8 p.m. Wednesday, April 23
Snickerz Comedy Bar
5535 St. Joe Rd., Fort Wayne
Tix: $25 thru Snickerz box office, 260-486-0216
If you were asked to write up a short bio on a man who calls himself a storyteller, you would not expect that storyteller to have racked up a list of injuries that would make a pro football player blush. Multiple concussions, broken teeth, shattered bones, lacerations, a lopped-off ear. Physical damage of this sort is not the usual bullet list of accomplishments you associate with your typical storyteller. Then again, Mick Foley is not your typical storyteller.
Foley is a three-time World Wrestling Federation champion who performed under the names Mankind and Cactus Jack, among others. He is also a New York Times bestselling author, actor, voice actor and activist. The first two volumes of his memoirs each sat atop the bestsellers list in the early oughts. He writes novels and children’s books. Over the past few years he has taken his love of storytelling on the road. That road brings Foley on Wednesday, April 23 to Snickerz Comedy Club in Fort Wayne. His show, Tales from Wrestling Past, has won rave reviews for it’s humor, wildness and warmth.
Foley will tell you he’s always been a storyteller. He sees little difference in his work in professional wrestling and his spoken word performances.
“It’s just another way of telling stories,” he said in a phone interview from hotel room in Baltimore. “Connecting to an audience in any way is fun.”
The elaborate storylines in professional wrestling are acted out physically and with psychology facial expressions, Foley said. Professional wrestling has drama, intrigue, betrayal, comedy, mystery and triumph. Oh. There’s action, too. Lots of action.
Foley was born in Bloomington, Indinana in 1965 and moved with his family to Long Island, New York when he was very young. He wrestled in high school, and after a trip to Madison Square Garden to watch a pro wrestling show he decided to make a career in the sport.
After a few years of training during college, Foley started touring on the independent circuit. His intelligence, affability, good looks (he looks like a cross between a hefty Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia with the glasses and a young Santa Claus) and dedication to providing entertainment soon caught the eye of bigger promoters. In 1996 he joined the WWF and created the character Mankind, a character inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the music of Tori Amos. His three WWF championships came in the late 1990s.
Around that time, Foley began writing the first volume of his memoirs. Without a ghostwriter or the benefit of a computer, Foley scratched out some 800 pages of longhand in a matter of weeks. Called Have a Nice Day, his story of life in the ring went on to top the Times bestseller list for non-fiction. The second volume, called Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker than Wrestling, soared to the top of the list as well. A third and fourth volume followed. Foley has also written four children’s books, the most recent being 2012’s A Most Mizerable Christmas, which features characters based on friends from his professional wrestling days, and two novels.
Foley does not like to be called a “standup comedian.” In a video on his Youtube channel, he said he tried telling jokes for a while but realized he had a trove of material from his personal and professional life that allowed him to be more natural – and funnier – in his show. The transition from pro wrestler to author to live storytelling came easily. For a time he toured colleges across the country giving talks at places like MIT, Syracuse University, Notre Dame and University of Miami.
“I’ve had a lot of practice with a microphone and in telling stories with my books,” he said. “And I had a sort of training period speaking at universities. I got to try out different things and I discovered the humorous stories worked best. But nobody knows what to expect from me.”
Indeed. Foley is currently co-writing WW Comic Book and has made a documentary about Santa Claus. (Foley is fascinated with Christmas. He even has a permanent Christmas room in the home on Long Island he shares with his wife of 21 years and their four children.) He’s also made more than two dozen appearances on television as himself or characters from his wrestling career, including an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap. He considers himself a feminist and is active with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and ChildFund International.
Despite having spent many years performing on television and in front of large arenas packed with tens of thousands of people, Foley relishes his current gig playing to mere hundreds.
“I’m really flattered that people trust me enough to come and see my show,” he said. “And I really enjoy being able to see the faces of the people in the audience, to see and hear their reactions. I love the intimacy. But I’m not claiming I would pass up the opportunity to perform in front of 20,000 people. If that happens, great. In the meantime I’m perfectly content to play the small clubs.”