Mick Foley Interview (Part One): Tales From Wrestling Past
So, before diving into this Mick Foley interview, I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention that I have a substantial interest in professional wrestling (there’ll be a photo of me somewhere on this page that should emphasise my claims of wrestling geekery, I mean, look at me). Mick Foley, well, he was always one of my favourites, I have followed his career through wrestling, writing, his role as the subject of documentaries, and now, I’m following his career as a stand-up comedian.
Since the move into comedy, Mick has graced stages at both the Edinburgh and Montreal comedy festivals, taken his set out on the road both in the U.S. and the U.K. and is now approaching the start of another U.K. tour. The show, “Tales from Wrestling Past” kicks off in Belfast on the 21st April and comes to a close on the 3rd May in Birmingham town hall. Before that, he’s being inducted into the WWE hall of fame. There’s something to get out the way before all of that happens though, as Mick Foley has to deal with me phoning him to ask him a few questions….
We exchange pleasantries, and ease ourselves in to the first question proper.
The tour “Tales from Wrestling Past” is almost upon us. How excited are you to get started?
Yeah, I toured 2011/2012. The main difference now is that I’m not trying to make my show appeal to everybody. I realised that it’s 95% wrestling fans and that while the other people that show up will enjoy themselves I’m not gonna go out of my way to prove that I can do a show that consists of non-wrestling stuff.
That’s interesting, as I have read that you may have been happy to have what you’re doing now pitched as spoken word rather than stand-up comedy. In hindsight, is this something you’d do differently?
I really regret that. I kind of dug myself a hole. I was on Soccer AM with Robbie Fowler last year and I imagine if Robbie Fowler was doing shows talking about his great football career, taking questions and signing autographs, he’d get a much better turn out than if they said, “Robbie Fowler, doing stand-up.”
People have enjoyed themselves at the shows in the last two years and the shows were well attended – there were only a couple of theatres that didn’t sell out.
The main message would be that this is a show for wrestling fans and I’m much more comfortable with the idea that I have an audience that likes me, that I don’t need to try to find a new one.
Yeah, it’s really important to me that the non fans feel welcome. There are some comics that have that cruel brand of comedy and will get laughs at anybody’s expense. I don’t want anybody to come to the show and feel uncomfortable and not feel welcome there so I obviously accept that I will be talking about subjects (Mick ponders then laughs) that are kind of crazy, but they’ll get into them and I’m sure that they’ll really enjoy themselves too.
With regards to that, do you feel that you’ve evolved how you tell stories to those people, through the gigs you’ve done previously? Have you moved forward as a comedian as a result of things like shows at the Montreal and Edinburgh festivals?
Yeah, those were the two best things that could’ve happened to me because
a) In Montreal I realised how fortunate I was to have an audience that liked me and knew me. You look at literally hundreds of guys, in that same hotel, who were talented and who were facing an uphill struggle to kind of get name and face recognition. And I was a guy who had it and I was almost chasing people away by telling them I was something they weren’t interested in seeing.
Then b) Edinburgh was great. I was really learning, like how to use the call back for example, to reference material later in the show for laughs. Although I still try to make every show a unique experience, I also don’t feel like I’ve gotta do two entirely separate hours in case somebody, well, you’re from Newcastle? (SB: yeah) So somebody from Newcastle happens to see a show in Glasgow, they’ll be different shows, but I do have a closer that calls upon material from earlier in the show, and as a performer I love to see it come together and I also know that the story is nowhere near as good as I can make it and so hopefully, by the time we hit that part, by the time we hit Newcastle, it’ll be as close to perfect as I can get it.
You mentioned things like call backs there. Have you found from being around comedians more and more, and being at the comedy festivals, you’re putting more into the writing process, or is it just you going out there and storytelling and relying on your instincts?
You know what? I realised something with a story I did last August, a beloved story among wrestling fans known as “the cookie story” from my 1999 book. I realised that when I re-wrote it, just for Diamond Dallas Page, who was in the audience, you can take old stories and kind of give them a whole new life in the same way a musician can take a studio cut and really make it different. Often it can be made so much better in a live setting and so part of the process is going through stories that are written, that have known endings, and just trying to make them better for the stage and in some cases I’ll field a question from the audience and it’ll bring about an answer or a story I never would’ve thought about. That then becomes my favourite story with some additional work.
That analogy of the musician really seems to sum up what it’s like for you…
Yeah, even if you’re in a situation where you’re telling a similar story repeatedly, knowing that the interaction with the audience and the atmosphere can make it different, can make you feel like you’re not reciting a text.
(At this point, we got distracted by Mick’s dog barking, and his son returning home from college)
You have that family life at home; do you find that there are differences when you go on the road for comedy as opposed to your days on the road with wrestling?
The big difference here is this’ll be the longest road trip I’ve been on since the mid to late 90s. I’ve got 20 dates in the U.K. plus two TV tapings, two days of flying and then a couple of dates when I get back in the U.S. before I go home. it’s gonna be a long period of time so I’ll miss the family. I’ve just gotta make sure that I have as much fun as possible on the road.
(It suddenly sunk in for me that Mick’s son, home from college, is the same 7 year old son from the documentary Beyond the Mat (please go watch it as it is an excellent documentary). I point out to Mick that this makes me feel old, and Mick too echoes that sentiment, he continues…)
I met Alec Baldwin, the actor, and he was asking about my kids and asking if they were okay and it wasn’t ‘til after I finished talking to him that I found out he didn’t know that Beyond the Mat was, at that point, eleven or twelve years old. He thought my kids had just been through this traumatic event.
So, you obviously miss the family when you’re on tour. What home comforts do you take to remind you of home?
(Mick enquires what I take with me, and I tell him my short list of essentials.)
As long as I have a couple of nude Polaroid’s of the wife, I think I’ll be okay. (After a brief chuckle, we carry on…)
So, you’re coming to the U.K. again, having performed here in the past. What are some of your favourite things about coming here?
Well, what I found is that the U.K. audience is much more willing to take a chance on an unknown entity, like my performances, than the U.S. fans were, up until recently. When I was at Montreal, an agent saw my show and got it, he understood. Now I’m in a really nice position where I travel every week as manager of Saturday Morning Slam, then my agent just calls up a club in the vicinity and he usually comes back with an offer within a couple of days so I can kind of create my own events in a way that you can’t just create a wrestling show.
One of the nice things is at my U.S. shows with the local shows not having any kind of advertising budget it’s basically whatever kind of word of mouth I can get, however many people I can drum up through social media. The overhead is so low that the show doesn’t have to be a huge success to be a pretty big success.
I was spoiled in the heyday of the attitude era. I’d have the book signing and I’d have a thousand people waiting in line. Then we’d do these autograph signings with fifteen hundred people waiting in line, knowing they might not get an autograph at all but willing to take that chance. But now, years later, you’re lucky that you can have an outlet where you can say, “please come to my show so I’m not completely lonely.” Believe me, when I was in the States trying to get these shows off the ground, it was a real challenge to try to get the same people who would spend hours in line to get my signature to come out to a club, spend the same amount of time, the same amount of money, have a much better time and get the same autograph at the end of the day because they were kind of afraid of the unknown. Luckily, I’m reaching a point where people are getting it now.
Head back here tomorrow for the second part of the interview where Mick discusses the differences between the comedy and wrestling scenes and exactly where he plans to take his comedy/spoken word career over the next few years.
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/.