Interview with Jack Sexsmith
RVR’s Amanda Why (@manda_why) sat down to talk to Jack Sexsmith. Here’s what happened:
My introduction to Jack Sexsmith came via PROGRESS on demand, Chapter 26 against Bubblegum. I’m a little ashamed to admit it now, but I wasn’t impressed. My initial impressions were; gimmick heavy and a little gross with entirely too much arse on display. On reflection, if I’d known I was going to end up sat in his living room interviewing him, I might not have tweeted those thoughts. By the time I requested, and surprisingly got, the interview I had come to realise that I was actually dealing with one of the most authentic and socially relevant characters in British wrestling.
For those who watched PROGRESS in the right order, the PROGRESS world was introduced to Jack Sexsmith in April 2015, at ENDVR 10. If you watched the show from the on-demand service the first words you would have heard in relation to Sexsmith, from Glen Joseph on commentary, were ‘a PROGRESS debut for a man who is sexually frivolous, morally ambiguous and at this point in time probably my favourite wrestler’. It set the tone for the way Jack Sexsmith has been accepted by the PROGRESS crowds.
On a sunny Tuesday in August, with the previous night’s RAW playing in the background, Jack explained how that debut nearly didn’t happen.
‘I had a big knee injury which took me out of wrestling for a couple of years. Just playing football on a Sunday morning, I turned and my knee went out from under me. It took ages to get an MRI and I was working in care at the time, literally carrying people. At the MRI the guy said, “you’ve got no anterior cruciate ligament”. By the time I was ready to come back, the academy I’d been training at had closed and most of my mates from wrestling were starting families and had been out of it for a while. I thought I was done.
Sebastian is one of my oldest mates, we first started training together, and I knew he had started training again. He put something online “Sebastian vs Zack Sabre Jr” (which took place at ENDVR 8) and I just thought No! How have you done that? Just brotherly rivalry, I was so happy for him but so angry at the same time. So I just got back into it from there. When I heard he was at the Projo and it was a London based training camp I was like “I’m there”. About the same time a smaller promotion called BWE got in touch, they were doing a reunion thing and they wanted all the guys from a few years ago to come back and they invited me to do it.’
Was that where you first started?
‘No, I started training with a company called LDN when I was at uni, training under Justin Richards who was one of the best at the time. We did a lot of tech work, but not much character. My first show was at an Irish club, I’d got them the show through a mate of my dad’s and they put me on the card. I tagged with an Irish guy and pretended to be Irish. I did a few shows with the Irish gimmick – Ryan O’Reilly – including a couple for BWE. One of those, against Jason Artem (a very young Will Ospreay – and yes, you can find that match on YouTube), was one of the matches I had after the injury but while I was waiting for the knee to be done and I remember telling him to work the knee in case it gave out mid-match.
Anyway. I started training again in January 2015, did the BWE reunion in March, and then ENDVR 10 in April, where Sexsmith was born.’
How did the name come about?
‘So at ENDVR 10 I just got thrown in on a multi-man match, so I pitched this character, I think it was Sam Sparks, happy go lucky blue eyes babyface and Jon Briley went “Absolutely not, worst thing I’ve ever heard. Have you get anything else because we wanted to use you but if you haven’t got anything…” So I just went Jack Sexsmith he said “go on” and it just came to me, Sexually frivolous, Morally ambiguous. He said, “The name has made me laugh run with it.” And the rest is history.’
I love your entrance theme (Divinyls – I Touch Myself).
‘That has been in my head for years and years since I saw Austin Powers. I thought that would be a really great entrance theme, and now I get to do it.
Just before I debuted PROGRESS sent out a tweet something like “that moment when you hear a debuting wrestler’s entrance them and think that’s great” and I was like it’s me, it’s me.
I knew I wanted to be a babyface and being a multi-man match, I was in there with two defined heels in Earl Black Jr and Damon Moser and a defined face in Mark Hendry, who are all sensational by the way, so it was just go out there, be comfortable and let the crowd decide and for the best part they started cheering.’
Was there a particular reason you wanted to be a babyface?
‘Two actually. First, I’m 5’10” and light, it’s going to take a lot for me to be a convincing heel, especially from the get-go, but I’m just a bit more comfortable babyface. Second, I knew I wanted the character to be pansexual because that’s me. In the 80s and 90s WWE heeled off queer culture and I didn’t want that. If I have to be hated I don’t want it to be because of my sexuality.
Back then I just wanted them to remember me. Now it’s a little bit different. Now, after the journey we’ve been on with TK Cooper and Dahlia Black, and now Travis Banks, people are a little more ready to see something more, and I was ready to do more. To go from a sexual comedy character to more of a social justice warrior was a big thing for me. So to be able to step in when I see TK knocking out girls and make a stand is massive. I’m really happy with how it’s going, I knew that if anyone was going to step up it would be me and it’s made sense so much so far. I just want to see where it’s going to end up.
It’s nice to show that transition to show more fire rather than just comedy. To be beat down and be angry and have people on your side through it is a huge thing. PROGRESS crowds look after me. They understand that I’m a liberal pansexual guy, that’s who I am and they get that and that’s a big deal, so I’ve been able to become less of a laughing joking character who uses your sexuality against you to someone who can go if I have to – because there’s a fight to be won. There’s a statement that needs to be made and that’s really exciting.
Jack Sexsmith is so close to who I am it’s ridiculous. When I was doing the Irish gimmick all those years ago I was constantly uncomfortable because I was playing, I was just acting. Being Jack Sexsmith so little of it is an act, it’s just me saying the first thing that pops into my head or doing the first thing, it’s so much more natural more organic. It just means that I think about what I would do and then turn it up. Make it bigger. The “turned up to eleven” quote stuck with me cause I just… it wasn’t something I first really thought about putting in the public eye, which is why I think my first suggestion was Sam Sparks. But then yeah if you want to do this the best way to do it is if you stand for something run with that. I’m genuinely very passionate now about this message of equality and acceptance
I’ve had transgender folk coming up to me thanking me for being out there. That’s the greatest thing I’ve had, the biggest buzz I’ve had in wrestling. I feel like I’m making a difference and that’s such a blessing.’
That acceptance has never been more evident than at PROGRESS Chapter 32 which took place the weekend of London’s Pride celebrations. Sporting a rainbow hoodie, and armed with a blow-up doll apparently left over from the previous chapter, Jack Sexsmith made his entrance to a huge ovation, and a ‘that was awesome’ chant (only previously noted for an entrance after the Joker entrance of Fergal Devitt).
‘I’m trying to add the aggression and intensity because I’ve got a reason now. I’m fighting a war not a battle, chapter 32 was the first time I got really fired up and the crowd got behind that.
That was nice with chapter 33 as well. Me and Roy had done a rap battle before the Wasteman came about and when I answered his Wasteman challenge I thought people have seen something like this before. 14-year-old me would have been so happy, I was combining rap, comedy and wrestling. People like Dave Mastiff and Eddie Dennis had answered the Wasteman challenge and I was worried. I thought some people have seen it, some people will say oh it’s only him, but I came through the curtain and they were up and they treated me like I belonged there. Part of me started to feel like just maybe I do. My stuff on the stick feels good, it feels like I’m getting reactions in the right places. I’m so far away from perfect in everything, and I strive to be better, but there is stuff that’s working and I’m very happy with that.
That’s another thing with PROGRESS It’s one thing giving your up and coming graduate talent matches every now and then, but Body Guy is getting mic time left right and centre, I’m getting mic time every now and again, they afford you the opportunity to sink or swim in front of a crowd. It’s a blessing.’
Chapter 34 was a bit different again. You moved away from the comedy elements entirely. How did it feel to drop all the stuff that has previously got such good reactions?
‘I was super excited to do it. I’ve been desperate to show the other strings on my bow for a while now. There’s only so far a comedy shtick can go before everything becomes a touch predictable. Also, there’s only so many spots on a wrestling card for a comedy act. I’ve been adding intensity to Sexsmith bit by bit throughout my feud with TK and his cronies, and I guess Chapter 34 was the most fired up I’ve been. Yeah, it was a touch unnerving making my entrance and dropping my flamboyant masculinity, but the boys on commentary made a moment of it. Once the match started it was easy: I knew what I wanted to do.’
The commentary team at PROGRESS really seem to enjoy what you do.
‘Yeah, I like the guys, and they seem to get on with me. It’s really natural, just people who I enjoy and respect the work of and I enjoy what they do. I think I’m different, I am different. I give them the comedy elements from time to time but… Glen always talks about his wrestling shows being like a circus, so you come for the juggler, or you come for the lion tamer, or you come for the gymnasts or whatever. And he knows that I’m very much the clown, or was very much the clown at the time. And seeing me transition from clown to lion tamer or something is something he’s enjoyed and I think the other guys have enjoyed as well. The worst possible reaction I could get is no reaction and I don’t think I’ve really had that. I’ve had the ‘OH GOD’ reaction.’
There’s a lull in the conversation broken by two sentences which I should have been expecting.
‘Not everyone gets me straight away though do they? I saw a couple of tweets you posted.’
Luckily he looks amused, but I’m still mortified. I explain that I’d watched the matches out of sequence, maybe the one I started with wasn’t ideal, I hadn’t seen past the gimmick initially but that a clever person had told me to look again. And I’m very glad I did. When I was going back over matches as preparation for the interview I found I enjoyed even the ones I had found challenging because I understood the authenticity behind the character. However –
While we’re on that subject – You do spend an awful lot of time with your arse hanging out…
‘I do, I do, That’s a decision I made as well.’
Have you ever accidentally flashed an audience?
‘Definitely! In an IPW show with Joey Ryan and The Geezers, which was awesome, can you imagine the shenanigans? That was amazing. It wasn’t too long after he did the dick flip and I grabbed his dick and got the power and started hulking up from there. I went for Cocko and there were people on the balcony but it had slipped down and yeah. Luckily a pantsing has never led to a nut drop or anything, not yet anyway.
The decision I made was, if Sexsmith ends up with his arse hanging out he wouldn’t put it away. But I have since learned that the crowd does not need to be distracted by that while you’re doing the rest of your thing. I do it less now.
I stand by what I did at the time, but I’m still learning and it’s part and parcel. The Bubblegum match you didn’t like was my first show in Manchester as well. Not everyone has PROGRESS on demand and not everyone watches ENDVR, so this was people’s first exposure to me and it was like Woah! exposure to everything. But I’ve learnt from that.
When I first started I felt like I had to do everything all at once so there was whipped cream and gimps and lollipops. Now people get me I’m not having to do a lot less in comparison and it’s a blessing because I’m still getting reactions.’
We drift out into the garden for a break to enjoy the sunshine (and because Jack has taken pity on this writer’s nicotine withdrawal) and talk turns to his colleagues at PROGRESS, in particular, the spectacular women’s division. As I’ve quickly come to expect he has nothing but good things to say about any of them.
‘Jinny is amazing, she doesn’t have to say a thing she’s got these eyes, and you just quake. Then there’s Polly, who is so aggressive with it as well. There’s no man woman divide there it’s a classification system, like different weight classifications it’s just gender classifications. Polly would murder me, Toni is incredibly gifted, and Laura is one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen. Dahlia is fantastic, absolutely fantastic. She has the mouth, if she got a chance on the stick proper she would tear it up.
Jimmy carries himself like a superstar because he is. He knows what he’s done. The best bit of praise you get from Jimmy is ‘That was alright’ and you’re like ‘Oh, you mean it’ some of the others will say this was good and that was ok but he’s one of the first people you go to if you want the truth and he won’t sugar coat it. After the first chapter Nathan Cruz came up and spoke to us because he’d watched the match and gave us some feedback, and more recently Tommy End did the same and it’s wonderful, just that they’d take the time to watch the matches and offer their feedback.
British wrestling is so good at the moment, there’s so much talent, but there’s promotions everywhere as well. It’s like wrestling’s become cool.’
I had to ask about his favourite matches and opponents so far. The question is almost compulsory. Over the next minute or so he named basically every opponent he’s faced and why –
‘… Damon Moser, we’re on a very similar wavelength, TK because we’ve got a really nice chemistry and we’ve started to tell something big, Bubblegum, Eddie Dennis, Joe Connors are another level, spectacular talents, Earl Black Jr is sensational. It’s too hard to pick. I know I’m going to say Rob Lynch for IPW. It was the most mental match, and we had to make me look credible against someone so powerful, so I spiked his drink with Rohypnol.
With all this big social movement that I want to have now there’s these little things that come into my head that make me say can I do that. Can I get away with it?’
The answer seems to be yes. The cheeky, naughty little boy smile is in evidence as he talks about the shenanigans during matches and I point out that is exactly what lets him get away with murder.
‘That’s true, I love that though, like when I do a little eye poke and the crowd pop for it and I know if it was someone else they’d boo, but I get away with it, and it is the smile. It works with the crowd as well sometimes. There was a woman in Manchester who resisted the whipped cream and I had to plead but she let me and I was just yes! I don’t care if it’s the worst day of my life I have lived my dream.’
There are several examples of the social justice meets naughty boy contradiction, which he somehow pulls off impeccably. None seem more appropriate than ENDVR 16 where Jack made a brief foray into refereeing (I know ‘we don’t judge’, but I’m not sure the ugg style slippers can be forgiven). TK Cooper had started to get a bit of a reputation for knocking out his girlfriend’s opponents for her. Social justice Sexsmith stepped in to make sure nothing untoward went on in Dahlia Black’s match with Pollyanna. Naughty boy Sexsmith managed to split the pair up in a somewhat unusual manner, but the girls soon put him in his place.
So, we’ve covered your favourite matches so far, but who would you like the opportunity to face? I’d like to see you fight Colt Cabana because that could be a massively inappropriate match (UK Promotions – someone can make this happen for me surely, I’ll even do a review). But who do you want?
‘Yeah, in the back of my head there a spot I’d love to do with Colt Cabana, it’d be a fun match. Hmmm, who would I want? Apart from the default answers of Shawn Michaels or John Cena at WrestleMania? Over here – Sha Samuels, Jimmy Havoc, Paul Robinson – especially Paul Robinson – I think he’s immense.’
Settled back in the living room,
Did you always want to get into wrestling?
‘I’m quite small so I never really thought I could do it. I remember seeing Kane as a kid and thinking he’s really scary, I believe everything about him, and then slightly older John Cena, 2003-2004 time when he was doing the rap thing because I was big into rap as a kid. Some of them are a little homophobic… but there were other battles to be fought then in terms of race and of gender. It wasn’t the fight that it is in the media now. Me and a couple of mates went to ‘Mania 23 to see him and Michaels close the show that was mint, that was another level.
You get to a certain age and think I ain’t grown out of this, this is bad, it’s going to be with me for the rest of my life so what do you do, do you embrace it or run from it? I decided to the best way to embrace stuff is to be active in the things you’re passionate about. That’s the happier story, the other story is I was at uni and I got attacked outside a club for getting it on with a guy, I did a little bit of Judo but it wasn’t me so then I got into wrestling just learning how to get hurt, how to fall, how to hold a hold properly, especially with Justin Richards – who was one of the best at the time – just learning how to protect yourself.’
Have you ever had any homophobia in the locker room?
‘No none at all. There’s part of me that’s shocked by it but I haven’t had any. If anything, the amount of guys, massive names who have come up to me and said I thought about this thing we could do if we ever get in the ring together, because they see how ridiculous it is. And I think that’s so wonderful. But no-one has given me any of that and it’s a real blessing. The guys have been so good. They’re like is it going to get a pop, then let’s do it. It has happened before. Not in wrestling locker rooms but where I’ve played football. And when I played at uni. I went to a Catholic uni, while I was in the phase of coming out.’
Catholic uni in the phase of coming out. How did you reconcile that?
‘I can’t even think of the moment when I thought I was, but I remember Chuck Palumbo, um yeah. I think part of me always knew, but I got so secondary school, about 14, I was seeing some girl and I just felt like I had nothing to live for. I didn’t fancy my grades, didn’t see much of a future so I remember saying to her, maybe if we have a kid now then I’ve got something to do. Obviously, she said, you’re a mental person.
‘I had no motivation when I was younger, none for anything. I was semi-popular because I could be quite funny at times. But I was in top set for everything. So I’d hang out with the cooler crowd but spend most of my day with the clever crowd and that was a blessing because I just felt there was so many different types of people I could talk to and enjoy their company and them enjoy mine but there was always an element of performing because I was hiding so much of myself.
Then I started going to church, there was this one girl who I still keep in touch with, still respect to this day. She’s been really good where a lot of my church friends don’t speak to me at all – I know, shock, right. She always had something about her like an aura at school she said I’m a Christian maybe come to church with me, so I did and I thought right maybe this is for me, and I got really into it.
I took a gap year knowing I was going to uni and went right I’m going to work for this Christian organisation because that will establish a foundation, and maybe help silence the voices in my head about not being happy and not acting on your attractions and impulses and the things I’m passionate about. Then I went to uni. No friends or family about and meeting new people every day and, with time, I split up with the girl I was seeing and thought just do you, why are you scared of doing you? Started to go and just embrace stuff. I haven’t been as unhappy since then at all. You embrace the shame I suppose. That was part of the big decision to do wrestling, there was a very short space of time between embracing my sexuality, getting attacked and getting into wrestling because I thought you love wrestling, why are you fighting it, you’re attracted to guys, why are you fighting it. And I’m a lot happier for just being who I am.’
How was coming out?
‘It was ok, by and large. Catholic family of Irish heritage. Some family don’t really speak to us, I’ve made peace with that. For all the people you lose, the LGBT community is so tight-knit, if you need to lean on people they’re there. When the conventional society does make you feel rejected from it the outsiders do galvanise and that community is so affectionate and cares so much about what you’ve been through.
There’s an odd amount of crossover but fundamentally there’s not. There’s not a massive amount of the LGBT community who are into wrestling, and vice versa, although there’s a massive homoerotic undertone to what we do. For all of the rejection you get in normal society wrestling isn’t conventional, LGBT isn’t but there’s a community there and it’s so tight-knit. It gets heated from time to time but it’s a family and for someone who struggles with some of his family it’s a big deal.
That’s why I struggled with the Irish gimmick because I was performing all the time, instead of going out there and being more like me, which is what I’m doing now, I was acting at work, and school and home. Constantly, constantly, acting and acting just to feel part of something. But that’s less of a thing now.
That’s the thing with PROGRESS. I’ve been overwhelmed at just being accepted and it’s like where do you go what do you do with this acceptance now. I get to be me, I can be authentic and true to myself and still stand up for what I believe in. The way everyone should be able to. And just maybe, I can make a difference.’
And on that note, we have to leave it because we’ve been talking for almost three hours and Jack has to get ready for a show. I’d asked for the interview because I thought it would be a good opportunity, as a fan, to speak to an interesting character. But Jack Sexsmith is more than that. Sure, there’s the comedy elements, and I hope they never disappear entirely. But behind that, there is one of the most unaffectedly sweet people who is genuinely passionate about spreading an important message. It’s an honour to have been able to play a small part in getting that out there.
With so much unfinished business between Jack Sexsmith and the South Pacific Power Trip, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him in a PROGRESS ring very soon. Until then you can catch up with his previous PROGRESS matches https://demandprogress.pivotshare.com/
Follow him on Twitter: @TheJackSexsmith
Facebook: Jack Sexsmith – The Wrestler