If you’re at all familiar with RJ City, it won’t be a surprise to hear that he holds degrees in Culture & Entertainment and Marketing. That’s because few other wrestlers – independent or otherwise – have been as successful in parlaying a love for wrestling, showtunes, classic comedy, and pop culture into a career that has made him, in his own words, “not famous… but maybe famous-adjacent.”
Perhaps that’s no more apt than when talking about his relationship with David Arquette, the actor and former WCW World champion whose comeback to wrestling was the topic of the documentary film You Cannot Kill David Arquette in which RJ played a major role, both on-screen and off.
“I’m credited in the film as a Consulting Producer,” City (real name, RJ Skinner) noted. “It’s not a title I had intended, but I think David ended up asking my opinion a lot, wrestling-wise, including where he could go, and how he could tell different stories.”
Indeed, Skinner was a central part of Arquette’s comeback to wrestling: he was his first opponent and later became his tag team partner.
“I got connected with David through Ben Joseph, a guy who lives in Toronto, and who had written for David before, and who was a fan of mine. When David was getting back into wrestling, Ben told David to start following me (on Twitter) because I might be able to help. When Ben told me that David was going to follow me, I didn’t believe that anything would happen.”
“But I tweeted out, ‘Now that David Arquette is following me, we’re either going to wrestle together, wrestle against each other, or have coffee in our underwear.’ And David replied, ‘All of them.’ Here we are two years later, and we’ve done all of them.”
Skinner didn’t know it, but that tweet would ultimately lead to a deep friendship with Arquette in addition to fame-adjacency.
“(When I sent that tweet) I had no idea that he wanted to do a documentary, I had no idea he wanted to come back. (As far as I knew), we were just messing around. After I called him out, I ended up meeting him in New Orleans at WrestleMania weekend, and we had coffee in our underwear (on Skinner’s YouTube show). He told me he was working on the movie, and then it then all made sense to me. You would think we set up everything just for the documentary, but that’s not what happened.”
Throughout the process, RJ was by Arquette’s side, both as trainer, mentor, and friend.
“I guess, in a way, I was his Burgess Meredith,” comparing himself to Meredith’s role as Mickey, Rocky Balboa’s trainer in the classic film series. “Sometimes he would call me and ask, ‘Hey, what should I do about this?’ and I’d give him my advice.”
At times, the relationship almost became parent-child, with RJ constantly trying to deal with Arquette’s boundless exuberance, enthusiasm, and fearlessness.
“In many, many ways, he’s just like a 12-year-old boy,” he said about Arquette, “and probably always will be. He really had no strategy (for his comeback). I remember saying, ‘If you want to work, maybe we should build it up, and do a bunch of different shows for different companies that were calling us, then maybe we should be smart about this, and come up with a really good angle.’ But he would say, ‘No, I really just want to go with the flow.’ He wanted to do everything he could, try every style. He essentially did a trust-fall into the business.”
“What is really unusual to see is that he didn’t judge any of the subcultures of wrestling. He treated the backyard wrestling the same way he treated the Mexican wrestling, the same way he treated wrestling me, the same way he treated getting piledriven by Jerry Lawler, the same way he treated the death match. He wanted to really appreciate every style of wrestling.”
While Arquette was open to try anything, it was Skinner who tried to keep things somewhat grounded in terms of instilling appropriate professional wrestling psychology and storytelling in the mix. One memorable moment in the film saw the camera jump-cutting between their match and backstage where Skinner walked Arquette through the choreography of the match. While interesting, there are a lot of nuances to that scene that aren’t necessarily evident.
“You have to realize,” he noted, “that I put that together with a couple of specific considerations. One, he was not trained at that point – there were only a certain number of things that he could do. Two, he had three fractured ribs, which changed a lot about what he was capable of doing. So, if you notice, during the match, there’s no rope-running, and there are no traditional back bumps. Three, (I tried to incorporate) his really unique story.”
“Every move we did was kind of based on his history. When he hit me with the Diamond Cutter (it’s a reference to his moments with Diamond Dallas Page in WCW). When he comes off the top rope in the end, it’s a reference to Jimmy King (from Ready to Rumble) whose catchphrase was ‘I’m going to crown you.’ We took all those elements, and put them together thinking, if David had to wrestle, what would he be familiar with, what (moves) could he use. There’s the allegory there that he’s completely out of his league, he’s knocked off of his pedestal, but he has grit and determination, and finally figures it out and gets rolling. But he takes it one step too far, and it costs him in the end. It’s a pretty prescient allegory for what he goes through in the documentary. I think if you watch that match, you can see the whole story. I was so happy to show the whole poetry of it behind the scenes.”
“Originally, the directors really had their guard up about protecting kayfabe and doing right by the business and wanting to protect it. But I thought if we’re doing a documentary, I wanted to show them the process (of working out a match). For me, it was worth it to break kayfabe for that match.”
There’s actually a lot of similar footage that could have been used, but Skinner appreciates that the story was bigger than simply the wrestling.
“I was there for a lot of (what was going on in his life), and there’s a lot of things that we lived that aren’t there. There’s so much more that would make a decent web series or a director’s cut of just the wrestling stuff. But the movie is only a 90-minute look at his life, and (the wrestling) is only a small part of his life. There’s so much more to the movie, and I think they did an amazing job capturing it all. I’m glad that it’s been well-received, and I want people to enjoy it and be entertained by it.”
Wanting people to feel entertained has been a priority for Skinner his whole life. Even as a youngster (he’s currently 32), he felt the need to perform for an audience.
“As a kid, I would be at a birthday party, and all the other kids would be playing in one room, and I would be in the kitchen entertaining the parents, singing Ethel Merman or performing an act I was working on. I guess I just happened to be wired that way.”
A big personality, it seems almost a given that he would gravitate to the world of professional wrestling.
“I can’t remember ever not wanting to wrestle,” he said. “There was no ‘a-ha’ moment for me – I feel like I was born with that ‘a-ha’ feeling already. (Recently), I found a card of mine from when I played hockey back when I was ten years old. And on the back of it, it said, ‘Hobbies: wrestling/entertaining.’ And then it said, ‘Future ambition:’ and I had put ‘wrestler/entertainer.’ Put aside how freaky it is for a ten-year-old to know that term ‘entertainer’ much less aspire to be one… I mean, that’s an old-time show business term that people don’t even really say these days. But even at ten, I had it pretty much figured out that I had to do both, I couldn’t pick just one of those things. Even then, I must have figured out that (the business) was a work.”
While he always seemed to have the entertainer chops, he had to learn the wrestling skills, which he did under trainer Ruffy Silverstein and then spending some time with Rob Fuego’s Squared Circle Training.
“I had always studied wrestling,” he said, “so I knew the moves and what to do. But I really wanted to make an effort to get the psychology of it right. I figured out pretty early on what I had a knack for and what I didn’t. I don’t think the high-flying was part of the act for me. I don’t think I ever was ever going to be really comfortable up there, so (my style is more of) a ground-based game. When you’re first starting out, you try everything. Not only to find out what you’re good at, but also what you’re not good at. Figuring out what you’re not good at helps to erode your style in a way where you’re left with what works.”
Blending his penchant for music and wrestling into his character, RJ quickly became a familiar face to fans in Ontario, and over time he was able to perform on shows throughout Canada and all across the United States.
In addition to wrestling, he also kept working on various other entertainment ventures, including various TV shows, writing pop culture articles for the CBC, and for the past few years, on social media platforms, including a parody wrestling cartoon series, and most recently, his YouTube series “RJ City Makes Coffee In His Underwear.”
“When I started,” he recalled, “I tweeted it as a joke, just saying, ‘I’m going to do a live show of me making coffee in my underwear.’ And then Tommy Dreamer said to me, ‘Might as well, because everyone else is doing stuff that’s equally as stupid.’ So I was basically dared to do it, and I figured I’d just do one to see how it goes. And I’ve done it every week for over two years now. It’s so weird to say it, but I’ve had guests ranging from ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin to Mario Cantone. That’s a very ‘me’ guest list. You never know how it’s going to resonate with people.”
Not unlike Arquette’s ‘try anything’ approach to wrestling, RJ has adopted a similar mentality in terms of other entertainment ventures.
“There’s a quote by the wonderful old comedian Brother Theodore: ‘With every failure, my reputation grows.’ I feel like I have great experience in that. I try a lot of stuff that doesn’t stick. Like doing TV pilots that don’t get picked up, or pitching ideas that don’t go anywhere. But that’s kind of the name of the game. Just keep trying. And even if you do something that does work, keep trying new things to make it even better.”
With wrestling in front of a live audience not possible because of social distancing restrictions on public gatherings and the closing of the Canadian border, Skinner has been looking at alternatives to wrestling for both making money and to channel his creativity.
“I’ve had to double-down on everything else,” he confirmed. “I’m doing YouTube, Cameos, I’m selling merch. Actually, I may be making more money now that I’m not wrestling.”
Which isn’t to say that he’s not anxious to get back on the road.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re a long way from returning to normal,” he predicted. “Wrestling is really difficult without the live fans there. It really is all about the fans – without them, the business has been totally gutted.”
The pandemic has also quashed the plans Skinner and Arquette had for going on the road to promote the film, including attending the premiere (Skinner was in attendance at the Oakville-5 Drive-In for the Canadian premiere, and was acknowledged in a pre-show video by Arquette).
“We were supposed to go to South By Southwest and then Wrestle Addicts,” Skinner said, disappointedly. “South By Southwest was the first big thing that got cancelled, and then everything else (followed suit). Two weeks after Wrestle Addicts was WrestleMania. (David and I) were booked for five matches and a couple of signings. And I was doing this thing where the door of my hotel room was going to be open all day for people to do Coffee in Underwear. I lost out on a bunch of stuff, and it all really hit at once.”
The situation also thwarted – for now – Arquette’s plan to get Skinner an appearance on a U.S. talk show.
“David was really trying to get me on one – he’s certainly been a very big supporter of mine.”
Indeed, Skinner’s connection to Arquette has afforded him some amazing experiences, including earlier this year when he was one of the celebrities invited to participate in a newsworthy Zoom call with 33 WWE superstars.
With his increasing name recognition, one might think any of the major companies would love to have him on their roster. Skinner is certainly open to the idea, though he notes that doing so may put a damper on his other interests.
“I’ve had talks with pretty much everybody,” he confirmed, “and there have been offers that I’ve turned down for one reason or another because it wasn’t really the right offer (for me). I think I’ve been an exception to the rule of doing weird stuff, and popping up on shows here and there. I think (the companies I’ve talked with) have been incredibly nice in dealing with me, and in understanding what I’m doing, but I think (those activities) may get in the way of doing work (for them). For me to fit in at certain places, it may be incredibly hard. Almost like putting a square peg in a round hole.”
And, at the end of the day, Skinner seems to be content doing what he’s been doing, and it certainly has been rewarding to him, from both a business and creative standpoint.
“I had a pitch meeting with a company a while ago, and they asked me what my goals are. I said, ‘I want to make good s—t, and get paid to make good s—t.’ I certainly don’t want to box myself into something, because as the pandemic has shown, things can change on a dime. I want to be ready for anything. I like being in my own sandbox, doing what I like, and seeing where it takes me. The route that I’ve taken, there’s been some nice, albeit strange, views.”
ODDBALL QUESTIONS WITH RJ CITY
You can’t talk with RJ City for five minutes without the discussion being peppered with historical pop culture trivia, and frequent detours into topics involving (in his own words) “a certain amount of idiocy.”
So, with that in mind, we decided to have a little fun during the interview and ask him some more off-the-wall questions.
1. Does pineapple belong on pizza?
No, pineapple does not belong on pizza… or, rather, on a good pizza. My personal take is that if it’s a good pizza, it doesn’t need s—t on it. You need good, fresh ingredients – fresh cheese, fresh sauce, good dough, and then you leave it alone. If you need to heighten it, if you need to mask it with a gimmick, it’s not a good pizza.
2. Favourite brand of coffee and underwear?
A lady fan of mine sent me 15 pairs of Armani underwear, which is a hefty gift, and I feel like they’re too good for me to wear. I enjoy those. My thing is that I need these short-cut boxer briefs. I don’t want anything too long on the leg. I want them to be as close to trunks as possible. I don’t like them to be loose, I want to know where everything is at all times.
I like a very dark roast, something slightly bitter, which is very much in line with my own personality.
My favourite thing to do is to wrestle in a small town I’ve never been to before, and find a little local coffee shop, where it’s someone who doesn’t care if they make a sale that day, they just love coffee. Usually, those are the best cups of coffee.
3. Favourite Osmond – Donnie or Marie?
I’m not a fan of Donnie. I’m a fan of Marie. It seems to bother her that she has to introduce herself in the Weight Watchers commercials. It’s like, ‘(exasperated sigh) I’m Marie Osmond…’ There’s an air of (attitude, like) ‘You should already know this.’ I love watching that.
4. Last dream?
I was at a tribute dinner that was also a TV special. I can’t remember, but it may have been for Charlton Heston or someone like that. A bunch of old celebrities were all sitting at different dinner tables, and one by one, they’d get up and say something in tribute to the guest of honour. I remember somebody nudging me, saying, ‘Get up and say something,’ and I just couldn’t. That’s like a hellish nightmare scenario, where Katharine Helmond is disappointed in me. That’s my nightmare.
5. Who would you consider the Mount Rushmore of entertainment?
You have to, have to, have to put Sammy Davis Jr. on there, in terms of doing everything. Making a mark pretty much everywhere, and being that incredibly talented. He said, apparently, that the only entertainer better than him was Mickey Rooney, but I don’t agree with that.
I would put Bobby Darin on there. He was the only guy (about whom) Sinatra said, ‘I don’t want to follow this guy.’
Television-wise, Ernie Kovacs. He seemed to be really revolutionary in the stuff that he was doing. Stuff that the rest of us still haven’t caught up to.
The last one would be Madeline Khan, because I’m so enamoured with her. She was so talented, and for her to choose to do comedy was so endearing to me. I love those people who look like they could do whatever they wanted and decide to do comedy.