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Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan: His Five Best Bits With Gorilla Monsoon

Heenan, who died Sunday, and the late Monsoon made up wrestling’s greatest color-commentary team

Bobby Heenan, Gorilla Monsoon

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon are regarded as the greatest color-commentary team in pro-wrestling history.

WWE.com

When WWE Hall of Fame manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan died on Sunday at age 73, the name of Gorilla Monsoon, who died in 1999, was invoked alongside that of the fallen heel. As fans were quick to point out in online remembrances, pro-wrestling’s greatest color-commentary team was finally reunited.

Monsoon, born Robert James Marella, and Heenan had a Martin-and-Lewis like chemistry behind the mic. At times, their calling of the action on the mat seemed secondary to their bantering and bickering, with Heenan – wrestling’s Don Rickles – firing off an endless stream of one-liners and insults at the grapplers in the ring and, especially, at his broadcast partner.

By all accounts, the men were close friends when the cameras were off, and Heenan, fighting back tears, broke kayfabe to salute Monsoon on air on WCW Nitro after his death in ’99.

“He was one big tough man. He was a decent, honest man. And we’re all going to miss him very much,” Heenan said. “Goodbye, my friend.” When he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, Heenan ended his acceptance speech with “I wish Monsoon was here.”

But for all their theatrics at ringside – slippery Heenan looking the other way when his fellow heels broke the rules; play-by-play guy Monsoon using words even bigger than his own 400 lb. frame – the duo’s real magic happened in the wild, away from the squared circle. Whether they were squabbling at their cramped desk on USA’s Raw-precursor Prime Time Wrestling or taking field trips to Kentucky’s Churchill Downs, where Heenan tried to “buy” a racehorse, they made great – if, as Heenan might call it, “ham-and-egger” – TV, transcending pro-wrestling to create absurdist comedy.

Here’s five of Heenan and Monsoon’s best bits, from a surreal hike in the woods to the Brain’s shining moment: a sour-pussed visit to a Toledo, Ohio, hot-dog joint.

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Monsoon Sabotages Heenan’s Phone

Heenan’s phone shtick was a centerpiece of Prime Time Wrestling. Often barking orders to his never-seen secretary Miss Betty or trying in vain to reach WWF president Jack Tunney, the Brain used Ma Bell as a way to escape Monsoon’s ribbing. In this clip, though, Monsoon got the upper hand, removing the mouthpiece from Heenan’s phone, which, in an inspired display of slapstick, he bobbles while trying to repair. Eventually, the man known as Gorilla would get his co-host a new phone: one shaped like a banana.

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The Brain and Monsoon Go for Hot Dogs

Perhaps the greatest of the Prime Time Wrestling off-set jaunts was this trip to Tony Packo’s Café, a Toledo restaurant famous for frequent shout-outs on M*A*S*H and a wall of autographed celebrity hot-dog buns. Heenan, who played his Beverly Hills persona to the hilt, was instantly a fish out of water. “We can’t eat in a place like this,” he gripes, telling a table-hunting Monsoon he knows a better place to sit: “outside.” His best gag is the most understated though: after reluctantly greeting proprietor Packo, he subtly reaches for a napkin and wipes off his own hand. 

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Heenan, Monsoon Argue Over Andre’s Identity

Before Heenan turned Andre the Giant from babyface to heel to take on Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III, he fought to keep the then-suspended French giant from returning to the WWF. But Andre donned a luchador-like mask and became the “Giant Machine,” claiming to be from Japan. Like every fan, Heenan saw through the ruse, but rather than accept it, he aimed to expose the crime to Monsoon and “Mean Gene” Okerlund during Tuesday Night Titans. “There are no Japanese people that are educated in an American school and wind up talking French,” Heenan, in high dudgeon, yells at Okerlund. 

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The Brain Has His Neck Examined

As Jerry and George once remarked on Seinfeld, foam neck collars are inherently funny, which is something Heenan clearly knew. He often sported one – occasionally with a bowtie attached – after ex-Heenan Family member Ken Patera gave the Brain a case of whiplash. But Monsoon charged his partner with malingering the injury. “I’m tired of being called a goldbricker,” an outraged Heenan told Monsoon, going on to produce a sympathetic doctor ­ – Dr. Brandenberg from Düsseldorf, Germany – who of course turned out to be a quack. The exam was silly fun, the perfect foundation on which Heenan and Monsoon could riff. 

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Heenan and Monsoon Get Lost in the Woods

Under the premise of visiting the training camp of Andre the Giant, Heenan leads Monsoon – in an oversized flannel shirt and carrying a bunch of bananas – into the woods for a skit that somehow evokes Waiting for Godot. Heenan can’t find Andre, Monsoon says they’re lost and the elusive Giant, naturally, never materializes. Even if Heenan, pointing to a series of chopped-down trees as proof, claims he’s nearby. 

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