Navy SEAL. Professional wrestler. Actor. Politician.
Jesse Ventura could have completed the coverall in "What every 5-year-old boy wants to be when he grows up" bingo if only he’d taken time out to be an astronaut. And, for a special few, a puppy.
But it’s his latest incarnation, as an investigative journalist of sorts, that brought him to Las Vegas and Area 51 for "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura" (10 p.m. Friday, truTV).
"We’re not doing a documentary, we’re doing entertainment," he says of the series now in its second season. "So I rode a Harley. And it was so god-dang hot in Las Vegas. Cripes. I’ve never ridden where it’s been that hot. Do you have a helmet law?"
Tell him yes, and you get a glimpse of the populist beliefs that swept Ventura into the Minnesota governor’s mansion as a political outsider long before the political outside became so, well, Tea Party-ish.
"How? The places you ride, there ain’t even a car around. And it’s a hundred degrees. Why would you make a biker wear a helmet? Minnesota don’t have a helmet law. I know that’s another subject, but how absurd! It’s 110 degrees! OK, then make people in convertibles wear ’em, too, and see how that flies."
"Conspiracy Theory" may be TV’s first action-adventure expose, hence the motorcycle. In the season premiere (a copy of the Area 51 episode wasn’t available for review), Ventura attempted to storm Plum Island, the controversial animal disease research center off the coast of New York, in the face of what he said was interference from the Department of Homeland Security and while being trailed by the Coast Guard.
Other theories explored this season include such things as whether missiles or explosives, not an airliner, damaged the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; whether the government has a secret plan to declare martial law and send millions of Americans to internment camps; and whether the BP oil spill was part of a nefarious government plot begun after Hurricane Katrina to depopulate Louisiana.
But the tentpole episodes are the ones that concern the JFK assassination — "I have the first audio, visual and written confession to the murder of Kennedy," Ventura says — and Area 51.
Agree with him or not, the likable Ventura is never less than fascinating — the man spends half the year living off-the-grid in Mexico "an hour from pavement and an hour from electricity" — and he always has plenty to say. Even legendary talker Howard Stern often has trouble getting a word in edgewise.
The best move seems to be to borrow the strategy of the pencil-necked-geek announcers who tried to interview Ventura during his wrestling days: Ask a question — or, in this case, even a partial question about why Area 51 has been able to capture the public’s imagination — and get out of his way.
"Here’s the big thing about Area 51 that troubles me more than anything, is the fact that the government won’t acknowledge it exists. … When you go down the dirt road, when you come to the place you can’t go any farther, they don’t have a gate, they don’t have fences, they don’t have anything. And yet the sign tells you lethal force is authorized. Well, then they should fence it. They should put a gate up. Because what if you’re out riding a dirt bike and you don’t know, and you cross this line, this imaginary line? … They’re allowed to shoot and kill you? That’s allowed? Now, whatever happened to a trial? And when did trespassing become a capital offense?
"Second of all, why do they keep it a secret? The sign out there says authorization to (access) this base requires the commanding officer’s permission, which is pretty standard operating procedure. When you call to get that permission, they don’t acknowledge that the base even exists. So how can you find the commanding officer? Follow me?
"And yet, I have satellite photography showing the whole base. Why the games? And, bottom line, is this place not being run by our tax dollars? Well then why don’t I have the right as a tax-paying citizen to know it exists and what (they’re doing) with my money? Isn’t that taxation without representation in a way?"
So what does he think is going on out there? (In and out. Duck and weave.)
"Obviously, it isn’t necessarily sinister. … That’s where we practice and create a lot of weaponry. Secret, clandestine weaponry. But still, to not acknowledge it exists? Come on. Put a gate up. Put a fence around it. You know it keeps getting bigger, don’t you?"
"Yeah, they keep expanding the boundaries on it. And did you know they took the land illegally?"
"I wanna state this: Thank you mainstream media. I wanna issue a public thank you to all of you. Because you won’t cover things like this, that gives me and my crew jobs. You know? I’m doing your job, in essence. I’m doing what mainstream media ought to be doing."
You’re … welcome?
Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.ELSEWHERE
The “Pawn Stars” spinoff “American Restoration” (9 and 9:30 p.m. Monday, History) follows Rick Dale and the work done in his Las Vegas-based family business, Rick’s Restorations.