Wrestling Hall of Famer Mick Foley Talks Feminism and Becoming Santa Claus
Courtesy of Mick Foley.
An actor, author, feminist and WWE Hall of Fame wrestler, Mick Foley is a multifaceted celebrity, to say the least. This Wednesday, January 13 at 7:30 p.m., he'll take the stage at Comedy Works South with Fifty Years of Foley, a live, spoken-word-style storytelling event detailing the experiences of his many lives.
Foley entered the spotlight in the early 1980s as hardcore wrestler Cactus Jack, eventually morphing into world-renowned dramatic athlete Mankind. His outrageous but lovable personality has served him well in the ring for decades, showcasing his versatility as an entertainer. Though he’s still active in the sport, he has found new audiences as an author and star of commercials, television shows and movies. The most surprising of Foley’s many acts in life may be his turn as an outspoken ally of women’s equality and LGBTQ rights — all of which is covered in this one-man show. In advance of his Denver appearance, Westword chatted with Foley about the many hats he wears — including his journey to become Santa Claus.
Westword: I have to tell you — right before I called you, I came across a recent article that said you had been in an eight-car pile-up and were the only survivor. It wasn't until a few paragraphs into it that I realized it was satire.
Mick Foley: It didn't read like satire. It was very poorly done in that, there should have been something outrageous thrown in there almost immediately, especially when it comes to death. Once in a while I'll share something from a satirical website called Kayfabe News and it's immediate — the headline makes you laugh. But there is really nothing funny about "Foley Lone Survivor" or whatever. I actually put something on Twitter right away letting people know I was fine. I didn't link to it because I didn't want to give the story any attention.
Okay, so my first real question: You typically perform your storytelling show, Fifty Years of Foley, in comedy venues, which is quite a different atmosphere from the wrestling ring. Why is that your chosen arena for these shows?
I wish there was enough room on the marquee to put "Wrestling-Centric Storytelling Show That Appeals To Non-Wrestling Fans Too." It works out that the comedy venues are like a turn-key venue for me in that the stage is there, the sound system is great — especially in a place like Comedy Works, the ceilings are low, the audience is fanned out around the stage. Everything is optimal for viewing a performance — it's just that what I do isn't a traditional comedy show. Most of the stories will be funny, but I don't insist that they have to be. At times, the stories can be pretty touching.
The vast majority of people who come out are wrestling fans. But while it is a show geared toward them, almost every night at least a few people will come up to me — it's usually women who have been dragged out or come as a show of dedication — and say that they really enjoyed it. One of my goals is to never make people feel like they're in an unpleasant atmosphere — that's more important to me than getting laughs. I just hope everyone leaves with a smile on their face. I was going to compare it to when I took my daughter to see Ashlee Simpson ten years ago, but I'm not sure that's the right comparison. But watching the people respond at her show was interesting and I had a good time. I have
I'm an Ashlee Simpson fan myself, but I also know that I'm not the target demographic. It is fun to see big pop concerts regardless of how you feel about the music, I think.
My observation there was, wow. There's certainly no line at the men's room. I think you can flip that (at my show) and say to the ladies who might not be wrestling fans, there won't be any line at the restroom (laughs).
I'm one of those women — I actually discovered you through what I call the "Underground Feminist Network" — a few years ago, I read about your work with RAINN in a piece by a feminist writer. I was sort of surprised that you came to feminism through Tori Amos's music. What took you from being a fan of hers to wanting to be active in this kind of work?
It was really after meeting Tori in 2008 that I ventured onto the Internet (laughs) for the first time. I went on her web site and found a link to RAINN and I was immediately drawn to it. I'd always wanted to make a difference. I mean, talk about not having a line at the restroom — I was voted one the like "sexy male feminists" once and, well, there's not really a long line. There weren't many men involved.
RAINN mentioned that they had wished they had more male volunteers my age and I asked, well, how many are there? Including me, there was one. There are all of these wonderful volunteers — many of them men — but there aren't really a lot of guys my age. In so many cases I felt like I was the father that survivors should have been able to talk to but didn't feel like they could. It was my way of being able to make a big difference. I mean, everyone knows someone who is a survivor, whether they know it or not.
You've been doing this show for quite a while. I read that you're doing a string of shows in this New Year, but then taking a bit of a break.
I've been doing this show for, I don't know, five years? I'm always changing the material but I've kind of run out of great stories for now (laughs.) You know, I could really use you in the audience to ask a Tori Amos question. But yeah, I will be taking a break — I was supposed to come to Denver a year and a half ago but had to cancel to have surgery. I was in really rough shape. I missed not only my show but also my professional Santa Claus school. Denver has the oldest and most prestigious Santa Claus school in the country.
Oh I didn't know Denver was home to that! I know you made the documentary I Am Santa Claus — how did you get interested into that niche of holiday culture?
I was always interested. I've had a year-round Christmas room in my house for fifteen years. The documentary provided me the opportunity to really give being Santa try. The moment the first kid came in and I saw the magic of Christmas reflected in a child's eyes, I knew I had to do this for a long time. I don't brag about much, but I'm a good Santa (laughs.) I believe I have a pretty good gift for it.
I could see it being an under-appreciated "job" of sorts — not just anyone can be Santa. You can see a dude with a beard and think, he could be Santa. But that's not really the case.
That's what people used to think about wrestling, too. I remember being really hurt by a relative of a good friend of mine when I mentioned that someone was a great wrestler — she said, "what do you mean? How can you be great at wrestling?" I stopped them and said, do you think that what I do takes no talent whatsoever? She realized how hurtful those words were. It's the same thing — you could grab a guy with a beard and sit him on a chair, just like you could grab a guy with a helmet and put him on a football field. That doesn't make him Peyton Manning, you know?
Oh, absolutely. I've got limited knowledge of wrestling myself, but I see what draws such a wide variety of people to it — there are plot lines and characters that you care about. It's that suspension of reality that makes it entertaining.
That suspension of reality that brought me to wrestling is the same thing that draws me to being a Santa. The biggest responses I get are from the parents. The nicest thing anyone has ever said about me was in an interview with Norah Jones where she talked about seeing me walk into the back of one of her shows as Santa. She posted it to her Twitter — there's a photo of me singing with her and her quote was, "I don't know how to describe it because it was so surreal - he looked so real. He is Santa." When I read that I was like, I think I gave Norah Jones that Santa moment that you live for.
Join Mick Foley this Wednesday, January 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village, for an evening of stories and conversation. Tickets are $25 and include a post-performance Q&A with Foley. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Comedy Works website.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.