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Jake Tapper claims he’s not suffering from TMJ syndrome, an ailment caused by Too Much Jesse. But he’s got all the symptoms.
“That’s crap! He never was a bodyguard for the Stones!” Tapper tells me during the opening scenes of The Jesse Ventura Story, NBC’s biopic of the rasslin’ Reformer. Tapper is the author of the new, unauthorized biography Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story and was until recently a Washington City Paper senior writer. Throughout the next two hours, it’s obvious that his obsession with Jesse has him in a headlock.
“He never parachuted into Vietnam!” “He did not wear a leather jacket to his wedding!”
“He never hung out in Ventura!” “He was not coaching football in 1990!” “He did not wear an earring on the campaign!”
The movie is so crummy on so many levels that it works. But Tapper, who now covers Washington for Salon, isn’t about to let even the most insignificant factual and historical inaccuracies slide, even those clearly resulting from the producer’s desire to boost ratings or avoid legal difficulties. (Tapper doesn’t have to tell me, for example, that, contrary to NBC’s rendering, Ventura’s first wrestling match wasn’t really against Goldberg.) He wants to believe he’s playing Boswell for a guy whose ascension is worthy of some serious poli-sci debate, not the oversized action figure depicted in The Jesse Ventura Story.
“The reality of Jesse Ventura is just so much more interesting than this treacle,” he sighs as the credits roll.
Even for those who haven’t written a book on the governor, it’s getting hard to avoid TMJ syndrome. Apart from the NBC movie showing, the CNBC network snared the real Ventura for a couple of appearances on its Sunday shows, and he was also scheduled to be on Wednesday’s Tonight Show hawking his brand-new autobiography, I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed. He’ll follow that up with appearances on The Montel Williams Show and Larry King Live. Ventura is the subject of this week’s Biography on the A&E network. CBS just asked Ventura to take a part on its most-watched afternoon soap opera, The Young and the Restless, and the governor says he’ll do it. Ventura has had a turn in People magazine, and another spread on him will soon show up in the first Forbes “100 Most Interesting Celebrities” issue. Meanwhile, Tapper’s competing paperback, released in late April, was excerpted recently in the Washington Post Magazine and on AOL’s Web site. Along with the authorized and unauthorized biographies, Amazon.com is offering The Wit and Wisdom of Jesse “the Mind” Ventura, a book of his best one-liners. (“I didn’t shake things up. The voters did!” “Love is bigger than government.”)
But back in his home state, as a result of either overexposure or just plain exposure, not everybody’s still giggling at the guy who made “Our governor can kick your governor’s ass” bumper stickers famous. Allegedly stereotypical homeboy Garrison Keillor blistered Ventura every way but by name with a mean-spirited novel, Me by Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, Governor of Minnesota. (To Keillor, Ventura’s nothing but a “bullet-headed shovel-faced mutha who talks in a steroid growl.” Ouch.) Earlier this spring, Ventura got hit in the arm with shrapnel from a cream pie lobbed at him during a public appearance. And last week, Ventura became the first Minnesota governor in 17 years to have a veto overridden, when the state House of Representatives passed a bill 109-19 that gives accident victims the right to sue over defective seat belts.
Ventura’s constituents aren’t going to be any prouder of their leader after reading I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed. In his own book, Ventura rips into himself a lot more than Keillor or Tapper bother to, and he wastes more ink baring his ass than his soul. We’re told that Ventura still wears no underwear, that he paid whores in ammunition when he was a Navy SEAL, and that he lost his virginity to win a bet. One reviewer tagged it a “kiss-and-tell-on-myself” memoir. In response to criticism about the level of candor, Ventura says he threw everything in the book because he didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
Tapper, whose Body Slam devotes much more space to Ventura’s politics than his personal life, presumes that other factors led to the governor’s higher sleaze quotient.
“He was afraid I would scoop him,” says Tapper. “Jesse got the book deal for a lot of money, and then he heard my book was coming out, so he hurried up and wrote about things that I was never going to write about. What he didn’t know was that I don’t care about prostitutes or when he lost his virginity, and I don’t think anybody else does, either.”
He may be wrong there: As of Tuesday, I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed, sleaze and all, ranked No. 45 on Amazon.com’s best-seller rankings, or 3,997 spaces ahead of Tapper’s book.
Ventura’s book tour got under way on May 22, in Minneapolis. He’ll make a D.C. appearance next week at the Trover Shop on Capitol Hill. Owner Al Shuman thinks Ventura chose his store over the city’s better-known and roomier book retail outlets thinking that its location, right next to the Library of Congress, will lend a political ambience. Trover isn’t yet stocking Body Slam, but Tapper, who could teach most pro wrestlers a thing or two about self-promotion, says he’ll stop by the governor’s book signing there, maybe jump-start a feud.
“Jesse wouldn’t talk to me for my book, but he knows about me,” Tapper says. “And I hear he’s not happy that mine came out first. So when he’s in town, I’ll show up and introduce myself.”
Given his condition, I think Tapper should stay away from Ventura for a while. —Dave McKenna