After a long and admired career as one of the most fearless professional wrestlers ever to enter the ring, retired three-time WWE world champion Mick Foley has found a couple of new callings in life that don’t require him to get smashed into a turnbuckle or drop-kicked in the face. These days, Foley, 49, is taking it much easier and learning that you don’t need bumps and bruises to have adoring fans.
Besides his family, of course, two things are keeping Foley’s blood pumping (without him having to lose any of it at the same time) – touring as a stand-up comedian (he calls himself a storyteller) and performing as jolly old St. Nick, a gig he is featured doing in the 2014 documentary “I Am Santa Claus.” The film follows five men, including Foley, who have dedicated their lives to dressing up as Santa Claus during the holiday season. Foley, himself, is so enamored by Christmas, he has an entire room in his home dedicated to it year-round. Last year, when he wasn’t wearing his customized Santa suit, Foley proved how serious he was about Christmas by dressing in holiday-themed attire every day until just a couple weeks ago.
During our interview earlier this week to help promote his tour stop at the River Center Comedy Club on Jan. 11 at 6 pm, Foley and I talked about what motivated him to become a stand-up comedian and whether it’s as fulfilling to perform on stage as it was in a wrestling ring. We also talked about how he handles when a joke of his bombs and why he’s not a fan of the Iron Sheik’s social media presence.
So, have you finally gotten out of your Christmas gear? You’re not wearing a vest with reindeer right now, are you?
(Laughs) It’s my 11th day without Christmas Day attire. But, actually, I was reading a book to my kids the other day and found out there is a Mexican tradition where you put your shoes out 11 days after Christmas (Day of Kings or Wise Men’s Day). (Laughs) It was the first time I heard of this tradition. So, we put the shoes out and the kids came out with a few more gifts. We try to find any way we can to extend the season.
After a long wrestling career, what motivated you to start doing stand-up performances?
You know, it was really because of the success I had with the book I wrote in 1999 (Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks) that opened the door to entertaining people in a different way. I found the same kind of storytelling that entertained people so thoroughly on the page translated well on stage – sometimes even in a better way. Unlike the written stories – when they’re finished they’re finished – I can work on my on stage stories every night and make them as good as they possibly can be.
Was it a natural transition for you since you’re performing in front of people in both wrestling and stand up? Do you get the same kind of rush?
Yeah, it’s almost exactly the same rush. I’ve had other wrestlers come out and join me for the Q&A part of the show. They remark how fascinating it is that they can get the same fulfillment from a few people that they can from thousands.
Have you found your voice yet on stage or is it still something you’re exploring? I’ve spoken to many comedians who say it took them years to find out what kind of comic they actually were.
It’s taken me a while. I think what I’ve realized is that I’m not a comedian. I’m a wrestle-centric storyteller. Other comics might watch my show and say, “Yeah, he’s a comic.” But I had to learn that I have a role to play and that any time I venture too far outside wrestling, I would go into territory that many others did far better than I did. I can really have fun and entertain fans and non-fans alike, but I do it from a perspective of a guy who traveled the world as a wrestler.
You played a few roles as a wrestler throughout your career, from Cactus Jack to Mankind. Would you say you’re playing a role on stage now or are you Mick Foley?
I’m Mick Foley, but I go into my roles as wrestlers. You can actually see some of the guys in the audience get goosebumps when I metamorphosized into 1997 Mankind or 1991 Cactus Jack. I have a lot of fun. Stand up gives me so much of what I loved about being in the ring without the obvious physical fallout.
You mentioned non-fans. Would you say people will enjoy your show if they’re not familiar with your wrestling career?
You know, it’s always gratifying to me when non-fans come up to me after the show. They’re usually females who tell me they had no idea what they were getting themselves into, but that they really enjoyed it. Unlike wrestling, which is a group effort where 30 different people will try to create an atmosphere, the atmosphere of my shows is really up to me. I really pride myself in creating a welcoming, non-threatening atmosphere for non-fans. That doesn’t mean I won’t give my fans stories of mayhem and bloodshed, but I’ll do it in a way that goes down nicely for the non-fans.
What does it feel like to make somebody laugh? I mean, I guess you did that a little during your career as a wrestler, but I think there were probably more people cheering and oohing at the stunts you pulled in the ring, wouldn’t you say?
I think there was quite a bit of humor as my career stretched on. I think wrestlers that have an extended career try different ways to connect with their audience than they originally intended. It usually involves some humor. I’m proud of the stuff I did in 2000 when I played the [WWE] Commissioner, which was largely a comedic role. But, you know, making someone laugh and making someone wince are things I take an equal amount of pride in.
Who inspires you these days? Other comedians?
I’m always inspired by people who take chances and leave their comfort level to do other things. But I’m pretty content in being my own guy. The biggest mistake I made doing these show five years ago was trying to be other guys; trying to learn too much from other performers. I was losing my own voice by trying to discover theirs.
So, how do you handle if one of your jokes bombs?
Well, now I’ll bomb intentionally. (Laughs) I like to see the reaction of the crowd and then have fun with that. But there’s nothing funny whatsoever about just dying on stage. But we’ve all done it. You either come out better for it or you never come out again. It is a very painful experience.
What about hecklers? I couldn’t imagine anyone brave enough to try and purposefully ruin one of your show. Has anyone tried?
You know, once in a while I’ll get an overenthusiastic fan who will yell out random stuff. I don’t tend to get real hecklers. I specifically choose off days like Sundays or Mondays – the nontraditional comedy days – to perform. It’s less likely that people who might say more than they should would come out during those days. I’d rather have people listening instead of hollering, you know? For me it’s the difference between having a great time on stage and punching a time card and doing a job.
You’ve seen how popular someone can get on social media like former wrestler Iron Sheik. Have you embraced that part of the business yet? Do you realize how important it is to be visible online as a comedian?
Well, I don’t believe Sheik actually tweets himself. There’s a lot of substance to the Sheik’s story. I’m not a fan of abusive humor. But, yeah, you have to embrace it. But all my tweets are my own. I read almost everything that comes in. I take stands occasionally when I feel there needs to be a stand taken. It’s a great way to get the word out about these shows.
Speaking of taking a stand, I read that you actually turned down a role on the TV show “The New Girl” last year because they wanted you to play a sleazy Santa. Did you make that decision because you hold this character in such high regard?
Yeah, I mean, Santa is not just a role I want to play. It’s something I want to do for many, many years to come. I have no problem with an actor choosing to play that role, but I want to be the guy in the chair visiting with hundreds of kids every December. I just want to live up to the standards of that iconic figure. It’s my hope that “The New Girl” will come back this year with a nice role specifically for me.
Who would win in a wrestling match today, you or Kevin James (Foley and James were on the same wrestling team in high school)?
(Laughs) Well, Kevin was training for that MMA movie he did a couple of years ago (“Here Comes the Boom”) and I can barely move. So, he could probably take me these days.