The tale of the retired wrestler is often a tragic one, as Grantland contributor David Shoemaker has made a career of cataloging. In a way the post-ring career of former multi-WWE champion Mick Foley serves as sort of a fairytale-type alternative scenario for those hoping to leave the business unscathed.
Foley made a career of taking things in, out, around, above, to the side and backstage of the ring to the illogical extremes. His nickname is "The Hardcore Legend," a moniker he earned by sacrificing his body for the sake of a decent storyline.
Early in his career, his "finisher" was a fearless diving elbow onto a prone opponent who was often laid out on some nameless concrete floor. Foley honed this move during his time in Dallas, wrestling for the famed World Class Championship Wrestling. From there Foley took his show on the road, with stops in the old WCW, various Japanese federations, and the old Extreme Championship Wrestling. It then that Foley became responsible for some of wrestling history's most insane feats, much of which is chronicled in his New York Times best seller Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks.
In 1996 Foley signed with the reigning force in professional wrestling, the then World Wrestling Federation. Christened "Mankind" by the WWF creative department, Foley was immediately put into a feud with the company's largest star, The Undertaker. The warring cemented Foley's legendary career.
One of those legendary battles played on televisions inside the Arlington Improv as I arrived on Thursday night. That's because Foley has ditched the ropes and begun touring as a stand-up comic. Last night's set was performed to a sold-out crowd, filled with Foley loyalists, dressed in his trademarked T-shirts, clutching copies of his multiple books. A few fans even held replica title belts.
Foley, now 48 years young, travels the nation doing comedy nights like this, with the occasional televised wrestling cameo. (Last Christmas eve he appeared in a match dressed as Santa Claus, only to be immediately hit by a car.)
The show started with a taped PSA from comedian Todd Glass, warning attendees to stay off their phones and to not be jackasses. Then the night's master of ceremonies, Mitchell Clemons, took the stage. I'd love to find something charitable to say about Clemons' set, but the honest truth is that Reddit-made act was the sort of misogynistic/racist whine that highlights all the worst aspects of comedy. Luckily for the audience, the night's featured comic was Clint Werth, the Observer's comic of the year in 2012.
Werth jumped right into things with a joke about the mortality rates of wrestlers. Sure, this elicited initial groans from the audience, but laughter quickly followed as Werth dove deeper into his mind's quixotic spin. He has a killer bit that jumps between the lack of lawyers mentioned in the Bible to Phil Collins' time in the band Genesis. It's heady, methodical and one of the most hilarious bits I've witnessed this year. Werth has the makings of a star.
Foley arrived on stage to a furious standing ovation laced with name-chanting. The ex-Main Event-er is hobbled by his years in the ring, moving gingerly to, and on, the stage. Despite the growing and slamming pains, his trademark smile never left his face. Dressed in a Santa Claus T-shirt, topped with a Santa themed button-up and his trademark sweatpants, Foley basked in the attention the audience readily game him. Foley absconded from the usual stand-up formula, instead focusing on heavy crowd interaction, mixed with an endless string of stories from his wrestling days.
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At one point Foley read from one of his books, recounting the time he lived in Arlington while working with WCCW, leaning heavily on the tumultuous world that was his housing situation in '80s DFW area. Further Texas-centric bits touched on a romantic dalliance with an Australian woman in Fort Worth, and his love of Whataburger -- which might have earned the loudest cheer of the night.
Admittedly those without a deep knowledge of wrestling history could have been lost by much of Foley's material. I was only able to keep up due to the research I put into this piece, and last week's wrestling follies list. Lucky for me and the few other newbies in the audience, Foley made it a point to interact with us, and explain things a bit.
Foley went on to recount other impossibilities he'd witnessed during his career in professional wrestling, like seeing lightning fall from the ceilings of arenas; wrestlers' names lit up in pyro; and fireworks grand enough to upstage Fourth of July festivities. Essentially his dream was deemed more difficult than manipulating the weather inside an arena. Foley pretended to break down as a contingent of Santa Clauses emerge, rushing the stage to give him comfort. Yes, it was that kind of night.
Foley followed up his set with a Q & A session, which was immediately derailed by local musician Daniel Rush Folmer asking Foley to tell the story about a curious trip to a German sex club. I'll save you from the finer details, but it's hilarious, and features an injured performer going all-out, despite having to use the support of a knee brace.