Mick Foley is a hardcore legend, New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist and public speaker. And now you can add stand-up comedian to his resume.
Foley will be performing his act at The Baltimore Comedy Factory Wednesday night. Joining Foley on the Total Extreme Comedy show is fellow pro wrestler Colt Cabana (formerly Scotty Goldman in WWE).
I conducted a phone interview with Foley last week about his foray into comedy, his upcoming book, the renewal of the Monday Night Wars and what it's like working with Eric Bischoff.
How did this comedy tour come about?
I was asked about eight or nine months ago whether I'd have interest in doing a show at The Improv in Los Angeles. It sounded like fun and something that was a little different than I've done before. I had spoken at several colleges, but there the focus is not all on comedy. I think doing The Improv is a little more ominous than doing a college campus because it was so different than anything I'd done. But I enjoyed it, and I think most people on hand enjoyed it as well, and it kind of opened up the door to doing a few more shows.
How many dates have you done so far?
I think we've only done like five, so it's not something I do very often. I do realize that if I want to get better at it I'll have to do more shows, which means kind of tagging along with other comics as they get their work in from club to club.
You are certainly no stranger to standing on a stage with a microphone in your hand in front of a crowd, but as you said, stand-up comedy is not something you had done before. Was it harder than you thought it would be?
Everything's relative. I don't think any new pursuit will be as difficult as trying to break into wrestling 25 years ago. But I realize that it's very difficult to be really good at it. It's not so hard to be decent at it, but there's a big difference between being decent and being really good, and I think the difference comes in putting the time in and doing show after show instead of one every four or five weeks.
What is your act like? Are you doing one-liners or is it mostly you telling funny stories? And are you doing your own material or do you have someone writing jokes for you?
I've had some offers from people to do jokes, and if I get good at it and get to where it's a little more regular, I might take them up on it. But I think as far as learning from the ground up, I'm better off doing my own material, which is mostly stories. But I'm trying to learn the art of having punch lines lined up even if the stories are mostly improv.
Do you do any topical humor or are the stories mostly wrestling-related?
That's the biggest challenge – to delve out into other subjects without alienating the people who are there for the wrestling stuff. One thing I was proud of when I did the college talks was that, although stories revolved around experiences that I had in wrestling, one did not need to be a wrestling fan to enjoy them. I feel the same way about these shows. It won't be so wrestling exclusive that a brave soul who wonders in to check it out will feel uncomfortable.
Yes or no: Are you funnier than Dennis Miller was on Raw?
(Laughs) I did not see that episode, but from your tone I'm taking it that he was not that great.
[Laughs] Well, you know, those guest hosts are hit or miss, too. It's sometimes because they are coming into a new audience that might not be familiar with what they do.
Would you say that you have been influenced by any comedians, or is the act pretty much all you?
I'm trying to make it all me, but I've been corresponding with my comedy guru, my Mister Miyagi of sorts, who is Judah Friedlander. Judah's recommending different comedians for me to watch, much in the way that I used to watch hours of wrestling every day in the '80s and early '90s. He explained that you can't help but take on characteristics of your favorite comedians, and the secret is to be inspired by people without actually emulating them.
Do you have a favorite comedian?
There's such a big list. I really enjoy Sarah Silverman's fearlessness. You know, I would not have said I was a Wanda Sykes fan before I saw her recent show on HBO, but I thought that was hilarious. I loved Steve Martin during his stand-up days, and used to love the wordplay of George Carlin. I've been watching as much as I can on Comedy Central and I've even developed an appreciation for the blue collar guys, which is something I didn't think I would be interested in.
How's your new book, "Countdown to Lockdown," coming?
I just finished the afterword two days ago. The afterword I think is one of the best things that I've written. I think people will really enjoy it. During the afterword I talk about how in retrospect the period I chronicle may not seem important at all, but the journey that those six weeks led me on has become one of the most important periods in my life. There's just so much going on in wrestling and the world moves so fast that we very seldom have a chance to look back and kind of appreciate the components of what makes a good wrestling show or a good wrestling angle, and I think that this book does that.
I look forward to reading it. When does it come out?
I believe September.
I understand that you donated your advance for the book to an organization known as RAINN. Tell me about that.
RAINN was actually founded in Baltimore. It's the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. It was founded by a man named Scott Berkowitz and singer Tori Amos. I finally learned how to use the computer, so I went on her Web site and from there linked on to RAINN and became interested and became a smaller donor. As the book-writing process went on, because I spoke about RAINN and wrote about Tori Amos, it felt like the right move and the right thing to do would be to contribute a sizable amount. I split the advance between RAINN and Child Fund International. The Child Fund project is specifically geared to victims of sexual abuse form the Civil War in Sierra Leone and their children. It supplies micro loans and scholarships. So even if the book doesn't sell like I'd like it to, I feel like the decision to donate was the right one – and it was a good amount of money, especially in this book economy. I do mention the figure in the book, but it's a good amount and it's going to help a lot of people.
You also contributed to Awesome Kong's effort to raise money for relief in Haiti, correct?
Yeah. The amounts in the book are a lot bigger, but I did. It's the power of numbers – people texting $10 at a time – that really ends up making a huge difference. I guess Kong said that it did inspire some of the other wrestlers to kick in and to meet my total, so I think all told she raised about $6,000, which is a great credit to her.
Let's get into what the wrestling world is buzzing about – TNA Impact moving to Mondays to go head to head with Raw. You were a big part of the first Monday Night Wars. Do you think this is a good move for TNA?
I hope so. I think it is. I was not somebody who thought that two shows going head to head in the '90s would have been good for wrestling, and it turned out to be the best thing that could have possibly happened. I think anything that gets a buzz going around the wrestling world is going to be positive for everybody, including me, including the wrestlers, including Vince [McMahon], including Dixie Carter. I think it's going to force both groups to put out their best product, and I think the wrestling fans are going to be the main beneficiaries.
You know Vince McMahon very well. He never acknowledged the competition in the past until WCW began taking it to him. Where do you think TNA is on his radar? Will he no-sell the competition? Do you think it will light a fire under him?
I think he will no-sell it publicly for a while. I think it has to be a concern to him internally, if only because so many of the people who were big stars on his show are now working for the competition. I would say honestly with the exception of their top six or seven guys that we have a lineup that fans are really more familiar with.
There is no denying that TNA has a deep roster with a nice mix of young guys, guys in their primes and veterans. With that being said, what are your thoughts on the new regime bringing in guys from the past that are taking TV time away from talented guys already on the roster?
You're speaking of, like, The Nasty Boys? [laughs]
Well I know that match is something that The Dudleys had wanted for a long time, and I think the Nastys still have a little bit left in their creative tanks. But I don't think that's going to be indicative of what the new regime is about. I really think just in the last couple weeks you can see that Abyss' character has really benefited, and I think we can see "The Pope" really breaking through as a big star. That's been one of the problems for wrestling shows in the past – breaking new stars through to the next level. I mean, Abyss has been there seven years, but when I say new star I mean a TNA-created star. The fact that two guys simultaneously seem to be making giant strides I think is a good omen for TNA.
When the announcement was made that Hulk Hogan was coming to TNA, I think some people like me were wondering how long it would take before The Nasty Boys, Brutus Beefcake, Jimmy Hart and others showed up. And then on the very first show, there are The Nasty Boys. But you're saying that guys like that being on the show is just one part of a larger story?
I hope so. I think Hulk wants to really show what he can do on this side of the business. And I think Eric Bischoff, who has always been a bright guy, wants to show that he has learned from the past and he's going to apply all the positive things he brought to the table without repeating some of the mistakes that were made in the past.
It's been a lot of fun to watch you and Eric Bischoff performing together. What has it been like for you?
[Laughs] You know, I do enjoy it. There's always going to be that little part of me that resents not being more appreciated 16 years ago, and I think that's good. I think it results in more emotional programming. He's one of my favorite antagonists, and I've had some pretty good ones throughout my career, and without spoiling anything for anyone, the next couple weeks are going to be a lot of fun as far as the Foley-Bischoff dynamic is concerned [laughs].
One of my criticisms of TNA is that there are too many turns and it's hard at times to tell who the faces are and who the heels are. Casual viewers especially have to be confused. Even your character has gone back and forth several times.
Yeah, but part of that was out of necessity. When Jeff [Jarrett] left, I was in a position of having to try to build a match for Bound for Glory from scratch. I mention in my book that the easiest thing to do is to just say "I respect you brother, but when I get out there I only know one way to wrestle," and that's boring and it's the easy way out. I did not want to do a second heel turn in a year – I mean, I fought it off for eight years in WWE – and so I understand where there could be some confusion, but in that case, I was doing what I thought was best for everybody. But I think people have to remember that sometimes the best characters are painted in shades of gray. Real-life people are very seldom black and white. I'm very happy with what I've done with the character. I think stepping out and taking chances is something that makes the business interesting for me. I'm not really interested in being the same guy all the time.
The good thing for you is that the fans like Mick Foley the person, so no matter what your character does as a heel, you can go right back to being a babyface and they'll cheer for you.
[Laughs] Yeah. I remember thanking Shawn Michaels one time for showing the possibilities of the short-term heel turn. He was able to have that really successful match with Hulk and then have everything be forgiven the next week. When guys have been around a long time I think fans will cut them that type of slack.
The big angle in WWE right now is the one with Bret Hart and Vince McMahon. Back in '97, you were so upset with what happened to Bret in Montreal that you thought about quitting the company …
I actually did quit for one day.
That's right. So what do you think about Bret coming back now and doing an angle off the Montreal Screwjob, which is something he pretty much said he would never do?
I think it's great if it brings Bret some closure, because he never had closure in WWE. I think every wrestler reserves the right to change their mind and have that right respected. I know I've done it a couple of times. So I don't think any less of Bret and I don't think anyone else should either.
What are your thoughts on ECW ending? I know it was a TV show and not a company, but the letters and the logo were still used.
I think you covered it. It had kind of stopped being ECW in anything but letters a while ago. It was a good vehicle for younger guys to get some notice, and hopefully their new show will provide that platform for younger guys as well.
You're obviously a creative guy. You've written novels and you have a great mind for the wrestling business. Have you ever given any thought to leading the creative direction of a company that way Hogan is doing in TNA?
I used to think about it years ago. I think I could be a contributor, but I wouldn't want to have the pressure of having people's careers in the palm of my hand. And I don't think I'd be that good at it. There were certain characters that I thought I could have good ideas for, and others that I just wouldn't have a clue. I think it's just too much time, pressure and energy – certainly more than I'm willing to commit at this stage in my life.
You mentioned being a contributor. Do you pitch ideas in TNA? I'm sure if you had something to say, people would listen.
Yeah, I do throw ideas out there. I have put a couple out on the table that I think are home runs waiting to be hit. We'll just see if they are willing to let me get those at-bats in.