Ex-Pro Wrestling Branches Out From Books To Comedy
Mick Foley took plenty of risks inside the wrestling ring, but he might be trying more daring moves outside it. During a professional wrestling career of almost 30 years, Foley — best-known as 'Mankind' — lost several teeth and part of his right ear, dislocated a shoulder, was knocked unconscious by a cattle prod, fell 16 feet onto a table and was burned by plastic explosives.
Nowadays, with Foley semi-retired from the mayhem, he refuses to be narrowly defined as an ex-wrestler.
He has continued a lifelong habit of reinventing himself — this time as a comedian, pursuing a career he began about three years ago.
Foley, 46, will appear tonight in two shows, along with “Reverend” Bob Levy, at Woodlands Tavern in the Grandview Heights area.
“It would be easy to not do anything different,” Foley said from his home on Long Island, N.Y.
“But anytime someone gets a little out of their comfort zone and tries new things, you’re going to grow emotionally, even if the new thing doesn’t turn out to be a complete success."
He reached the heights of wrestling, becoming a standout in the top-level World Wrestling Federation throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s. He won 11 titles — on a par with superstars such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “the Rock” (Dwayne Johnson).
Yet he has consistently taken roads less traveled and broken stereotypes.
Since 1999, for example, he has written 10 books, including two novels and three titles for children.
His latest, Countdown to Lockdown: A Hardcore Journal, was published in 2010.
Meanwhile, as an advocate for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), he has logged more than 500 hours on a hot line for victims.
“Sexual assault was always thought to be a women’s issue,” said Foley, a married father of three sons and a daughter, ages 9 to 20.
“Not many men were talking about it. I dove in headfirst.”
He has also funded the building of several schools in nations such as Mexico and Sierra Leone while “sponsoring” seven children in various parts of the world.
So, despite his starring roles in popular pay-per-view wrestling matches, Foley is embracing modest-sized comedy clubs from Canada to Scotland.
(Woodlands Tavern, according to producer Dylan Shelton, holds about 125 people.)
“If I feel like I have a novel in me, I’m going to give it a try and see what happens,” Foley said. “I had enough experiences with comedy to think that I might be good at it if I applied myself.”
He first thought of trying comedy when he noticed that friends and colleagues seemed to enjoy the humorous anecdotes in his books.
In some ways, the idea makes sense: Countless over-the-top wrestling shows gave Foley a certain comfort with crowds and microphones.
His act, a mix of stories and observations, resembles a conversation more than a series of one-liners.
“He’s good. I was kind of shocked at first,” said Levy, a 25-year comedy veteran who has toured with Foley for the past several months.
“It just seems to flow from him. He clicks with audiences because he’s a likable person.
“And that’s weird. . . . Look at him: He looks like the Brawny (paper towels) guy if he let himself go. If you saw him on the street, you’d cross the street — but he’s the nicest guy.”
Levy also respects Foley for his work ethic.
“He wants to learn. It’s refreshing.”
True to his philosophy of being well-rounded, Foley doesn’t rely solely on talking or joking about his wrestling days. (He still gets into the ring occasionally, most recently in January.)
“I’ve been told you have a five-minute grace period because of who you are,” he said, “and, after that, you better be funny.”
Foley then quoted the 1972 Ricky Nelson hitGarden Party , which Nelson wrote after being booed off a stage for not singing enough of his early tunes.
“There’s a great line in that song: ‘If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.’”
The audience tonight might hear his distorted version of the Barry Manilow hit Mandy.
Or, with Ohio a key state in the upcoming presidential election, Foley could riff on politics.
“How silly is it to see these guys, who are so clearly out of touch with the ways of most Americans, rolling up their shirt sleeves and trying to ingest unhealthy food like they’re one of us?” he said. “They try to one-up each other: ‘Look, I ate a fried Twinkie.’ ‘Oh, yeah? Well, I ate a lump of fried butter!’”
One nod to his first profession might be made obvious during a meet-and-greet session with fans between shows, or about 9:15.
Foley, who suffers post-concussion syndrome, has a sensitivity to light.
“I may have to go with the ‘sunglasses indoors’ look,” he said. “Comedy is similar to wrestling in a lot of ways, but the wear and tear on the body is much easier. Now, instead of a physical pounding, I take an emotional pounding.”