Andy Gorzalski & Jay Gilkay
You could go out on any given weekend night in Milwaukee and consume numerous types of entertainment; a band, a stand up comedian, a play, a movie. Generally speaking, with these types of entertainment you know what you’re going to get. It’s probably a mix of excitement and disappointment with maybe a few surprises thrown in. It was what you thought it was going to be, or it wasn’t, and this is the typical weekend’s entertainment.
But then there is Mondo Lucha, Milwaukee’s gift to those who want their minds blown. Yes there are wrestlers. There are burlesque performers. There is rock and roll. And there is always an element of ridiculous anti-political correctness that always takes the show to a place that can be, frankly, uncomfortable.
Ever see a Boy Scout leader get beat up by a Russian?
It’s an undeniably brilliant mix of pasties, pummeling, and pop culture, and the puppet masters, founders Jay Gilkay and Andy Gorzalski are the masterminds behind the ridiculousness. They constantly challenge themselves to give their audience a jolt. And while it’s decidedly masculine, wives and girlfriends who begrudgingly attend even admit they actually had a good time.
That’s a major feat considering you’ll probably get some wrestler sweat on you, and heck, you might come close to a flying folding chair. But that’s OK. Let it happen. Embrace it. Your jaw may drop, but just make sure you hold on to your beer.
“It’s like when Sylvester Stallone went on The Muppet Show.”
SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE
I sat down with Jay and Andy at a Stone Creek Coffee and talked Mondo Lucha, which is a conversation that can snowball into hours of pop culture references, wrestling history, along with debates about film, comedy and comic books.
They started Mondo Lucha in 2008, and the timing wasn’t great. Andy in Job transition, newly married with a newborn son, and Jay, who had sold his electrical business to become a grade school teacher, married with two young sons of his own. They met through mutual friends and found they shared the same passion for wrestling.
They also admit that there was a pop culture convergence that turned advantageous for them. “There was a number of things, roller derby, burlesque, all kind of alternative entertainment popping up and we were part of that wave. It was like being the first frozen yogurt company.”
“We spoke the same language,” they told me, “We were raised on the lineage of wrestling – the psychology of the business and the response you are trying to elicit from the crowd,” Jay said. “With wrestling every match has to be different, if there are 9 matches on the same card no match can be the same – and we realized that.”
They followed wrestling through its boom in the 80s and to it’s peak with the WWE in the 90s and subsequent fall from popularity after the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock became household names. Jay and Andy aren’t just fans of wrestling, they profoundly understand it’s history, all the major players, and what makes it so damn entertaining.
A MUTUAL LOVE INTEREST
But what also plays into the tremendous success of Mondo Lucha is Andy and Jay’s mutual love for film. The desire to tell stories, develop characters and realize that the most effective theater is comprised of heroes and villains, conflict and femme fatale, music and theater. They knew their show had to transcend the typical experience of a series of wrestling bouts and a bunch of dumb trash talking and violence.
The “love” interest, personified in the form of the show’s vaudeville strippers, plays a pivotal role in how every Mondo Lucha show unfolds. A band, (which they call the easiest gig in the world) gets to play to an already worked up and raucous crowd. And then there are the wrestlers, who appreciate Mondo Lucha’s ambitious themes. Many wrestlers show up in character, like “Daniel Day Lewis showed up to the set as Abraham Lincoln every day,” Andy says.
Ultimately, they hold true to two basic rules (although they have quite a few, including a no swearing tenet they have fervently and unexpectedly stayed true to). “Make it believable and keep the audience comfortable,” says Jay. But remember if you happen to find yourself in the ring, you become a part of the show, anything can happen. “It’s like when Sylvester Stallone went on the Muppet Show, once you step into the muppet world, you have to adhere to the muppet rules.”
In other words, get close to the ring, but just don’t get in it.
They reflect on many of the shows fondly and are open to admitting the hits and the misses. Jay and Andy have wrestlers and entertainers constantly asking if they can be part of their show, and many don’t meet their ridiculously high standards. Still, it’s flattering.
“We’re like the cool indie movie of the wrestling world,” Andy says, smirking at Jay, as if there’s an elaborate inside joke only the two of them is in on.
“We’re like the cool indie movie of the wrestling world.”
Credits & References
- You can view updates and schedules for shows on the Mondo Lucha Facebook page.
- Mondo Lucha identity design by Zach Schulze
- Photography by Nicholas Pipitone