Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Doink was only scary while he was a heel. As soon as he was turned into a kid friendly goof with Dink running around, the magic was gone and he was just another stupid character in a sea of them. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the Matt Borne days and nothing else.
We’ll start with the simple things. Some people are afraid of clowns, which made Doink the perfect choice for something creepy. Doink would play mean tricks on fans and wrestlers, including hitting them in the face with pies or giving them empty boxes as presents. In other words, he was a villain who wanted to make people upset and cry. How can you not want to see someone like that get punched in the face?
In addition to all this though, there was a statement from Bobby Heenan that summed up what made the character work all the better. During a match against Kamala on the “Invasion of the Bodyslammers” VHS (old wrestling tapes had some great names), Heenan talked about Doink not being a clown, but instead a wrestler who dressed up like a clown to get inside people’s heads.
That one statement made me think more and more about the Doink character, especially after seeing Heath Ledger win an Academy Award for portraying the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Just like Joker, Doink didn’t need to dress up like a clown because he had the wrestling ability needed to pull off whatever character he put on. The added bonus of the clown made him that much deeper, which showed there was some thinking put into the whole idea.
The performer himself should also be praised. The original man under the makeup and wig was Matt Borne, a wrestler who had been around for a long time. Borne was a long tenured veteran who had been wrestling nearly fifteen years with success in various territories, including Portland, Mid-Atlantic and World Class Championship Wrestling.
Borne was the one who brought life to the character as he was a strong in ring performer, but also knew how to make Doink seem so menacing. He walked so slowly and leered at the fans, making him seem even creepier than the clown suit did in the first place. That can make such a big difference and that’s exactly what it did here.
Unfortunately evil Doink didn’t last too long as he debuted in late 1992 and was turned face in September 1993 when he poured water on Heenan. That meant he only had time for one major feud against potential superstar Crush. Doink defeated Crush at “Wrestlemania IX” with the help of his double, a second Doink who would appear and often hit people in the back of the head with a loaded cast. Heenan would often say this was an illusion and the second Doink could never be found. It was a simple idea but it was another nice touch in the theme of something you might see at a circus. In other words, simple yet a little off.
In addition to the Crush feud, Doink actually had a fairly high profile match at “Summerslam 1993” when he was brought in by Jerry Lawler to face Bret Hart as part of the excellent (and underrated) Hart vs. Lawler feud. Doink actually hung with Hart for a fairly long time, again showing that he was a lot more than just a stupid gimmick with limited staying power. Then he was turned face about two weeks later because there’s no need to have someone actually be creepy and talented at the same time.
Then it all came crashing down as Doink was turned into a full on kid friendly clown character with water spraying flowers and a trio of miniature clowns (Dink, Wink and Pink, who feuded with Lawler’s three miniature Kings: Queasy, Cheesy and Sleazy. It wasn’t a good time to be a wrestling fan). Borne would have to leave the company due to drug issues and be replaced by a variety of performers, primarily the completely acceptable but mostly average Ray Apollo.
While he wasn’t around long, the evil Doink the Clown was one of the rare characters who made creepy characters actually feel disturbing instead of someone like Bray Wyatt who feels more cool than evil. Borne deserves a lot of the credit for the character’s success because he really did come off as someone evil who was dressing as a clown to get inside your head. In Hollywood that gets you an Oscar. In wrestling, it means you have to be nice to kids and allegedly make them laugh because that’s what fans want instead of an interesting character.