Raw and upfront with this weekend's Parlor Live comedian: Tom Arnold
March 3, 2011 · Updated 1:14 PM
He's one of those celebrities who you feel like you already know. Immortalized on film in action-packed scenes with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "True Lies" and on Fox Sports Net's, "The Best Darn Sports Show," there's not much we haven't seen or heard of Tom Arnold. That goes for both his professional and personal life, like his struggles with weight (that he points out with self-deprecating humor) and four marriages, including a volatile relationship with sitcom star Roseanne.
There's no denying the man is genuine, though. He answers tough questions (and will even give more than asked for), comes clean with his past and is downright sweet about his bromance with the Governator. While he's eager to make fun of his flaws and point out where he's gone wrong, Arnold's Golden Globe award-winning career as a writer, actor, producer and standup comedian have launched him into the spotlight, (and proven that he's done something very right, too). See for yourself when he comes to the Parlor Live Comedy Club March 4 and 5.
REPORTER: Talk about your decision to return to standup a year and a half ago.
TA: It was a time in my life when I was looking to do something different. I didn't want to do standup, but my wife thought it would be a good idea. So I took a night, every Wednesday, at The Laugh Factory (in West Hollywood) and it just kind of blossomed from there. Standup is actually how I started out in 1982 at The University of Iowa.
REPORTER: What was it like making the transition from film and TV back to live standup?
TA: I've found that [standup] feels like a really good 12-step meeting. It's a way to connect with and touch people, figuratively, not literally, that normally you'd only be able to interact with on the Internet. The fact that anyone comes out [to my shows] is nice. They can take pictures if they want. Half of them probably want to make sure I'm not an ass. Of course, people know all about me, which informs some of what I have to talk about, like covering all my marriages.
REPORTER: You're very open with talking about your life. Have you always been so willing to share?
TA: I guess, probably. The first time I realized I could get people to laugh by talking about my life I was hooked on it. Somebody is always going to make fun of me. It might as well be me.
REPORTER: How would you describe your standup in one word?
TA: I'm a storyteller.
REPORTER: Take it back to the early '80s and tell me about getting into standup as a college student in Iowa.
TA: At the student union, there was a room you could tell jokes, read a poem, whatever you wanted to do, you could do. I got a bunch of friends together and I told jokes I'd heard and read from books (I didn't know at the time you couldn't steal material).
REPORTER: What is "Tom Arnold's Sperm Bank & Trust"?
TA: At the time, I worked at the hospital school where my roommates and I donated blood and plasma. So when we heard we could donate sperm, we of course signed up for that too. We were planning how we rich we could be when I found out I had a very small sperm count. So I wrote a song, "Tom Arnold's Sperm Bank & Trust" which I performed in an act.
REPORTER: Does that mean you could have a grown-up child walking around the Midwest who you don't know about?
TA: I wish. The irony is that in high school I used to always tell my girlfriend, 'Don't worry, I have a low sperm count.' It turns out I did. That's how God works. It certainly makes things tougher for having a family.
REPORTER: What's your favorite movie you've ever done?
TA: It's a tie between "Happy Endings" and "True Lies," which was my first big movie and an amazing experience. I stayed friends with all those guys. In "Happy Endings" Maggie Gyllenhaal was my girlfriend, so that says it all right there.
REPORTER: Who would play you if someone made a movie about your life?
TA: One of the Toms (Cruise or Hanks). Such good guys. Does it have to be someone I look like? I think people constantly get me and John Goodman confused and we're both offended by the comparison. Who would play you?
REPORTER: Well, I'm an Asian-American girl so maybe Lucy Liu.
TA: Nice. I did a fun movie with her, Jimmy Fallon and Sharon Stone, that was great, in spite of me being in it.
REPORTER: You've done everything from films, to writing for the "Roseanne" sitcom to CMT's "My Big Redneck Wedding." What's your favorite project?
TA: Probably doing "The Best Darn Sports Show" was one of them. I got paid to talk about sports and meet my heroes. Also, I wrote a movie called, "The Kid & I." It didn't do much, but it was a great experience for me.
REPORTER: You've worked with everyone from Schwarzenegger to Julianne Moore and Hugh Grant. Who is your favorite costar?
TA: Arnold. We still see each other a lot. We ride motorcycles on weekends. He's hilarious, sweet and more sensitive than you think, as well as a great husband, friend and father. He's a little bit of a jock, but just a really good person. He really makes an effort to work on friendships and relationships. I admire that.
REPORTER: What can you say about your ex-wife and the star of the sitcom you wrote for, Roseanne?
TA: It's been almost 17 years since we talked. But she started e-mailing me last Christmas. She and I had had no conversations, no e-mail, nothing until then. I mean that's enough time that someone could change a lot. What I can tell you is something I really liked about her: She was a very good mother.
REPORTER: What's one thing people don't realize about you?
TA: They think I'm short and fat. In reality, I'm 6'2" and fat.
REPORTER: What's the biggest challenge you've ever overcome?
TA: I'm lucky in life. I've seen people who have had a much harder run. I guess I'd say that being healthy is a challenge every day.
REPORTER: You're involved in a lot of charity work. What issues are most important to you?
TA: A lot of them are children's charities. Anything that has happened to me, like with abuse, alcohol, drugs I can personally relate to better. I have a camp for kids who've had major heart surgeries. You start these things wanting to help kids and they end up helping you. I also have some scholarships with colleges, and give two full rides a year.
REPORTER: You've been to the Seattle area before many times, including for the 2005 Seattle hockey challenge which you helped coach. Ever been to Bellevue?
TA: Yes, in fact I have friends who live in Bellevue.
REPORTER: What's your take on the Pacific Northwest?
TA: It's beautiful. I'm looking at my list of movies. "Carpool" pretended to be in Seattle. We filmed "Grassroots" in Seattle. I love it there. The people are nice, I like the weather. If you grew up in Iowa, Seattle weather is relaxing. It seems like a lot of people there run in a spiritual crowd. When the Steelers played the Seahawks, you could tell from the fans the quality people that are from the Seattle area.
REPORTER: What does the future hold for you?
TA: My plans change almost daily. This is my last live performance (at the Parlor Collection) in my tour. Last weekend I was in Vegas, this weekend I'm with you guys. I have a movie coming in March that I'll promote. I can take on more as a writer if I get off my butt or I can just go watch Charlie Sheen.
REPORTER: Do you always feel famous?
TA: I forget about it. Yesterday, I was working out a deal with a sports show and I met a producer at lunch. I tried to give my waiter an order and this kid just stared at me. The kid probably just moved there a month ago and got this job working at a place where you don't usually see celebrities.
You'll get double takes or you can see it in their face. The blessings are I can get into restaurants and people think they know you, so they're easy to talk with. The hard part is when you don't always feel like talking. It's funny because I have low self esteem and a big ego at the same time, which I try to keep in check. I'm always amazed by the celebrities who say, 'Don't you know who I am?' I admire those people. I want to be a sociopath and think that I'm that awesome.
REPORTER: Has Hollywood changed you?
TA: Look at my life and then my sister's life. She's done some years in prison and there's a horrible story about her in the National Enquirer and there's a lot about her in this book called "Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town." Hollywood has kept me out of trouble. It has changed me in ways. It's made me more self-aware and more able to give back.