When spring comes around and the weather finally turns, towns across America welcome back a regular visitor. It’s not the spring robin or even little league baseball; it’s the carnival.
From town to town, city to city, the carnival brings people through the turnstiles with promises of deep fried desserts, midway rides, test of strength, the milk bottle toss and maybe if it’s a good carnival, a house of mirrors.
But nobody comes to see the carnies.
For the better part of the last four years, Kerry Awful and Nick Iggy have been working as a tag team and thanks to buzz-worthy matches, an ability to take advantage of social media, and a unique understanding of their gimmick have quickly developed a grassroots following most independent wrestlers should envy.
And now everybody comes to see The Carnies.
Looking at where Awful and Iggy came from – long before wrestling even entered the picture – their rise in the world of independent wrestling seems even more improbable.
“I was born premature by almost two full months. I had underdeveloped lungs, very, very bad nasal passages, and horrible, horrible asthma. I actually stayed in the hospital for many weeks when I was born, before I could even come home,” said Awful. “I had tons and tons of health problems when I was younger and by the grace of the universe I was able to grow out of a lot of it.”
Iggy’s childhood years were healthy ones for the most part, but he had his own set of personal challenges to overcome.
“I was a pretty nerd kid who didn’t have many friends, and so I had my wrestling action figures, and not to sound weird but they were my friends. They were the good guys and the bad guys and those were the people that I played with,” said Iggy. “I wanted to be that. I wanted a little kid that was bullied or didn’t have friends to look up to me and be like ‘wow, he changed my life. He really made an impact on my life’.”
Awful’s asthma, and the other health problems that came from being born two months early, impacted him during his childhood. While his friends were outside playing sports, riding their bikes and enjoying the normal childhood activities most people took for granted, Awful was inside his house on the couch. And that’s where he first discovered and eventually fell in love with pro wrestling.
“I watched everything because I couldn’t go outside and play football or basketball. Even as an adolescent I was kind of introverted, which I feel is weird now considering how I am (now),” said Awful, now 31 years old. “When my friends were going out on dates or asking girls out or doing things that I thought ethically I didn’t want to be attached to, I isolated myself and when friends came and went, wrestling stayed, when family problems happened, wrestling was there.”
Awful found himself watching whatever wresting he could find; WWF, WCW, ECW and Memphis-based USWA were all part of his rotation. Iggy had a completely different outlook though – and not one too uncommon to those who grew up during the Attitude Era.
“I was solely WWE. I wouldn’t watch WCW or anything else. I was one of those diehard kids that was like ‘I’m not going to be a traitor’,” said Iggy. “I didn’t know the indies at all until I met Kerry. Once I met Kerry and he introduced me to everything, my mind just exploded.”
Iggy became an expert on Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, the Undertaker and the like during those years, but Awful had been infatuated with some of the most successful wrestlers from the indies, Mexico, or Japan.
“I was one of those kids that was on the internet early. I remember going into the chat rooms and having people talk about Jushin “Thunder” Liger and stuff like that and because of that I would spend hours and hours and hours downloading a five second gif or movie clip. I’ve always loved all wrestling, and any form of it. I was always intrigued by the different characters,” said Awful.
How Awful and Iggy went from being the sick kid who couldn’t go outside and the nerd with wrestling figures for friends to one of the hottest tag teams in independent wrestling is as different as could be. Awful dropped out of a college and was living the punk rock life, working as a server to pay his rent and never had any direction. Iggy knew from the time he was a teenager that he wanted to pursue the pro wrestling dream.
“I was an old punk rock kid that didn’t intend on having any life goals or ambitions. I just kind of was in the middle of the ocean, kicking my legs, treading water, too scared to go in any direction,” said Awful. “Really it was just a life of serving tables and hanging out with friends that equally weren’t doing anything with their lives that were just happy with being complacent, and truly fortunately I found something that was able to pull me out of that mediocre life that was going to lead me into nothing, no savings, no house, no foresight, no ambitions, no goals.”
Iggy did well enough to go to college, but his hear t just wasn’t there. He wanted to grapple.
“I was always the guy said I’m not going to college, I’m going to be a professional wrestler – that’s all I want to do. It was the end of my senior year and I’m like ‘you know what? I should at least give college a try. I went to a community college and did terrible,” said Iggy, who took four classes in his one semester and failed two. “There was like a nutrition class, a theater class, a math class and an English class. And of course the math and English is what I failed and the theater and nutrition is what I passed because those were the slacker classes.”
A few years both men would find themselves working for NWA Main Event in Nashville when their paths crossed for the first time. It wasn’t any sort of indicator of what was to come for their pair.
“I see Kerry and somebody else just talking and giving advice to each other, me thinking I’m hot shit at the time and Dyron Flynn turns over to me and says ‘Hey Iggy, look over there … it’s the blind leading the blind’,” said Iggy. “With Kerry in like a tank top, his tattoos, a cabbie hat and his curled up mustache at the time. I’m only in a year longer than him, and here I am judging him.”
At the time Iggy was an up-and-coming singles star, and had had a few turns carrying a few singles titles. They eventually ended booked together – but not as a tag team. They were matched up against each other before both making a career move.
“We had feuded with each other under the legendary Tony Falk at USWO, we jumped over to a local televised product by NWA-SAW,” said Awful. “They brought Nick and I in after feuding as a tag team of just two guys being together. And Nick was considered a quote-unquote top guy locally and I was the green kid.”
The pair ended up working together over multiple events as Team I.O.U., a gimmick that built off of the dog character that Awful had been using as a singles wrestler. The team enjoyed early success as a tag team – they found belts around their waists after their first night together – yet Awful felt there was something there that they could take to higher levels.
“I started getting booked outside of the state and I was like ‘Hey man, I know you’re like a top singles guy, but WWE isn’t going to come to the middle of Nashville to scout it’s talents out,” said Awful. “You can do this and that’s cool, but if you really want to make it in wrestling, you’ve got to hit the towns, you’ve got to go to what a lot of us would call Super Indies. Now Nick has a much deeper understanding of what the grind actually entails.”
The teamwork involved with being an independent wrestling tag team goes far beyond the 15 or 20 minute matches. Iggy handles most of the merchandise duties and Awful is responsible for reaching out to promoters and getting bookings. It was while he was doing this in the early days of I.O.U. that a name change first came about.
“I remember sending all these different emails and letters to be people before we had started to make a name for ourselves, and I would hear back from people who would be friends with (the promoters) who would say, ‘Oh, they’re just Carnies from Tennessee. I bet they can’t work’ Carnies is a very derogatory term in life and in wrestling in general,” said Awful. “So it really crawled under my skin that people had this preconceived notion and stereotype of who we are just based on the fact that we were trained by southern wrestling legends, just based on the fact that we’re from the state of Tennessee.”
The implication bothered Awful enough that he wanted a way to show the doubters they were wrong while also flipping a passive-aggressive middle finger in their direction.
“So I said if they wanted to call us carnies, then we’ll be carnies. And they’re gonna expect one thing and they’re gonna get another,” said Awful. ”The easiest way I can describe what the Carnies are now is we’re two guys that come into town, try to make our money, try to give somebody a memorable, flashy thing, and then redirect it.”
During the time that the gimmick was changing, the dynamic between the two was continuing to grow. Both Awful and Iggy are meticulous with how they’ve developed the gimmick from entrance music to in-ring creative, they’re largely of the same mind when it comes to the direction the gimmick – and their careers – need to go.
“Sometimes we might be like, ‘I don’t know about that’, and it might take a few minutes until one of us says, ‘You know what? You’re right. That is the right thing to do’,” said Iggy. “Because sometimes we get stuck in our own ways and then we’re like, ‘well, what’s going to be the best thing for the team? What’s going to be best for our future?’”
Given the amount of time they’ve spent travelling around the circuit since they began working together, that they’ve watched other tag teams and learned from them – both good and bad – and used that knowledge to become better workers.
“I see a lot of tag teams, even putting matches together with guys where they’re just bickering back and forth and you lose all this time where you could be working together to get this match to come off the ground and be something memorable for people,” said Awful. “I know that’s something I don’t look forward to when I have to wrestle another team, and I don’t want to be the team that does that for them. “
Considering that he once believed singles wrestling was the way to make a name for himself and move up the ladder that is the world of professional wrestling, Iggy has learned that working with a dedicated tag team partner such as awful allows for a much broader spectrum to work with when building a match.
“Kerry’s said this before, you can paint a picture with blue and red in a singles match, but when you have a tag match, you can paint with blue, red, orange, yellow, and make a much prettier picture,” said Iggy.
Those countless childhood Saturday afternoons watching USWA reruns or long nights downloading video clips have given Awful a deeper appreciation of the storytelling aspect of his craft. Working with Iggy has allowed him the opportunity to use that knowledge to further his and Iggy’s careers.
“That’s the beautiful thing of being in a tag team, at least with one that you get along with, is that we’re able to not just have an idea and bounce it to ourselves and hope that it works, we’re constantly bouncing stuff back and forth to each other,” said Awful “It’s like writing a story or novel that constantly is getting revisions until it’s the absolute best possible piece of literature you could write.”
As both guys continue to pursue their pro wrestling dreams, they’re also putting in 40-or-more hour workweeks at their day jobs. They both have good-paying jobs in the healthcare industry and are lucky that their bosses have been cooperative with their schedules.
“I’m very blessed and very appreciative that (my employer) works with me on that. I’m very lucky that my job has things like PTO and benefits and pays me enough to where, between this and wrestling, I have a pretty comfortable life right now,” said Awful.
Things aren’t much different for Iggy. His work schedule includes just half days on Friday, making it easier for him to get on the road to the next gig. He’s also able to use vacation time when needed to take an extra day or two. Iggy wasn’t exactly running around the office telling people about his weekend plans though.
“I tried hiding it from my job for the longest time, just because I know how people that don’t know wrestling talk about it,” said Iggy. “Once they found out, they had the typical questions. ‘Did you play in your underwear this weekend?’ and all that stuff. So I don’t think they realize that there’s potential for this to be a career.”
Both men are thankful for the fact that each Monday they get to work at a job that provides them the opportunity to be The Carnies. In early February the seemingly endless hours of self-promotion meant getting a chance to work a Ring of Honor show.
“Being the go-getters that we are, had emailed them and had been in contact with them to try to see what we can do to help further that,” said Awful, of the ROH seminar the pair had attended earlier. “We worked freelance the night before up in Chicago and the stars had aligned after I notified the appropriate people that we would be there willing to help in any way, shape, or form. Whether it was put up or take down the ring, gather streamers while they were thrown, be security, be a prop, whatever they needed – Nick and I wanted to make ourselves accessible.”
They were told to come to the show, but had no expectations other than hoping to have some face time with ROH staff. What they ended up getting was the opportunity to work a dark match.
“When we got there it kind of came out of nowhere and without naming names, we had been informed that we were going to have a dark match that night against Coast to Coast who I’m very friendly with,” said Awful. “So we had a dark match that had such a huge and incredible response from the internet that it kind of took a life of its own.”
Suddenly the two guys from Tennessee are watching their phones blow up as they become social media sensations.
“The next thing that Nick and I know, we have 600 likes on a post from me, 500 likes on a post from Nick, 8 billion retweets, people saying that they’re crying and that hard work pays off for good people and Ring of Honor puts on their website that we were impressive in our Ring of Honor debut and the match will be available in the near future as possibly a Future of Honor feature.”
Working inside the ring is only half the battle though. That social media explosion didn’t just happen – it’s something the pair have worked hard to cultivate, knowing that it could lead to bigger and better opportunities down the road. It’s more work on top of the day job, the training, the traveling and the matches themselves – but it’s part of a plan.
“We keep a pretty straight schedule as far as our social media and output on YouTube goes. We’re both editing content day and night on top of our jobs,” said Awful. “All we can do is keep pushing the shows that we have, keep trying to put fliers out there, keep putting promos out, putting our Throwback Thursday matches out as content and give people a reason to put eyes on us, or maybe share us, things like that. That’s something that we have a game plan for.”
Building that following, increasing the number of bookings is all geared towards having ROH or EVOLVE or IMPACT or WWE officials call them and tell them they’re interested in bringing the Carnies in to work. It might be just another dark match, it might be a try-out or, if the stars align properly, a contract.
“We want to wrestle for the best companies in the world. If they have a vision for us, where they think it’s going to make them money, then it’s going to make us money in return,” said Iggy.
“And at the end of the day that’s all I really want, is I want a chance to look the best wrestlers in the world eye to eye so win, lose, or fail, I can at least know to myself where I stand up against gods,” said Awful.
A full time job with one of those companies would change a lot of things for Awful and Iggy, but they both think back to the two kids who grew up in Tennessee watching their wrestling heroes on TV every weekend and are thankful for more than any potential financial reward that may or may not come their way.
“Thinking about how I was a little nerdy kid, that didn’t have friends and now here I am having a plethora of friends because of wrestling, because of the brotherhood that professional wrestling has given me,” said Iggy. “When I was younger, I was thinking I was going to grow up and just be a wrestling fan my whole life and getting into wrestling, nobody would want to be my friend, so where I am right now with wrestling is really emotional and it really hits me.”