Q&A with Owen Straw
WXPFL Thursday Night Pencil Fights: Splintered September is Sept. 20 at Re-Bar.
The World Extreme Pencil Fighting League taps into the creative impulse beneath every good childhood game: making something out of nothing. It’s the best kind of ’80s nostalgic revivalism, a schoolyard sport adapted to the rock club stage for hyperactive adults. Hewing tightly to the excesses of professional wrestling, there’s a Trapper Keeper-full of invented backstory (for instance, the “X” in WXPFL was added by founder Silas Ticonderoga III’s son, Silas IV, in the mid-’90s), specialized terminology (competitors are called “gra-fighters”), an absurd stew of overlapping plotlines and a stable of flagrantly over-the-top characters. Like Ronald McFondle, a lecherous clown with golden arches for eyebrows, or the Asshole Brothers. Every match is presided over by ringside announcer Jake “The Professor” Stratton and color commentator Don “Beauty” Rumble, played by Owen Straw. We sat down with Straw to talk splintered wood and bloody knuckles.
What type of guy is Don “Beauty” Rumble?
He’s a Hall of Fame pencil fighter from the ’60s and ’70s. He’s the John Madden of pencil fighting, providing expert color commentary to let the people know.
Pencil fighting is a sport that, as I understand it, requires no real skill.
Well, the way I came up with the show was, I’d done commentary for an Iron Bartending event and the event itself was really boring—just watching people make drinks for an hour—so I had to make up interesting commentary, and then it became fun. So I thought, what’s the most boring thing I can do color commentary for? And I remembered pencil fighting from middle school. I think it’s funny that I get to watch people actually watch pencil fighting.
You’ve taken this simple, humble sport and elevated it to a big spectacle.
It’s really an improvised character show. Everyone gets to be a character and be ridiculous and I get to sit back and make fun of them.
That’s what Don does, making fun of the show as it’s happening. He acts as a kind of stand-in for the audience. If there are production glitches or someone flubs something, he’s there to call them out.
He speaks for what the audience is experiencing, because sometimes you’ve just gotta call out what’s going on. It’s almost a Statler and Waldorf thing, the way he just sits back and sharp-shoots.
What has been the most exciting moment in WXPFL?
We’ve been doing it for about three years, so we’ve had some exciting matches. We had a tag team cage match, which involved a birdcage.
And their hands were inside the cage?
Indeed. One of the most exciting events we do is the Gauntlet Match. It’s kind of a royal rumble. The funny part is that usually the last person wins, because they have the freshest pencil.
You were also a Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestler until the state shut that down.
That was one of the reasons I stopped doing it. Plus, I got hit in the face with a glass in one of the last matches I was in. Mostly I do stand-up comedy, so a black eye’s probably not too good for my act.
You also won a competitive eating championship.
Pizza Fest pizza eating champion, two times.
You’ve mastered all of these different arena entertainment sports.
Basically, things that require a big mouth.
What do you take from these arena spectacles that you can use in the realm of stand-up?
Not being afraid to let things fall apart, because you know you can find something funny about it. Go ahead and take risks. And as long as you let the audience know that you know what’s happening, then everyone has fun.
Photo by Vicki Bracken.