In his heyday as WWE wrestler, Mick Foley was known for epic battles. Using his signature “Mandible claw” or “Love Handle”, Foley would hook his fingers in his opponent’s mouth and inflict excruciating pain to bring the match to a close.
These days, his finales conclude with laughter, not a gut-wrenching scream.
“I’m not a young comic in his 20s working from a place of anger, I just want people to have a huge smile on their face when they leave,” says Foley, who traded in a world of broken bones and dislocated joints for comedy in 2009.
For Foley, spoken word and standup isn’t a marked departure from the ring. He describes his show as “wrestling-centric story-telling.”
“In wrestling, there is a lot of humour to be found in unlikely places and that’s the challenge but when you find it you get the great laughs.”
One of the cornerstones of WWE’s meteoric rise in the late 90s, Foley earned the nickname “The Hardcore Legend” for his ability to absorb seemingly inhuman punishment in some of the most dramatic matches in sports-entertainment history.
He was the only wrestler on the circuit to play three characters all at once.
Already a respected veteran for his 11 physically punishing years wrestling under the name Cactus Jack, Foley’s career soared to new heights in WWE as “Mankind”, a character Foley claimed was inspired by a combination of reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and listening to the music of Tori Amos.
He credits WWE impresario Vince McMahon for pushing him to have multiple personalities.
McMahon wasn’t a fan of Cactus Jack but he came to appreciate Dude Love, a character Foley created as a teenager, in the hope of becoming a professional wrestling.
It was the perfect creative outlet for Foley, who has always had a wild imagination.
“It was fun and it insured that none of the character ever got stale,” he says.
As Mankind, Foley was a 3-time WWE Champion, but is best known for his brutal battle with The Undertaker during which he was knocked unconscious after falls both off and through the 16-foot “Hell in A Cell” structure. Despite the injury, Foley finished the match – with one of his front teeth lodged in his nose.
It was after that extremely physical duel with the Undertaker, that Foley realized he had to find another to connect with the audience if he wanted to keep wrestling much longer.
Humour always had a place in his schtick, a trick Foley blames on his “non-traditional physique”.
“In a business that put a large value on great physiques, I had to learn to be more animated in the ring and learn to tell stories physically and verbally that people would find compelling,” he says.
By the time, he retired in 200, Foley’s character had shed the savageness and embraced a more carefree, cheerful attitude.
“I came to find people appreciated light-heartedness,” says Foley.
“As I travelled the country and the world, post full-time wrestling, my eyes were opened. I could see what a big difference what the laughter made to people who were going through tough times.”
With his in-ring retirement looming, Foley penned his own memoir (by hand, on 700 pages of notebook paper) and shocked the literary world when the book, Have a Nice Day hit number one on the New York Times best-seller list in October 1999.
After speaking at some of the United States most respected colleges and universities, Foley decided to take his verbal skills into the world of spoken-word and comedy – making his headlining debut in 2009, before a sold-out crowd at the world-famous Hollywood Improv.
Foley has since performed at both the Montreal “Just For Laughs” Festival and the Edinburgh “Fringe Fest” – the two largest comedy festivals in the world, has headlined tours of the UK, Ireland and Australia, and performed for American service-members in the Middle-East and South Korea.
Foley’s acting credentials include “30 Rock,” “Warren the Ape,” “Now and Again,” “G vs. E” and “Boy Meets World”.
His latest show “Hardcore Legend: An Evening With Mick Foley” showcases his trademark blend of wildness and warmth.
“It’s almost an acoustic evening with WWE,” says Foley, who gets into character during the performance taking the audience back into the ring.
Foley still believes being a wrestler is a lot harder than being a raconteur. He hasn’t lost his left ear trying to coax laughter from a chilly audience.
“I don’t ever want to doubt the drive and ambition and courage it takes to get on the stage. But with a stage performance, the injuries are limited to emotional,” Foley says.
“And I think I am a much better performer for having endured those moment.”
• WWE superstar Mick Foley begins his Hardcore Legend tour at the ACT in Maple Ridge on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit actmapleridge.org.