to himself as Reborne Again now.  Rest in peace.

Of course, Doink continued on in the WWF/E.  One of the veteran Doinks is always one of the characters suited up for Gimmick or Legends matches and battle royales as when Ray Apollo donned the gimmick for the Wrestlemania X7 Gimmick Battle Royale.  Borne himself returned for a one-off with the WWE wrestling as Doink in the Raw 15th Anniversary Alumni Battle Royal in December 2007.

The more interesting appearances of Doink over the years have been utilized by star wrestlers to disguise themselves ala Edge and Christian throwing on the Conquistador gold bodysuits.  Jeff Jarrett dawned the clown paint back when to play pranks on Doink’s partner Dink before defeating Doink himself. Chris Jericho broke out the gimmick in 2001 to ambush William Regal during their awesome, awesome feud (I’m a bit biased there—both these guys are in my Boys Stable).  According to one of Jericho’s confessionals on the business, a pilled up and very stoned Shawn Michaels saw Jericho that night at Raw in the Doink paint and gimmick and seriously chided Jericho for giving up his promising wrestling course to take on the Doink gimmick despite Jericho telling Michaels it was just for the night, giving us perhaps the most authentically funny scene the clown character ever provided.  Seeing Jericho throw Regal in the Lion Tamer with the Doink paint and ‘stume was equally as awesome.

Shelf life can be a funny thing.  So many of us found Doink repulsive and an example of everything wrong with the cartoony WWF product in the Fall of 1992.  Yet, Doink has lasted and reemerged in the wrestling mainstream and independent circuit more than the majority of gimmicks or wrestlers that made up that New Generation.  

He’s outlived his original wrestler, though Matt Borne certainly laid the foundation of the Doink gimmick.  Sadly, Borne passed in 2013, the result of an accidental overdose and a bad heart in Plano, Texas.

In a day and age of Marvel and literary and movie psycho clowns, Borne and the WWF actually carved out something quite enduring.

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