WWE's Santino Marella promotes anti-bullying in NYC
WWE's resident funny man is quite serious when it comes to bullying.
"People just have to learn to be nicer to each anther to respect one another," said Santino Marella, adding that even he has been a victim of cyber-bullying from "mean" Twitter users. "Sometimes you follow the pack and say mean things that you might think are a joke, but they can hurt someone's feelings."
That will be Marella's message when he joins Juicy Drop on Wednesday for a "Dare to Test Your Limits" party at Dylan's Candy Bar on 3rd Avenue in New York City at 3 p.m. For every person who attends the free event, $1 will be donated to the non-profit Champions Against Bullying.
"Being a bully is really a reflection on yourself," said Marella, who will be take part in a "Wheel of Dares" contest where fans can take on fun challenges with him. "It's not just what to do if you're the victim, it's to identify bullying in yourself. Are you being nice to everybody? . . . Sometimes prevention comes within you."
Marella is among several WWE performers campaigning against bullying as part of the company's Be a STAR campaign. And, although WWE is in the business of featuring characters settling their disputes through simulated violence, Marella thinks fans can tell the difference.
"It's crazy to criticize it, because the people who are putting out this product are the ones who are going out to the kids and saying, 'Hey, what we do is a show. It's entertainment,' " Marella said. "You cannot settle your disputes the way we do on TV, because we are entertainment. That's one of the big messages that we teach in every school, and the kids understand it."
For the former Intercontinental champion, opportunities to entertain fans outside the ring may become more frequent as his days as an active wrestler are nearing a close.
"I realize I'm one of the older guys in the locker room, and I'm 5-foot-10. These young bucks are 27 years old and 250 pounds," said Marella, adding that he's interested in non-wrestling roles in WWE, including as a possible general manager on Raw or Smackdown or hosting a talk show on the WWE Network. "That way I'd be able to stay on the program and entertain people and be an even bigger part of the show . . . I'm definitely winding down."
Marella said he'll have several highlights to look back on, including being the last man eliminated in the 2011 Royal Rumble, and nearly winning the world heavyweight championship inside the Elimination Chamber a year later. What made those moments all the more special, Marella said, were the fans' jubilant reactions.
"I always had a special relationship with the fans because I came from the audience, and we've shared a lot of laughter together," said Marella, recalling his 2007 debut. "So it's not like they put me on a pedestal. They believe I'm one of them. So instead of fans and a role model, it's more like we're friends. So to have one of your friends come that close to becoming world heavyweight champion, it was exciting."
Marella has been spending much of his on-air time recently with his protégé, Emma, another performer capable of "pretty high comedy." Despite not being featured at the top of the cards, Marella said he feels secure in his job, even as WWE is cutting back on talent costs.
"The guys who were released maybe were not as flexible. They couldn't fit into everywhere. I'm versatile. I can do anything. I can sing, dance. I can do it all," Marella said. "I can stay here for another 20 years."
And although the role of comedy in pro wrestling is often debated, Marella believes in balance.
"We have to take you on an emotional roller coaster through the entire match -- have you screaming, cheering, emotional," Marella said. "And you have to laugh too. It's an essential part of the program. And that's why I don't get nervous that I'm going to get fired -- because that's my role."