The former professional wrestler embraces his past and makes choreographed violence seem all warm and fuzzy
30 minutes before the doors of the Empire Music Hall in Belfast open, there's already a large queue of super-excited punters waiting outside. People across the street stop and stare, wondering which act could generate such glee in a few hundred people on a Sunday night.
Is it the latest hipster-friendly indie band, perhaps, set to perform an intimate club show before they headline festivals across the world? Or could it be an appearance from the increasingly Damien Thorn-like man-child known as Bieber?
No doubt they would be surprised to learn that the faithful are congregating to see a former professional wrestler indulge his increasingly popular alter-ego as a stand-up comedian and professional storyteller, and perhaps they would 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 this Belfast show in 20 hours flat.
You see, much like metal, comic books and tattoos, the often misunderstood world of wrestling 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 outsiders this all might seem a little strange, inside the Empire it feels like Christmas Eve. We're all happily waiting for jolly old St Mick to arrive. To get us in the mood, 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, Mor's 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 as Mor treats us all to a master-class on x-rated comedy.
Next up is the self-proclaimed Hardcore Legend, and Foley receives surely one of the biggest ovations in the Empire's history. 'The more you cheer, the less I have to do,' he quips, flashing that famous gap-toothed grin of his. 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 Foley was in Belfast, 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 underwent something of an epiphany – this tour sees him embrace his history. The new show, entitled Tales From Wrestling Past, is tailored towards an audience who have grown up watching him shed blood, sweat and tears on network television.
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 unacquainted with it, Foley has obviously made a wise decision in relying on his strengths. Why tip-toe around a subject that 95% of his audience want to hear about?
A massive point of Foley's appeal is his inherent sweetness. His anecdotes are told to amuse rather than to willfully annoy, and his recollections aptly sum up the weird and wonderful of professional wrestling in the US. He is, perhaps, the only man on Earth who can wax lyrical about being slammed through a flaming table and somehow manage to make it seem like a warm, fuzzy experience.
While at times the opening night of his latest tour seems a little haphazard – mid-way through, for example, he randomly takes an impromptu Q&A session before resuming his set – Foley's undeniable charisma and locker full of anecdotes make for an unforgettable evening. Much to the delight of the champ's doctors, no doubt, he doesn't have to take a single steel chair shot to the head to give us value for money.