In wrestling, everybody has a gimmick.
Storylines are made between a good guy (known as a “babyface” or “face” in wrestling parlance) and a bad guy (known as a “heel”). In most cases, over the course of an interview, a match, or sometimes a feud that lasts for months, the good guy gets the better of the bad guy, much to the delight of the gathered crowd.
Throughout wrestling’s history there have been a few reliable character traits that performers take on in order to encourage boos out of the crowd — rich, arrogant men who think they’re better than the audience, or representatives of foreign nations that play into jingoistic ideology that can sometimes become problematic. But right now a different type of heel is garnering tons of attention — Daniel Richards, The Progressive Liberal.
His rise to notoriety has been fast and furious — Deadspin first wrote about Richards on Monday and followed up with him with a phone interview on Tuesday. Since then, he’s gotten coverage from multiple outlets all curious to know more about the life of a hated heel.
Richards, whose real name is Dan Harnsberger, is an indie wrestler for Appalachian Mountain Wrestling, a promotion based in Kentucky. His character, The Progressive Liberal, is billed as being from Washington D.C., and conducts promos in shirts that read “Not My President” or bear the face of Hillary Clinton. Richards chides southern crowds by saying he wants to help them find jobs in clean energy or telling fans that say they can’t hear the announcer to “use some Obamacare and get a hearing aid you moron.”
Many heels use their mic time to hit tried and true lines that are fairly generic. Some variation of “Your town sucks. Your food is bad, your sports teams will never win, and your people are stupid,” with area-specific references worked in will generate what is known as “cheap heat,” and illicit boos from the crowd on an almost instinctual level. But if you listen to Richards work on the microphone, the way he aggravates his audience is extremely specific to our political times.
“You people need to be reprogrammed,” the Progressive Liberal says in the above promo, correcting opponents’ accented pronunciations of “Appalachian” along the way. “You continually vote against your own interests. You put people in Congress, in the White House, that aren’t gonna help you. They aren’t gonna bring your jobs back.”
While the Progressive Liberal is the character he plays as a wrestler, Richards says that his beliefs align fairly well with his alter ego. “I say ‘character,’ but I do lean far left,” Richards recently told Sports Illustrated in an interview. “So it’s not like I’m pretending to be something I’m not. I’m just turning it up. I hear Trump chants everywhere I go now, as soon as I walk out.”
Armed with a finishing move he calls “The Liberal Agenda,” Richards can hold his own in the ring, but his new character has not come without a few drawbacks. As Richards told Sports Illustrated, “There was one town where I was set to wrestle, and I did wrestle there, where one guy said, ‘If that guy shows up, I’m bringing a gun.’ The quote was, ‘If that f—ing Liberal comes here, I’m gonna bring a gun.'”
Richards, true to his heelish nature, takes it in stride. “My dad was terrified, but I’m just not. I guess I should be, but I’m just not.”
For now, Richards is taken his newfound visibility well, and is not letting the limelight get to his head. “I cannot state this enough. I don’t know how far this wave is gonna take me — it’s a big deal to me, but I don’t think I’m like name your favourite celebrity.”
Even with all of his current media coverage, chances are that the thing at the forefront of Richards’ mind is his “Crybaby” match against Kyle Maggard on Friday. If he loses, he’ll have to wear a diaper and suck out of a bottle at the end of the night.
Chances are the crowd would love it.
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