Mick Foley is Back: Tales From Wrestling Past (Part Two)
Yesterday Mick Foley revealed how fraternising with other comedians has rubbed off on him in the fact he has learnt to take old stories and give them a completely different spin for use on the comedy circuit. He also confessed that the Montreal and Edinburgh festivals were the two best things that could have happened to himand began hinting at how hard it really is to get shows off the ground in the US. Let’s pick up where we left off…
So is it easy to get people out to comedy shows in the U.S.?
Well, it’s really easy to find comedy on the television in the U.S. I heard one musician say that the only real place to experience the show is in a live atmosphere. Once a show is done, that moment is over. That’s kind of how I feel. I’m putting clips out here and there now because I need for people to become familiar with what I do. Once they’re familiar with it, they’re much more likely to drop their pretentions and attend the show. I really feel like the best way to see it is live and I’m both flattered and frustrated by the fact when people leave the shows, especially in the U.S., their comment is almost always, “Wow, that was so much better than I thought it would be.” I have to do a better job as a promoter of getting my own material out there so people can see what I do.
It is hard to judge what to put out there then?
Yeah, for example, there’s a fifteen minute clip of me at the Montreal comedy festival. I got chewed out by Brendan Burns after my first night in Montreal. He’s like, “Mate, you can’t debut material at Montreal.” I was like, “Why not?” He’s like, “’cos you don’t do it. It’s an insult to the festival. You don’t debut material.” And I thought he was wrong at the time, but now when I see that clip, fifteen minutes I cringe because I had a story that could’ve been really good, that I was telling for the first time and it wasn’t what it needed to be. I need to make those mistakes and those adjustments somewhere else other than Montreal and I’ve been hesitant to go back and tell that story since then.
So Brendan Burns was giving you advice there as a more experienced comic. With that in mind, do you find that because you’re coming in with ready-made fans you still have the opportunity to pay your dues within comedy, as you did within wrestling?
You know, actually, I paid a lot of dues, did a lot of guest sets, unannounced appearances, and honestly, I felt that when I started really studying comedy that I sort of started unknowingly emulating the mannerisms of comedians I liked, then I was kind of losing what people liked about me. So I know this flies in the face of the traditional way of learning the trade but I find that I don’t get better by watching other people do it. I find I get better by doing it myself – getting out there and doing it myself.
There’ll always be different ways of evolving as a comedian…
Yeah, and I’m aware that if somebody said the same thing about wrestling that I just said about comedy, that “Hey, I don’t need to watch pro wrestlers, I just need to go out there and wrestle myself,” it would come across as being really pompous and it’s more out of, I think, respect for them. I love Judah Friedlander for example, but I don’t think I need to be following my comments by going, “yeah man.” And even when I would watch Chappelle, not that my material is anything like Chappelle’s, but the cadence of the story I was telling was taking on Chappelle qualities, and I think people wanna hear me do my own thing.
Do you find there are many differences between the comedy and wrestling scenes then?
The biggest difference is that, no matter how bad your set of comedy goes, I’m sure there are exceptions, but you’re probably not gonna wind up in an emergency room. It’s just the emotional pain but I think any wrestler would rather be in an emergency room getting a dozen stitches than driving to the next town after just sucking.
Is that when you feel like a comedian though? The experience of driving home downhearted because you’ve had the worst gig, then picking yourself up for the next gig the next night?
Yeah, actually, that’s where the biggest similarity with wrestling and comedy is. When you’re starting out you don’t have many wrestling shows so every show is your most important show and if you do poorly you really live with that until you have a chance to redeem yourself.
Brendan Burns had a great comment about the difference between a funny guy and a comic. He said a funny guy will go on stage, tank? I’m trying to think of an English term, suck, that’s kind of universal. He’ll go up there and suck and never go on stage again. Whereas a comic will go on stage, suck, and then be back ten minutes later wearing a different hat saying “Hey, wasn’t that last guy awful?”
There were times when I was starting out when the gigs went so poorly that I never wanted to do it again. The worst gig I ever had turned out to have the seeds of stories that later went on to become some of my favourites. I was on to something; I just didn’t know how to go about it.
I read an article, it’s Robbie McIntyre, and he said the same thing, that there will be little pieces of material that are filed away in his brain, not knowing where they’re going to eventually take root, but knowing they have the chance to take root. Then you’re driving down the road and you literally have one of those moments where you say, “Aha, it all makes sense.” Seeing it unfold on stage is rewarding in the same way that watching it happen in the ring was rewarding.
Sometimes it’s a case of it just clicking though isn’t it? I’ve heard a lot of wrestlers talk about moments with certain opponents where it’s just clicked and its lead to a great match. Is that similar to those moments in comedy?
Yeah, and now here’s one of the struggles that I’ve had in the U.K. because so many people did want the meet and greet experience, the elements in play were juggling the rail system and not wanting people to miss their trains, while coming to understand that if you did the meet and greet before the show, it would be hard to get the energy back into the room that people arrived with three hours before the show began.
Then you also throw in the element of alcohol, and that 1% of the audience are going to be completely hammered. Give those people three extra hours during the meet and greet to drink, they have the potential to ruin the show, randomly yelling nonsensical things at me and so that’s unfortunately why we have to limit the number of meet and greets. I wish I could meet and greet everyone but when you’re doing three weeks… I did meet and greets to six hundred and fifty people on the last tour and it just takes the energy out of the room and it just takes the energy out of me as a performer, so I know some people’s priority is to get the photo and the autograph – the show is secondary – but I have to give the best show that I can and the meet and greet has got to be the second most important part of the night.
Well, for me, the photo is something physical to keep, but the memory is something that will come back at moments when you don’t expect it. You’ll always remember a good show and I think that’s something more to take than a physical photo.
Yeah, I’ll give you an example. Santa Claus visited our house at two thirty in the morning on Christmas Eve and we have photos and we have a video but it’s the memory, like “Santa came to our house.” Hopefully that’s the same way that people feel about these shows.
So as you said with getting the excitement levels of the audience right, anticipation, excitement is key. And for you the anticipation must play a role too. Do you find that differs or there are similarities between comedy and wrestling in that respect?
Oh sure, yeah, but it’s a good type of nervous. I really didn’t enjoy my last several years of actual wrestling in the ring. So that was a real nerve wracking, unpleasant experience, whereas this is more like wow. This is a thrill, something I love doing. It’s the same as the gratitude I used to get during and after good matches, and, like I said, the potential for ending up in emergency rooms is almost nothing.
And where do you want to take your comedy/spoken word career over the next few years?
I’m pretty realistic, even as we’re doing some of these larger venues. Newcastle is eleven hundred seats, a couple of the other ones are around that level, it might actually be bigger than I need to be doing. In the U.S. I just did two shows in the San Francisco Bay area to three hundred people each and it was really rewarding, I did get through a meet and greet with everyone. I think that’s about the size of venues that I’ll be tackling. So this is like my stadium tour. I don’t think you’ll see me doing arenas. As long as I can do these shows four or five times a month in front of appreciative crowds, they don’t need to be theatre sized, they don’t need to be arena sized; they just need to have fun.
The intimacy must be quite nice then?
Yeah, Ray Davies, probably my favourite singer of all time, in 1981 he was asked how it felt to be performing to these huge arenas after having been out of the States for quite a while, after having played smaller venues. I thought he would say “Wow, Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Instead, his answer seemed disappointing at the time because he said, “it didn’t really matter as long as you could see faces.” That’s what I like to see. As long as I see faces and they’re enjoying themselves, I really can’t have as good a time as I can in front of fifty really appreciative fans than I can in front of thirteen thousand. Of course, I like the pay off better, but as far as having fun on stage, it just takes an audience that’s willing to respond and laugh.
It’s interesting Mick, that talking about two art forms like stand-up comedy and music, you still use the analogy of music quite a lot to explain things.
Oh yeah, I often use parallels with American baseball but it’s not gonna work with you guys over there.
Okay then Mick, last question – Are there any wrestlers, past or present, you think could make good stand-up comedians?
You know what, I hate to say this, because I don’t wanna kill the market for myself, but there’s a lot of guys. Jericho, William Regal is such a student of British comedy – he’s very funny. He was part of a Q&A with me after last year’s SummerSlam and I talked him into telling one of my all time favourite stories and he just said that “I’ve wrestled in front of sixty four thousand people in Tokyo. I’ve never been as terrified as I am right now.” That was at The Improv in Hollywood, a fairly small venue, and then he killed with the story. I know that Dolph Ziggler’s working on material; I invited him to do a set with me when I hit Phoenix, Arizona. Santino apparently has got some material that he’s working on. Yeah, there’s a bunch of guys who are doing it. I think maybe I’ve done for comedy what I did for the books so I’m responsible for all the good, bad and the ugly that follow…
Mick Foley’s 2013 U.K. tour, “Tales from Wrestling Past” starts Sunday 21st April in Belfast. Tickets can be found here and Mick Foley related info can be found on his website http://www.realmickfoley.com/.