Wrestling fans that have been following the business for years know two things about Owen Hart: not only was he a great wrestler, but also one of the biggest pranksters in wrestling. If you read any autobiography or listen to a podcast of a wrestler that was in Owen Hart’s vicinity, you are going to know how Owen was a really good guy and the prank or thing he did that made them laugh. This is the interesting twist that Owen Hart: King of Pranks has: not only does it tell the story of the career of Owen Hart, but mainly this is a collection of his best and most famous pranks, with some of the pranks accompanied with beautiful illustrations of the incident.
Owen Hart’s story is a tragic one, which is why I found the decision in the book to tackle the subject of his death at the beginning an interesting one. What I liked about this approach taken by James Romero, the author, is that it covers the toughest subject right at the beginning so the rest of the book could concentrate more on Owen’s life and personality. The portrayal of Owen is of a man that got into the family business, loved his wife and children, loved his fans, and maybe had some difficulties dealing with the constant life on the road. Which in part explains his constant ribbing as a method to the madness of the travel.
Some of Owen Hart’s legendary pranks fall into the following themes: prank phone calls, hiding things in hard to reach places, bad matches on purpose, screwing around with things on the show just for a laugh, and capitalizing on new information to use it against the victim of the prank.
The pranks are this book’s calling card, and it is very comprehensive. Some of the pranks might be repetitive, but you can still appreciate how he differs his prank phone calls depending on the person or the different stuff he filled Vince McMahon’s office with. You will laugh at how he riled up wrestlers in their hotel rooms by calling them pretending to be fans or the hotel’s management telling them that the payment did not come through. He even made a wrestler theme music hit mid-match and distracted another one by having a crew member walking around with his hat. I was really surprised at the man’s genius to just see something and quickly come up with anything to screw around with that person.
My favorite pranks were the intentionally bad matches. There is the legendary Mick Foley/Owen popcorn fight described in detail, with a funny side story where Al Snow did the same popcorn match in a house show and Owen and Foley convinced Shane McMahon to talk to Snow about stealing their gimmick. There are also a series of matches with Edge and Christian that are hilarious involving napkins and calling wrong moves on the fly. Also, if you want to hear more Undertaker/cucumber stories, you got it here. I even laughed at Owen just being a hardass in the ring to wrestlers that needed to be put in their place by not cooperating or overselling moves.
Some of the pranks are downright mean. Owen convinces a cop to stop Luger at the light and pretend to search him and his treatment of George “The Animal” Steele and Dink the Clown is really cringy. I’m surprised that more people haven’t told a “Owen was really mean to me” story, actually.
Owen’s pranks, though, were done with the intention to amuse himself and make the other laugh and he only was mean to people that he felt needed to be brought down a bit. Owen’s pranks aren’t him drugging other wrestlers or shaving their eyebrows or letting air out of their car tires, just simple inconveniences that were really funny to his victims and weren’t done with bad intentions.
Even if you don’t care about pranks, the book still works.
Not only do you get Owen Hart’s biography that will give context to said pranks, there are footnotes where you will learn facts about the history of pro wrestling in the ’80s and ’90s. Owen Hart was involved not only with his family (and obviously Bret is a huge part of the book too) but Owen was involved with some of the hottest stars of the Attitude Era and was in the mid-90s WWF in the transition from one era to the other. Owen Hart King of Pranks is well researched and compiled, and I appreciate that Romero has a sense of humor in areas of the books, especially concerning the weirdest parts of pro wrestling.
Most importantly on this type of book is how it portrays the subject: Owen Hart comes off as a nice guy who really knows how to have fun with others and a professional. You can also read side stories on how he treated a network of fans that used to drive him to shows, where he was loyal to them and even went to the wedding of one of them, which made him miss a weekend of shows. Owen liked to help others, and even with his pranks, he was a beloved guy and genuinely a good guy, which sometimes feels like it’s missing in pro wrestling. We tend to forget who the good guys are. This book is good at trying to cover Owen Hart as a person using sources and interviews previously done.
Owen Hart: King of Pranks is a book that a wrestling fan would easily appreciate since it focuses on Owen Hart the person and his pranks, and less on the tragic parts. It celebrates the man as he was according to those around him. It is also a biography of his wrestling life and you can see that Romero did his exhaustive research for his life story and his pranks. I like the portrayal of the man, and while Romero wrote that this is his first and only book, hopefully in the future another idea might inspire him to write another biography with an interesting angle.