Wrestling Legend Mick Foley Talks Comedy, Storytelling, and Getting Stitches In A Richmond Emergency Room

by | Mar 3, 2014 | COMMUNITY

New York Times’ best-selling author and WWE Champion don’t often go together and when you say someone has earned both of those distinctions multiple times…well, you’re only talking about one person: Mick Foley.

New York Times’ best-selling author and WWE Champion don’t often go together and when you say someone has earned both of those distinctions multiple times…well, you’re only talking about one person: Mick Foley. For twenty years, Foley won over the world of wrestling with his enigmatic characters (Cactus Jack, Mankind, & Dude Love), his unique sense of humor (the famous 1999 “This Is Your Life” segment with The Rock), and his death-defying stunts (being thrown off a twenty-foot high cage through a table below). He’s one of wrestling’s most beloved and honored superstars of all time and one who has proven himself to be as successful outside of the ring as he was inside of it.

For the past few years, Mick Foley has been performing one-man shows in theaters and clubs across the country to great acclaim. Chock full of interesting wrestling stories and funny personal anecdotes, his performances have been generating a big buzz based on how entertaining and intriguing these shows truly are. While the show does revolve a lot around the world of wrestling, non-wrestling fans have also been raving about the shows, and Foley’s own brand of storytelling make these events a destination for anybody looking for a unique form of entertainment. The Hall Of Famer seems to be having a blast too, as he’s entertaining crowds nationwide without getting stitches, setting himself on fire, losing a tooth, or even losing an ear.

On April 10th, Mick Foley will bring his unique show to the Richmond Funny Bone. Before that, I talked with Mick Foley to get an idea of what Richmond should be expecting, as well as his thoughts on the town and the world of wrestling.

You’ve been doing these shows for a few years now. How comfortable would you say you are with them?

I’m really comfortable now. I really started to become far more comfortable when I started to realize I wasn’t a comedian. I was much more of a storyteller. Once I took the pressure of myself to try and create as many laughs as I could, and instead focused on making the stories as interesting as I could, as well as realized that most of those stories had to revolve around my career in wrestling, I became far more comfortable. After that, the shows improved dramatically almost immediately.

Did you find it hard transitioning from wrestling to your travelling shows?

I was lucky because I kind of had a segue. The success of my first biography, Have A Nice Day, in 1999 allowed me to be seen as a credible college speaker. Over the course of seven years, I probably spoke to fifty or sixty universities with some of them being among the finest in the country. With only a couple of exceptions, I was never given guidelines as to what I should speak about so I found I gravitated towards the humorous stories. Therefore, when I was given a chance to try stand-up, it was not nearly as big of a leap as one might think. I also went through an uncomfortable period where I tried to turn from wrestling story-teller to full-fledged comedian. Essentially though, I was trying to sell people a product they weren’t interested in.

When you were first starting out with them, did you look at any other comics or one-man shows for any influence or inspiration?

I’m not sure how many people there in Richmond are going to understand my Willie Wilson analogy, but I’ll try. Willie Wilson was a member of the Kansas City Royals who did everything wrong technically, but was a great player nevertheless. He set about trying to learn the fundamentals correctly, but, well, the moment he became a fundamentally sound baseball player, he stopped being a great baseball player. In a sense, by studying all the comics, I was subconsciously borrowing from their styles and along the way, I lost sight of what it was that made me stand out to begin with. It was a trial and error period. I’m glad to say that when I show up in Richmond, although I will be trying new things, I understand what works, which is telling wrestling stories for wrestling fans that non-fans will enjoy nonetheless. Interestingly, the best way to attract the non-fans was by telling the wrestling stories themselves.

For fans of yours who have followed your career or read your books over the years, will there be a lot of familiar material at your show?

You know, I may pull out a golden oldie or two, but I’ve come to see that more of a musician doing an unique jam on a favorite song as opposed to someone doing a note-for-note rendition. I’ve found a way to work the infamous Cell [the Hell In A Cell Match from Undertaker in June of 1998] into every single show. For me, that’s my version of the Seven Dirty Words, seven words you can’t say on TV. I think George Carlin understood for several years that he had to at least refer to his most famous bit. Beyond that though, I’ll make sure I have some things that pertain specifically to Richmond, which shouldn’t be hard because I had a lot of history in the city and had one of my absolute favorite career matches there. I have friends in Richmond and I’m a huge history buff so I understand the big historical significance of the city. I’ll make sure to blend in the old and the new to make everyone happy.

Which match was that?

It was 1998. Mick Foley versus Terry Funk [main event of Raw Is War from May 4th, 1998] and it was historically significant because it was the first time that I had ever wrestled under my own name in WWE. Actually, it was the first time I had wrestled under my own name in the entirety of my career. It was a tremendous and very physical contest that resulted in me spending some time in the emergency room to repair a rather large wound in the back of my head. 27 stitches to be exact. It’s still very prominent so even right now as we’re talking, I can feel back there and go, “Oh, yeah. That was Richmond.”

Any other fond memories of Richmond?

To show you how far some things have come, I believe I received my largest good guy reaction as a bad guy when I defeated The Rock in Richmond in 1997.

Oh, yeah. A Cold Day In Hell.

Yeah, I remember just being stunned by the applause which was far more indicative of the extent to which the fans did not buy the “Rocky Maivia” character then it was an indication of how popular I was. But it shows that if you stop, figure out and diagnose a problem, and then go about repairing it, dramatic changes can be made.

Talking about diagnosing a problem, you’ve been pretty vocal about the way WWE is mishandling the Daniel Bryan character due to his overwhelming popularity. Without destroying another TV, what are you feeling about Daniel Bryan now?

You know what, this is the truth. I’m not pandering to Virginia right now. Not that I’m above it, but I’m not right now. I was helping my son with his Civil War homework. Luckily, unlike almost everything else my kids study in school, I do know a lot about the Civil War. When Robert E. Lee’s name came up, I said that one of the things that made him a great general was that when he signed the treaty at Appomattox Court House, he knew that the gig was up. He knew when to surrender. Literally, that night, I thought I should be like Robert E. Lee, because to fight this thing would just drag myself and the people who like me down. I’ve decided instead to look all of the positives that WWE has to offer instead of being this voice crying out in the darkness about the way I think things should be run. Besides, there’s a good chance they’ll turn it around. If they do and WrestleMania ends in 75,000 people on their feet chanting “Yes! Yes!”, I’ll be the first one to admit I was wrong.

You had a lot of people shaking their heads lately when you said that Daniel Bryan was more over than you ever were.

They’re shaking their heads in that they disagree with me?

Yep. You were one of the biggest stars of the biggest eras in wrestling history. Do you really think Daniel Bryan is more over than you were?

Thank you, I will admit to that, but I was never the guy. The being really in big capital letters. He is THE guy. People are showing up specifically to cheer him on and follow him on this journey. My title victory over The Rock was importantly historically because of the number of people who switched channels to WWE from WCW during what we called The Monday Night Wars. But I was always like the third or fourth guy. I had a lot of layers to the characters and put a lot of myself into those characters so that people could make an emotional connection. I’m beyond flattered and thankful that people still remember me so fondly fourteen years after I stopped wrestling full-time, but I was never as popular at any given point or time as Daniel is right now and I will stand by that completely.

Have you gotten a chance to try out the new WWE Network yet?

Yes, I did and it’s tremendous. I think that it’s a win-win for everybody. Obviously, it’s a win for WWE, but it’s also a win for me and my children who get to check out anything we want at any time. Although Thursday night, the PlayStation 3 was not cooperating with us so we were not able to the NXT show. In the long run, I think it really helps guys like me by exposing what we did to an entire new generation of fans. There was a similar feeling I think when my DVD, For All Mankind, came out just about a year ago. There was a generation of people who had only heard the name and couldn’t figure out why this sloppy looking guy carrying quite an extra bit of weight was such a big deal. The DVD gave them the chance to say, “Oh, I get it!” I think the Network will do the same thing for me over the course of time. Allow an entirely new generation to get it. To get me.

You were definitely not alone in not being able to view parts of the NXT show from Thursday night. What do you make of all the technical problems and issues the Network has had so far?

I know the McMahons are consulting with the Obama Health Care people on this one. [Laughs] I don’t know though. I think if no one was looking for the Network, if the interest was minimal, I’m sure they would not have encountered these problems. They’ll get it ironed out though. I think there’s a definite parallel though. Just one of those things that will hopefully improve with time.

Well, when the problems get ironed out, you have to check the Sami Zayn and Cesaro match from NXT ArRIVAL.

Yeah! I heard it was great.

Just outstanding.

It’s great to see guys like Cesaro too. Now we’re going off an tangent well away from my show, but fans really get to choose who they want to support. That’s what happened with Daniel Bryan. I think we’re seeing the same trend with guys like Cesaro who fans have decided that are bigger and better than their initial portray on television.

Yeah, hopefully we’ll see a lot more of that. Back on you though, you’re a guy who’s always staying busy. What’s your schedule look like these days?

Well, let’s look at Saturday. I drove into New Jersey late Friday night after watching SmackDown! with my kids so that I could get up very early on Saturday and work on the editing of my Santa Claus documentary. I went from there and did a signing in Pennsylvania. Then, I went back to Southern New Jersey to work on some more editing before driving to New York City to take part in Jim Ross’ live show at the Gramercy Theatre. On any given day, I’ve got multiple projects going on.

One of the great things about doing these shows is that I can really work my schedule around my interests. For example, I wanted to do something to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of losing my ear with Vader. I found out he was going to be at a Comic Book Convention in Lexington, KY. With one call, I was able to create a Q&A panel with Vader and photo ops. Then I look at my map and realize that Lexington was only a four hour drive from Gatlinburg, TN, which hosts the largest Santa Claus celebration in the world. So my agent made a call and I’ll be doing two shows on the 16th of March in Knoxville, which is only an hour away from Gatlinburg, so I can attend the world’s largest Santa Claus celebration. These shows have really allowed me to do things I want to do and enjoy them.

The past year especially, I know that word has been getting around that these shows are a lot of fun. I think, and this is backed up by people who have told me so, that initially there was some resistance because fans were not sure what the show was about and they didn’t want to see somebody who used to wrestle in front of tens of thousands performing in front of a couple of hundred. But I think that everyone who leaves my shows realizes I have as much as fun on that stage in front of two or three hundred people as I ever did in front of twenty thousand. It’s really as close to getting into the ring and making things happen as I’ve ever felt without those 27 stitches in Richmond’s emergency room.

Looks like you’ve got a completely full plate, but I’m curious if you’ve ever been asked or thought about hosting a podcast. Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and now Jim Ross have done extremely well with theirs. How about Mrs. Foley’s baby boy?

I’ve been asked many times over the last few years, but I think I’m a better subject than I am an interviewer. Honestly, I think that if I were to do the shows I wanted to do, my interview subjects would be so eclectic that I would need to find an audience over time because I would probably scare away the wrestling audience. The guests I would want to interview on my show… well, let’s just say I’m a better subject than I am a host when it comes to podcasts.

Any chance for any more novels like 2003’s criminally underrated Tietam Brown?

I appreciate the fact that you enjoyed my novel and most people who did read it did as well, but when I realized that the wrestling fans were not going to follow me into fiction the way they followed me into non-fiction, I was very realistic about how many years it would take to create an audience. Then I thought as a father of four, I could either spend hundreds of hours in solitude over my garage as well as spend a couple of months on the road promoting a book no one was reading… or do a comeback match against Carlito [at Taboo Tuesday 2004] for the same amount of money. I put aside my dreams of becoming a great novelist and tried instead to be a good father.

So no novels. What about another biography?

I think there was a reason Winston Churchill stopped at three volumes of memoirs. I don’t think the world needed a fourth volume. I enjoy writing my posts on Facebook and they get a great response. Once in a while, if I feel like I have something important to say, I’ll write something of more substance. I’m a co-writer on the WWE comic book, which is actually very good, and I actually edited my son’s book about Santa Claus. Without his knowledge, I just went and cut his 4,300 word story to 2,300 story so that we ended with the most dramatic and crowd-pleasing fashion possible, which was accepting Santa’s offer to fly home on his sleigh instead of asking him for the cash and beginning a whole new adventure. That’s a long winded answer to your question, but I’m really content right now. I hope that over time, an audience finds those novels I wrote in 2003 and 2005 [Scooter], but I do not have any more plans to write books or anything of a longer nature.

Well to end up, is there any type of preview you can give us for your show at the Funny Bone on April 10th?

I have not figured out what exactly I’ll be talking about in Richmond. As I mentioned, I’ll be applying personal anecdotes from my experiences in Richmond. If Cinderella’s castle is the hub from which the five other worlds of the Magic Kingdom revolve, then the Cell is the hub around which all other stories revolve. There will be, what we call in the profession, “call-backs” to that famous story and I’ve found that works really well. No matter how far out on a limb I go with other stories, I can refer back to the Cell as my castle.

Mick Foley will be performing live at Richmond Funny Bone on Thursday, April 10th. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by clicking here.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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