It’s a crisp September, but in the basement of the Theater for the New City summer humidity lingers—its attendant floor-rot making the place smell like a wrestling mat. Perfect aroma-rama for the ruminations of grappler icon Luscious John Valiant. Last Friday, the erstwhile manager of Hulk Hogan and 1979 Tag Team champ began his Raging Bull-style act with silent consideration of old posters featuring his younger self in blond-locked, bare-chested glory. Then he sauntered downstage and flicked on a VCR, treating his tiny audience—including a morning-coffee buddy and one wrestling fanatic who drove in from Binghamton—to a classic match, uttering into a mic the occasional, “Ow, I felt that one!”
His posture toggling from no-nonsense Jersey-via-Pittsburgh “whaddaya lookinat” menace to distracted Liberace preen, Valiant recalled his rise from Rust Belt nobody to road-show body-slammer—in a long-gone heyday with “no pay-per-view, no Undertakers, no pyrotechnics.” Stints on The Sopranos and Law and Order have scarcely depleted the rue with which he spun his moldy wrestling Rolodex, name-checking Vince McMahon and Captain Lou Albano with epic gravitas. Anecdotes meandered into aphorism and dissolved into basso litanies—the mood lurching from got-no-lovin’ blues to luridly blue (one about a motel stay with “lonely” Andre the Giant: “He started wrestling with himself, and winning”). Just when the deep sighs and quixotic skull-rattling induce an exit-lust panic, Valiant’s cathartic head-scratcher finale, a lip-synch flail to “What I Say,” stuns like a blind-side pile driver.