The Jim Cornette Dairy Queen Incident
Jim Cornette’s infamous “Dairy Queen” road story has grown to epic proportions, largely because the videotape was released years later that confirms the original story. It has received renewed interest in the age of shoot interviews and podcasts, so we figured we’d tell the whole story here, as it’s a classic.
Date: March 17, 1994
Location: Dairy Queen in Hyden, KY
Source: SMW Fan Week video, YouShoot w/ Jim Cornette, Killing the Town Podcast w/ Lance Storm & Don Callis 6/13/2017
Background – Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette is certifiably insane, a distinction he earned primarily through the multiple meltdowns he suffered while running the chronically struggling Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion in the early 1990s. While he’s incredibly knowledgeable about American pro wrestling history from the territorial days and beyond, it has come at the expense of everything else that comes out of his mouth, much of which is utter nonsense.
Cornette set the standard for pro wrestling managers in the 1980s, and is generally regarded along with Bobby Heenan as perhaps the greatest of all-time. His promos in Jim Crockett Promotions were among the best of his era, right up there with Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. His work at ringside was world class, as he always gave his full effort and remained believable at all times. His knowledge of how to work a match, and his understanding of ring psychology, are really second to none.
In addition, his track record of drawing money speaks for itself. He and the Midnight Express set records in Mid South Wrestling, and he further cemented the act’s reputation in the NWA as the best American tag team of the 1980s. He also deserves praise for his booking acumen in the NWA, SMW, OVW, and WWF. Perhaps most importantly, he had a strong hand in developing future superstars like John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, and Brock Lesnar, among others.
Cornette lost his mind in the early 90s during his time with SMW. The wrestling business was in the gutter at the time, and drawing even a few hundred fans to shows was incredibly difficult no matter how good the booking was. This stressed Cornette out, as he didn’t have a huge budget, and the irresponsible reporting by the charlatans at the Pro Wrestling Torch like Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell pushed him over the edge.
As an extreme left-wing guy, Cornette preferred solving problems the same way many extremists do: with violence. He challenged Bruce Mitchell to a fight, and often bashed the windows and headlights with the baseball bat of those who worked for him in SMW. His slapping of Santino Marella in OVW led to his eventual firing from WWE. To show how little has changed in 2017, Cornette recently challenged Vince Russo to a fight, showing an immaturity and violent streak that hasn’t gone away with time.
He also, in a Torch Talk interview in the early 90s, said the people in charge of WCW should be lined up and shot. It mirrored the same kind of violent rhetoric you hear today from the extreme left when they openly speak about assassinating President Donald Trump. There are laws against this, but Cornette never cared.
Cast of Characters
In 1994, SMW had been in business just over two years. Despite recent exposure of its stars on WWF television, attendance was still struggling. In March they held a Fan Week convention, as they did most years, where they ran a series of shows and some people came in from out of town. At the end of the week, Cornette gave a long “shoot interview” (before they were called that), basically fielding questions in a relaxed setting and giving his honest, obscenity-laced answers.
On the night in question, SMW had just run a show at the Richard M. Nixon Center in Hyden, KY that only drew about 200 fans. The promoter had indicated that a lot more people would show up than that, but it didn’t happen and the show was a big money loser. The poor attendance already had Cornette in a foul mood.
They had almost 200 miles on the road ahead of them on the drive back to Knoxville, TN. It was late, and the only place in Hyden that had anything resembling food (as Cornette put it) was Dairy Queen. Cornette loved fast food (hard to believe given his chiseled physique), and got all excited when he saw they were open. “Pull in! Pull in!” he screamed to Jimmy Dey Rey, who was driving the van. Cornette was in the passenger seat, and behind him were the Thrillseekers (Chris Jericho and Lance Storm).
Seated in the very back were two SMW fans from California named Ron Hed and Jeff “JR” Benson, who were also longtime friends of Cornette.
Jim Cornette: As noted, Jim was in the passenger seat and hungry for some grub. He knew the area and Dairy Queen was the only place he trusted for a meal, not that there were many other options in that town at that time.
Jimmy Del Rey: Del Rey was one half of the Heavenly Bodies tag team with Tom Prichard. The Bodies were the top tag team act in the promotion, and essentially a new version of the Midnight Express. Del Rey and Prichard were both very solid workers, and Del Rey was capable of some acrobatic moves. They worked a long program with the Rock N Roll Express that carried the territory at a time when the RnRs still meant something on a regional basis. Jimmy was driving the van back to Knoxville.
Chris Jericho and Lance Storm: Both were very young at the time, in their early 20s. Cornette had given them a break and really had high hopes for them with the Thrillseekers gimmick. They never clicked as he had hoped, but honestly, very little in wrestling was clicking back then except for what Paul Heyman was starting to do in ECW. Jericho and Storm were green, but still good workers even back then. Obviously they both became huge stars later in the decade.
Ron Hed: Hed was a longtime wrestling fan in Northern California, known for videotaping everything he could as much as possible. He also had a hand in the Incredibly Strange Wrestling indie in California in the 90s, known for such gimmicks as The Abortionist, El Homo Loco, and Ku Klux Klown. He came to SMW for Fan Week, and later worked for OVW as a ring announcer. A longtime Costco employee, Hed promoted the Father’s Day Bash in San Jose, CA in 1994, which became popular underground for the Sabu vs Chris Candido ladder match that headlined, and also the debut of Matt “Spike Dudley” Hyson on the undercard in which he did a crazy spot that could’ve really hurt him. Hed’s nickname in SMW was “Red Rum,” and he had been a friend of Cornette’s (and Cornette’s current wife, Stacey) for years.
Jeff Benson: JR Benson, as he was known, was a friend of Hed and also from Northern California. He did some work as a manager on the indies, and also was involved with Incredibly Strange Wrestling. Known for his skullet, Benson was also notable for his long, well written letters in the Readers Pages of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
The van rolled up to the drive-thru at Dairy Queen. Del Rey prepped the person taking the order that it was going to be a large order because there were a lot of people in the car. They then gave the order, which resulted in about $30 to $40 worth of food. In a humorous side note, Jericho simply ordered a banana, as he wanted to avoid the unhealthy fast food. He knew they sold banana splits, so he just wanted a banana.
As they waited in the car to get to the window, the guys began discussing famous incidents with wrestlers at drive-thru windows. Most notably, the famous Ken Patera story at McDonald’s was brought up. Just in case something similar might happen, Hed and Benson began filming everything. Nobody else except them knew it was being filmed. In hindsight, it was a great decision by Hed because of what would later transpire.
About 15 minutes later, they got to the window and prepared to pay. The lady at the window went through the order with them again, to make sure she had everything right. On the tape you can see Cornette ask for his usual extra cheese on his burger, with nothing else on it.
Cornette told the cashier that he thought they’d have already had the food ready by the time they got to the window. She replied saying they were going to start fixing it right now because it was such a big order that they weren’t sure they were serious or not. According to her, they never got orders that big. Uh oh.
Del Rey jokingly said, “You thought we were ribbing?” good naturedly. Cornette wasn’t quite so playful.
“You haven’t even started yet? We wouldn’t have ordered it if we didn’t want it!” he said sternly.
At that point Chris Jericho made everything worse. As a heavy metal fan, he was really into the classic movie “This is Spinal Tap.” He recited a couple lines that the Nigel character on the movie would say, including, “This ain’t no f*ckin’ comedy show! Does this look like a f*ckin’ comedy bus to you?”
The lady at the window heard that and said, “Don’t cuss at me or you won’t get ANYTHING!” and closed the window.
That was all it took for Cornette to lose his cool. He swung open his door and shot out of the van, walking over to the window and opening it. On his way to the window, he let out a “You f*cking cunt!” for good measure.
He slid open the window and stuck his head through there, as the boys in the back were giggling and filming with glee.
“We ordered the damn sh*t because we’re hungry, not because we wanted to f*ck around!” he screamed. “You f*cking ugly bitch! We’ve been waiting 20 minutes in the motherf*cking line, you stupid son of a bitch! We ordered $30 worth of food and you don’t start fixing it until we get up here??”
The manager came out to talk to Cornette at that point, trying to calm him down and apologizing for what happened.
Perhaps the funniest part is that inside the dining area at the counter were Tammy “Sunny” Sytch, Chris Candido, and Tom Prichard (Brian Lee may have also been there). All they could see was half of Jim Cornette’s body through the window, screaming and hollering obscenities. As Tammy later told the story, it was just Jim being Jim and she was used to it.
“You know we’re gonna get some f*ckin’ spit in this sh*t,” said Jericho.
Cornette got back into the car. He quietly continued cutting his promo in the car, complaining to the others that “Of course they never get orders that big, because they won’t fill ‘em!” He further explained that their only function is to take orders and fill them and exchange the money for food, and that they can’t even do that. Whereas a normal person might be mildly annoyed and just wait it out, Cornette had to throw a huge hissy fit like a whiney little brat. Immature and insane, yet funny to watch.
While waiting in the car, Hed and Benson reveal to everyone that they had been filming the whole time. That got a laugh, with many more to come for years and years.
The boys finally got their food from an apologetic manager. Jimmy Del Rey thanked the manager afterward and then said, “The cashier was rude, and I’d like to read somewhere that she has been fired.” And then he drove off.
The incident became a topic of discussion at SMW Fan Week, and it became famous when it was brought up on the “shoot interview” tape Cornette filmed that week. I recall watching the interview when it came out in 1994, and thought the story was hilarious. You can hear Ron Hed in the background saying he had it on tape and would be selling it, and then many years later when YouTube became part of our culture, Ron leaked the tape.
This infamous “Dairy Queen” incident has lived on in shoot interviews and podcasts for years, its legacy solidified once the video was released to prove the story was all true. I can recall being a teenager wishing I could see the video, and now, all these years later, it did not disappoint.
SMW went out of business a year or so later, a couple of years before the wrestling industry exploded in popularity with the Monday night wars. Cornette became part of WWF creative after SMW went under, until the rise of Vince Russo (whom Cornette rightfully despises). He was later assigned to OVW, which had a working relationship with the WWF to develop new talent, until his firing over the Santino Marella incident. He never returned to WWE after that except for a couple of interview clips for documentaries and inducting the RnR Express into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Cornette later worked for TNA (with Russo, ironically) and ROH, but is no longer affiliated with either. He currently does a podcast for MLW Radio, spewing left-wing extremism and challenging Vince Russo to fights.