Mick Foley’s current life as a lovable, downright cuddly comedian, a three-time New York Times No. 1 best-seller, social activist and champion of charitable work represents one of the most unlikely career transitions since Johnny Carson quit television and went to Africa to learn Swahili.
In previous incarnations as “Mankind,” “Dude Love” and the infamous “Cactus Jack,” Foley was one of the most influential and hardcore professional wrestlers of the past 20 years, known for taking high-stakes risks with his body and delivering some of the most compelling promos of all-time. (The recent WWE DVD “For All Mankind” goes in depth into those years; it’s one of the best they’ve done.) He’s taken those skills from the ring and adapted them to his current “gimmick,” which can be seen at The Comedy Zone Aug. 25. With just a few minutes to spare before catching a flight from Atlanta to Chicago, Foley stopped to chat with Folio Weekly.
Folio Weekly: Do you have any particular memories of working in Jacksonville through the years? I know you’ve been wrestling here since about 1992.
Mick Foley: Actually, 1990. As soon as they said “Jacksonville,” my wife said she remembered me wrestling Sting when she was pregnant with our first child. So yeah, Jacksonville was our best town for a long time in WCW. I had some great matches there. We always looked forward to it, because it was one of the largest crowds we wrestled in front of — and hopefully that will hold true for my spoken word. I’m hesitant to call it “standup comedy,” because I don’t want people to think I’ll be there telling bad one-liners; that’s not what I do.
F.W.: You grew up in the New York City area in the 1970s and ’80s, an explosive time in the growth of the standup comedy industry. Were you a fan of that business as a young man?
M.F.: Oh, yeah. I remember watching a show called “Catch a Rising Star.” It was hosted by Richard Belzer, who most people don’t even think of as a comic anymore, because he’s such a respected actor. He was just tremendous! That was the first I’d seen Steven Wright, Sam Kinison, Andy Kaufmann — not that I’m comparing myself to him, but I would like to think of myself as equally unafraid to go outside the box. I really enjoyed that era.
F.W.: Have you ever been approached about a television deal?
M.F.: For five years, I would go out to Hollywood with incredible producers, [and] we would pitch to networks, and one show went as far as going to a pilot. And I just felt like screaming, “Just make me the offbeat neighbor down the street!” I don’t need a show built around me. I wouldn’t want a show built around me any more, but I would love to play a role on some show. And, as people have seen, comics make great dramatic actors.
F.W.: What are your plans for later in the year, going into 2014? Any specific goals?
M.F.: You know, we have more towns asking for shows than I can possibly handle, so I’m going to try to work some shows into my WWE schedule, even if it’s just three or four shows a month. I love doing it, but I’ve also got my plate full: I’m the General Manager of [the WWE kids’ show] “Saturday Morning Slam!” I take part in “Be A Star,” WWE’s anti-bullying campaign. I’m writing the new WWE comic book. I’ve got a WWE children’s book. I’ve actually got more than I can handle so, in some ways, coming out for these shows is kind of a stress-reliever.
F.W.: You’re deeply involved with a lot of charitable organizations. For folks who are fans of yours, are there issues or organizations you’d recommend they put their energies and resources into?
M.F.: I think everybody’s got to follow their own heart; you can’t tell people what they should be pursuing, and why. The main things I’ve been involved with have involved kids. My wife and I have been sponsoring kids for 20 years with a group called Child Fund International [formerly known as Christian Children’s Fund]; the first girl we sponsored, in the Philippines, is now a registered nurse, so that’s proof that if you make the little investment in someone’s life, it can really pay off and benefit others. I’ve been pretty good over the years with visiting the injured service members, especially in Washington, D.C. And I’ve put quite a bit of work into a group called RAINN, which is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. So, yeah, I’ve been pretty hands-on over the years. All I would say is that you get more out of giving than you put in, so we really do it for selfish reasons.