Over the past weekend I have been lucky enough to be supporting professional wrestling legend turned stand-up comedian Mick Foley on tour. This is his third tour of the UK that I've worked on, and I think that I'm now familiar enough with him to consider him a friend. This is especially insane (if I take a step back and think about it for a second) as I have his likeness and autograph tattooed on the inside of my right bicep (Ron Burgundy is on the other side). I'm that big of a geeky fanboy.
Through comedy, writing and well connected friends, I've met a lot of my heroes: Josh Homme, Eddie Izzard, Frank Skinner, Jack Dee, Henry Rollins. Only one person have I been desperate to meet and then been utterly disappointed, and that was Rivers Cuomo - lead singer of Weezer. As a man that I felt spoke to me as a teenager through his music (the only stuff I listened to that would be considered palatable to more delicate ears), when I had the chance to meet him he was aloof, rude to everyone around him and the perfect example of a spoiled child playing dressup as a bespectacled hipster. I'm surprised that one of the many acolytes he had around him didn't snap and give him a hearty slap around the face. Henry Rollins, by reputation for his music deemed a much more volatile person, was infinitely more polite and accommodating than the accidental inventor of Emo.
For all the heroes that I've met though, Mick is the one that takes the prize. In the run up to Edinburgh last year, I was asked a few times in interviews if I had any tips for people starting out in comedy. What you're meant to say at that point is the standard stuff: work on getting a tight five together, work your backside off, practice and write all the time, that kind of thing. That's not the advice that I gave out, and I stand by that advice right now.
What you should do is read Mick's first book, "Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks". This doesn't just apply to starting out in comedy - you could be a wrestler, a musician, an actor, anything. It's the most inspiring (and incredibly funny) book I've ever read, and when I started comedy eight years ago I read it over and over.
It's about a man chasing a dream, working as hard as he can, riding the ups and downs and eventually finding deserved success. All comedians have done what Mick did when he was starting out as a wrestler - eaten bad food, split hotel rooms, slept in our cars.
In fact, as I run a wrestling promotion as well I can see the massive parallels between wrestling and comedy - not least the fact that neither, until you're on TV and massively famous, are the greatest paying jobs in the world. But you stick with them and work hard because you love what you do. For every wrestler you see in the WWE, there are hundreds, if not thousands of guys working the independent shows. Comedy is the same - there's the iceberg above the water of the guys on TV, then there's the rest of us below, not doing it for fame but because it's the best buzz in the world getting people to laugh. If fame happens, it happens.
Back to the weekend. Mick must know I'm a huge fan - after all, I show my tattoo of him off onstage - but he treats everybody the same, with no diva attitude. People queue after his shows to get the chance to meet him, and he does this with a smile on his face, dedicating time to everyone. I saw a little kid meet him backstage at our show in Middlebrough, and it was like the lad had met Santa Claus.
I'll be honest, when I first met Mick on his first UK tour, I was excited about meeting him, but wasn't sure about how good he would be at the stand-up. Truth is, he is good. Excellent, in fact. He clearly learns from every show that he does, and going from a starting point of being very good - which shouldn't be a surprise as he was the best wrestling promo guy of his generation, if not ever - he is now putting on brilliant hour long shows that keep the audiences captivated, and no show is ever the same.
They're great audiences on this tour, too - as a wrestling fan, it's awesome for me to go onstage and talk about incredibly niche references that a mainstream comedy audience wouldn't get at all. What interests me most though is how Mick wants to entertain the people in the audience that might not be as into wrestling as somebody like me is. There have been a few of these people in the shows that I've worked on, and they've always gone away entertained and wanting to know more about wrestling as well as comedy. It's a massive win / win situation.
An especially weird thing for me (and I'm sure the other acts supporting Mick too) is that with Mick being such a serious student of comedy, he'll ask us for advice. I have no way of dealing with this without a little bit of excited wee coming out. I'm a decent comedian who has a full diary, but giving advice to a man who has written bestselling books, entertained millions the world over and is responsible for some of the most iconic events in wrestling history? That's just madness. But it's just a mark of the man that he is, desperate to get even better and keep improving.
He could rest on his laurels, knowing full well that people will probably come and watch him anyway - but that's not his style. He's not living off his name, he's working as hard as he did when he started out as a wrestler, and that just makes him even more inspiring.
My favourite moment of the weekend came on Friday in Middlesbrough when Mick noticed the one thing that all comedians notice: The single, solitary person in the audience that isn't having a good time. It plagues us all, just like one bad review or even one backhanded compliment in a good one. Whenever this happens to me, eight years and fifteen hundred gigs into my career, I can freeze or panic. Not Mick. He made the one person the focus of the show without being mean spirited, and look way more calm and collected than I think I've ever see the most veteran of comedians look in that situation.
Backstage in Newcastle on Saturday I sat with Mick, my fiancee and my friend Glen and just chatted for an hour and a half. Performing itself was fun, but if I ever step away from being a working comic it's times like that that I'll look back on and smile the most.
The big lesson to learn is this though: Nobody will have left one of those gigs thinking that Mick Foley was anything less than as much of a nice guy and great comedian outside of the ring as he was a giant within it. Should the stars ever align and make it that I'm ever performing in theatres on my own, I know for a fact that I'd want to treat every single audience member as well as he did those in Newcastle and Middlebrough.
Do forgive the tone of this blog. I'm sure the next one that I write will be full of the usual bile and idle hatred of pointless things. Just hard to be as miserable as usual when one's hero turns out to be everything you'd hoped for.