The Baddest Man

Mike Tyson shares “undisputed truth” in touring one-man stage show

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click to enlarge Mike Tyson was inspired to take the stage after seeing actor Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show.
Mike Tyson was inspired to take the stage after seeing actor Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show.

M

ike Tyson is one of the more fascinating figures of the last 30 years. During his boxing heyday, he could be tender and incisive one minute, brutal and animalistic the next. The guy was a bipolar mess of neurosis, the result of a broken home and a childhood marked by humiliation and violence.

And has there ever been a voice as mismatched to the body from which it emanates than that of Mike Tyson’s? Boxing was his salvation, a passion into which he poured every ounce of energy in an effort to please his unlikely savior/mentor, veteran trainer Cus D’Amato.

By age 20, Tyson was not just the youngest heavyweight champion ever but also the “Baddest Man on the Planet,” a ferocious, unprecedented mix of speed, power and psychological intimidation. He won fights before a punch was even thrown.

Flash-forward 28 years and Tyson is known as much for his amusing “character” in The Hangover or his Adult Swim cartoon as he is for his controversial boxing career or his various legal and personal transgressions. Now, at age 48 and seemingly in a good place both personally and professionally, the entertainer brings his one-man stage show, dubbed Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, to Cincinnati, in which Iron Mike relays various stories from his one-of-a-kind life.

CityBeat recently reached Tyson by phone to discuss his “undisputed truth.”

CityBeat:

How did this one-man stage show idea come about?

Mike Tyson:

Me and my wife were riding up the strip and we saw a billboard that said, “Chazz Palminteri — A Bronx Tale of the Stage.” My wife wanted to see it, and so we went to see the show and it was just … uh, I can’t even explain it. It was just riveting and mind-blowing. Man, we were so captivated on every syllable that he was saying that someone could have walked up and put their hand in our pocket and took our money without us knowing. He had us mesmerized. 

After the show, I told my wife, “Wow, I want to make people feel like he made me feel.” I was explaining to my wife, “I think we can do this, because when I’m in Europe and Asia onstage doing Q-and-As, the response is great.” I said, “I want to do what Mr. Palminteri is doing, and I’ll do it from a theatrical perspective and just not answer questions like I’ve done in the past.”

So my wife wrote the script. We rehearsed it and changed it a bunch of times. When we first did it people started laughing when I was telling really horrific stories about my past and my childhood. When they were laughing I was thinking that it wasn’t really working out, like they were laughing at me. I was a little ambiguous about it at first.

CB:

And then Spike Lee saw the show and asked you if you wanted to bring it to New York City?

MT:

Yes, he wanted to get involved. 

CB:

How did he influence the show?

MT:

At first we had a singer, a piano player and a Rock band on the side, and he made so it was just exclusively myself onstage. 

CB:

Did it evoke a similar feeling as when you were alone in a boxing ring?

MT:

There are similarities. The live audience pumps your blood up. You have to be at your best. There’s no mistakes allowed — or very few. 

CB

:

How does the show change from city to city — or is it pretty much the same each night?

MT:

It depends on the energy of the crowd, because I’m ad-libbing a lot of the stuff. That’s how it became good, because I ad-lib a lot and my wife put the ad-libs in and took a lot of stuff out. Most of the ad-libs became a part of the show. 

CB:

Do you find this show therapeutic in some way?

MT

:

I don’t look at it like that. No, I look at it as just performance, entertaining people. My goal is to entertain and get responses. 

CB:

Were you hesitant at all to get into some of the very personal things you talk about in the show?

MT:

Yes, yes, yes…

(Silence for several seconds.)

CB:

You call the show your “Undisputed Truth.” Has anyone actually disputed your truth?

MT:

I’ve been doing this for a few years now and nobody has disputed it because they know it’s true. I’m letting people know that this is really what happened. By now somebody would have said, “Hey, this didn’t happen and that didn’t happen.” And most of it is documented, the stuff that I talk about. 

CB:

I’ve not yet seen the stage show, but I did see the James Toback documentary from a few years back, and that seemed to be a similar setup wherein most of it is just you telling your story straight into the camera. 

MT:

This is a lot different because there was no live audience [in the documentary]; there was no energy there. If you really think about it, this is a really ominous, dark kind of show, but it’s also entertainment. 

CB:

Well, I was going to say that between the documentary and this show, did you feel a need to tell your side of your story as opposed to how you’ve been portrayed by the press and others over the years?

MT:

No, I have a need to entertain. I have no need to win anybody over to my side. 

CB:

You’ve said that you were born to entertain. I’m curious: When you were a kid growing up in New York did you really think that 40 years later you’d be in the position you are in now?

MT:

Well, when I was a kid fighter I didn’t really know anything about entertainment until Cus [D’Amato] expressed it to me. Fighting is entertainment. You can be a sensational fighter and continue to win but if you’re not exciting, you’re just very talented. After they see you fight, you want the people to say, “When can I see this guy fight again?” 

CB:

On a lighter note, I saw you on Jimmy Fallon a couple weeks back and he actually got you to fight yourself on the old ’80s video game Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!.

MT:

[Laughs.] Yeah, I got annihilated. I always sucked at that game. ©


MIKE TYSON performs at Horseshoe Casino Friday. Tickets and more info:

horseshoecincinnati.com.


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