Brendon Burns & Mick Foley: Good God Almighty at Montreal Just For Laughs

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

The idea that comedy challenges its audience into new ways of thinking is largely a myth. More normally it reinforces tribal links as much as any niche of music, with like-minded people united around a shared sense of humour, interests and outlook.

These days, the internet has found it easier to find those who share your passions, which explains the growth of comedy nights and shows with peculiar themes and attitudes: whether it be geeky science stuff or movie fandom.

Now, thanks to former WWE hardcore champion Mick Foley’s move into stand-up, the wrestling subculture has its own comedy night out, too. The audience at this night are certainly skewed differently from your average Chuckle Shack. For starters, from my seat at the back of this sweaty room, I could see just two women –and one of them skedaddled after ten minutes.

Foley’s doing this show with former Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Brendon Burns, – his valet if you like – and they both have separate aims. Both, it seems, want to be more accepted by the other side: Burns wants it to be a night for wrestlemaniacs only; Foley wants it open for all, regardless of whether you know your suplex from your Boston crab.

Burns will probably win out. A few non-fans might come out of curiosity, but it’s easier to play to the 90 per cent die-hards than win over the rest. Burns says he likes the fact that he can launch into routines about WWE without need for set-up ‘You know before Randy Orton completes his finishing move…’ one routine starts. No, I don’t, but everyone else does.

Ultimately, that doesn’t really matter – you can tell where the enthusiastic Burns is coming from even if you don’t have the exact image in your head; but you’ll definitely be enjoying the material at reduced power.

Not that Burns’s delivery is ever at less than 100 per cent… he loves the hollering and the unapologetic loudness professional wrestling celebrates. Half his routines are about times he heckled the grapplers -– being particularly cruel to an Indian giant called The Great Khali – -and he makes the rhythmic repetition of ‘Sir! Sir! Sir!’ to attract their attention into a annoying but effective catchphrase.

Though he’s well aware of the ridiculous posturing and homoerotic overtones of the sport-entertainment franchise, Burns is such a fanboy, it’s easy to see why he struck up a friendship with Foley, and he delights in sharing tales of spending time with his hero. But if he’s slightly star-stuck, that’s nothing to the reaction to the rest of the room when the lumbering, ursine figure of Foley makes his way through the crowd.

Burns explains that Foley’s quite fragile after a career that regularly saw him flung off cages and slammed through burning tables on to concrete floors – but the crowd still want the laying on of hands. (The religious experience is even more pronounced when the room, as one, incants the catchphrase of one of Foley’s foes, as if a call-and-response prayer)

The audience also ignore Burns’s exhortations not to whoop and holler at the name of every wrestler they’ve heard of through Foley’s session – but there’s too much tribal passion here that such instinctual response could ever be curbed.

Foley himself is charm personified – eloquent, funny and self-effacing. He gives the fans some of the behind-the-scenes gossip they crave, but it’s not alienating for the rest of us. After all, he’s a man who had an interesting job working with quite some characters – no matter what that job was – and the anecdotes he shares aren’t confined to fellow brawlers: Who would have thought, for instance, that George W Bush was quite the wrestling fan? Although in retrospect it explains a lot about his policies. Saddam Hussein was just the ultimate heel, with some of the dodgy ethnic stereotyping wrestling’s storyline writers love.

The show’s entertaining stuff, though, even if he could do with a little editing and honing of the stories. Today’s performance came in at almost two hours – an unexpected overrun for everyone, even Foley – but tightening the anecdotes could bring it down. A strange, simplistically crude, finale sketch, parodying the Karate Kid re-enacted with Foley and ‘Stone Cold Steve Austin’ also outstays its welcome.

But remember that Foley, however enduring an icon of the ring, is still a stand-up novice and the diagnosis is promising. He can hold a room – probably even one full of non-believers, as if that would ever be tested – as firmly as he could hold a wrestling rival and he comes across as a warm, genuine and easy-going guy. He says that his greatest motivator in the WWE was not beating the crap out of people, but telling a story, with humour. That should stand him in good stead in his new career.

Review date: 29 Jul 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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