It’s not up for debate: Jake “The Snake” Roberts is one of the greatest redemption stories in the history of professional wrestling. The WWE Hall Of Famer has an in-ring career spanning more than 30 years and nearly as many wrestling promotions, including short stints in WCW, ECW and TNA, but his battle with addiction has been well-documented and seemingly never ending.
However, following the release of the new documentary, The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake (which is now streaming on Netflix), Roberts appears to be clean and refocused on his craft: Though he’s too old to get back in the ring, he’s still one hell of a talker, as evidenced by his ongoing Unspoken Word Tour, which will hit more than 30 cities between mid-August and mid-November. According to Roberts, the performances are part comedic road stories, part serious, heart-to-heart discussions, plus an audience Q&A at the end, so no two shows are the same. We caught up with him to get more details, as well as find out what current Superstars he likes, what his next big project is and whether we’ll see him at the WWE Performance Center any time soon.
With Spandex: You’re currently living in Las Vegas. What brought you out there?
Jake Roberts: There was gonna be a new wrestling company out here that Roddy Piper was gonna be involved with, and Shane Douglas, too. A lot of big promises and stuff. I moved out here on that — I’d been guaranteed a pretty lofty position in it, but it never happened. Anyway, I’m out here and I love it out here. I love the dry heat. I don’t go out and party. I’ve only gone down to the strip once. You think this would be the worst place for a guy like me but you can live out here your whole life and never go to the strip.
You’ve been doing your Unspoken Word Tour off and on for a few years now, but your slate of upcoming dates from mid-August to mid-November appears to be the longest stretch you’ve done thus far. It’s a pretty heavy itinerary…
Nah, not really. Not for me. Back in the day, we were wrestling eight times a week, twice on Sunday. For me, it’s all about getting into a rhythm — you get up, you work out, you eat, you do a little radio [interview] or something, you do the show. I take my daughter with me; she runs all my bookings, does a phenomenal job. It’s a no-pressure situation for me. I just go out there and feel the crowd and I run with it.
How have you seen your show develop over the past year or so?
In the beginning, you test things to see what works and what doesn’t work. Then you work on delivery. I’ve been so blessed in that department: To me it’s like falling off a log backward. It’s no problem.
I talk about addiction and alcoholism during the show and try to get people to reach out and help someone they know is struggling. I also invite people who are having a problem to come talk to me after the show. We’ll get a quiet place to sit down and see if we can’t help somebody.
I take ’em on a roller coaster ride, brother: up, down, sideways. When I get out of there, everybody’s smiling. In the comedy arena, you don’t get many standing ovations, but I’ve gotten quite a few. It really makes me feel good.
You mentioned your busy road schedule when you were wrestling. Who were some of your favorite road partners back in the day?
Most of the time in WWF, it was me and Hacksaw [Jim Duggan] or me and Undertaker; back in the early years, it was me and the Road Warriors.
Did any of them have issues with you traveling with your snake?
Oh yeah. It was a pain in the ass.
I roomed with Jim Brunzell one night and he was terrified of the snake. I got up to piss one night and must’ve left the bathroom door open, so the snake got out and ended up crawling across his face. It shook him up pretty bad. I woke up the next morning and he was sitting on top of a chair in the corner, like he was crawling up a wall. I was like, “What are you doing?!?” He said, “I’ve been screaming at you for two hours!” In those days, I would take a sleeping pill and I was out.
There are tons of snake stories, whether it was dropping it over the top of a bathroom door on somebody or biting a referee in the face because me and Macho Man were messing around, or the time me and Undertaker took a cobra into a strip joint and the snake bit a stripper in the tit. There’s a lot of stuff.
One of your first memorable feuds was in Mid-South Wrestling with Dick Slater. What do you remember from that time period?
The thing with me and Slater was real scary. He and I had a run-in a few years before that. I had met a young lady in South Carolina and fell head over heels in love with her. We were in a club in Myrtle Beach and Dick comes in and walks over and stands right by me, then my girlfriend comes over and stands on the other side, and Slater says, “So you’re fuckin’ my wife.” They had divorced, but … Dick was a bit of a character.
But we had a good program down there. Working with him was good, and Mid-South had the best wrestling, bar none. Bill Watts demanded so much from everybody and you just went out there and did it every night. I had great matches with Len Denton, the Grappler. He’s the guy who I invented the DDT with.
That leads me to my next question — Rick Rude used the DDT as his finishing move, too. Did that cause any friction between the two of you?
Nah. Whenever I first went to WWF, Adrian Adonis was using it. I went to Vince [McMahon] and said, “Vince, that’s my hold, I developed the dang thing, I’ll be using it,” and there was no problem. Rude didn’t give me any issues about that either. Rude and I did have some issues on some stuff, though, which you’ll have to come to the Unspoken Word tour to hear. I ain’t gonna let the cat out of the bag about that one.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Austin 3:16 promo at King Of The Ring. You played a huge role in that happening. What do you remember from that night?
The thing I remember about it is Vince McMahon telling me that [Steve] Austin would never be more than a third or fourth match on the card. I told him, “That’s your next superstar,” and he just laughed at me. I was writing TV at the time for Vince and I started working with Steve. We got him away from [Ted] DiBiase, and the rest is history.
Though they did miss the boat on one thing — they should’ve come out with a T-shirt that said “Austin’s 10 Commandments” on the front, and on the back say stuff like, “Thou shalt not kill unless thou art pissed”; “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife unless she’s really hot”; “Thou should honor thy father and mother unless they’re assholes.” They could’ve sold a gazillion of those! But it was great to launch his career.
I love wrestling. I’ve always loved it. Whenever I got to the building, my mind would just take off. I just wanted to help everybody. If everybody’s match is better, it makes our job easier. If I can help you become a bigger star, it’s just gonna help us make more money. A lot of guys are selfish, they’re uncomfortable in their own skin, they hold back, they take shortcuts and crap. I just wanted to help people. I love this business. I have such a passion for it. I understand it more than 99.9 percent of all others. I know what to do without even thinking.
Is there a reason you haven’t gotten involved at the WWE Performance Center? A lot of wrestlers from your era have turned into coaches there.
No one has reached out to me. I would have to really think about it. I’m so damned stuck on what I believe, and I’m pretty set in my ways. You’re not gonna change my mind. I just don’t know if it would work. I’ve got a real bad habit of telling people what I really think, and that gets me in trouble. I would love to be a writer for [WWE] but if they put me in a room with those people I’d probably stand up, tell ’em they’re all full of shit and to get the fuck out. I don’t think there’s anybody in this business smarter than I am. Vince McMahon, if you’re listening: Gimme a call. I’ve got some stuff for you. I always have, and I always will.
Steve Austin’s made a big deal lately about how your finisher, the DDT, no longer puts people down anymore. It’s become a transitional move. Does that bother you?
I think it’s funnier than hell. Every time somebody does it, everybody in the crowd knows who invented that shit. Everybody, in their mind, says, “Damn, when Jake did it, the guy didn’t get up. Jake must be better than them.” Damn right I am.
That said, is there anyone currently in WWE that you enjoy? Do you keep up with the product?
I watch a little here and there; I like Bray Wyatt. I enjoy his work. I think I could help Randy Orton find that missing piece and get him over that edge.
It’s funny you mention both of those guys specifically, as they’re both exclusively on Smackdown. Smackdown is actually going to be in Cleveland the same night that your Unspoken Word tour comes to Cleveland. Is that just a happy coincidence or something more?
Just a happy coincidence. I hope they don’t have to cancel Smackdown because of me! [Laughs.] I’ll probably run over there and aggravate somebody. They won’t let me get near the ring, though.
I recently watched The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake, the opening scene of which is at an indie wrestling show in Cleveland in 2008 where you were intoxicated and unable to perform. This is your first time coming back to Cleveland since that night. Does that weigh heavy on you at all?
The Cleveland thing bothered me a lot. Somebody dropped a little something on my ass that night — I don’t know if it was a roofie or whatever. But I’ll take responsibility for it. I shouldn’t have been drinking. I should’ve been watching my ass better. I hate to think that we can’t trust each other in wrestling. When I came up, I was in a dressing room full of men that you depended on; we were brothers. It’s not like that anymore. Locker rooms have changed. There’s so much wrong with ’em, I think.
Beyond the Unspoken Word tour, what else are you working on?
I’m gonna have a book that comes out in a couple months; it’s 600 pages and I wrote the whole thing myself. It gets me up to the time when I went into the WWE. It’s done right, it’s very in depth. People will understand things a lot more once it comes out. I’ve got a couple movies in the works, too. I just got hit with an offer this morning to go to Kuwait for Comic Con.
Before I let you go, I have to ask you for your favorite André The Giant story.
Personally, he used to do some pretty horrible things to me when we were wrestling. He used to stand on my hair, reach down, grab my arms and just pull ’em. It would rip my hair right out. That wasn’t so funny, but he thought it was funny, so I had to laugh along with him.
I’ve told this one before, but it’s too good not to tell again: One night in Montreal, André had a few too many cocktails and sat on me in the ring. My shoulder started to vibrate and I thought, “What the hell is that?” He started laughing, and the referee asked him, “André, why are you laughing?” because you can’t laugh in the ring. He says, “I’m farting!” He actually farted for about 40 seconds. It was quite amazing.