Mick Foley is one of the most famous wrestlers ever, even though the odds were stacked against him. In a world filled with Adonises and huge physical specimens, Foley stood out for his less-than-spectacular physique and unkempt looks.
He defined himself through his characters – Cactus Jack, the deranged Mankind, and the hippy Dude Love – and his willingness to put himself through incredible amounts of punishment such as being thrown off a 5-metre high steel cage. Through it all he became a three-time World Wrestling Entertainment champion and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
He shocked everyone again by penning a memoir – that he wrote in longhand – that became a New York Times best seller. It was followed by three more autobiographies, four children’s books and two works of fiction.
Recently, he’s developed a stage show that’s frequently referred to as a stand-up comedy show, but which Foley called a “wrestling-centric storytelling show with an emphasis on humour.”
I reached Foley on the phone last week when he was at home in Long Island, NY, getting ready for his three-week tour of B.C. and Alberta, including a stop in Revelstoke on Wednesday, Sept. 17. The interview, which begins after the video, has been edited for length.
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RTR: Tell me a bit about your show. What’s it about? What’s it like?
Mick Foley: “Nobody knows what to expect… I wouldn’t go this far from home to a town I’ve never heard of to do a bad job. I really take great pride in these shows. I treat them like matches. I try to make every one as good as they can be.
“I’m probably going to do 200 shows a year. I wouldn’t be away from home that much unless I was having a great time and putting smiles on faces. Expect to have your limited expectations exceeded and to leave with a big smile on your face.
“I don’t tell jokes. I want to make that clear. It’s a wrestling-centric storytelling show with an emphasis on humour, but that’s tough to fit on a marquee.
“People think comedy show, they don’t know what to expect. They don’t want to see me in a bad bow tie telling one liners. I take people on a fun, auto-biographical journey through parts of my career and then work in contemporary issues from today’s wrestling scene.”
What has the transition been like from wrestler in the ring to performer on stage?
“It was a difficult transition five years ago, showing up in clubs doing unpaid, unbilled guest sets in front of small crowds. It’s fun now. I made all my big mistakes in front of those small crowds, not that I don’t make nightly mistakes and not that I don’t try things that don’t work on a nightly basis.
“I love it. It makes me feel like I did in the ring. I get a lot of the same great feelings. I mention it’s an autobiographical journey. I love the idea of taking people on an emotional ride, which was what we tried to when we were in the ring.”
Wrestlers spend lots of time on the road. Why did you want to get back on the road?
“If you listen to any country songs or rock and roll songs, the road is very appealing. I enjoy being out there, although this is probably the last time I will do a tour of this length. It’s three weeks away from home and I’m going to try to balance out my dates and my home life a little bit better from this point on.
“I don’t want to threaten the people of Revelstoke, but I probably won’t be back again. If they’re on the fence — just take a chance. People are thrilled when they leave my shows, they really are.
“There’s a meet and greet after the show for no extra charge.”
Can you talk about the stories that are part of your show?
“I embarked on this new tour about three months ago and I had a bunch of ideas I brought on stage with me. You find out what works and what doesn’t. On this tour, I’m enjoying telling a lot of the lesser known stories and working them into things people are more familiar with. It’s a nice blend. I guess it’s like being on the road as a musician. You essentially don’t want to be Mick Jagger on a solo tour refusing to play Stones tunes. I work in lesser known stories with the greatest hits.”
Can you share one?
“I’m not going to tell you the story. I will not shy away form the infamous cell story and I found a way as of late, especially with it being on the WWE network, to make it feel brand new again. I don’t feel like I’m Rocky Balboa at his restaurant telling stories about his battles with Creed. They feel new each night when I tell them.
As a wrestler, how important was it to have a sense of humour?
“If you didn’t have a sense of humour about yourself, you were in big trouble. As you got older as a performer, if you were not able to incorporate some humour into your character, you would struggle. Everyone gets to the point where they are no longer as effective physically as they once were and they need to find a way to connect to an audience. The guys that have been around a long time find a way to make them laugh, as well as making them wince.”
At your peak, you engaged in some pretty extreme stunts. What do you think of the state of wrestling these days now that it’s been toned down?
“I still enjoy it. You say they’ve toned some of the more extreme things. It puts pressure on guys to work in a tough physical manner. Especially in high definition, there’s very little left to the imagination. I would say today’s product is just as hard hitting, it’s just done without the use of chairs and garbage cans and thumb tacks and barb wire.”
Could you succeed today?
“That’s a huge question mark. I should have not been able to succeed in my era. I had everything working against me and somehow found a way to make it work. That was as much a product of some lucky breaks as it was hard work and dedication. No matter how hard I worked and how dedicated I might be, it was always a roll of the dice.”
What’s it like going back on the road, doing these small shows? How does it compare to performing in arenas as a wrestler?
“There’s a great quote I heard from Hacksaw Jim Duggan when he returned from the ring at Wrestlemania 3 in front of 93,000 people. The guys in the back asked what it was like to be out there in front of that huge crowd. He said, ‘Brother, I didn’t have my glasses on but those first three rows looked good.’
“Essentially when you’re out there, you end up playing to the people you can see. I’ll be honest, I think it was Revelstoke in particular that struck me as a really small advance audience. As long as we hit double-digits, we’re going to have fun. Once the initial roar of the thousands weens away, then it’s basically creating the best match you can or performance you can in front of whatever number decide to show up on any given night.
“While I was preparing to wrestle in front of 64,000 people at the Tokyo Dome in 1995, I couldn’t stop thinking about my return match in Philadelphia in a Bingo hall in front of 800 people. You never let the size of a venue or crowd define the importance of the event. If there’s a hundred people, I’ll give them the best show I possibly can.”
Quite a few wrestlers have struggled after wrestling. How do you feel about where you are?
“I just had back surgery. I might not be moving cat-like on the stage but I have fun every night. I think some of the problems wrestlers have in a post-wrestling life is trying to find something that makes them feel like they did when they were in the ring. In my case, I’ve done that. When I get out there on stage people will see in about 10 minutes I’m having fun and still making people smile, laugh, and still getting the reactions that drove me when I was kid dreaming of being a wrestler.”
Hardcore Legend: An Evening With Mick Foley, takes place at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35.