My Conversation With Jean-Claude Van Damme

I awoke on my friend’s couch and looked around. It was November, 1989, near the end of my college days. That goes a long way towards explaining why I was waking up at the crack of 11:30 a.m. on a couch.

The cause of my untimely wake-up call was my friend, who had turned to ESPN and was yelling at me and the others slumbering in his living room to wake and up see what he had found. Note: In the days before sports-talk radio and all of the related programming ESPN struggled mightily to fill their schedule with events modestly worthy of broadcasting. 

My friend turned up the volume so we could all enjoy what he had found—something called “wall-riding” where participants rode dirt bikes up and along the sides of walls. The current contestant, who was known by the moniker “Mr. Grumpy,” was apparently one of the best in the business (no, I don’t know why I remember this; I apologize in arrears for the fact that you are likely now similarly burdened).

We all sat-up and began laughing at the low-tech, overly serious broadcast when someone began banging at the front door.

We yelled “come in” in unison and the door flew open to reveal a tertiary member of our group (I’ll call him Mike). Mike, obviously upset, barreled in and blocked our view of Mr. Grumpy. He had a business card clenched in his hand and was screaming at it as if the card itself had wronged him.


Mike flipped the card around so we could see it. He then uttered a stream of profanity that drowned out the voiceover of Mr. Grumpy’s latest effort. It was obvious that Mike wasn’t going to let us enjoy wall-riding so we calmed him down, a little, and eventually got the story out of him.

Mike’s girlfriend, who I didn’t know, had come back the night before from a trip to Manhattan. From what I gathered Mike’s girlfriend was already out of school and had a gig in marketing. The event she’d covered in Manhattan had a number of actors in attendance, including the man that was now Mike’s sworn enemy: Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Mr. Jean-Claude Van Damme at the height of his powers

Mr. Van Damme had apparently been smitten with Mike’s girlfriend, so much so that he had written his personal, unlisted number on the back of her card and encouraged her to call him. Mike’s girlfriend showed him the card when he picked her up at the airport, and it had eaten a hole in his soul that went right past China and emerged on Mars.

“Can you believe this guy?” Mike asked.

Several of the other guys in the room knew Mike’s girlfriend. The general take from the mumbled responses was that, yes, they did believe this guy. Mike’s girlfriend was not just older–with an actual job–she also possessed the kind of beauty that made music stop when she entered the room.

Mike, on the other hand, was a college student with average looks and an over-developed sense of jealousy. One of the others in the room muttered, “Dude.”

That pretty much summed it up. Mike was cooked. His girlfriend was soon going to be dating the star of recent hits like Bloodsport and Kickboxer. He needed to do the reasonable thing and give up, but jealousy had other ideas.

“I’m going to call this a#shole and give him a piece of my mind!”

We all looked at each other. This was a terrible idea. After a moment to ponder it, though, it sounded a lot more entertaining than watching Mr. Grumpy.

“No problem. You can use my phone.”

My friend, the actual rent-paying tenant of the apartment, made this gesture with wicked intent—though with the price of long-distance in those days he would also no doubt look for remuneration from the rest of us down the road.

I was spell-bound. I had actually just written a review of Kickboxer for one of my classes in film school. It was an awful, though oddly entertaining movie. I almost felt guilty about my review (though anyone that’s seen my movie knows I have no leg to stand on in this debate).

Mike dialed the Manhattan number carefully (apparently Mr. Van Damme’s empire included a residence there) and held the phone loosely to his ear so that all of us crowded around him could hear. It rang several times, and then went to voice mail. A thickly accented voice that sounded exactly like Jean-Claude Van Damme said, “I’m not here right now, please leave a message.”

Mike and his jealousy needed no further offers and he immediately unleashed a profanity-laden tirade that questioned Mr. Van Damme’s moral compass, his ancestry and many other things I can’t/won’t repeat. He ended with something to the effect of, “…if you don’t stay away from her I’ll give you another lump on your forehead so you have a matched set!”

He hung up the phone with a panache and turned to all of us, looking for a reaction. We cheered wildly and clapped him on the back. Yes, he was definitely still going to lose his girlfriend, but my lord what a way to go out.

One of the others then gestured to the phone and asked, “Can I go next?”

For the next few minutes we took turns calling the number and leaving increasingly ridiculous messages and wildly improbable threats. I drew the long straw in this event and went last. As the phone rang I tried to think of all of the Jean-Claude Van Damme related insults that had not already been delivered. I was already beginning to panic a bit at the idea of saying something lame and letting everyone down when the ringing stopped and a heavily accented voice that sounded exactly like Jean-Claude Van Damme asked, “What do you want?”

I stared at the phone. I then stared at all of the expectant faces around me who did not know that someone had answered and were expecting me to leave a hilarious message. I noted in my panic that Mr. Grumpy was no longer on the screen. He had been replaced by someone else who was also really good at riding tiny bikes up-and-along brick walls. I tried to open my mouth but found that a lack of saliva had sealed it shut.

I dd the only thing I could think of—I hung up.

Although I’m almost thirty years late coming to this I’d like to apologize to you, Mr. Van Damme. I hope that you and MIke’s ex-girlfriend had a wonderful time together. I’m sorry we blew up your phone saying mean things to you. I hope that your success in life, which includes the ability to do the splits, made our little outbursts comical and inconsequential. And, while we’re on the topic, how did you get that big lump on your forehead?

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