Awkward Phase

C.M. Punk on backyard wrestling, America Online, and his nerdy beginnings

“I didn't really fit into anybody's notion of anything cool.”

C.M. Punk isn’t one to back down from a challenge.

The former WWE superstar, whose real name is Phil Brooks, has made a reputation for speaking his mind and always remaining true to himself, even if it breaks a bone or two. He departed from professional wrestling nearly seven years ago, famously delivering a scathing rebuke of the Vince McMahon-led company, on live television. In a realm notorious for over-the-top bluster and flash, Punk brought to wrestling a refreshing sense of authenticity, bravado, and dare we say, punk rock edge. And by all accounts, he’s still got it.

Since his highly-publicized exit, he’s explored MMA, been a television commentator, written a comic book, and taken on the acting world.

His latest on-screen project is the role of Deputy Colton in Jakob’s Wife, a modern-day vampire movie in which he appears opposite Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden. It’s his second creative collaboration with director Travis Stevens, who first brought Punk into the indie film world with The Girl on the Third Floor. With his upcoming appearance on the Starz wrestling series Heels, which stars Steve Amell (Arrow) and Alexander Ludwig (Vikings) as rival wrestling brothers, it’s looking like he’s found a new arena where he can flex his muscles — both physically, and creatively.

“He would absolutely love it,” Punk tells Inverse, about how he thinks his younger self would react to his status in the genre movie world, “And he would not try to Looper-murder his future or past self because he’s exactly where he needs to be.”

Inverse spoke with C.M. Punk about his formative years as a teenager, his early attempt at creating an independent wrestling company, and the humble nerdy beginnings that forged his unique path to greatness.

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What kind of kid were you?

I suppose I was a nerd, I guess. Glasses, loved comic books, horror movies, and then pro wrestling — I didn't really fit into anybody's notion of anything cool.

What was your favorite band when you were 15?

My favorite band when I was 15? I'm gonna go ahead and say Rancid.

What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?

I think I had one pair of pants. To be completely honest, I didn't come from a family with money. And I was the kid that was still wearing the Iraq War shirt after the war was over. Everyone kept yelling, “War’s over!” in the hallway. I didn't have a budget for clothes. Sorry, everybody.

What's your first memory of the internet?

My first memory of the internet. I think America Online chat rooms. That’s the first time I saw real internet stuff. A friend of mine had it and I just remember being mystified and beguiled by the fact that you could find things that you're interested in and talk with other people who are also interested in it.

What's a truth about love you believed when you were 15 years old?

I don't know. You stumped me on that one. I barely remember 15 days ago.

What high school teacher did you like the most and why?

I barely remember the names of high school teachers. I don't really have any great standout stories of high school teachers.

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What do you consider your first professional big break and why?

My first professional big break? I felt like I really made it and I was validated when I did my first tour of Japan as a wrestler. Because that meant somebody in a very, very faraway foreign land saw my work and said we would like to pay that guy to come over here and do that for us. In the ‘90s, wrestling in Japan was their national pastime. Like how baseball was here.

What was your first professional failure?

My first professional failure was trying to start a wrestling company with my friends. I was 18 or 19 years old. It was a big undertaking that just started from a bunch of friends goofing off in their backyard and there being a nonexistent (or very sad) wrestling scene in the Chicagoland area.

Before there was an internet to know that there were things called wrestling schools or other wrestling shows in the local area, we just, very punk rock, DIY’d it ourselves. Promoted it. Bought a ring, started running shows, and started getting thrown out of places.

The biggest lesson I learned from all that is don't go into business with your friends. Unless you're okay with no longer being friends.

What is your can't miss prediction for the year 2030 and why?

It's gonna get hot.

What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?

He would absolutely love it. And he would not try to Looper murder his future or past self because he’s exactly where he needs to be.

Jakob’s Wife arrived in select theaters, on-demand, and digital on Friday, April 16.

AWKWARD PHASE is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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