Some onlookers might think that making the shift from wrestling to stand-up comedy is not the most obvious of career diversions. For Mick Foley, it was simply a natural progression in his life around the entertainment industry. Swapping the world of headlocks for heckles has been both an eye-opener and a treat for the legend of World Wresting Entertainment.
“To me, it was an extension. It’s strange and a little frustrating that people don’t see that immediately. A lot of people who have read the first part of my memoirs laughed out loud throughout and then wondered why I was making the move into comedy. By the time I got to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I had finally become comfortable with the idea that I was the wrestling guy. There are a lot of other acts you can go to who can be funny about a lot of other subjects. I am very happy revolving my show around wrestling stories.”
Foley has a bulging archive of such tales from almost 30 years in the business. Inevitably with such a long-term contact-based leisure activity, any pleasure taken from it has to nestle side by side with the pain. Among Foley’s more noteworthy misfortunes in the ring were having a tooth come through his nose and losing two-thirds of an ear during a contest in Germany.
As a father, does he ever warn any prospective wrestlers in the family about the more destructive side of the business?
“It would be the second big facts-of-life talk I would have to do. They know it’s tough; they see the way I walk and know that there’s a pretty big price to pay for being a superhero for a while. I would never say no as it’s the surest way for a kid to say yes. I would give them the facts and make sure they got through university and encourage them to do anything that they want to do.”
But for anyone who still thinks that his career move still seems curious should place it in the context of Foley’s life and work to date: he isn’t someone who seems content going down conventional routes. How many WWE superstars, for example, have a series of children’s books to their name? Not to mention two novels and four editions of memoirs out in the public domain? It was the unpleasant experience of leaving his own life story in the hands of others, which triggered his literary career.
“In 1999, I had my back against the wall, and WWE had a ghostwriter working on an autobiography for me. He was halfway through and it was awful, just boring. I took over as a way of trying to fix things as I thought I could probably do a better job. At the time it seemed like a crazy notion for a wrestler to write his own book but I did it and it gave people the idea that, well, this guy could do that. I guess it was an inspirational message, not so much about writing, but just about people achieving their goal.”
Foley is looking forward to returning to Britain, where he feels a certain kinship.
“In the UK, people seem to have a much wider worldview and that’s where I’m coming from. I really enjoy playing the UK; although there’s a still a lot of people who don’t really know what I do but when I say I’ve done the Edinburgh Festival, that lifts my credentials. When people see my show, they may not laugh out loud as they do with some of the classic comedians but they do enjoy it. I regret that I called it comedy to begin with; I should have called it An Evening With or put it down as spoken word. But the emphasis is always on funny stories.”
While he may not have emerged from any of the standard comedy routes, his tastes certainly suggest someone who is attuned to the innovative side of the form.
“I love finding the old comedy albums that my relatives had; all those Steve Martin albums. George Carlin’s Class Clown was the first one I heard. I also love Andy Kaufman with his outrageous stunts and Steven Wright and Sam Kinison: they were both amazing, if completely different.”
Coming from a world where he was considered a legend, and plunging headlong into the unknown where he isn’t sure how to classify himself, is just another example of Foley’s risk-taking attitude. It’s possible that he isn’t overly keen on the word maverick, but that’s what he is. The wrestling world is viewed, by many outsiders, reflective of a more conservative worldview. Foley isn’t completely convinced of that impression, but he certainly acts differently from his fellow grapplers.
“For the younger wrestlers, their first thought is going to be about their own taxes, but I finally realized that the world didn’t actually revolve around me. When everyone goes into a sport or performing art, there’s a sense of having an eye towards personal glory. A percentage of people get to where they want to be and then look around and see that there’s more out there.”
For Foley this meant taking up certain causes, and he has been particularly active in children’s charities, as well as helping victims of sexual abuse.
“I may have just been more outspoken about things than others, especially around 2000-2004. In 2000 I seem to remember not caring too much about the presidential election as both candidates were pretty weak, but I really got involved for a period where I thought I could maybe make a difference.”
Whether you’re a fan of stories, which feature hardcore men losing parts of their body in the name of sport or simply a lover of spoken word, this lord of the ring welcomes you.
Mick Foley Official Website: www.realmickfoley.com
Mick Foley Official Twitter: @RealMickFoley