Chris Jericho has made a career out of surprising comebacks.
Take, for example, his return to U.S.-based World Wrestling Entertainment in 2007 after a years-long absence: preceded by weeks of cryptic promotional videos challenging fans to “crack the code,” he arrived to a thunderous applause, wearing a ludicrously ostentatious sequined silver vest.
His return to filming a show may be slightly less raucous than that night, but it’s no less exciting, especially for Jericho himself.
The second season of But I’m Chris Jericho!, a six-episode comedy series streaming on CBC.ca, comes nearly five years after he shot the first season. Originally produced in 2013 by Insight Productions, it debuted on CBC last year.
“I got this call about a year ago that CBC was interested in doing a second season. I was super, like, blown away and excited, but also, what a surprise,” Jericho told CBC News.
“It was one of those things that I thought was never going to happen again, so when it did, it was a real blessing and a bonus.”
Despite the show’s long hiatus, it wasn’t hard getting back into the character – after all, it’s an exaggerated version of Jericho himself, not entirely unlike his personas in the wrestling ring.
In the first season, Jericho found himself on the outs of the wrestling business and struggling to find his footing in the film and television industry. In the second season, he’s a few ladder rungs higher, having landed a supporting gig on a third-tier sci-fi show called Star Crusaders.
This role has Jericho taking himself just a little too seriously, and comedy naturally ensues from thinking he’s too big of a star to deal with the indignities that befall him.
The heart of the story is informed by Jericho’s own experience trying to kickstart his acting career.
“[I] would go to these auditions, where there was you know, 15 guys who looked just like me and were saying one line for you know, National Lampoon’s Beer Fest,” he says.
“But I’m like, ‘But I’m Chris Jericho! I have a fan base! I have some notoriety! And this is what I’ve been reduced to?'”
Jericho says he’s never crossed the line to become the egomaniac his on-screen character can be. To exclaim, “Do you know who I am?” in earnest is, he says, “the worst thing you can say.”
Performer and wrestler
An old pro wrestling adage is that the best way to grab an audience’s attention is to simply play an exaggerated version of yourself – your own self with the volume turned up.
If anything, Jericho (real name Chris Irvine, son of former NHL player Ted Irvine) has had to work hard to keep track of all the versions of himself he plays across all media – the struggling actor in But I’m Chris Jericho!, his persona in pro wrestling, which oscillates from plucky hero to maniacal villain on a quarterly basis; and even, he slyly admits, the media-friendly persona he fashions when doing interviews.
“Every character you play is different. But when you all have the same name it’s kind of difficult. It’s like Tony Danza – all the characters he plays are called Tony. Every character I play is still called Chris Jericho. It’s kind of funny.”
To those unfamiliar with him, Jericho’s multimedia forays might seem like he’s struggling to define himself as more than simply a wrestler. But he sees the show as the natural extension of his work in the ring.
“When I started out as a wrestler, I wasn’t big enough. It was all six-foot-eight, three hundred pound guys and I knew I’d never be the biggest guy on the show, but I could be the best character, with the best charisma, the best personality. So to me, I’ve always been an entertainer.”
His best-remembered antics in wrestling exemplify this, from debuting in 1999 by immediately pestering their top stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to reading off a supposed list of 1,004 wrestling holds off a giant spool of paper.
Dream match in Japan
Fast forward to the 2010s, and Jericho had largely faded from the main event, having transitioned to other work like hosting his podcast, touring with his heavy metal band Fozzy and competing on Dancing with the Stars.
But he again proved he was the master of the comeback with a stellar year in 2016 with the WWE, allying with fellow Canadian Kevin Owens. Their friendship would implode in an outlandish variety show called the Festival of Friendship that wrestling critic Brandon Stroud called “the greatest Raw segment of all time.”
But his most surprising comeback yet will culminate in a match no one thought would ever happen. This past week, Jericho appeared in a video for New Japan Pro Wrestling to challenge their U.S. Champion, Kenny Omega – who also happens to hail from Winnipeg.
The two will meet January 4 in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It will be his first match outside the WWE in 17 years.
YOU MUST WATCH THE SHOWDOWN, LIVE FROM TOKYO, 04 JANUARY 2018, ONLY ON https://t.co/cEFFsYKcrQ pic.twitter.com/xQf5Qpheu6
“When you’re from Winnipeg, you follow the other Winnipeggers. I knew there was this guy named Kenny Omega that was killing it in New Japan: the top guy, having the greatest matches in the world,” said Jericho.
When the idea of a Jericho-Omega match was floated to him, he says he found it “creatively stimulating.”
Wrestlers under contract with WWE almost never compete with rival promotions, but Jericho’s contract ended in May, allowing him to wrestle elsewhere if he wanted.
“So I love it. Here we are, two Winnipeggers headlining the Tokyo Dome … It’s like Mayweather versus McGregor in a match you’d never thought was going to happen, because it’s so outside the box.”
To watch season 2 of But I’m Chris Jericho!, go to the CBC TV app or click on cbc.ca/watch.