Anatomy of a Promo: Jake Roberts’s “The Muck of Avarice”

Editor’s Note: The goal of this series is not only to celebrate the best promos in the history of the business but also to analyze and conclude what elements make the promo work so well.  In short, what makes it work and why it works.  Ultimately, the series hopes to discover themes that will help in crafting excellent face and heel promos.

Context: This promo was filmed right before the Jake “The Snake” Roberts/”The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase match at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto.  However, the feud between Roberts and DiBiase, who would routinely call fans to the ring and have them perform a humiliating task for money, started at Wrestlemania V in Atlantic City.  At that show, Jake was wrestling Andre the Giant when DiBiase, along with his manservant Virgil, attempted to steal Roberts’s snake, Damien.  He failed, but this kicked off bad feelings between the men.  At one point, Roberts stole DiBiase’s most cherished possession, The Million Dollar Belt, and placed it in the bag that held Damien.  He still had possession of the belt entering their blow-off match at this show, one year after the rivalry’s start.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts delivering “The Muck of Avarice” promo (with “Mean” Gene Okerlund)

Transcript: Well, well. The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase. Here we are at WrestleMania, and it’s the biggest match of your career. Why? Because everything you stand for is on the line, mainly, the Million Dollar Belt. Oh yeah, it can be yours once again. You see, all you have to do to get it back is go through Damien…and me. But you see, Damien and I don’t forget, we remember all the times you made people grovel for your money. These were people far less fortunate than you, people who could use your money for essentials, and what did you do? You made fun of them. You humbled them and you humiliated them. Well, now it’s my turn. I’m going to make you beg, DiBiase, you are going to get down on your hands and knees. This time, you’ll be the one that’s humbled. This time, you’ll be the one that’s humiliated, and this time, you will be the one that grovels for the money. And how appropriate, that the money you grovel for is your very own. A victim of your own greed, wallowing in the muck of avarice.”

What works:  The promo’s strongest factor is its message and relatability.  Roberts says early that DiBiase has “made people grovel for [his] money.”  He laments that DiBiase has treated the common fan so poorly, and this puts him clearly on their side.  He paints DiBiase as a bully when he says that the fans “were people far less fortunate than you,” showing them empathy. ” He further uses repetition of “you,” “them,” and a specific use of “my” to further advance his relation to the fans.  In the first part of the promo, he sets  a structure of “you [past tense verb] them.”  Then, he says, “it’s my turn,” and describes how he is going to take revenge on DiBiase by doing to him what he did to the fans.  In this way, Roberts has made himself the conduit of the fans as he relates to them and he will become their hand.   From then on, he sets a structure of “you [future tense verb].” This structure omits who will be doing these things to DiBiase, but the earlier “my” establishes Jake is that person.  This shows a sense of humility on Jake’s part, the opposite of what he accuses DiBiase of, by making it about what will be done to DiBiase, not who will be doing it.  This further enhances his role as righteous avatar for the fans.

Another key ingredient in this promo is the organization that Roberts sets up.  He sets up the organization of the promo quite subtly.  He starts with, “Well, well.”  He then goes on to explain the ways in which DiBiase abused the fans: “We remember all the times you made people grovel for your money…[y]ou made fun of them. You humbled them and you humiliated them.”  The next line, “Well, now it’s my turn,” starts with “well” again, signifying it as a transition.  This second part of the promo repeats the same acts as the first, but this time the direct object of the acts has changed and the order has been inverted.  Now it is DiBiase who will humilated, DiBiase who will be humbled, and finally, DiBiase who will “grovel…for the money.”  Such organization and inversion underscores the message’s purpose, increases its weight, and makes Jake’s resolve stronger.

The final ingredient in this promo is the power of Jake’s language through word choice and poetic devices.  Jake’s diction has a deep south feel to it, perhaps because it’s so biblical.  At one point, he says, “These were people [you made grovel for your money] far less fortunate than you, people who could use your money for essentials.”  He later uses verbs such as “humbled” and “humiliated,” which have biblical undertones.  Similarly, these undertones are also seen in”hands and knees” and the titular phrase, “wallowing in the muck of avarice,” which alludes to The Great Chain of Being and how by trying to be more, DiBiase is lessened.  The Christian notions of humility, submission, and anti-greed are all present here, and when combined with Jake’s humility that was mentioned earlier, it brings to mind Proverbs 11:28, “Whoever trusts in his riches shall fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.”  This language heightens the importance of the promo as this isn’t merely a fight between two professional wrestlers but a true struggle of good versus evil.

Additionally, Roberts uses poetic techniques by peppering in alliteration, consonance, assonance, and repetition throughout the promo. Take the following lines, for instance where repeated consonants and vowels will be in bold and repeated words in italics: “But you see, Damien and I don’t forget, we remember all the times you made people grovel for your money. These were people far less fortunate than you, people who could use your money for essentials, and what did you do? You made fun of them. You humbled them and you humiliated them.”  “Mean” Gene Okerlund is on the right track when he says, “Longfellow couldn’t have said it better himself,” as his speech throughout is astonishingly complex for a traditional wrestling promo, so much that it suggests heavy crafting beforehand by Roberts.  He also shows a measured restraint, however.  These techniques, if used too often, would become singsong or turn into tongue twisters.  He includes the perfect amount to avoid that pitfall, increase the power of the lines, and all the while he does so by using standard, common language.

Roberts combines traditional elements used by writers of every sort around the globe to craft and deliver one of the simplest, yet strongest promos in the history of the business.  The promo has a strong purpose backed with a relatable message, a well-considered inverted organization that utilizes everyday language and repetition to make that organization clear, and a strong, biblical word choice and use of poetic device that increases the import of his message.  “Muck of Avarice” is, quite simply, a master class of professional wrestling promos and well-deserving of being the first promo in this feature.

 

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