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Tom Arnold on Having Kids, Arnold Schwarzenegger and How Roseanne Saved His Life

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 29th 2010 3:00PM
Tom Arnold in his new Showtime specialTom Arnold seems to be one of those guys who's been hanging around the edges of the entertainment business forever. It's been over 20 years since he made his first big splash on 'Roseanne,' a time period where his marriage to superstar Roseanne Barr got even more publicity than the hit sitcom did.

Now, at 51 and married for the fourth time -- he's confident that this one will stick -- Arnold has decided to go back to his stand-up roots to tell some of the crazy stories from his life.

'Tom Arnold: That's My Story And I'm Sticking To It' is his first-ever stand-up special, debuting on New Year's Eve at 9PM ET on Showtime. In the special, Arnold talks about what he euphemistically calls his "first marriage" along with tidbits about being friends with the governor of California -- let's just say that he and Arnold Schwarzenegger found out that having guy talk on government-owned phones is a bad idea -- and things he's learned from his previous wives.

In a wide-ranging interview from earlier this month, Arnold and I talked about the special, his marriage to Roseanne, what it was like to go back to the stand-up world, if he thought Schwarzenegger got a fair shake as governor and what's on his career and life bucket lists.

I don't recall you doing a stand-up special before this. Have you done one?
No, I mean I've done HBO specials, but not strictly stand-up, no. This is my first time.

So what motivated you to do this this time around?
Probably because I hadn't done it. You know, a couple years ago, I started going out on the road and doing, you know, I've always done stand-up here and there, but I decided to really give it a whirl and write a whole new act. So, you know, it's just something I hadn't done from my bucket list. You know how things are. And I hadn't done that, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

When you sat down to figure out what you wanted to do in your act, where did you go first? Did you go to the stuff about being with Roseanne or stuff about some of the celebrity experiences you've had?
Well, I took every Wednesday at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, and I thought, I'll figure it out here. What does the audience know? What do they know, what do they remember? And apparently, they have a pretty good memory. And so they remembered about 20 years worth of stuff, so you know, I had to talk about Roseanne, and I had to talk about, you know, my marriages and different things. Because they remembered those things. And so, from my point of view, I felt it was important to talk about it. Otherwise, it would seem strange.

What was the thing that you were most surprised that they remembered? Do people come up to you and ask you about stories?
Well, I was surprised... I think the thing that surprised me was how kind people were. I mean, you know, people are really kind to me. And I am always surprised by that. You know? That just blows me away. And you know, when I did the shows, I stuck around afterwards and we talked, so there were some long nights. But it was really, really great. It was great for me, and I hope they had fun.

Why does it blow you away that people liked you and appreciated you?
I don't know. It just, you know, I think if you grow up the way I did, you know, you're kind of... you look for the negative. I mean, that's how you've been raised and things. And then when people are so kind, you know, it just blows you away. I could see being kind about, you know, I do a lot of charity stuff, you know, about that. Everybody does that. But you know, just on a one-to-one... the kindness of strangers has always blown me away. Always. And just made me want to be a better person. And you know, I'm in awe of that, and I try to do better.

When you were trying to figure out which stories to tell, were there any stories where, when you thought about them, did you think "Oh, I don't know if I should tell this one?"
Yeah, there's always a few. And you don't want to get sued by people, even if they're true. Because some people are very litigious, people in my life, and they're going to sue, you know. And I would hope that they just, if they're upset about something, take it and fight back. And a lot of them are comics, and if they have something to say, I'd love to hear about it. You know? And these are my memories.

For instance, I talk about these celebrity divorces, and how my name is always up there with my first wife as being one of the biggest payoffs when in fact, I didn't get any alimony at all. I didn't take anything. I was looking over my divorce thing here from that marriage, and it's all written in there. And it's public record. You know, there's some community property that I had before, and that she had, that we split, but there's no alimony or extra money that was given. And you know, I could have been very wealthy, you know. But I did what anybody else would do. I didn't take it because I had stepkids. It was her money. You know, I've been lucky to be able to work after that. And you know, I can look at myself in the mirror and I'm grateful. And I'm grateful to her too, by the way. I mean, geez, she really helped me. I'm not going to do anything to hurt her.

You've said on more than one occasion, and you said in the special that Roseanne saved your life.
Yeah, absolutely. Oh, absolutely. Because the way I was headed before... She's somebody I met when I was 23 and you know, she got me in rehab, she let me be a stepfather, which you gotta get it together to be a stepfather, and so you know, she definitely saved my life. No doubt. That should be... that's kind of a good thing, you know what I'm saying?

Right. So it's kind of a weird thing, because at the time, it was such a tumultuous marriage. You have a great story in there about when the two of you were dieting and she... you smashed her cookies and she stabbed you with a knife...
Yeah, I deserved it. I deserved it.

But you know, did you see that at the time that she saved your life, or now you look back on it 10, 15 years after it's over?
I think soon...I think I saw it before the marriage ended that she saved my life. Because she was going through some things herself and I remember thinking, it's my turn to be of service to her because she has been of service to me, and she has saved me. And she's going through some crazy stuff, and all I could do was just, you know, be there for her, try to understand what she's going through, which is tough. But you know, she'd done that for me.

Do you guys stay in touch at all?

A lot of the stories in the special center around that marriage. Some of them are very personal. For instance, there was a story that you told about one of the instances of her multiple personalities coming out.
Right. Well, you know, I was careful, because I didn't want to say anything that she hadn't written about or talked about. And she's written about that in her book, and talked about it a lot.

You also talk about the almost ex-governor of California. Any risk there? I mean, I know Arnold has a pretty big sense of humor about himself.
Yeah, he does. Well, I mean, I wouldn't want to do anything to offend him or Maria. And you know, I've always told stories about Arnold. You know, Arnold is this, what he's got is that he has such faith in himself that you know, you can't really... he believes in himself so much that you can't really hurt his feelings. And I wouldn't do that anyway.

Let's talk about your wife Ashley for a second. You mention a little bit at the top of the special how this time around you know she's the one. Do you expect when people will hear that, that they'll think "Well, didn't he think it was real the first 3 times?"
Well of course. Of course. Of course. And that's a really good question. It just, you know, with my case, I just don't know that I knew how to do it right. When I got married the first time, I was 30 and I just, you know, I didn't see a good working marriage growing up. And so I made some mistakes. And I'm not blaming any of the women. I made mistakes. But I think I finally figured out what it takes, and it takes everything. So you gotta be all in, as I say. And you gotta have each others' back. All the time. And you know, there's no 50% or 95%. It's 100%. And that's what I learned, and that's what I have now. Knock on wood.

I remember you used to go on the Stern show with I think, whichever of the second or third wife that you had at the time, and it would be like "Yep, this is the one, this is it, I've learned my lessons."
Well, everybody that's been married more than once looks stupid. You know? And I'm sure I've looked stupid doing those things, but you know, I can only tell ya how it feels. And knock on wood, it won't change.

Do comedians tend to have that kind of thought of, "You know what, I don't care if I look stupid, because this will work for me in the end because I can talk about it?"
I've always had this thing that if there's a joke to be made about me, I want to make it. You know what I mean? Because there have been lots of them. And if there's a joke about me, I want to be the one that's making it and not somebody else. If I'm going to look stupid, I want to comment on it myself. Yeah.

When you were sitting down to write about the various people you wrote about, did you ever have any concern that people want like the regular guy from Iowa, that they didn't want to hear people dropping names?
Well, I did, and that's why I worked it out at the Laugh Factory to see what people knew about stuff, and what they wanted to hear about. And if they didn't want to hear about certain things, or if they thought it was too inside, or they thought it was too name dropping, then I wouldn't... But you know, people ask the questions. What about this? What happened here? What was this? And so I let them dictate what I actually put in the act.

OK, so going back to the question I let you off the hook on before, what most surprised you that people wanted to hear?
Well, what surprised me the most is they wanted a resolution from my first marriage. They wanted to know, you know, my point of view, what really happened, because it seemed so crazy. Was it a real marriage? Was it fake, was it whatever. And I think there was some relief that even though it didn't work out, it was real, and everybody tried their best. And there was some relief there that they weren't punked by 2 people.

Why do you think people thought it wasn't a real marriage?
Well, I mean, we were acting so freaking stupid and crazy. I mean, you know, we did a lot of stupid stuff. Believe me. You know, I would question it myself.

Did people think it was a publicity stunt or something?
Well yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure. And I mean, that makes sense too. I could see why people would think that. Of course. And we did a lot of things for publicity. But was it a real marriage? Yeah. And did it hurt, and was it sad when it was over? Yeah.

I remember people mentioning how you were marrying Roseanne because she produced the show. When you were reading that at the time, were you just sitting there going, "I don't see why they don't get it?"
Well, I mean, you say to yourself, "I'm here to protect my wife, to make sure that her show's good, to make sure things go good for her." People can say whatever they want. I have a good life. I look around and I can see my life. So you know, because of that, I let it... you know... besides, there's nothing I could say or do about it. You know what I mean? It's just the way it was. And I was just also grateful that I wasn't working at Hormel anymore. So what could I... you know, it was hard for me to complain about anything. Absolutely. But I think what happens is, you know, you keep working long enough, but people see oh, maybe he does have something going. And that's good.

What else is on that proverbial bucket list?
Baby. Having a baby is number 1.

So even at 50-something years old, you're ready?
51. Yeah. I'm ready. So's Ashley.

Any concerns about being an older dad?
Of course. But I have several friends that are, and you know, I hate to say it, this sounds stupid, but I'm gonna say it. I'm young at heart. Ashley just turned 35. Believe me, I have that. That's why we gotta work on it right now.

Performance-wise or career-wise, what would be on the bucket list?
Well, I want to get back, I want to do some more studio movies. Because I've done a lot of independents the last few years. And I want to do another one with Arnold. That's definitely on the bucket list, is a movie with Arnold. And that would be right after having a child.

By the way, did you think he got a fair shake as governor, or do you think he was... or are you too close to the situation?
Well, I mean, it's like this: why would somebody want to be governor? As soon as you run for office, half the people hate you. And when he left, or right now, his approval rating is 21%, which is only 20% higher than mine. But you know what, he knows he's doing his best, he knows he's making things better. Maybe it's not as easy as he thought, but he's sure giving it his all, and God bless him. He's always done it that way, and I respect him and love him. But I will be glad when he's done so he can relax a little bit.

Can you speculate any reason why major studios haven't been thinking of you lately?
Well, no, I mean, I've done a lot of... well, I've done 70 movies. I mean, I've done a lot of independents. And I've done studio movies. And I just have to focus on those more and meet on those more. And you know, when you start doing studio movies, you start doing them fast. I've done 10 in a year. So you do them fast and furious. So I just need to focus on that more. And I need to get lucky, as always.

Are you thinking of doing stand-up more after this?
Yeah, yeah. I've got stuff booked through the next year. And this definitely helps that.

'Tom Arnold: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It' debuts on 12/31 at 9PM ET on Showtime.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/joelkeller.)

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December 30 2010 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I LOVED Tom in True Lies, he made the movie for me and, if he's going to make more movies, I sure hope it's this type and not those idiotic kiddy movies. I suppose some would say True Lies is idiotic but I liked it a lot and I think he was fantastic in it. As far as riding coat tails, is there anyone in show business who hasn't done that? So, good luck, Tom.

December 30 2010 at 6:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am honestly happy for the guy I think his life has had a lot more downs then ups and its nice to see some one is at a good point after all the stuff he has been through. People need to stop hating on him nobody is perfect atleast he is trying to find his way. Good for you Tom god bless.

December 30 2010 at 4:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He seems like a kind-hearted guy, which is rare in Hollywood. I wish him luck with his special!

December 30 2010 at 3:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Like many others I grew up watching Tom on TV and through those TV interviews, What happen in the past it should be left there. Speaking in general. We can only move forward. And Tom has done that. He's been in a few funny movies, as well as some action movies that were great. Tom may not be one of my favorite actors. But as a comedian he is hystercal.

December 30 2010 at 3:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think it is pretty funny the way the interviewer wrote the interview exactly the way he spoke...just to show you what an idiot he really is.

December 30 2010 at 3:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to baldguy96's comment
Joel Keller

That was the idea... I tend to trim the "you knows" "likes" and restarts for readability purposes. But everyone knows how hyper and disjointed Tom is when he speaks, and I wanted that to come through in the interview.

December 30 2010 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Red Sam Rackham

Tom Arnold sold his soul to achieve show biz success. Okay, he married Rosanne. Same thing.

December 30 2010 at 1:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Red Sam Rackham

Hey, Tom Arnold! Monty Rock III called. He wants his 15 minutes of fame back. Seriously tho, Tom Arnold is to show biz talent what Spamâ„¢ is to gourmet dining.

December 30 2010 at 1:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
david sackett

Yeah She Rescued him, She Ate All the Food So He Wouldn't Baloon Into a Lard ass Diabetic, Loserlike her.. And um "You Know" Like "You Know", Jesus ! I Agree With Bean Reel, How Pathetic.. They Both Deserved Each Other :), Another So Called Comic I Can't stand is Whoopie OMG! WTF! are you Kidding Me ?. Louie Anderson and Cohn Candy Were Funny, Tom Please, Go Suck on Arnolds Wet spot

December 30 2010 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dont get me wrong, I like Tom...I just dont know WHY?

December 30 2010 at 12:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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