Tom Arnold recounts his tumultuous life and past marriages in his first-ever hourlong stand-up special
What don't we already know about the much publicized life of Tom Arnold, who kicked off his zany career as the husband of Roseanne and the star of tabloid magazines across the country back in the 80s? A lot, according to the comedian himself, who is set to release his first-ever hourlong stand-up special That's My Story & I'm Sticking to It on DVD April 5th.
The actor, who made a name for himself appearing in hit movies like True Lies and Nine Months back in the nineties, is reemerging as a sought after dramatic lead who hopes to soon reprise his role as Albert Gibson in True Lies 2. We had a chance to catch up with Tom to talk with him about his comedy special, his plans for True Lies 2, and to reminisce about some of his older movies like The Stupids and The Kid and I.
Here is our conversation.
It's hard to believe that you've never done a stand-up special before now. How is that possible?
Tom Arnold: I did three HBO specials, but they weren't stand-up. I think its possible that I haven't done this, because I have always been afraid to do stand-up. Especially in a special. I started off almost thirty years ago doing stand-up. That's certainly what got me started, and its what I come back too. Always. Its funny that I haven't ever done it. I was doing other things. I'll admit that I was a little scared of it. So many people who are really close to me had done really great ones. I wanted to make sure I could do a decent one. I wanted a decent hour. I wanted it from my voice. Its interesting, because I had an act that was pretty good back in the 80s. Your life changes dramatically. You get married. In my case, I started writing for television, and then I eventually started acting. The stand-up takes a backseat to all of that stuff. Two or three years ago, when I decided to start doing it full-time, or at least a majority of my time, I realized that I had to write a whole new act. I couldn't do the act that I did for corporate gigs. That was always tailored for whatever company I was working for. So I started doing what everyone else does. I started going up once a week and seeing what happened. I would try different material, and I would find out what the audience remembered about me. I found out pretty quickly that they remembered all of my marriages. There was nothing I couldn't get around talking about. I had to address the last twenty-odd years of my life. Because of my circumstance, and the way that I had conducted myself in the past, the audience had an idea about a lot of what had happened. There was no hiding behind anything. I thought, "Well, what can I talk about that is a little different? Can I give them a different point of view from what they've heard about?" It's the good news and the bad news. There are certain things in your life, and when you start talking about those things, people immediately go to where they were when it happened. There are a couple of things like that in my life. Where I don't have to hit you over the head with who was all involved. I can say, "This happened, and it was my ex-wife." They immediately know who that is, and what happened. What the event was. If she was singing the national anthem, or if she did something stupid. There is a short hand you get when people are familiar with you. Its like the familiarity you have with a cousin. You know a little bit about them. You know the highlights, or the lowlights in my case. And it makes it a little easier. There is a familiarity. That helps with stand-up comedy, because the audience is never a stranger. They really know, when I walk out, a lot about me. They just want to make sure I am not an asshole.
I was in high school when you first started to emerge on the scene. My grandma would buy up all these tabloid magazines, so they were always in the house when she would come visit. So, it feels as though you have been a part of my life for a very long time. What kind of new information or stories can you share at this point with someone who has followed your career so closely throughout the years?
Tom Arnold: I hope that what people relate to is a familiarity. I have such an average guy personality. I believe people think that. They look at some of the things I did, and they think to themselves, "If I had of tried to get into this crazy show business thing, that's what could have happened to me." They realize that some of these things look pretty familiar. I come from a working class place. I worked at McDonalds. Its not as though I was born into show business. So, when you started reading those tabloids and things, sincerely, though I can't speak for my ex-wife, we were going about our business as though we were still two people that worked in factories. But now, we had a different type of job. And we were conducting our lives as such. It was fun. And we were acting like it was fun and crazy. We did some crazy things. We didn't have the etiquette down, which a more refined show business entity might have had. To me, those are the most interesting people. Now, stepping back...Obviously, I have been able to step back, because if I were still that guy, it would have been over a long time ago. I am able to see younger people, and how they are doing things. I lived next to Britney Spears and Kevin Federline for a while. I was seeing things that they were doing, and it really reminded me of things that myself and Roseanne did. I know they probably didn't listen to me. I don't blame them. But I gave a ton of my advice to both of them. Including telling Kevin, "What you do now will be with you forever. If that's what you want. If its not what you want, then don't do anything. Lay low. Its fixing to get you."
Back when you and Roseanne were such a prominent fixture in the tabloids, they didn't have these celebrity reality shows you see all over cable today. You guys were kind of like a mixed-media rolling reality road show. You started a trend in a lot of ways.
Tom Arnold: That's a good way to put it. When you look back on things, you ask, "Why?" Here were two friends, and they were good buddies in the comedy world. They wrote for each other, they did these other things, and creatively, they did well. They got married. They did well at first. Then something went off track. What I think went off track is the reality show part of our lives. I'm not so sure we should have gotten married to begin with. I like to think that things happen for a reason. We were such good friends, but we did get married two days out of rehab. Which they say to wait a year. And that's not even close. They say that your personality changes after you go in there. I remember looking back at it, and in the third year, the public life seemed to take over the private life. That became bigger and greater. That's what happens with these reality shows. When they first start, people don't know. Some of these families disintegrate, because they are on a reality show. I don't know what kind of money makes that worth it. It would have to be worth it. In our case, we would just call up the news in the middle of it, and they would put us on. That is crazy. They don't even do that now. If Roseanne had a problem with something, she would call up, and they would put her on the news. They would put me on because of her. It was crazy times. But the media was just learning how to deal with people. That's why this Charlie Sheen stuff doesn't weird me out. I've seen it. I have been there. To a lesser degree. But after the National Anthem was sung, and the press came down on her? Being a part of that, and fearing that our show would go away? The advertisers were backing out. It was like what he is doing, to a different degree. But at that time there weren't these twenty-four hour news cycles. To have so much attention, to have a hundred guys show up at the airport with cameras, that was a big thing. You had to do something terrible or something brilliant. It was usually both. But things did change after that. I remember that after she sang the National Anthem, we had a press conference at the Beverly Hilton. I spotted a guy in the front row from the National Inquirer. I remember saying, "Get the 'f' out of here!" I didn't realize we were live on CNN at the time. There was no bleep. Our point was to prove that we were sane at the time. Then there is me yelling and swearing at a guy in the front row to get his ass out of there. Showing how crazy we were. I didn't know the cameras were rolling and that the press conference had started. I assumed it was taped. Back then, in 1990, twenty-one years ago, you assume that things are being taped. But now? Its just madness.
It's interesting looking back at that time, because you came out of that tabloid madness with a couple of now-iconic, stand-out roles in some well-remembered films.
Tom Arnold: The interesting thing about True Lies...I have read a great True Lies 2 script, and I hope we are able to do it. Knock on wood. Arnold Schwarzenegger is excited. I am excited. But part of why that original film meant so much to me...The last year of my first marriage, I was filming that movie. I was always used to being number two. That is the way it always went. Growing up in Iowa, the husbands were always number two. So that wasn't a big stretch for me. Just the way I grew up around women. That's just the way it was. In my family, the women dominated everything. There is the public perception. Roseanne is obviously this huge star. At one time, she had the number one book, movie, and TV show all at the same time. That stuff doesn't happen very often. I always knew that I would never be the stand-up she was, or the TV star she was. Or whatever. I just tried to be the best husband that I could be, and the best stepfather. During the last few months of our marriage, I started filming this movie. True Lies. Which I didn't even think I had a chance to be in. Then, once I got in it, people kept saying, "It is so great, you are so great." I kept thinking, "Yeah, right, it just doesn't happen for Tom Arnold like that." I'd been lucky. As lucky as I am ever going to be. The movie took seven months to film instead of two. I learned a lot about filmmaking by watching James Cameron and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger. Watching Jamie Lee Curtis. I couldn't have been around a better group of people. I had no idea how great I had it. My first job on TV was a number one show. And my first real movie was a hit. I came in, in such a great way. I just hope I appreciated it. What happened was, in April of 94 the divorce happened. It was very public. I lost my job. I lost my wife. And I lost my kids. All in the same day. I was a stepfather. The movie didn't come out until July 14th. So there was a period of time where everybody in Hollywood, and everyone in the media, and everyone everywhere was saying, "Oh, yeah, that guy is out! He'll never work again. He just rode her coattails. He had no talent." I knew we had this movie. I'd seen it. But I also knew I was in a tenuous spot. They could not advertise the movie with me, because people did not like me. When they tested it, the names came up. No one in the audience knew what they were seeing. But they saw that it was a James Cameron film, and everybody cheered. Then they saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's name, and everyone cheered. Then they saw Tom Arnold, and every one booed. Literally. But by the end of the movie, when it came time to fill out those opinion cards, everyone liked my character the best. So, in a two-hour period with a good performance, I was able to convince people that I was a decent human being, Which is a weird way of looking at it. But that's how people look at things, apparently. I knew this movie was coming out. I knew all of these people were taking shots at me. But I couldn't say, "I have such a great movie coming out!" No one would have believed that. That would have made me look like an ass. So I waited. When it opened, it was like this public consciousness changed. Particularly in the business I was in. People said, "He was good in this movie, he might be an alright guy. He might be a decent human being." I have always thought that is an odd way to prove yourself. Being good in a movie. But apparently it worked for a while.
Ever since Arnold left office, he has been talking about what he wants to do in terms of his next movie. Do you think its actually a reality that you guys will do True Lies 2?
Tom Arnold: Literally. We have both read the script. There is a script that James Cameron and a guy named Jeff Eastin, who created the TV show White Collar, wrote. It is really great. Jim can't direct it. But he can produce it. We hope it gets done. We have a few fun things we want to do. I am supposed to remain cool about this. For me, it would be a lot of fun to work with the guys again.
Have you talked about who you might want to direct this time around?
Tom Arnold: There is a list of really good directors. There have always been people who were interested in doing it. I let those guys handle that. I put in my two cents.
You and Arnold have had quite an interesting relationship. When he was in office, one of the only appearances he made was in your movie The Kid and I. I truly love that movie, maybe more than True Lies. When are you going to do a follow-up to that?
Tom Arnold: I think True Lies 2 is going to be the follow-up to that. I am excited. All I can say right now is, I know that Arnold and I will work together. A lot of people are sending him scripts now. He is carefully going through them, deciding what he wants to do. He wants to have some fun. He wants to do something that is worth his time, but fun. Hopefully, we can get this thing figured out. And we can get something on track. I am just waiting. I am following his lead.
What about joining in on The Expendables 2?
Tom Arnold: I could always do that. That would be a fun little thing to do. I said to Sly, "You should have a thing for the sidekicks." We'll see what he does. I thought he did a great job with the first one. I was really proud of him.
I want to ask you about one of your other films. The Stupids. Now, there are a lot of really bad comedies that certain folks like "ironically". But what I have noticed from some of my comedian friends, and people who know comedy, is that they have a genuine love and appreciate for The Stupids, a sort of appreciation for it that isn't ironic in the least. What are your feelings looking back on that movie? And how did you feel about it at the time it was being made?
Tom Arnold: That is what Adam Sandler always told me. What you just said. People actually like it, and I ask, "Are you sure?" It was different. John Landis had done Animal House and he had done An American Werewolf in London. A lot of movies I loved when I was growing up. He directed it. It was based on children's books, as you might know. Or you might not know. It was one of those cases where you just trust the people making the movie. The guy that wrote the script was one of the The Simpsons writers. I didn't quite get everything. The level of absurdity. But I knew to trust those people. To stay in character. To let it fly. I knew that singing "My Own Grandpa" was funny. I know there are moments in there that are so ridiculous that they are absurdly funny. I know that visually, it is an interesting movie. Its hard to hate that movie. To absolutely hate it. Because everyone does stay in character. We stuck to those kids' books. The spirit of those. We stuck to that. Everyone was in the same movie. When you are doing a movie like that, where everyone and everything is so absurd, people can leave the film. You could tell when you were watching it. I think everyone stuck with it. Its just nice to hear. I am always grateful that anyone ever liked anything.
In recent years, you've really turned in some great dramatic performances, opening people's eyes to what you are capable of at this point in your career. Why did you decide to ease yourself down that road?
Tom Arnold: Those dramatic roles? Look, Happy Endings, I got to play a guy that Don Roos wrote for me, that no one else would have. I play Maggie Gyllenhaal's boyfriend. On paper, that doesn't make sense. But if you watch the film, it does. Because we had a great writer and a great director. I was working with great people. Jason Ritter was my son. And we had Lisa Kudrow. These awesomely talented people. And you hope it rubs off on you. I really battled to get in that. The studio wanted Michael Douglas or Jeff Bridges. I had to wait for them to say no. I mean, even I would want Jeff Bridges. When I got that, it meant so much to me. It meant as much as True Lies meant.
It's a change for you as an actor. When I first saw your name come up in the credits for Good Dick, I thought, "Why is he in this?"
Tom Arnold: I was in it to be the asshole.
Yes! And you were good at being the asshole. But we don't immediately think of you as that dramatic sort of actor, and yet you completely disappear in this role. We're not thinking about you or your personal story.
Tom Arnold: I did a movie called Gardens of the Night, where I play a pedophile. I am in that with John Malkovich. He is the good guy. Good Dick was a cameo. Gardens of the Night was a full movie. That was a tough one for me personally, because of my personal experiences growing up. Just promoting it, where you had to go on Dr. Phil and talk about what my life was like growing up, and how I understood these kids. The character was into kidnapping. That was tough. The serious ones stay with you for a while. That was a tough, tough one. It dealt with issues in my past. Which my family had to deal with. I think it embarrasses them. Doing interviews like this? You have to talk openly about how the material related to me. And that movie traveled all over the world, so I had to share with other people in other countries. Then, the Los Angeles Times accused me of sharing too much. I think that is what you are supposed to do when you have something to offer. You never know. I like dramatic ones. I have done a few in the last couple of years that haven't come out yet. It's a surprise to people when comedic actors can pull off something dramatic. But I have seen it time and time again. Even with stand-ups. When they cross over into film work, and they do something dramatic, they can be pretty fucking amazing.
I was being sincere when I mentioned the Kid and I. Do you have a plan to follow up that movie?
Tom Arnold: Well, we'll see. I have to check with the kid.
How is he doing?
Tom Arnold: He is doing well. I am glad you said something. I will probably call him today and set up a lunch.
I had to get that movie once it was on DVD. I watch it every once in a while.
Tom Arnold: Well, thank you. That is always good to hear.