Mick Foley lives for entertaining a crowd, and it's something he's been doing for most of his life.
For almost three decades, the now-retired pro wrestler was a star of the ring in the WWE and other notable promotions. He also has been a best-selling author, made several appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show (sometimes as the program's "resident ass-kicker") and even shown up in a College Humor video. These days, Foley tours the world as a storyteller, appearing in comedy clubs and other venues and sharing his oftentimes humorous and captivating tales of his wrestling career and other misadventures.
But no matter what he's done over the years, two things are certain: it will usually involve humor (sometimes of a goofy and self-effacing nature) and it will be entertaining, and not just to fans of professional wrestling.
Take, for instance, Foley's recent experience of participating in the annual Wing Bowl competitive eating event in Philadelphia earlier this month. When faced with a mountain of chicken to dive into after scarfing as much as he could, the 49-year-old staged a funny stunt where he started stashing excess wings in his fanny pack, a common accessory of pro wrestlers everywhere. Although it earned him an immediate disqualification from the event (and he didn't need a steel chair to pull it off), in true Foley fashion, it was done humorously.
You can expect to hear Foley's side of the story, as well as similarly funny yarns and tales when he performs at Stand Up Live on Sunday, February 8.
We recently spoke with the wrestling legend, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, about the Wing Bowl debacle, as well as why he doesn't consider himself to be a comedian in the strictest sense and how he deals with hecklers, on the rare occasion that someone in his crowds are foolish enough to mess with a man who was considered to be one of the toughest hardcore wrestlers around.
And while you (hopefully) won't see or hear anyone in the crowd heckling, you may just spot a celebrity or two, including legendary rock 'n' roll sideman (and Scottsdale resident) Nils Lofgren and maybe even another WWE great with a flair for humor serving as a special guest during Foley's performance at Stand Up Live.
If you'd like more clues as to this mystery guest's identity, read on.
So what happened at the Wing Bowl? [Chuckles] Oh, man. I realized I was way in over my head when I had as many wings as I could eat at about the nine-minute mark and there was still 19 minutes left. And I did not want my legacy to be one of "the guy who threw up on live national TV," and I thought cheating and getting disqualified was the more honorable way to go. I didn't know if you could just say, "Hey, I'm done," like, I didn't know if you could do that. So, yeah, I cheated, got caught, and -- most importantly -- I made it fun. No matter what, I always try to give people their money's worth, even if it's while being ejected from a [competitive] eating competition.
Were organizers of the event aware of what you were doing beforehand? They were aware that I was in rough shape [chuckles] and it was kind of all done in good fun. It's not something that was prearranged, but it was something that they took advantage of. Luckily, I'm one of the small percentage of people, males especially, who are rocking the fanny pack, so I had a convenient place to store the booty and get caught. So it was all in good fun and never did I believe that it was going to make ESPN and local and international broadcasts.
And you also had a snack for later. No. I don't want to see a wing for a long time. It's gonna be a long time before I even look at a wing again.
So is your audience in Phoenix going to hear all about this story during your performance this weekend? Oh yeah, I'll probably work that in. That's part of the fun of the show is that you have your core stories that you work around and then you add current events in the world of wrestling -- or competitive eating -- and you throw in a Q&A that makes every show unique and way more often than not, leave people with a really good experience.
After reading your autobiographies and diaries, it seems you've always had a flair for comedy and performing throughout your life, going back to high school and doing parody songs at talent shows or with that film you made, The Loved One. Yeah, I've always loved the reactions. That's what drew me to pro wrestling and that's what was so rewarding from the writing process of the first book I did in 1999 [Have a Nice Day]. Seeing the guys react to the stories I read was like being in the ring. Every night when I'm onstage, no matter what the crowd is, I feel like I'm in the ring. Some nights are better than others, but Sunday night, especially at a great venue like the one in Phoenix, we're gonna have a great time. It's not going to be a late-night Friday show where some people are hammered and tired and yelling, it's just going to be fun.
Do you ever get hecklers? People don't heckle me in the traditional sense. I get people who yell after drinking. The reason I come to cities on off-nights is because it is a storytelling show that requires listening and the yellers can make what is usually a great time on stage seem like work. And when it becomes work, I'll still do the best job that I can, but it's not fun. If all my shows were like that, I wouldn't be doing them. It's tough to be away and I think, if you add up the travel to the airport, the waiting time or the driving time to Lake Havasu, I think it's 27 hours of travel over three days. And I really wouldn't be doing that unless I really enjoy what I'm doing.
I don't engage the yellers because then they think they're part of the show, I just very calmly make them feel bad about themselves [chuckles]. They usually stop soon after that.
As funny as you are to watch and as much as there's humor in your show, you're not a stand-up comic in the most traditional sense, right? I have great ways of getting laughs at a hecklers ' or yellers' expense, but that I've learned that only emboldens them and makes them part of the show and then that hurts the show. So I'll give up that laugh in order to make the show better, that's something I learned from wrestling. You may give up the reaction five minutes in in order to create a much more compelling match. I won't give it away, but I have just a tremendous way of shooting down hecklers, but nine times out of 10, it just encouraged them to yell more. So it got great laughs, but it came at the expense of the show.
In your performances, you're not just telling jokes but funny stories of your experiences, right? Oh, yeah. I try to treat it like a match. You take people on a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. So the stories are largely funny, but there's a time to get serious and a time to get touching, but if things are getting overly sensitive, rest assured there will be a sophomoric laugh coming just around the corner.
Usually at your own expense, right? Uh, yeah.
Unlike the stories that you used to tell in the ring, there's no physical toll involved. Nah, no physical toll. I mean, I do put out. I put a lot into the shows, I really do. I treat it like a match, but that doesn't mean I do physical comedy, I don't fall down, I don't do pratfalls, but I put out. As they say, I leave a piece of myself on that stage.
Like we covered a little bit earlier, you've always tried to be entertaining, whether as a professional wrestler, as a writer, and now as storyteller or comedian.
Yeah, a storyteller. Other comics will readily accept that storytelling is a part of comedy, it's just when you attach a "comedy" label, you take people who would like the show and you kind of alienate them. It's kind of like, uh...let me think of a hall of famer...
Like Wayne Gretsky? No, like Kurt Warner, he played for Arizona didn't he?
Yeah, for the Cardinals and took 'em to the Super Bowl. Yeah. If hall of famer Kurt Warner told jokes, I'd have no interest in seeing that. But if hall of famer Kurt Warner was telling stories from his legendary career? Yes, I'd want to see that. So I regret that I ever attached the label of comedy [to the shows]. I do go to comedy clubs. Other comics consider what I do to be comedy, but, man, it's dug me a little bit of a hole that I need to get out of.
The kind of subjects and stories you'll be covering at Standup Live aren't limited to retreading stuff from your books, right? Nah. I do touch on some things that have already been written but I didn't even consult the books on any of these stories. I just kind of found a natural flow and, through trial and error, came up with some things that seem to be clicking, you know, and had to loosen stories that were working but weren't adding to the overall experience. I don't mean to put what I do under a magnifying glass and make it seem like rocket science, but there's a lot of work that goes into making the shows seem effortless and I work on it every night I'm onstage, constantly trying to make it as good as it can be.
I've got this one down pretty good. You guys are in for a good show in Phoenix, and I may have a special guest doing a set. And, you know, I'm just going to put it out there. We did have a special guest the last time I was in Phoenix and we may do the same thing this time.
Um...does the special guest's name rhyme with "Rolf Riegler" or something?
Well, it's not confirmed, so I don't want to put it out there, but if the special guest can make it, his name would, indeed, rhyme with "Rolf Riegler."
That's because this certain guest happens to live here in Phoenix, just like Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella?
Yeah, yeah. The last time I was in town, the Bella's brother [J.J. Garcia] came to the show, so I put out an invite. I don't know where WWE is on the road at that time, but I imagine if they're not busy, you'll see a couple of familiar faces out there. And, also, legendary E-Street band member Nils Lofgren came the last time I was in town.
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Yeah, he's a big fan of yours and vice-versa?
Yeah, Nils is amazing and he did a little impromptu jam when I was inducted into the [WWE] Hall of Fame and that was really a special deal to me.
Mick Foley is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. on Sunday, February 8, at Standup Live. Tickets are $25.