The Five Faces of Sam Panico
Sam Panico & CANT
By day, you are an associate creative director at a well-known advertising agency in Pittsburgh, PA. On the weekends, you are a professional wrestler. In which business is more difficult to establish oneself? Which is more challenging to maintain relevancy?
Both careers started at the exact same time, so it’s difficult to say. I started at my first job in advertising two days after I started training for wrestling. I will say, for quite some time, there was a fight in my life as to what was more important (and that battle came more from bosses at ad agencies who wondered how I could be devoted to an agency when I was on the road every weekend). That argument has subsided, but of all the things I’ve learned in life, it’s that everything you do informs something else. My ability to talk to clients and present work to them comes directly from being able to stand in front of a crowd and do a promo. The difference is clients want to hear you speak and audiences generally are throwing things at you.
Back to the question – establishment is more hard work in advertising and more luck in wrestling, but hard work and luck go hand in hand in both.
The second life lesson is that you always have to keep learning. For me, wrestling-wise that means knowing the holds, staying up what’s going on in the industry and what’s hot. In advertising, it’s knowing emerging media, staying up on trends and what’s hot. You should learn something new every day no matter what you do.
Why did you become a professional wrestler?
It seemed like the most honest way to be a carny worker that didn’t involve being a geek (eating snake heads) or breathing fire, though I can do that. Honestly, you either grow out of wrestling or become a super fan. And from there, just watching is enough or you have to get involved. And from there, it’s either help the show or become part of it. I just knew that if I got a chance, I could do it.
Tell me about “Shirley Doe?”
Genesis: I was working as Masahiro Panic, basically, a chubby Italian/Polish kid who wanted to be Japanese, which is 100% true. I started wrestling at PWX (Pro Wrestling Express) and they had a kid named John Doe who was a crazy person, but wanted a crazier older brother. I ended up being in the right place, right time and never expected to be a Doe brother for long. It’s been 20 years now. I believe in the Grant Morrison idea of creating a story engine that lets you do everything you want to do with a character, so in effect, I have become the story engine for the things I wanted to explore: 60s cults, mind control, Satanism, violence begets violence.
The best thing I’ve done in my career is train others and hopefully give some encouragement along the way to others. I’ve had plenty of matches and things that provide me with great memories, better friends, and plenty of bumps and bruises. It’d take forever for me to call out particular faves, but off the top of my head: Balls Mahoney, HENTAI, Orion, Chris LeRusso…I’m looking for one more big feud or big match to end my career on right now, but it has to feel right. Chemistry is a big thing for me. I’m pretty proud of all my individual accomplishments that I got to defend the IWC heavyweight title in Japan, making it an actual world title, if you will.
Is there anyone you have recently encountered on the indies who you feel has a particularly bright future?
I apologize if I forget anyone, as there is so much talent. But as I work mainly in Pittsburgh, perhaps I may mention a few folks you haven’t heard of.
Lee Moriarty reminds me of a young DJZ. He seems like a prodigy in the way he picks stuff up and he was doing “World of Sport” stuff in his first few matches. He’s going places.
Beastman and Matt Conard, who I’ve teamed with for awhile, are both insanely talented individuals. They excel at both ring work and being characters, which is a lost art. I’d say Beastman is the best big man I’ve ever been in the ring with.
Derek Direction is really smart and I enjoy his matches. He has a great attitude, which helps, and is so hungry to learn.
Man, I could go on and on here. The Cogar Brothers are really solid for as long as they have been in and really understand the fundamentals of building a character. Marcus Mann is a manager up here but he has a great mind for putting matches and angles together. Jack Pollock is really super solid, too.
"Shirley Doe"(L), Derek Direction (R) Photographer: Damian Lynch
What life lesson(s) have you learned from wrestling?
Here’s a secret: most heels are the nicest, most giving people because that’s the way we end up being in-ring, by nature of work you end up being more giving and know how to make someone else look better than you. I think that’s it: always try and make everyone else better by knowing you.
My real life “real life” life lesson? Have your own code and don’t sell yourself out. I have so many rules that make who I am. Number one: Never let a man you don’t respect buy you a drink.
You recently celebrated a wedding anniversary. You and your wife (Rebecca) host a film review podcast, B & S About Movies. The show has a warm, intimate vibe. It is more like eavesdropping on a really great date as opposed to the average stodgy review show. What role does cinema play in your relationship?
Thanks, those comments really mean a lot. We love what How Did This Get Made? does, in that it comes from a true love of movies. That’s what we were trying for without ever saying it, that we have a lot of fun watching movies and telling others about them. This just allows us to share on a much larger platform. It’s funny, when we had been dating awhile, I was telling someone about Becca and they said, “Wait, so this girl is super attractive and knows as much about slasher movies as you? Why aren’t you married to her?” Now I’m married to her.
Movies play a big part in our relationship. We collect DVDs together and plan a lot of vacations around drive-in festivals. I’m just happy that people like what we do.
What is your favorite film genre?
I really love horror movies but there has been a real dearth of good ones since the late 80s. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Italian 70s and 80s stuff. I’m a little obsessed with how (Mario) Bava makes colors look.
If not horror, I really love early 70s druggy stuff. Alejandro Jodorowsky…I mean, Holy Mountain should have just been the last movie ever made and we could have all walked away at the end like the crew. (Spoiler warning: that won’t explain any of the movie, which either makes the most or least sense of any movie you’ve seen.)
What was your favorite film of 2016?
I really liked Nice Guys a ton. Probably The Witch, as it just had a look and feel and went for it. I also know it came out in 2015, but I can’t think of many movies I liked.
In addition to your career, wrestling and podcasting, you are in a band (CANT). Have you encountered stranger characters in wrestling or metal?
Definitely wrestling. I’m still a rookie when it comes to being in a metal band.
Who is your biggest musical influence?
Singing wise, I just wrote that it’s George Michael, Danzig and Cat Power. I’d add Mike Patton to that list, too. Really, metal to me is anything unafraid to confront people, so it encompasses a lot of genres. I mean, Public Enemy is metal to me. My biggest loves, musically, are Sleep, St. Vitus, Pentagram, Black Sabbath, Carcass…I mean, I could make you a laundry list. I also love some things you wouldn’t expect, like the Afghan Whigs, the Hold Steady, Fiona Apple, New Order. Again, I could go on.
What is the trick to keeping a band together?
Communication and knowing when to not say what’s bugging you. For the most part, we’ve all been friends for a while and this is something we do to have fun, so it’s easy.
You and I have a shared love of GI Joe. What is the appeal to you?
I wasn’t allowed a toy gun as a kid, but since GI Joe was in the Adventure Team phase, I was allowed the Kung Fu Grip GI Joe and Super Joe. Once they reintroduced the brand in 1983 as the 3 ¾” figures, I was instantly hooked by the Marvel commercials. Fast forward years later after talking to Kirk Bozigian, former VP of boy’s toys for Hasbro, I realize it was the insidious marketing plot that got me. The comic leads to the toys, which leads to the cartoon, which leads to more toys.
That said, there are plenty of 80s toys I bought and haven’t spent thousands of dollars and years of my life on. I have with GI Joe. Larry Hama is the reason. The comic book taught my brother how to read and it taught me that code of honor that one has to have. It’s a mythology that was perfect for me as I grew up. When I was 12, I said, “Someday I will have an entire room just for GI Joe.” I’m 44 and have the income now that I can have an entire garage devoted to GI Joe from 2008 on, along with some cool ARAH stuff like the USS Flagg.
I can tell you more about most Joes than I can my family members. Like how Buzzer went to Cambridge to learn sociology. Or that Cutter is from Kinsley, Kansas.
What is your favorite obscure action figure?
My brother has crazier weird figures than me. I do have an amazing Gronda luchador figure, though. He has a lot of Japanese graffiti based figures and pretty much every Tiger Mask toy ever made, including the ring that they had for store displays for the 1960s vinyl line.
I know that you are involved in the custom figure scene. What is the creation process like?
PHX Customs is the group I work with. Those guys spend basically a full year trying out a theme and thinking of new ideas. I’ve been lucky to get a few ideas in there. Then, once the figures are done, my job is to do full paintings and package art for them. It’s really hard work but feels fulfilling when done. I did over 80 paintings for last year’s project.
I also customized my own figures and work with others on joint projects. Some of my favorites I’ve created are figures for Fury Force, the pre-GI Joe Marvel pitch that Larry Hama was working on before he was called in to meet with Hasbro, and modern versions of the Adventure Team, Super Joe, Sigma Six, Eagle Force and New Sculpt era figures.
Do you have any hopes or predictions about the forthcoming Hasbro Universe, which includes GI Joe, Micronauts, Visionaries, M.A.S.K., and ROM?
I’ve hated every single issue that’s come out. They’ve made the Joes complete morons and that’s not who they are.
What is your next creative outlet?
I self-published a comic book a few years ago and we’re working on turning it into a daily web comic. There’s the second CANT ep coming out in the next few weeks, plus I’m helping at a new wrestling company called Pro Wrestling RYZE. Tons of stuff at my real job, another line of custom GI Joes, a custom set of Joes that realizes the canceled GI Joe superhero late 1990s line, maybe another solo band idea, just whatever I can do in the hours that I have every day!
PHX Customs can be found here.
CANT can be found here.
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