Two weeks ago I asked when Stephanie McMahon would finally think it “made sense” to include LGBTQ storylines in WWE programming. The answer seems to be “no time soon,” after Smackdown introduced “Breezy Bella” as Fandango’s “muscle” in Breezango’s ill-fated attempt to humiliate John Cena. Who’s the real butt of the joke here, though?
Sure, part of the gag is the thought that Fandango could put Cena down right before WrestleMania, but ultimately the joke is Breezy Bella, complete with a wig and silicone inserts, getting put down by a fearsome spear from Nikki before Fandango and Breeze are made to tap out to romantic, stereo submission holds. There’s no point to Tyler Breeze coming out dressed as Nikki, except to make light of a man in a wig and Nikki Bella’s wrestling gear.
It’s great to see Nikki put a man with Breeze’s build in the Rack Attack, but if her attacking “Breezy Bella” is supposed to “prep” the audience for a real intergender match with Miz and Maryse at WrestleMania, why dress Breeze up at all except to get an easy laugh for these goofy, sexually ambiguous heels? Can Nikki only hit a man if he’s wearing hot pants and a croptop? The result of the match is a foregone conclusion. Breezango are a comedy team, and while Fandango and, especially, Tyler Breeze have impressive matches under their belts, nobody expects Fandago to put up a competitive match against Cena at this stage.
To the credit of everyone involved, none of the wrestlers or commentators make any mean-spirited or transphobic jokes. Instead, everyone involved just seems rendered speechless by the entire production, unsure how far to take the gag. The segment doesn’t come across as mean-spirited, per se—just careless.
Where Miz and Maryse’s “Lost Total Bellas” footage lampoons the Bellas’ personas and Cena’s now legendary awkwardness as a boyfriend, furthering the feud in a way only Smackdown’s A-List Hollywood superstars could or would conceive of, Breezy Bella is a lazy and short-sighted gag that plays on one of the most tired and transphobic jokes in comedy: men who dress like women are weird and funny.
If Smackdown took a moment to present Breezango as serious contenders to anything, or played their obsession with looks and fashion as anything other than something weird to laugh at, “Breezy Bella” could have the potential to be a light-hearted gag. Tyler Breeze looks great in the shorts and the wig, and I would be thrilled to see more well-done intergender wrestling in WWE. But the awkward commentary and the short squash make the bit feel like lazy filler, a thoughtless punchline meant only to kill time, and a waste of Breezango’s great tag team chemistry and the comedy chops they demonstrated in Southpaw Regional Wrestling.
This is the kind of gag that makes it hard to take WWE seriously when they claim to care about LGBTQ storylines and performers. I doubt the Smackdown team set out to be hurtful with this bit, but “man in drag” is still a lazy and careless gag that did nothing to advance the storylines of any wrestler involved, and carelessness can be just as hurtful as intent.
I still want to see WWE explore LGBTQ storylines in the near future—even if there are missteps, no medium can improve without making good faith efforts to change. But before WWE can make that good faith effort, it’s clear they still need to learn how not to punch down with these kinds of short-sighted segments.
C.K. Stewart is a freelance writer with a lot of opinions about comics, wrestling and wrestling comics. He can also be found at Newsarama or livetweeting terrible pay-per-views on Twitter @ckayfabe.