First published on 12 Feb 2013. Updated on 15 May 2013.
He’s been many a dirty heel in the wrestling ring (Cactus Jack and Mankind among them), but Mick Foley is a real-life super hero. With many books to his name and his tireless involvement in an anti-sexual assault organisation, as well as being a ‘Legends’ ambassador for WWE, he’s now embarking on a comedy tour with Australian comedian Brendon Burns. Good God Almighty comes to Melbourne in February 2013.
Stand up is relatively new to you – you started around 2009, is that right?
It's just really been in the last 15 months that I decided to give it my best shot. I guess in that sense it's really like writing – it's not just something I dabble in, it's something I go all out.
What’s more nervewracking for you: taking to the stage with no bells and whistles in front of a comedy audience, or a massive televised wrestling match?
Oh wow, I like the fact you say no bells and whistles because with comedy you're out there as naked as you can be. People give you the five-minute grace period because they like you, and after that you'd better be good! But I'm not quite sure if anything is on par with the feeling I used to get before a big match, because with comedy if something goes wrong you won't end up in the emergency room.
Who are the comedy greats for you?
I loved Steve Martin when I was younger in the ’70s. I loved George Carlin… I used to sit in front of the TV and watch the HBO comedy specials. I still remember the line up of Catch a Rising Star’s 10th anniversary: Richard Belzer was the host before he became an actor, Sam Kinison when he was very young, Steven Wright was phenomenal to me. Andy Kaufman did a set… I remember it like it was yesterday. I loved those comedy specials. But as I get further involved, I can really appreciate someone like Brendon Burns, who is going to be with me in Australia. Once I realised that Brendon and I were going to do a fully fledged show in Montreal, I started seriously listening to his CDs. I realised I had to get much better if I was going to be in the same league as him. I give him a lot of credit for influencing me to work on my stuff, to make sure it's as good as it an be and not just barely good.
Wrestling is one of those professions where you do get a lot of earnest people wanting to corner you against a wall and talk to you about it. How do you feel about that?
Well, sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in a never-ending showing of Groundhog Day. I basically get asked questions about the same match every day of my life for the past 14 years. I try to make light of it. I appreciate that it had such an impact on people and it might be a reoccurring theme in my shows in Australia.
You’ve had a lot of comebacks in the wrestling ring. Do you think you'll ever retire? Or can we expect a Fabulous Moolah kind of resurgence when you're 85?
I'll resurface occasionally but it's safe to say I've had my last match. Unless I get thrown in some old-timers’ Battle Royale five to ten years from now.
What would be your tip for a rookie?
It would be, be safe and be realistic. They're both equally important. I think one of only two legitimately wise things I've written in my life is that 'you should never let anyone define for you what being a success is'. It's something that we get to define for ourselves. If that is doing one independent show in a small gymnasium, that's enough of a success for me. I get to define for myself what being a success is.
You're such a prolific writer, whether it's memoirs or stand-up comedy or novels. Are you the sort of guy who wakes up in the middle of the night and starts writing?
I'm very impulsive when it comes to writing. I'll go for months, or in one case even a year without writing. Usually I'll wake up with an idea that I can't seem to get rid of, and then I'll wake up with the idea that I'm going to do it no matter how long it takes. So when I write it's usually in great bursts of energy and then I stop for long periods of time.
We’ve learnt through Celebrity Wife Swap that you're a scrapbooker… do you keep diaries as well?
(Laughs) Well I did it thoroughly and compulsively for a few months. I needed to get eight years of family memories on paper and prove to my youngest son that he actually existed as a baby. Once that project was done, I have not touched scrapbooks in over a year. I kept a diary for the book that was called The Hardcore Diaries and another book called Countdown to Lockdown, but in general I rely on my longterm memory.
Your book Tietam Brown is unusually gritty for a young adult novel. Was it a really important one for you to write?
It's funny, I never thought of it as a particular type of novel. If I had known it was going to be a good book for young adults, I would have toned down some of the more extreme behaviour in the book, because I do think I got the adolescent 'first love' down pretty good. It was important for me to write because I had been thinking about the story for well over a year, and I thought if I didn't write it down I might lose it. It was sink or swim time for my life as a novelist.
Are you still involved with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)?
Yeah, we just had the gang from RAINN come to one of my shows in Baltimore. Unfortunately I don't volunteer weekly on the hotline anymore, but I did a pretty good job for two years, and it was really important for me to get the hands on experience so I can better attest to the problem of sexual assault.
What kind of talents are your four kids showing?
They love making videos. They want a better camera immediately. I'm trying to push it off to Christmas so it can be their big gift. But they really want to make and edit videos – they're really drawn to YouTube, maybe a little bit too drawn to YouTube. But they're really showing a creative flair for that so I want to encourage them. My son's a Sports Marketing major in College, and my daughter is like my personal assistant for this coming year, she might still come with me to Australia. I go to Saudi Arabia in two days and she can't make that trip with me because her passport expired.
Wow, that's going to be an interesting show.
Yeah, of all things it's a gamers’ convention. I just go where they tell me – it's a WWE appearance. It seems unusual to me, but I'll be there signing autographs.
Speaking of the WWE, how much control do wrestlers have over their storylines?
I couldn't tell you because I'm not there that often. I know that I was a major contributor to my storylines. If a storyline is really good it's because the guys involved have really put themselves into it, and that generally means at certain points you will be perceived as being a pain in the neck to the WWE office personnel. No one does really well by just accepting what is given to them.
What was your reasoning for taking on roles in the indie circuit back in the early 2000s?
I liked seeing the talent that was out there. I had been in the WWE for a long time, and left under less than ideal circumstances in 2001 as everyone does at some point. I wanted to see what else was out there. For example I got to see CM Punk when he was tearing up the independent circuit in 2004. He was a guy I specifically got in touch with Vince McMahon about taking a look at. So who knows! I'm not saying I discovered him, but I like the idea that I got a chance to see what was out there, and who was doing what on the independent scene.
How far do you want to take you comedy career?
You know what I love about it? I can set my own schedule. I think the Australian trip is 12 days, and that's about as long I would like to be gone. But generally I can just book every other weekend; I am in total control of my appearances. At this point I'm not looking at it like a means to an end. I really enjoy being up there, and I look forward to working on new stories and making it as good as it can possibly be.
Have you visited Australia a few times?
This would only be my second time. I went over on a promotional tour for WWE in 2000. I was supposed to come to be part of an independent wrestling tour in 2005 until I found out that, through no fault of the Australian promoters, that I wasn't actually going to get paid. And as much as I love you guys, it's a long trip to go for free.
Lastly, what are you reading at the moment?
(Laughing) Of all things! What else would a hardcore wrestling legend be reading but How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.