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Growing Strong with Jake “The Snake” Roberts

The legendary wrestler discusses life of ups and downs

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Professional wrestling legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts has conquered many lows in his life, with fans faithfully by his side. Now that he’s eight years sober, the 64-year-old is looking to show his gratitude, while also conjuring up some laughs.

“Wrestling fans have been so good to me,” Roberts says. “Even when I was down and out, nobody ever gave up on me. That’s the reason I’m out there giving it back. I’m trying to help other people.”

On Saturday, Oct. 5, Roberts will bring his comedy-style show to Black Circle Brewing, sharing a slew of stories from throughout his career. In addition to his show, the WWE Hall of Famer also will hold an all-ages meet-and-greet at Black Circle on Friday, Oct. 4, allowing children and their families to come take part.

Before his trip to Indianapolis, Roberts called NUVO writer Seth Johnson from his country home in Kansas City, Mo., discussing his complicated journey as a famous entertainer.

SETH JOHNSON: I’ve read that your father was a wrestler, but what did you want to be growing up?

JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS: Growing up, I wanted to be an architect. I loved buildings, and I still do. Getting into wrestling, I was able to afford traveling all over the world to see a lot of it, even though I didn’t get to build it. Somebody pointed out the other day that maybe I’m still an architect because I’m helping people rebuild their lives. That’s a big part of what I’m doing right now.

I just like to help people get their footing back under them. It’s so easy to go down the wrong road. And the reality is that I started going down the wrong road a long time ago before I got to the bad part in the road. These days, I like to help people and give them pointers on what they gotta do [to improve their lives] and the sacrifices they’ll have to make. Because when you change, you’re gonna change a lot.

But growing up, I didn’t want anything to do with wrestling because I blamed wrestling for my father never being around. He never raised me. He was never part of my life. He left my sister, my brother, and me behind and chased the lights. He made his bad choices too. He was a pretty bad man back then, and so was his wife. She was the one that sexually abused me. Going through that was real tough.

I see a lot of kids out here now, and I can tell by looking at them that they’re suffering. I just would love to get the word out to them. If that [sexual abuse] is happening to you, go talk to someone. Don’t think it’s your fault, because it’s not. It causes problems for you the rest of your life when you go through something that traumatic. I know it caused problems for me. It was really hard for me to have a good relationship with a woman because I just didn’t trust them.

Go ahead and ask another question, brother. Sorry, I just get to rambling.

Jake the Snake

 JOHNSON: No worries man. I appreciate you ramblers, as a journalist. Anyways, what was it that made you want to start doing these comedic spoken word tours?

ROBERTS: As wrestlers, you get in a car and you have 400 miles to drive. You start talking and entertaining each other on these long trips. And after you’ve been wrestling for 10 to 15 years, you’ve got some pretty good stories to tell, and those stories are pretty funny.

Further down the road, I got invited to see Mick Foley’s show. Myself, Dallas, Scott, and a couple other folks went to see his show. I sat there, watched it, and went, “Jesus Christ. If I’m not funnier than that, I’ll kiss your butt.” [Laughs] So that’s when I decided I was going to do it. I got some encouragement from guys. And next thing you know, the shows took off like wildfire. The shows are getting bigger and better. And the great thing is that I have 35 years to pull from.

I’ve been clean now for eight years, and it’s the best time of my life. I did that movie The Peanut Butter Falcon and worked with Shia LaBeouf. Now, I’m about to go to China and do another movie. I’ll get to work on some of the same sets that Clint Eastwood worked on, so that’ll be pretty cool. My book should be out before Christmas too.

JOHNSON: Tell me a little more about your forthcoming book.

ROBERTS: It’s 600 pages of pure Jake. It’s probably the only wrestling book on the planet where the guy that’s in it just talks about himself. I don’t talk about anybody else. Unfortunately, there are a lot of wrestling books out there where I end up in it more than the guy who wrote it. [Laughs] I guess they just didn’t want to get honest. My book is honest. It’s ugly.

It’s a learning experience. People will learn from it and enjoy it. People will understand what it’s like to be an alcoholic or an addict because you’re going to see what it’s about, how I felt, and what I was thinking at the time. It’s really raw, man.

JOHNSON: You mentioned that there would often be these long car rides with fellow wrestlers. Can you speak to the camaraderie you had with your wrestling counterparts?

ROBERTS: Back in the day, you went into a territory to wrestle, and there were a limited amount of spots available. They don’t keep extras around, so you’re stuck with the same guys for several months. You better develop some type of friendship. And with that friendship and that time together, you learn a lot about each other.

You learn what their weaknesses are and what their pain is. When you do that, you become really, really tight. When you suffer through bad times together, there’s a bond that comes between you, and that bond is really strong.

JOHNSON: Do you still have a lot of friends you keep in touch with from that time of your life?

ROBERTS: Unfortunately, most of mine have died. I’ve got a few left: Hacksaw, DiBiase, and a few others. I’ve known these guys for 40 years, and we’ve been through some good days and some bad days together. Especially Hacksaw. I watched him suffer through a lot, whether it was the death of his father or the death of his girlfriend. I was involved in his wedding, and then later on he got cancer and lost a kidney. It’s pretty scary as you get older. You just never know when the phone’s gonna ring about somebody else dropping off.

JOHNSON: Ultimately, what do you hope people take away from your live show?

ROBERTS: I wanna inspire people to start helping each other. We gotta quit pointing fingers at each other, and we need to start helping each other and being there for each other. Because sooner or later, you’re gonna have to deal with those people that you’ve been pointing a finger at. It’s gonna come back around on you.

I experienced a lot of great moments in wrestling, whether it was WrestleMania III with 94,000 or the WrestleMania where I fought The Undertaker there in Indianapolis. My god. I fought André the Giant, and I still wonder about that. But really, the greatest moment in my life was when I started helping people with sobriety. I get letters from kids thanking me because now daddy has moved back home. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Seth Johnson can be reached by email at sjohnson@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.

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