A Classical Discussion: Top Rope Tuesday

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With the November's issue of The Magazine coming out yesterday -- at 3.99, it makes the perfect Thanksgiving gift for the sporps fan in your life! -- the hills of the Classical are alive with wrestling. And who better to talk about how wonderful wrestling can be than two guys who make a living off of designing and selling wrestling t-shirts?

Thankfully, the guys from Top Rope Tuesday were available to talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of producing Christmas movies with Mick Foley.

Classical Squadron: Though we are familiar with your work, for some insane reason, not everyone is, so let's start with the basics: Who are you guys, and what do you do?

Top Rope Tuesday: There’s only two of us, Jake and Derek. Jake handles all the shipping and customer service stuff and Derek does all the graphics and printing. As far as business backgrounds, we have none. But Derek did go to art school… which he considers a massive waste of time and money in hindsight other than the fact that it taught it how to be really good at being poor for so long.

We created and run a website that offers a brand new pro wrestling inspired t-shirt everyday for a limited period of 24 hours. It’s pretty much the only thing we’re good at.

CS: How long have you known each other?

TRT: We met in 2008 on set of an independent film we were both working on. We’re both actors and writers and that sort of thing. We wound up making a bunch more movies together after that.

CS: When did you start the company?

TRT: Long story. It happened in phases. While we were being cool dude starving artists waiting for the movie stuff to take off, we both wound up working at a screen printing shop. I had worked there for years and screen printed his way through college and later got Jake a job when he realized he wasn’t handsome enough to get steady acting work.

Towards the end of 2012 the owner of the shop offered to sell us the screen printing end of the business and we thought that since we’re adults, we should do that. It was awful. We signed a 5 year lease and borrowed a bunch of money from our family and close friends assuming they’d be paid back within months. That didn’t happen. The business was run so dumb that we couldn’t wrap our heads around working so hard and inefficiently for so little.

We were really good at printing shirts which is what we always did, but having to pay rent and wait for customers to come to us was awful.  Then a few months in we found out that the previous owner was stealing print jobs from behind our back and outsourcing them so we had to figure a way out of this god forsaken hell hole.

For years we had the idea for an alternative pro wrestling shirt website, long before any of them starting popping up on the internet but we never started our own, mainly because we didn’t need to but now it seemed like the time was right. We modeled the site around a daily deal shirt-a-day website, except we did a shirt-a-week, hence the name TopRopeTuesday, mainly because there would be no overhead or need to keep stock.

The screen printing business was draining us dry and we had no option to print a bunch of shirts and fill orders as they trickled in. We needed to get paid before we ordered and printed anything, which is why we modeled it the way we did. It’s a super efficient business model. Fool proof for idiots like us.

The first shirt we ran was a ‘Wanted: Saint Mick’ shirt to raise finishing funds for a Santa Claus documentary we were producing at the time with Mick Foley. That first shirt was a huge hit and we were off to a great start. Two months later we were making more from the site than we were in the brick and mortar shop (which was still an unimpressive amount) and we decided to leave and work out of Jake’s parents’ solar-powered rent-free garage. In the middle of the night at the end of July 2013, we moved all of our stuff out of the shop and told the owner he can have his business back.  By then end of 2013 we paid back half the loans from the failed business with profits from Top Rope Tuesday.

CS: Is it self-sustaining or do you have other things you do?

TRT: We did part-time everything for our whole lives so we decided the only way to make this succeed was if had to make our living off of just wrestling shirts.  Fortunately, we live cheap and have developed a taste for the lesser things in life so our salaries stay nice and low, but it is our full time job.

CS: Do you have any clear initial memories as wrestling fans, and how have they influenced your fandom to this day?

TRT: Nothing in particular. The WWF Saturday afternoon stuff just really was always a big deal. If you missed it you’d be out of the loop for the rest of the week and that was just plain unacceptable.

CS: What, to you, separates professional wrestling from other forms of entertainment, and led to the type of following that allows you to run a sustainable business without being directly involved in “the business”, per se?

TRT: Professional wrestling is such a long form performance that when it’s done properly, prestige and excitement can be passed on for centuries. For example, Brock Lesnar beat the Undertaker’s streak and that somehow is a greater accomplishment than the streak itself. And whoever beats Brock Lesnar will then have all the majesty of defeating the man who conquered the streak. Even if that person never stepped foot in the ring with the Undertaker, they will forever be connected. Movies and TV shows can’t do that. They can’t be elastic and still very permanent the way pro wrestling can be.

That happens because the fans keep the legends and the mythos alive. The fans perpetuate everything down to the kids and grandkids. We can make a living without being directly involved with ‘the business’ because we’re involved with the fans. We listen to what they want, and then give them what ‘the business’ doesn’t. We’re smaller and can turn on a dime, the same way that a fan’s tastes and opinions change on a dime.

CS: There’s a question to ask -- Where do you come up with your ideas -- that seems obvious on a number of levels, so I’ll add a twist, what are the limitations you have with/regards/to executing specific shirt ideas?  Are there any concerns regarding copyrights, etc./have you ever had any issues with the WWE, et. al?

TRT: Every few weeks we go to our local Red Lobster in the afternoon and camp out at the bar while we drink and eat cheddar bay biscuits and brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Not sure why we go to the Red Lobster Bar Harbor bar, but we did it once and came up with some good stuff so we keep going back.

We’ve yet to have a problem with copyright, mainly because the inherent design of our site is a big “F you” to any high paid lawyer that wants to try. By the time a cease and desist arrives in the mail, the shirt in question hasn’t been on sale for a week. We do our absolute best to not do anything that infringes on any copyrights, but there are so many on the books it’s impossible to research everything. We’re not trying to rip off designs or do something like the big merch guys do, we’re trying to do the exact opposite and reach fans that don’t care for the style of the popular offerings out there.

CS: Do you ever find yourself pandering (i.e., making a shirt for a performer that you guys don’t particularly like but think will sell wel)l? Do you have any favorite shirts/favorite performers to design shirts for?

TRT: All the time. Usually we’ll be surprised though and a lot of people will pick it up because they like the same stuff that we do.

Lately we’ve been putting out some great Ambrose stuff and our fans are really liking it. Probably because the shirts WWE has been putting out for him are so plain and uninspired, it’s cool to beat them to the punch with something the more along the lines of what the fans have been hoping for.

CS: Is there some sort of a joint approval process, and has the “a t-shirt a day” model changed how you/that work/s?

TRT: The shirt a day model has pretty much turned our brainstorming sessions into something like this:

Derek: What about something where Fandango is--

Jake: Shut up! Make it! What about a Dalek from Doctor Who that looks like Heyman--

Derek: Shut up, I’m on it! What about a Barry Horowitz--

Jake: Shut up and make it! We need one a day! Make them all!

It’s all about throwing our stuff out there and what people want they buy, and if they don’t, they’ll be another one up tomorrow.

CS: Has this opened up opportunities for you guys to do things you’d otherwise have no chance to do?

TRT: Not really. Ha. Not yet at least. We worked with Mick Foley for over a year before the site was even up. The independent movies opened up a lot of doors for us and prepped us for pushing through with a tough creative venture like a online shirt business.

CS: Is there anything in particular about Foley that surprised you (other than him being essentially a human mountain)?

We’ve spent so much time with Mick over the past few years producing ‘I Am Santa Claus’ that he’s just a regular guy to us now. I guess that’s kind of a surprise now that you mention it.

CS: Who writes the YouTube shorts?

TRT: Both of us, sometimes neither. Recently we’ve just been showing up with ideas and we adlib the whole thing. We used to write them out and have whole scripts, but then you have to worry about paper and printed ink and remembering lines. That’s a real pain in the ass.

CS: Is Steve really a part of the company?

TRT: No. Steve is an actor friend who we worked with on a movie we produced called ‘Mancation.’ (A movie which a staff writer from UpRoxx recently named "the worst movie he’s ever seen." We highly recommend it.) Steve is poor like us, we just bought him some dress clothes from K&G to fancy him up.

CS: Given the web series, do you guys have any long-term goals for the company to expand into a full-blown blog, multimedia site or are those strictly viral marketing for the company?

TRT: Just like the shirts we’re just throwing stuff out there to see what the fans like. If they like it, we keep doing it and it grows. We do what the fans want and don’t waste time on forcing stuff on them. The shorts get a good reception and it really gives you a neat look at who is on the back end of the website.

CS: And finally, the most important question: How did Young Man (your company cat) become such a dick?

TRT: Hard to say. We’re pretty sure he lost his tail in a lawnmower before he came around. I guess that kinda thing messes you up. Young Man isn’t a bad guy, he’s just a dick. Everyone has that friend who is just a dick, but always has your back and is real loyal. That’s Young Man. He’s the fucking worst.

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