Kofi Kingston Reveals the Origin of His Jamaican Character, Why They Dropped It

Jul 25, 2019 - by James Walsh

On the latest Chasing Glory, Kofi Kingston discussed the origin of his Jamaican character and the trouble it brought him, including why he dropped it. Kingston told Lilian Garcia that the character came from promo class in developmental, and that he eventually had to drop it after a BBC reporter put out an article saying Kofi was ashamed of and trying to hide his Ghanian heritage. Highlights and the full podcast are below:

On where the Jamaican gimmick came from: “Oh my god. So here’s the thing, like when I was training, the big deal was that you needed a character, right? That was the big thing, you’ve gotta have a character. ‘Vince is liking characters right now.’ So I remember being on the way to promo class, and I was listening to the Damian Marley CD. And I was like, ‘Huh. Okay, this is an amazing CD.’ I say this every single time, top to bottom it still holds up. So one day I just came in and they were like, ‘Okay well, you’ve gotta go up there and cut a promo.’ And I was just like, [affects Jamaican accent] ‘Kofi Kingston from Kingston, Jamaica.’ I cut a promo on Ric Flair for stealing my Jamaican beef patty, or you know, giving him one that he threw in the trash, something like that. Something dumb. And everybody was just like, ‘Oh, man! You’ve gotta do that! Whoa!’ So that was it, trying to find a way to stand out is so important. And I didn’t go with the Ghanian character, because at the time Prince Nana who worked for ROH — I think he still does — was like, the Ghanian Prince. So for me to come out and be like, ‘Oh, I’m from Ghana too!’ Everyone would be like, ‘Oh, Prince Nana,’ you know what I mean? I just wanted to do something that would stand out. So I went the Jamaican route, never having been to the country. Knowing very few people of Jamaican descent. But I did listen to that Damian Marley CD several times, so I figured it qualified me to pose as a Jamaican character.”

On getting criticized by Jamaicans and Ghanians: “Number one, and I say all the time. It’s hard enough to remember what you have to say, let alone how you have to say it. My Jamaican accent was garbage. It was horrible, and people on MySpace from Jamaica let me know every day with their messages, like ‘Oh, you’re not from Jamaica! Kofi’s not even a Jamaican name!” But then, people from Ghana would be like, ‘Oh, you want to claim Jamaica, then you go be from Jamaica!’ So now I’m getting it from both ends. I’m like, ‘Guys, you don’t hold Samuel L. Jackson to the standard of being Nick Fury, you know what I’m saying? What is happening here?’ It was just a character, guys! It’s wrestling, entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment! I’m just trying to entertain. ‘No! No!’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god, it’s not that serious.’”

On staying in character throughout interviews: “So I had an interview, and at the time Vince was saying, he told me, ‘No matter what you do, every interview you do, you’ve gotta be Jamaican. You’ve got to be in character, you’ve gotta be in gimmick.’ So we used to have WWE Magazine back in the day, and they are obviously all smart to people playing characters. They know my real name, I’d see like a 203 number come up and I’d be like, ‘Oh, this is like [Mark] Carrano, or somebody from the office,’ so I’d answer it and be like, ‘Hello, what’s going on?’ And they’d be like, ‘Oh, this is Sal from WWE Magazine, is Kofi there, are you available?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, hold on, hold on, one second? [affects accent] ‘What’s goin’ on, Sal? Kofi Kingston from Kingston, Jamaica.’ This is a print article, man. This is a print article, but Vince said, he said everything had to be in gimmick, and like they know, and I know, and it’s just so awkward.”

On the fact that he wasn’t Jamaican going public: “So an article came out, I did an interview with a guy from BBC. And you know, BBC is a big deal. So it was a regular media day, I’m doing my thing, and then all of a sudden I get to him, and he’s just like, ‘Oh, Kofi’s a very African name! You’re from Ghana, why are you ashamed of your heritage?’ I’m like, uh-oh. [in accent] ‘Well no, Kofi Kingston, my mom really paid tribute to the Motherland, I’m from Jamaica, she really liked Kofi, it’s a very popular name over there, you know!’ But he kept on grilling me and grilling me, and grilling me. And when I hung up the phone with him, I was like, ‘Oh my god. I don’t know man, this is BBC, this might be over.’ And then like an hour later, my mom calls me up, and she’s like, ‘Oh, someone just called me to do an interview. I gave an interview, he was asking about your heritage and I was like ‘Yeah, he’s from Ghana … But you know, he’s just playing a character.” I’m like, ‘Mom, kayfabe, mom!’ So he had gone through and found my dad’s number, and then my dad ended up giving him my mom’s number, and then my mom just thought this guy was trying to ask her questions. By the time the article comes out, it’s like ‘Oh, Kofi Kingston, he’s ashamed of his Ghanian heritage’ and this and that.”

On talking with Vince about it: “So now this article comes out, and I remember we had a Raw in New Orleans, ironically enough. And I was outside Vince’s office. And finally he was like, ‘Yeah well, what’s going on?’ I was like, ‘Vince, it’s over man. It’s over. This article just came out, everyone knows I’m not Jamaican. What are we gonna do?’ And he’s like. ‘Oh well, don’t worry about it. Not as many people are gonna see that article as you think.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’”

On finally dropping the gimmick: “So we kept on doing the Jamaican thing, and it wasn’t until about like four or five months later. I think it was Bragging Rights, the PPV. And before we go out, they’re like ‘Yeah, I think we’re gonna drop the accent.’ I’m like ‘Oh, how we gonna do this?’ ‘Well, we’ll just have you start talking normal.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So if you go back and watch it, it’s Triple H in the you know, we’re going back and forth and our team is getting all catty and I’m the guy that has to calm everybody down. And I just start talking like ‘Guys, guys, we gotta get on the same page. If not, they’re gonna obliterate us, man come on. What are we doing? Does anyone have any questions?’ And Triple H is like ‘Well yeah, I’ve got a question. Aren’t you supposed to be Jamaican?’ And that was it, I wasn’t Jamaican anymore.”

On people assuming what happened: “A lot of people asked like, ‘Did you mean to [drop the gimmick], did you forget about your accent?’ I’m like ‘No, man. You think I would just walk out there and forget?’ So that was it. The Jamaican accent was done.”

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