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"I Had to Connect With Audiences With Fewer Trips to the ER."

Pro wrestler turned comedian turned world's nicest guy Mick Foley's one-man show comes to town.

 

Mick Foley is many things: Family man. Best-selling author. Domestic violence activist. Professional Santa Claus enthusiast. Yes, also a mega-famous professional wrestler, who traveled the world being set on fire. Now retired at the age of 49, Foley has found (another) new calling: Performance art. His one-man-show comes to Cobb’s Comedy Club and Improv Fest in San Jose this week. 

San Francisco: The way we hear it, you’re the first guy to go into spoken word theater because of a concussion?
Mick Foley: A few years back I did what they call an ImPACT test, to measure the severity of your head injuries. It didn’t go well. I don’t even know how many concussions I’ve really had, and the neurologists told me I should never wrestle again. But I still like to entertain people and make a living, so I had to invent a way to connect with audiences that involved fewer trips to the emergency room. I’d done some speaking tours at colleges 15 years ago after the success of my first book somehow made me legit in the eyes of MIT and Notre Dame, so I threw myself back into that material. It’s good mental exercise: Talking about the past keeps my brain in shape. 

Wrestling fans always want to hear you talk, but how do you go over with a general audience?
Low expectations. My model is George W. Bush in his presidential debates: Set the bar at ground-level and people will be astonished when you hurtle yourself over it. It’s like watching a fat guy do a cartwheel, you’re amazed no matter what. But I insist, fan or not, a good story is a good story. Give it a chance and you’ll probably laugh a lot. 

The thing most people remember about your wrestling career is all the times you were gruesomely injured. Does it ever feel uncomfortable getting laughs with that material?
I want to point out, the show is not just a tour of my most graphic injuries. It’s more thoughtful that that. But yeah, I do look back on those bizarre situations where the match goes on even while your coworkers check to see if you’re still alive. Or the time a French referee couldn’t tell me he’d found my severed ear because he didn’t speak English. You can’t make that up. So here’s how it works: You make somebody laugh with that, and then you cut them off, and if they feel bad for laughing that’s a chance to teach them something. By the way, I’m looking forward to coming to San Francisco and bonding with Leslie Smith over our respective ear injuries. She’s bringing some of her fighters to the show. 

Will the show explain the rumors we’ve heard about Santa having a beef with you?
I did this documentary on Netflix, I Am Santa Claus, about guys who are professional Santas. Most Santas like the movie, but a few didn’t care for me being associated with the sanctity of their job, and I got threats and angry, profanity-filled emails. There was even an attempt to picket my appearance at the International Fruitcake Eating Championship in the town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Let’s just appreciate the irony that I was paid for years to make people angry as a wrestling bad guy, but this is the most real anger I’ve ever gotten. It’s bizarre. 

Care to come to SantaCon and show them how it’s really done?
I think San Francisco’s own Harry Callahan said: A man has to know his limitations. 

Ever get any flack on the comedy circuit?
Most comics respect that I take the show seriously. Occasionally I get—not hecklers, but people who seem to think they’re improving the show by yelling. It’s hard to know what to do, because making fun of them just emboldens them. Although I did learn a good trick one night: If you can, seat them next to the president of the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. That shuts them up like a charm.

 

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