Rob Van Dam is one of those guys who can do it all and he will be more than happy to tell you that himself. From crashing through tables to making an audience burst out with laughter during a standup routine, RVD has proven to be the whole damn show. Constantly busy, there is never a dull moment in his five star life.
“I have an incredibly dry sense of humor,” Van Dam warned me before we got underway.
“I’m always busy with projects. I keep myself spread out over a million different things to a flaw. For me, I’m always trying to learn how to focus more on one project until it’s finished. A lot of my projects that are on the table are over fifteen years old...and I’m still optimistic about them. My pace, my laid back, low-key vibration that I have also affects the productivity because what works for me is what works for me,” Van Dam told me in a recent interview. RVD explained that he is the type of guy that goes big or goes home. He said, “The projects that I am working on right now are very, very big projects. Over the years, I have been trying to figure out how to work less and make more—like many Americans. I feel like at this point in my life, I’ve really got that down to a science. People don’t see me out a whole lot. I haven’t had many matches this year and that’s fine for me because it gives me time to work on my other projects.” Van Dam grinned, “Real soon, there will be a new chapter that is going to open up for me and I’m just riding the wave.”
Before he got to this moment in time, RVD told me how his childhood helped make him the person that he is today. “I grew up really being a comic book geek and that was a really big part of my childhood. I thought originally that I was a creator and that was maybe something I was always going to do—and it has been. I remember, when I was really young, I remember drawing my own little comic strips on the bottom pages on the comic books before I knew you weren’t supposed to write on them,” he laughed. RVD continued, “I was a very intelligent kid. I used my intelligence to support my passions. When it came to comic books, I became enthralled in the whole universe. I had to know all the facts and timelines. The whole fictional universe was real to me. When I was In high school, I became interested in Greek mythology. I had to know all about the exact dates of all the history,” RVD nodded.
Van Dam then made an interesting connection that his peers never gave a second thought to. He told me, “What was fascinating about Greek mythology is that people actually believed this. Unlike the comic books, these were gods that people actually believed were real and the stories were so true to them. Now it’s considered fiction. But then Christianity out of the Bible is considered real and those stories are no more believable than the stories I was reading in Greek mythology.” Van Dam paused before continuing, “I found myself debating with other kids in school. They thought I was weird but I was realizing that the world isn’t necessarily as black and white as you are told when you are a kid. That made me more of a nonconformist. I basically feel like I kind of am the same kid that grew up and lived out everything I wanted to do as a kid.” RVD began to list off his accomplishments. “I’ve written a comic book and I write stories now—a lot of people don’t know about that. I used to watch martial arts movies as a kid and now I do martial arts. I used to watch pro wrestling...now I do pro wrestling. I used to really enjoy watching standup comedy when I was a kid and now I do standup comedy.” RVD explained, “A lot of creative people that are in the business of entertainment found a way to not grow up. The way to stay happy is to go after your biggest desires that you have and it all develops from there.”
RVD marches to the beat of his own drum and goes down his own path. He confidently stated, “My biggest attribute is that I think outside of the box. I really believe we are all individuals although I think a lot of people are so comfortable with following others. I always feel like I need to go down my own path—I always have.” Van Dam explained how that mentality translated to his wrestling style. “When I was still training to wrestle, I was always trying to come up with moves I haven’t seen before. I wanted to offer something that nobody else was offering. I never wanted to be somebody else and take that person’s spot. I wanted to create my own spot and that’s the way I was trained,” he said. He continued to explain, “A lot of my moves are original. The Rolling Thunder. The Van Daminator. The Van Terminator. The Split-Legged Moonsault. Even my Five Star Frogsplash. The top rope splash is a move people have been doing for years but I found a way to do it differently. I go higher, I go farther, I can hit anybody anywhere in the ring from any corner. I can spin in the air 180 degrees either way to hit my target.”
Van Dam made a name for himself in the professional wrestling industry by having incredible matches with a variety of different opponents in Extreme Championship Wrestling. There was one rival that pushed RVD to the limit every night they wrestled. His name was Jerry Lynn. “The chemistry that Jerry Lynn and I had was just something that naturally came out. Neither one of us knew until we got into the ring with each other what would be produced. The first time I wrestled Jerry Lynn at the ECW arena, the office looked at the match as being an easy win for me and expected the match to be really short to make me look good,” RVD sighed. “I really thought I could bring something out of Jerry. By the end of the match, we went for about twenty minutes. My hair was all over the place, my outfit was ripped, I had blood coming out of my nose and I was pulling splinters out of my ass,” RVD laughed. He continued, “When I finally beat him, the crowd went nuts. That’s the way I like to win. I really like to earn the wins and earn the fans’ love and make them feel like they are happy that they purchased a ticket to see me. Jerry and I had such an amazing chemistry together. Every match that we had seemed to outdo the match before it. Out of my whole career, what Jerry and I produced was a freak thing that we couldn’t duplicate with anybody else.” RVD then switched subjects and talked about one of his best friends.
RVD and Sabu are like two peas in a pod. “The Whole F’N Show” explained why his friendship with Sabu means so much to him. “Sabu is the only person in the entire professional wrestling industry that I really feel is like my family. He trained me way back in the day with the original Sheik. It was Sabu that was in the ring with me. Sheik would be coaching from the side. Because of that, I’ve known him longer than other wrestlers,” he told me. The wrestler continued, “I’ve wrestled him more than anybody else. We are also very likeminded. Sabu taught me the things that became my foundation and my beliefs in the business. We both have the Sheik’s blood in us. Sabu, literally—because his mom was Sheik’s sister. We’ve always known that we were different. Everyone in the business looked at us like we were different.” He elaborated, “One of the things that makes us different is the way we scarified our bodies for our fans. Sabu is one of the most generous people that I ever met to a flaw. He is overly generous, he always has been. He is always willing to give his last dollar to someone begging on the streets because he believes in karma—he thinks it will come back to him.” RVD then explained a side of Sabu that might surprise some people. “He always lets other wrestlers stay in his hotel room and he always picks up the tab to buy everyone dinner. I have seen him do that for over 25 years.” Don’t mistake Sabu for being soft though. RVD said, “Sabu is one of the toughest guys I have ever met. He is able to endure a lot of pain. He has wrestled with his body broken up for many, many years. We all remember when he ripped his arm open in the barbed wire match against Terry Funk and he just took off his wrist tape with his teeth and just taped his arm up and kept going. That explains how Sabu was his entire career. He is still tough as nails and I’m sure he always will be.”
You have to be a tough guy to survive the politics in the professional wrestling business. RVD did not shy away from his experience when he competed in the the biggest wrestling company in the United States, World Wrestling Entertainment. “It’s kind of like a night and day difference in a lot of ways. It’s so different,” RVD explained after he returned to the company in 2013 for a short run. He continued, “After I left in 2007, I reached the end of my contract and I chose not to re-sign. I didn’t quit. A lot of fans thought I got fired—very much not true. I decided not to re-sign against their wishes because I needed a break. The first time around, it was very different because the office was so different.” Van Dam then detailed the backstage atmosphere of his original run when he entered the company in 2001. “Triple H was still wrestling and competing and that made for a different environment in the dressing room. The way I remember it, talent for the most part walked on eggshells and were afraid of getting in trouble. They were so nervous, uncomfortable—it was awkward,” he told me. He continued, “When Hunter, Shawn Michaels or Undertaker were in the room or on the bus, people felt like they could get in trouble. Someone could tell on them and often a person would. Someone would tell on them because they were interested in getting themselves ahead, perhaps,” RVD hinted. Van Dam didn’t stop there. He stated, “There was a competition amongst the talent that was really strange because the top guy saw himself as competition when he was the one making the decisions. That really threw things off balance. I remember so many times where people were afraid of talking.”
These days, RVD said that the WWE doesn’t look like the same company when he first entered it. “Now it’s so different because the whole roster of top talent is what many people in the business would consider green. I grew up in the business with an old school foundation—maybe it’s not relevant anymore. I don’t know. The old wrong is almost like the new right,” Van Dam said. He explained, “It seems to me like it’s a bunch of kids who watched me and my peers and took what they could from it to develop their own style. It’s like they forgot about the fundamentals of wrestling—the foundation of what they are doing out there. They are all like bastard step-children of mine that I never got to raise.” Van Dam laughed before continuing, “It’s weird. We used to say that you had to be ten years into the business to be considered a veteran. During my last run, the top guys that were getting the monster pushes were guys that were working for four years. I didn’t understand how that was possible until I realized it was like a graduating class all together.” RVD nodded, “They were all in NXT. Half of the boys were second or third generation wrestlers—they all grew up in the business. They all seemed to have a neutral love for each other and they all want each other to get ahead. Hunter is now in the office, at least at that time. He wasn’t on TV nearly as much and that seemed to make for a more comfortable environment with the talent pool.”
RVD wanted to let wrestling fans know that there is a guy on the current WWE roster that stands out to him. “Adrian Neville is very impressive as are a lot of the other guys. A lot of fans tell me that Neville reminds them of an early RVD. I’m actually flattered by the notion. What I did earlier in my career and throughout, is something that has never been done before. In that respect, Neville is nailing it. The moves he is doing are incredible and impressive,” he said. Van Dam smiled, “When I see Neville doing a flip and a half with two twists at the same time and seeing him do it off the guardrail, to me, I’m impressed. That’s awesome. The fact that other fans think that’s just like me makes me realize that I put out such an image back in the day by just doing a standing moonsault when people weren’t doing it. I left the fans thinking I could do anything like a cartoon character.”
Fans refused to look at RVD as a cartoon character. They wanted to see him as a World Champion. Despite the politics, RVD was able to rise to the top and win the biggest title in the wrestling industry. On June 11, 2006, Rob Van Dam beat John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at ECW One Night Stand. “Although winning the WWE championship and being that person to represent the company was never in my plans—and I’m sure was never in the plans for the office either...that night was the crowning moment in my career for many reasons,” RVD reflected. He continued, “The fans, the office and the industry always remember the former world champions. That is something that can’t be taken away from me. The reason why it was so awesome was because everything that went into it. Everyone who loved ECW, including myself, brought ECW back. That night and that match was about validating the love for the ECW style.” RVD smiled about what that night meant to him. “Winning that match was about the spirit of ECW triumphing over the less-preferred style of WWE. That’s why I was the perfect representative. Everyone in that building and everyone watching at home too was rooting for me and wanting to see John Cena go down. That was a big deal for me because I was always fighting for the ECW spirit. That was my most special time in the business.”
ECW returned as WWE’s third brand after Van Dam won the title. It was short lived as WWE could never figure out how to properly use the company name. “I feel like the success of ECW was limited from the start because it was a counter-culture movement. There was a glass ceiling. Looking back at it, there was no way we could have grown to the point of wrestling in front of 10,000 people a night while we are diving off and over the guardrail and landing on the people. That was a big part of the show—the crowd,” Van Dam said. He continued, “The big appeal of watching the original show was seeing the fans throw the chairs at the wrestlers. The chants. The swearing. The adult content. There would have been so many lawsuits if we grew. I think it was okay that it never got bigger because it meant more that way.”
RVD then discussed how management looked at him when he competed for WWE. “I always knew I was never WWE’s idea of a frontman. I’m too developed. I know too much. I’m too whole.” He paused before continuing, “The best person to put out forward for WWE is someone who could represent all of their values. Somebody who could be their puppet to do whatever it is they wanted to do. Someone they could manipulate and could control so that person can get across all of their ideas. I know I’m not that guy. I have my own values. And I knew that would be a problem.” RVD pushed forward and said, “I knew that my popularity that was something that I got directly from the fans in spite of the storylines that the WWE was trying to do. At first they tried to make me a bad guy and they tried everything in their power for them to turn on me. They didn’t understand why the fans were so connected to me—I understood. That’s all I needed. I knew it would get me far...but only so far.” Van Dam shrugged his shoulders and stated, “I always said that when I would reach the glass ceiling, I would look down on how far I’ve gotten and I would fine with that. I always felt like I would rather rise up and be known for what I believe in than to go up representing something I don’t believe in.” He nodded, “I still feel that way. For me, the only reason why I became the WWE champion—and this is a fact—is because I changed the entire playing field to make it possible.” RVD made a good point. He opened the doors for a lot of guys on the current roster that wouldn’t have got a second look from the company if they were wrestling for the promotion a decade ago.
After taking a break from WWE, RVD shocked the world by signing with TNA Wrestling in 2010. He recalled his first night with the company by going against the legend known as Sting. “I like Sting, he’s a very nice guy and obviously he couldn’t get to where he’s at without having the talent. He is an icon. You can see the love and respect that the fans have for Sting. Growing up, I didn’t get to see too much of him because I grew up watching the WWF and he was never part of that. I was aware of him through the magazines,” Van Dam stated. He then summed up his experience with TNA in a nutshell. “That night when I debuted in TNA, it was a very big win and a quick win. I beat him in just a few seconds for my debut which would have been a great way for me to come in as TNA’s newest wrestler. However, I will always remember that night—just like a lot of the fans will, by the aftermath by being clubbed for 15 minutes with his baseball bat.” RVD shook his head, “There was a misunderstanding backstage with the timing of when somebody would do a run-in to stop the said beating. That moment got stretched out way too long and unfortunately that’s the way most people will remember that.”
People also remember Van Dam being the guy who was responsible for RVD Radio and RVD TV. In an age where everyone has a podcast or standup show, RVD was several steps ahead of the game. “Recently, people always tell me I was the first at many of these things. When I did standup comedy in 2006, I didn’t hear any of these wrestlers do it. It’s possible that somebody could have been doing it but it was something I got into and then all of the sudden all these other wrestlers started doing standup comedy,” he said. RVD continued, “I actually do standup comedy...and I’m generalizing—but a lot of these guys, the ones that I have seen, go up there and just tell wrestling stories and they feel that translates to the comedy stage. I actually do standup. I do jokes. I do over an hour of just joke after joke. I enjoy that. As an artist, that’s my expression. Again, I’m not trying to be anyone else.”
Often duplicated but never replicated, Van Dam continued to sound off. “RVD Radio? Now everyone has their own podcast. The reason why I did that is because when I left WWE after my long run I was so burned out from being there and all the traveling from town to town to town. I needed something else in life and I was tired of the WWE character of RVD,” he stated. Van Dam exclaimed, “As I mentioned earlier, I was an intelligent kid and I still am. People that really know me always go, ‘I forget how smart you are until I start talking to you.’ That’s because WWE had me as a surfer dude. A stoner character. Most of my dialogue was, ‘Cool’ and ‘Whatever.’ A lot of fans loved that character and they went with it and there is a part of that in me because I am very laid-back.” Van Dam became serious. “However, when I left I really had the need to use my brain. I did a lot of soul searching. I went on a bit of a sabbatical to find out who I am and find out about my spiritual path and connecting with the universe. During that time it was very important for me to explore real thoughts. With RVD Radio, I just started doing topical shows.” RVD proudly stated, “I would go, ‘Let’s talk about greed. Let’s talk about love. Let’s talk about homosexuality. Let’s talk about racism. Let’s talk about abortion.’ I would talk about things people were afraid to talk about. I would have guests who were celebrities. I wanted to open up and get inside this person who is this celebrity character that they are known for and see how they really feel.” He nodded, “And they might not even know how the feel about the subject and that’s fine too. I really enjoyed that. I still get stimulated by using my brain. After my standup comedy routine, when I take pictures with the fans, it is so rewarding for me to hear them say ‘I never knew how intelligent you were.’ I always go, ‘How could you?’ To me, that is almost more rewarding to hear that instead of, ‘Dude, I love it when you do the Rolling Thunder.’”
When asked where he developed the confidence to make a name for himself in the comedy world, Van Dam told me it started at the first gig he had. “A lot of the confidence at the time came from the fact that there were so many comedians that went on before me that just weren’t funny at all. I just thought that there was no way I would be the worst. Booker T was with me the first time I went up on stage and he told me I was the funniest one there. I have the confidence still,” he grinned. RVD continued, “I know what is funny to me and what a lot of people think is funny. For me it wasn’t about getting up in front of people. There is always a little bit of fear of fucking up—just like before matches. I do a lot of high risk moves where I could slip. I’m such a perfectionist where if I hit a move and I slip up, I’m torturing myself for days because that’s the artist inside of me.” He elaborated, “When I go out on stage, I just hope that I don’t blank when I go up there. I have so much material now. I always rewrite material before I go up. I might do a few standup gigs in a month and three months might go by before I do it again. I’m so comfortable when I go up on stage—I’m just calm. It’s fun for me as an artist because I get to fully express myself.” RVD then offered insight for those who might want to test out their comedy chops. “It’s more about me expressing myself rather than worrying about how people will receive it. I do what is called ‘intelligent humor’ by the other comedians. I’m not someone that screams as another character or laughs at my own jokes to get other people laughing. All those techniques that are used by other comedians...I expose them and I just do my own thing.”
Does doing his own thing include being a movie star? RVD is no stranger to the cameras. He reflected on his experience with his first starring role playing opposite of Batista. “Wrong Side of Town in 2010 was my first starring role. It took a long time for it to come together because the director and writer had been working on getting it materialized. When I was on set, I really enjoyed it. Up until that point, I was just a wrestler that was an opportunist. When I was acting, guest starring, cameos, whatever,” he said. He continued, “I felt that I was a wrestler that was only just a wrestler that people didn’t really expect much from. On that set, people were telling me I would be getting a lot more work after that. Since then, I did have that experience where I did start taking acting more seriously. A lot has happened in life. I feel that you have to have a lot of pain in order to really express yourself as an actor.” RVD explained, “You can’t be sheltered and try to portray real life situations. For me, I understand the actor’s role. An actor plays their part in telling the story. I understand everything that much more now. I do plan on doing more.”
When asked what “more” meant for Van Dam before he left, he stated, “I never considered myself a good actor—just an opportunist. But lately, I’ve had some meetings about some parts I felt connected to. Last year I did three motion pictures. Through the networking and relationships that I formed, it has lead to upcoming projects that are much bigger. One of them is my focus right now that I’ve been spending some time on. I’m turning my graphic novel into a motion picture.”