Zack Ryder has had the most up-and-down two years a WWE superstar can have.
The 2011 calendar year was a dream for Ryder, whose YouTube hit Z! True Long Island Story made him the fifth-most followed WWE superstar on Twitter with more than a million fans. He was the United States champion, and was regularly showcased on TV and pay-per-view.
But 2012 was a nightmare for Ryder. Seemingly all the glory of his YouTube hit fizzled (but the hard work of editing remained). After Wrestlemania, he was rarely seen on WWE TV.
So far, 2013 is par for the course. He is still a WWE superstar, he is still recognizable. But he is nowhere near the level he enjoyed just over 15 months ago.
So what does a WWE superstar do when he goes from lows to highs and back again? Zack Ryder joined me for a phone interview. We discussed his career puzzle and much more, including not being on the WrestleMania card, the void that Z! True Long Island Story has left, whether or not a character change is coming, how Twitter has helped his game at the bars, and much more.Arda Ocal: Where would you say you are in your career right now in WWE?
Zack Ryder: I’m at a low point. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because there’s only one place to go and that’s up. The Z True Long Island Story paved my career, it re-invented Zack Ryder, but that time has come and gone. Last year, 2011, I ended it as the United States Champion. I had my first WrestleMania match at WrestleMania 28. Now this year at WrestleMania 29, not on the show, not really doing much. That’s why I really need this low point to really fuel me to come up with something new. Maybe it won’t be as big or as phenomenal as Z True Long Island Story, but there will be something that just works and clicks to the audience, something that gets me to that next level. So I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing that I’m at a low point; I just think it’s a little break before I get even higher.
When you were at a low point before, you created a whole new phenomenon and you became the most talked about superstar in WWE for a while. So, what’s going through your mind now? Is it a search to find that next sort of way to re-invent yourself?
Yeah, I mean it’s hard to say. You Tube, Twitter and Facebook changed my career, but it didn’t really reinvent me -- it just made me realize who I was. You look at Zack Ryder a week before I started Z True Long Island Story and it’s still the same Zack Ryder, just people actually knew who he was. So now it’s getting to the point where I have to reinvent because everybody knows the 'woo, woo, woo,' everyone knows 'the broski, take care, spike your hair,' and the 'Long Island Iced Z.' Now is the time to change things up a little bit, tweak things here and there. I’m going to have to sit down and map things out because Z True Long Island Story took off as an accident. I wanted it to be successful; I didn’t know how successful it would get. So I have to sit down and figure out what is the next step, how to change and how to truly reinvent Zack Ryder.
How far would you be willing to go, to reinvent, to get back to the prominence you were at?
I would do whatever it takes. Do a complete 180, but only if it’s still me deep down inside. I’m not going to go out there and pretend to be someone I’m not. The thing that got me here [is], I like to party, pick up chicks, listen to pop music and sing pop music, but there is also a darker side to Zack Ryder, a more serious side to Zack Ryder. Maybe I’ll have to peel some layers to Zack Ryder and go out there and do something different.
What were your thoughts and emotions when you uploaded the last episode of Z True Long Island Story?That episode was two years in the making. The actual editing process was three hours straight of me on my computer editing and editing. WWE may have put in on their channel, but they didn’t help out with the editing. It was still all me. It was bittersweet. I was glad the show was done -- it had run its course. It had become sort of a job, but at the same time it saved my career and doing that last episode and watching it, I cried a lot. It was emotional. The beginning episode, it changed my life. It was a lot of fun. It was so time consuming, but it was a lot of fun creating an outlet that was leading to something. Doing the show and my status in the company just went up and up and up. So it added motivation there. The second year of the show I was forced to bring it to the WWE channel. It just wasn’t fun anymore and I think the fans could see that. WWE’s editing the content on the show was different, and it just became like a job. I’m glad the show is over, I’m glad I did it and it definitely changed the way WWE, whether they want to admit it or not, looked at social media. (Last Friday was) Social Media Smackdown. It’s pretty crazy.
Do you get your deserved props for that? Because you are essentially the guy who was the prototype for that whole idea for WWE, right?Do I get my props form the fans? Yes. Do I get it from the WWE? Not necessarily.
Because you made 100 episodes of Z True long Island Story and you had to produce it yourself and there’s so many hours that go into it, did you feel a withdrawal the first week you didn’t have to do all that editing? What did you do with yourself?
I still feel it. It’s great I get my day-and-a-half off to sit on the couch and watch TV. It is amazing for two years I didn’t do that. For two years, I’d come home, unpack, go to the gym, edit [the] You Tube show, play [the] You Tube show and then go back on the road. Now it’s like watch TV and go to the mall. It’s like, 'Whoa this is cool. I have a life.' I enjoy the time off from doing the show, for sure.You are continuing on YouTube with music videos, like "Hoeski." Is this going to be a sporadic thing as an idea comes in your head and you feel more motivated to do it? Can fans look forward to more music videos in the future?
Yeah, I’m definitely a creative guy. I love having a creative outlet, and Z True Long Island Story was that, but the music video, that’s always something I’ve wanted to do. I wanted to have it on the last episode of the Z True Long Island Story, but with the timeframe I just couldn’t get it done. So I thought, 'I’m still going to make it, I’ll just throw it up there on my channel.' If I have an idea, I’ll just throw it up there. I don’t need it to be a whole web series, that’s the good thing. So I’m not done with You Tube -- I’m just done with that particular show.
So, people can look forward to future music videos as the idea strikes you?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a music video. I’m not trying to be a pop star. It can be any video I come up with. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up with Big O. What’s Big O up to these days? Whatever I come up with.
Speaking of Big O, where is he in his career? I saw him a few months ago at an indie show. Where is he? Do you think he’ll be WWE bound anytime soon?
You never know. He’s only been wrestling for a year, and this past week he won the NYWC Heavyweight Championship. It’s just an independent promotion in New York, nothing crazy. It’s where I got my start and that’s where Curt Hawkins and Trent Barreta got theirs. He’s working hard, so never say never.
You are the fifth-most followed superstar on Twitter. It’s such an interesting list: The Rock, John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk and Zack Ryder. You’re basically among the elite company of WWE on Twitter. Are you kind of looked upon as a mentor to people who are just starting out as superstars and they’re starting out their Twitter accounts and helping launch them?
I don’t know about that. I don’t think there’s a science to how I got so followed on Twitter. I just tweet. I tweet about stupid things. Sometimes I’m there, sometimes I’m not. I interact with the fans, and that’s what got me those numbers so high. I think my fellow superstars know what they’re doing. No one comes to me for Twitter advice. I’ll help some guys out by re-tweeting something. I don’t think I’m known backstage just for my number of followers on Twitter.
Perception is reality, right? I feel like society almost is starting to place an importance on how many followers you have on Twitter, wouldn’t you agree?
Absolutely. I remember three years ago I actually picked up a girl at bar by saying, 'I have 150,000 Twitter followers.' And now I have over a million, and she was impressed by that? It’s cool. I’m not saying that it’s not cool. I love it. It got me a little angry with the WWE. They did something on Raw -- the five most followed superstars -- and they left me off the list.
Yeah, it was a big thing. They put, Rock, Cena, Punk, Orton and Miz. I’m pretty sure I have 100,000 more than The Miz.I’m impressed that your Twitter follower count picked you up a girl. How did that conversation go?
It was a conversation that was really going nowhere. Then one of my friends came in and said, 'Hey, you know this guy has 150,000 Twitter followers?' She was impressed. It was a dull conversation and that brought some light into it.
Are you going to wear a shirt to the bar now that says, “I have over a million followers.”
Absolutely not. (Laughs)
Are you surprised that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon joined Twitter?
I’m not surprised. I mean, everyone is on Twitter. I saw Triple H's tweet. He’s like he joined the nerd fest, but I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. Everyone’s doing it. I’m sure they’ll both enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed it. It’s fun to tweet back and forth with your fans. It’s a cool little concept and I’m glad it’s taken off.
Do you think we’ll ever see Vince McMahon on Twitter?
I’m surprised he’s not on there right now.
Yeah, Vince is always at the forefront of everything, so I’m sure he’ll be on it, too. Then he’ll make it bigger than ever. If anyone can make anything bigger, it’s Vince McMahon.
One of the characters on Z True Long Island Story was Dolph Ziggler and the 'Ask the Heel' feature on stories that you guys made together. I think that among a lot of fans, the big buzz topic is the fact that Dolph Ziggler continues to lose seemingly every week on TV, despite the fact that he has the Money in the Bank briefcase. I want to get your thoughts on him and where he's at.
I mean, if there’s anyone who deserves to be on TV more than me, it's Dolph Ziggler. It’s a shame what’s going on with him right now. He’s had the greatest year possible, winning Money in the Bank, stealing the show night after night. Finally, the fans have recognized him. His shirt sells out, he beat John Cena at TLC and he works hard all year, and now it’s the home stretch to WrestleMania and he's not even on the show yet. He deserves that shot more than anybody, and I hope in the weeks coming he gets his 'Mania spot.
What about for you though? How do you approach WrestleMania based on where you are right now? Do you proactively have conversations with the right people? Do you just sit around and hope and wait? What do you do?
At this point, I am a realist. I see the writing on the wall. If there’s some sort of miracle, I don’t know if I’m going to be on WrestleMania, but it just gives me more fuel and more motivation to make sure that I don’t miss it next year.