8 07 2013

Here’s an unedited reprint of my review of the recent Mick Foley stand-up show that ran on Culture Northern Ireland.




Thirty minutes before the doors of the Empire in Belfast open, there’s already a large, snake-like queue of super excited punters waiting to walk into the venue to get up close and personal with this evening’s headline act. People from across the street keep looking over, obviously wondering which act has generated such glee from a few hundred people on a Sunday night. Is it the latest hipster-friendly indie band, performing an intimate club show before they headline festivals across the world, they wonder? Could it be an appearance from the increasingly Damien Thorn-like man-child known as Bieber, they seem to ponder?

No doubt they would be surprised to learn that the faithful are actually congregating outside to see a former professional wrestler (with a litany of injuries longer than Lindsay Lohan’s rap sheet) indulge his increasingly popular alter-ego as a stand-up comic/story-teller, and perhaps they’d even be mildly impressed to find out that recent Hall of Fame inductee, three time WWE champion and best-selling author Mick Foley sold out his Belfast date in 20 hours flat too. You see, much like metal, comic books and tattoos, the often misunderstood world of “rasslin” is an ever-green, deeply rich sub-culture and once you’ve been caught by the grappling bug, well, it never really loosens its grip, as tonight’s attendance ably illustrates.

While to the outsiders, a packed hall of punters all clamouring to hear stories from a man who competed in “Japanese Death Matches,” barbed wire bouts and the now-infamous Hell in a Cell ordeal (where the Long Island native ended up being flung off the top of a 16 feet tall steel construction onto a table below) might seem a little strange, inside the venue it feels like Christmas Eve and we’re all happily waiting for jolly old St Mick to arrive.

To get us in the mood though, there’s a support slot from Coleraine man Martin Mor and his Chinese Burn-like approach to warming up the audience has the place in hysterics. Boasting a brand of comedy that’s bluer than anything this reviewer has ever heard onstage, his frankly filthy material hits the mark more than misses it and while the poor souls in the front rows are put through hell, no-one seems to mind too much and he treats us all to a master-class on x-rated comedy.

Next up, it’s the self-proclaimed Hardcore Legend and he receives one of the biggest ovations in the Empire’s history. “The more you cheer, the less I have to do,” says Foley, flashing that famous gap-toothed grin of his and while he seems a little rattled having to follow Mor’s sledge-hammer like performance, it doesn’t take him too long to settle into the groove.

The last time Mick was here, the material for his show was a little broader in scope and he was clearly keen to attract a less wrestling-centric crowd. However, after a stint at the Edinburgh Festival where he under-went something of an epiphany, this tour sees him embrace his history and the performance, sub-titled Tales From Wrestling Past, is tailoured towards an audience who have grown up watching him shed blood, sweat and tears (then a little more blood for good measure).

Stories about Jake the Snake Roberts’ toilet habits and Diamond Dallas Page’s penchant for nudity are all told (and received) warmly and while some may argue that a show solely centred around the wrestling world may be a little off-putting for those who know little of it, this reviewer thinks Foley made a wise decision relying on his strengths. After all, you don’t see Slayer play country songs in an effort to appeal to a broader audience-so why should a wrestler tip-toe around a subject that 95% of his audience want to hear about?

A massive point of Mick’s appeal is his inherent sweetness. His anecdotes are told to amuse rather than annoy and his recollections aptly sum up the weird and wonderful sub-culture (he’s probably one of the only men on Earth who will wax lyrical about being slammed through a flaming table and make it seem like a warm and fuzzy experience). Telling a tale about a time where he attended an adult performance in Amsterdam alongside some fellow wrestlers, he grins when he remembers one of his peers noticed the nude performer was wearing a knee brace and, clearly feeling a kinship, said, “Look-he’s working hurt, too.”

While at times the opening night of his latest tour seems a little hap hazard (mid-way through he randomly takes an impromptu Q and A session before resuming his set), Foley’s undeniable charisma combined with his fond recollection of his storied career make for an unforgettable evening and, much to the delight of the champ’s doctors no doubt, he didn’t have to take a single steel chair shot to the head to give us value for money.