Interview: Mick Foley, stand-up comic and wrestler

Mick Foley, former WWF/ WWE wrestler and stand-up comedian. Picture: Contributed
Mick Foley, former WWF/ WWE wrestler and stand-up comedian. Picture: Contributed
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MICK Foley is a rare crossover hit – a funny, sensitive stand-up who happens to be a champion wrestler.

There’s something so very Mick Foley in the fact that the former World Wrestling Entertainment icon turned stand-up comic numbers Tori Amos among his admirers. The path to the grappler, formerly known as Cactus Jack, and the Cornflake Girl becoming unlikely buddies began on a long and lonely road trip in the south-eastern US in the winter of 1994.

“I was being bombarded by heavy metal tunes for five or six hours at a time in the car of my tag partner Max Payne,” recalls Foley. “I just said, ‘Hey Max, do you have anything mellower at all?’ And then he put Tori on and there was this instant connection.”

During his stand-up tour of 2011, Foley discovered that he and Amos had a clash of dates in Glasgow and realised that their venues were virtually next to each other.

“I literally ran out of the door from my venue and took in about two thirds of her show,” he recalls. “She has always made time for me.” For Amos’ part, she has dubbed Foley the “poet of the wrestling world” and is extremely grateful for the work he has undertaken to support her charity, Rainn (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).

To the untrained eye, Foley may look like your archetypal meathead wrestler, but clearly he has plenty going on between his ears. It’s not just the hook-ups with sensitive members of the singer-songwriter community that gives it away, there’s the writing career he’s forged outside of the ring: his name is on the spine of children’s books, novels and memoirs. The unpleasant experience of leaving his own life story in the hands of others triggered this move from standing headscissors to processing words.

“In 1999, I had my back against the wall, and WWE had a ghostwriter working on an autobiography for me,” he explains. “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.”

For a long time, Foley’s goal was to be on the sports stage in some capacity. “My mother wanted me to be a writer, which I have ended up taking a long road round to. I wanted to be a baseball player but I became fascinated with wrestling as a teenager.”

Given that he was lord of the ring for so long (he debuted in the early 1980s and officially retired in 2000), it’s of little surprise to learn that he has suffered some severe injuries in the name of entertainment. Among Foley’s more noteworthy misfortunes in the ring were having a tooth come through his nose and losing two-thirds of an ear.

These kind of stories have naturally played a large part in his new career as a stand-up comedian, and provided him with his own niche in a busy comedy field.

“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 who you can go to who can be funny about a lot of other subjects. I am very happy revolving my show around wrestling stories.”

Yet fortunately for his prospects of longevity in comedy, he is successfully reaching out to a broader demographic. “Initially, the crowd was wrestling fans and people who loved them enough to go along. But then a lot of my reviews mentioned that you did not have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy it; the stories didn’t alienate anyone and the non-wrestling fans would go out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed the show.”

You often hear some in the world of showbusiness warning their offspring to steer well clear of the particular route they have chosen. As a father, does Foley 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.”

Now 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; 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.”

• Mick Foley plays the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 24 April; and the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, 25 April.