The frequent topic in any “worst gimmick ever” discussion, Doink is oftentimes remembered for the caricature he became rather than the extraordinarily haunting heel he was early in his run with WWE.
To remember him in that form is to do the masterful work of the great Matt Borne a great disservice.
According to Bruce Prichard’s Something to Wrestle With…, Doink was conceptualized by Road Warrior Hawk, who saw the character as a take on The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown, brought to fruition by Vince McMahon after a viewing of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and officially debuted in late 1992 as a mean-spirited trickster who would leave younger fans in the stands crying and older ones humiliated.
It wasn’t until he removed a prosthetic arm and nearly bludgeoned Crush with it in the build to their WrestleMania IX match that fans truly understood the depths of depravity the malevolent newcomer would take.
Doink was less Bozo, more Joker.
He was a force of nature whose unpredictability made him even more dangerous. He was an agent of chaos, to quote Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince of Crime in 2008’s The Dark Knight, and a threat to anyone in his path.
And Borne played the character to twisted perfection.
At one point, he would let out a hearty laugh that originated somewhere in the pit of his belly. In a split second, his temperament changed and he was invading the souls of the viewers with a mesmerizing, menacing and intimidating stare. At once, he was captivating and horrifying. The audience knew giving into his trance would take him somewhere it wanted to part of but could not help but take his hand and allow him to guide it there.
Throw in an above-average in-ring game, as evidenced in performances against Bret “Hitman” Hart, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Marty Jannetty and Mr. Perfect and you had a complete package that should have gone on to tremendous success in a transitioning WWE.
The company, though, did not deserve Doink.
It was in the midst of a re-branding that would skew even younger and more cartoonish than the 1980s boom. The shows became gimmick-heavy and Vince McMahon and the agents responsible for making creative decisions had no idea how to best utilize a performer like Borne or the masterpiece he had developed.
Suddenly, and without much warning, Doink saw his on-screen presence diminished and underwent a babyface turn to make him more appealing to a younger audience. Krusty, more Ronald McDonald.
The character died a slow, painful death when Borne left WWE, his own personal demons necessitating his release from the company. The character was more polished, lacked the disheveled hair and smudged painting of its predecessor and came packaged with a mini sidekick known as Dink.
It had been castrated of its edge and by the time the 1997 Slammy Awards rolled around, fans were ready to “kill the clown,” as they not-so-elegantly put it.
The popularity of the remake of Stephen King’s IT and an upcoming sequel have returned demented clowns to pop culture. Pennywise can be seen in every Hot Topic or FYE store this side of the Atlantic. The trailer IT: Chapter Two was the talk of the 2019 San Diego Comic Con and racked up 15,000,000 YouTube views in just one week, begging the question: is WWE ready for a clown-based reboot of its own?
The great Borne is no longer with us but there has to be someone floating around WWE or NXT who would take Doink and make the deranged clown his own. We saw Bray Wyatt do something similar with his cult leader persona, buying into the concept and running with it. He still is, re-imagining it the Firefly Funhouse and The Fiend persona.
In a day and age in which genuine characters are few and far between, the re-introduction of a chaos-causing, audience-tricking, immensely disturbing clown would be welcomed with open arms.
As long, that is, the character can be free to reach its fullest potential and not be abandoned at the first instance of a crying kiddo or his/her uncomfortable parent.