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The Montreal Screwjob

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(Photo Credit: F de Falso/Flickr)

When you think of professional wrestling, you probably picture cartoonish characters like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. But after the Montreal screwjob, the real world lurked just beneath the scripted spectacle of professional wrestling. Simon Adler tells the story of one moment that tore a hole in the fiction of wrestling. 

Comments [22]

C.S from USA

In the video of this...Bret spits in Ed's face at the end of the match!

May. 24 2017 08:29 AM
Karen from Lancaster, PA

I recently found Radiolab and have been going back to listen to old episodes. Love it! The last part of this episode, about the infinite regress was really interesting. Hands down my favorite movie growing up was Neverending Story which is another good example! I remember when I was 5 or 6 wondering who was watching my story, about me watching Bastian's story about Atreyu's story!

Jan. 12 2017 12:11 PM

Yes as good as these guys are at acting out a grudge-a grudge manufactored by the booker/owners to get people to come out to the matches there are things going on that are legit. What these athletes and they ARE athletes AND Actors do can be VERY dangerous. Jumping off the rope, hitting supposedly in the neck with a knee! Wow Miss by just an inch or two someone is very injured> Lifting up guys that legitimately weigh over 200 pounds CAN"T be faked. There can NOT be wires helping out. Too obvious. There is a real live audience who would see thru it. They to me are like football players who take away from their sport permanent injuries. I DO admire them. If one accepts right off the bat that the drama/grudges are pre planned then see how convincing they are to pull it off they deserve respect as great performers. Sir Laurence Oliver NO but for what they are they are accomplished performers. I would love to find out how it all goes down for real. I have read Flair's book, Blassie's book and seen Bret Harte's movie/documentary. I loved Mickey Rourke's depiction which I've heard is based on the life of Jake Roberts in the Wrestler. I admit the black and white depictions of good and evil are childlike . I guess I'm a big child.

Jul. 21 2015 04:45 PM
stourleyk from White Plains, NY

The dismissive and superior comments here reminded me of another epic takedown...

On "Hotel California," you sing: "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969.'" I realize I'm probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn't a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?

Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention—and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.

May. 21 2015 08:51 AM
stourleyk from White Plains, NY

I have never pulled the car over to listen to a story. Until now.

May. 21 2015 08:38 AM
Charlie C. from New Jersey

Great stuff and a great segue from McMahon to Cervantes. I grew up a huge wrestling fan so there exists some bias. I have come to expect the unexpected from RadioLab and this is more of the same. Of course it was an overview and not the final word. It might have been fun or it might indeed be fun to explore the connection between Carny (the dialect) and wrestling lingo. Kay-fabe, mark, work and shoot all have their origins on the Carny circuit. Thanks!

Apr. 08 2015 10:54 AM
Tim from Ohio

Oh, I think I found it in one of the other comments: kayfabe.

Apr. 07 2015 11:57 AM
Tim from Ohio

I couldn't quite make out the term used for the policy of not mentioning there's anything artificial about professional wrestling—their omertà, if you will. What's the word?

Apr. 07 2015 10:28 AM

What happened to talking about science?

Mar. 23 2015 10:42 AM
Philip Peek from United States

I listened to the Cervantes and professional wrestling podcast and very much enjoyed it. I take issue with the Cervantes scholar who cites 1804 as the start of modernity and the game of authenticity and unreliable narrators.

I see it present in Homer’s Odyssey where Homer is a reliable third person narrator but Odysseus, who narrates four of the 24 books, is not. It is Odysseus who tells the tales of the Cyclops and the Sirens and other fantastical elements that we know so well from the Odyssey. It is true that his account is verified by our reliable narrator Homer elsewhere in the text but the notion of Odysseus as an unreliable narrator sees its climax when he returns to his home town of Ithaka, disguised as a beggar, and begins a verbal dance with Penelope and others of his household in which the spectators are asked to guess at Odysseus’ meta-narrative and within which Penelope takes up the game also both internally with Odysseus as the two dance their lethal dance and externally with us onlookers as we wonder what she knows and whether she recognizes the husband beneath the layers of beggarly rags.

Mar. 16 2015 01:32 PM
Travis from Denver, CO

What a coincidence! I'll take it as a compliment if my podcast was somehow an inspiration..

Mar. 11 2015 05:21 PM
Efrain from New Jersey

In response to Jon from Chicago:
"A quick Google search shows that Bret Hart came back to WWE sporadically after his retirement including winning the Championship in 2010."

In 2010 Bret won WWE's US Title, which holds nowhere near the prestige of the top titles in 2010: the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship. By all intensive purposes, Bret Hart retired after his time in WCW in huge part due to an injury sustained there and then a stroke a while after.

I've been following wrestling my whole life and felt this episode did a fantastic job of unpacking the Montreal Screwjob without spiraling out to so many other stories that overlap but simply could not be captured in the allotted time. Sure you could have mentioned the reconciliation between WWE and Bret in 2010, but presenting the screwjob as the last landmark moment in the career of Bret 'The Hitman' Hart as a character is very accurate in my view.

Thanks for presenting the world of pro wrestling and the appeal of the show-behind-the-show this week. It helps a lot of my friends who listen to the podcast to understand why their friend is a big fan.

Mar. 05 2015 08:55 AM
M from TX

You guys clearly never watched wrestling and made a ton of mistakes that could've been cleared up by a simple Wikipedia glance. Owen died several months before Bret's injury and retirement, Shawn Michaels had been champion a couple of times before the actual incident and had a run on top the year before, and his entrance that you seem to imply was so much of a jab at Bret was the same one he'd been making since the early 90's and that he was basically still making until he retired.

Mar. 04 2015 11:59 PM
Jon from Chicago

Not my favorite episode by a long shot. Overall the wresting segment was interesting, but the ending felt a little un-journalistic. A quick Google search shows that Bret Hart came back to WWE sporadically after his retirement including winning the Championship in 2010. Though the "he retired after his brother died" was in line with the standard Radiolab "think on this" music outro, it definitely feels a bit like lying in order to make the story seem better.

Mar. 03 2015 04:51 PM

Can't wait for your episode on the personalities of the nascar circuit.

Mar. 02 2015 06:15 AM
Will from Seattle

You guys are truly talented enough to make an episode on phone book reading be radio-worthy. While I listened to the entire episode, and on some level respect you being brave enough to grapple a topic like nested realities...the WWF? Perhaps I've just underestimated the impact of Vince McMahon in the ring of behavioral science. Please...Uncle!

Feb. 28 2015 06:04 PM
Will from New York

I knew I could count on Radiolab to capture the theatricality of professional wrestling.

Now I hate to be that guy, but what is the music at the end of the segment?

Feb. 26 2015 02:20 PM

Very good episode. For anyone who was interested in that story but wants to stay arms length from wrestling, i would suggest you read a short e-book called "The Curtain Call" by Dan Ryckert. Its about an event that first began tearing down the kayfabe wall in 1996. Also involving the struggle between WCW and WWF and also involving Shawn Michaels.

Also just for the record, that belt in the photo is the WCW/NWA title. Not the WWF title.

Feb. 26 2015 08:53 AM
Joseph Dombrowski from United States

To follow up on J-Mo's comment...

"Montreal Theory" trailer -

Available on DVD or Digital at:

A great companion piece to any discussion of the official story of the Montreal Screwjob!

Feb. 25 2015 03:51 PM
tedmich from PDX

wow a new low, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur are likely rolling over in their graves.

Feb. 25 2015 03:41 PM
J-Mo from Pittsburgh PA

For a really interesting video its worth checking out The idea behind the theory is that the entire Screwjob was a work between McMahon and Hart. There are several of the biggest names from wrestling's past that are interviewed with opinions. Among those interviewed who believe the whole thing was a work are Jerry Lawler and Steve Corino. To be fair there are those who believe everything was on the up and up, such as Raven, but overall the entire production is very well done and nicely sets up a very conceivable conspiracy theory. Anyone interested in the history and behind the scenes circumstances should check out the DVD set.

Feb. 25 2015 06:06 AM
Char from Toronto

Great show! This was incredibley interesting to listen to, especially for someone who really enjoyed WWF/WWE since the 1980's. It was a really nice walk down memory lane; I remembered boys in grade school play fighting and pretending to be various wrestlers. My younger brothers loved WWF as well and we watched it together. Bret was a popular wrestler ESP living in Canada, my brothers would always be putting each other in sharpshooters. The drama certainly got more interesting when the ridiculous characters fell to the wayside; however, I found for some reason women became incredibly sexualized after this point and it became such a soap opera (Stephanie McMahon, abortions, multiple love triangles, pregnancies, Ho-train, etc) and it lost me as a fan. Anyways, thanks so much for the nostalgia.

Feb. 25 2015 01:44 AM

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