Mick Foley got his first full time wrestling job in 1988. Comfortable in the tights as “Cactus Jack,” he soared the heights as WWE’s “Mankind.” Earning three belts, Foley joined wrestling lore in his epic battle against “the Undertaker.” Literally taking flight off a caged structure, he rose to finish despite being knocked unconscious and completing the match with a tooth wedged in his nose. Nonetheless, when finally succumbing to age, retirement gave him the chance to write a bestselling memoir, which resulted in a profession that could quite possible rival that 16 foot dive off the “Cell from Hell” in 1998
Times Square(TS): What’s more scary, standing on that cage and knowing you’re going head first into the scorer’s table or doing standup?
Mick Foley(MF): Nothing could replicate getting up on that cage and seeing people below who appeared like ants. It was terrifying, but I used to get extremely nervous before the shows. That’s not the case anymore. I feel pretty confident, and I’m very much at home.
TS: I’m not doing either. But let’s back track. How did these three varied careers come out of your childhood?
MF: I think it stems from being a young man who liked to get reactions. I found out late in my career that receiving laughter could be as rewarding as inducing winces.
TS: How did school impact your choices?
MF: I was a very good writer but an underachiever.
TS: What sports did you play?
MF: Baseball, basketball, football and then lacrosse and amateur wrestling.
TS: Did you go to college?
MF: I was a communications major.
TS: So how did you gravitate toward professional wrestling?
MF: I loved watching professional wrestling, and I was given the chance as a sophomore to set up rings in New York City. Eventually, I was invited to join a company for aspiring wrestlers in Pittsburgh. Oddly enough, I then started doing well in school.
TS: You’re finally becoming a student, what did your parents think of your choice?
MF: They just said I had to stay in school.
TS: Were you ok with that?
MF: I pointed out in my last book that wrestlers don’t necessarily do careful risk reward analysis or else they would never get involved. Luckily, I beat the odds, but even with that, I’m glad I had something to fall back on.
TS: Did it hurt?
MF: Yeah. You can tell by the way I prod around onstage.
TS: When did you start thinking about transitioning?
MF: WWE signed with Judith Regan and I was one of three wrestlers approached with a book deal.
TS: What happened with the ghostwriter?
MF: After reading several chapters, I thought I could do a better than this. So you can imagine trying to convince a publisher that this wrestler was going to write a book.
TS: I could…
MF: There was silence on the other end of the phone, and I said, how about I send what I’ve written and see if you like it.
MF: I turned in 76 handwritten pages and it turned out that I had a nice way of telling stories.
TS: You hand wrote 200,000 words in doing the book. Who did the typing?
MF: I don’t know, but I know a lot of people were trying to decipher my handwriting. Along the way, I became enamored with the semicolon to sort of prove I was a writer.
TS: I like the dash but I’ve read that the semicolon is unnecessary so I laugh when I see one.
MF: I’ve heard the same thing, and in my last book, I had my editor go back and take a bunch of them out. But then I put them back in. My wife is actually afraid I’m going to leave her for a semicolon.
TS: Could you imagine wrestling fans in the 90’s envisioning Mankind debating the proper usage of the semicolon.
TS: How do you make the next transition to standup?
MK: The success of the first book opened the door to begin speaking at some pretty prestigious colleges starting in late 1999. I got about ten engagements a year until around 2007. I was then offered a chance to do improv in L.A. I used a couple of stories that worked from my college days and also threw in some barely formed ideas. It ended up being a pretty good show, which was the worst possible thing because it left me under the impression that I didn’t have to work to be a success. I’ve figured out in the last four years that is absolutely not true.
TS: What’s your material?
MK: I used to go out of my way to do as little wrestling material as I could. I wanted to prove I could talk about things outside of wrestling, and I can. But it’s almost like saying you can do the Catholic Mass in Latin. It’s impressive but not necessarily practical. So I ended up having this defining moment at a festival in Montreal. There were hundreds of comedians under the same roof who were funnier than me. The message was clear – semicolon - that if fans wanted to hear material outside of wrestling there were literally hundreds of better places to go. But if fans wanted to hear some unique stories about a unique industry from the perspective of a guy who traveled the world with his eyes and ears open for 28 years, I was a pretty good source.
TS: Is most of your audience wrestling fans?
MK: About 95%. As for the non fans, they usually tell me that they no idea what to expect, and it’s almost like they settled in for a night of agony. In reality, they enjoy it more than they could have imagined.
TS: What do other comedians say about you?
MK: I had a terrifying experience one night. I couldn’t get a laugh. If I was in a pool, I would have asked for a life preserver. Judah Friedlander told me you have to have some better material, but you still have a way of telling stories that keeps people interested. So I’ve learned through my mistakes and feedback like that.
TS: And you’ve made it to Caroline’s.
MK: It’s one of the biggest shows I’ve done. Hopefully, it could lead to the connection that helps to disregard your fear that I’ll embarrass myself and their image of me.
TS: Good Luck
MK: Thank you.