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Like a lot of people who get into professional wrestling, Donovan Danhausen had a vision of a different version of himself. Ten years ago, at age 21, he was living in Detroit, working as a nursing assistant at a hospital, watching a lot of “Adult Swim” and accumulating a collection of horror- and comedy-themed tattoos.
At the suggestion of a friend, he took a 12-week training course at the House of Truth wrestling school in Center Line, Mich., and then entered the indie circuit as a hand: an unknown, unpaid wrestler who shows up at events and does what’s asked of him, typically setting up the ring or pretending to be a lawyer or another type of extra. When he ran out of momentum five years later, he developed the character of Danhausen. Originally supposed to be an evil demon, Danhausen found that the more elements of humor he incorporated into his performance, the more audiences responded.
“I was just a bearded guy with the tattoos, trying to be a tough guy, and I’m not a tough guy naturally,” he said. “But I can be weird and charismatic, goofy. That’s easy. That’s also a role that most people don’t want to fill.”
Over the next couple of years, the Danhausen gimmick became more funny than evil, eventually settling on the character he plays today — one that is bizarre even by the standards of 21st-century wrestling.
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.