Re: What happened to Santino Marella?
He's been a comedy character from day 1 in WWE. I don't remember his debut well, I know he won the IC title from Umaga when Lashley kicked Umaga's ass, and he was a plant in the crowd, but if there was no signs of comedy during that night, it was probably just because it was the appropriate way to introduce him, a heartfelt story for his so called "home country" crowd. The comedy started immediately thereafter, with him just being a bumbling idiot. He's been a goofball for years, this wasn't a random change like Tensai where he just becomes a comedy babyface out of nowhere.
The Russian MMA gimmick, Boris Alexiev probably would've given him a higher ceiling (as there's not much of a ceiling lower than Santino Marella), but Vince refused to use the gimmick because Heyman came up with it and they've had an on and off working relationship for years.