“It’s sort of funnier when you hear things that maybe weren’t so lovey-dovey, when you hear things that might have gone wrong here and there,” Arnold, 53, says by phone from his home in Beverly Hills.
“I try, at least in my comedy, to be honest about some things and tell some, hopefully, funny stories. I wasn’t planning on working on Valentine’s Day, because that’s always a touchy one — to be on the road for that. But I was already going to be in Iowa, so I said why not?”
- Comedian Tom Arnold
- Cedar Rapids: 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday (2/14)
- The Vault/Penguins Comedy Club
- $22 advance, $25 door
- (319) -362-8133 or Penguinscomedyclub.com
- Artist’s website: Tomarnoldcomedy.com
His Valentine isn’t joining him on this trip to his home state. Wife Ashley, whom he married in November 2009, is at home awaiting the birth of the couple’s first child.
“We’re having a baby in a few weeks,” Arnold says. “We’re very excited. That’s why I’m doing a road trip, going on the road for a little over a month. Hopefully I’ll be back home here a month before the baby’s due, then be around and do that stuff. It seemed like a good time to go on the road. … All is well and we’re very excited. It’s my first child and Ashley’s first child. It’s been a long time and we’re very happy.”
For the high he’s riding now, the Ottumwa native and diehard Iowa Hawkeye fan has had just as many lows, through failed marriages and a drug addiction. That’s all behind him now. He’s always been very honest and forthcoming about those harsh realities, weaving the bad with the good into his standup routines.
“I talk about my life,” he says. “I talk about the funny things that haven happened in my career. Obviously, I’m talking about being a father right off the bat — I am little older, and I talk about that process and what that’s been like and how that happened.
“Then I have stories about the different people I’ve worked with in show business and in different situations — funny stories, hopefully, that people can relate to and people probably know a little something about,” he says.
“To me, that’s my kind of comedy. It has to be honest … There’s some weird things that have happened, and I take people through some of that stuff in my life and personalize it, and hopefully it’s enjoyable.
“Some comedians just do jokes and you don’t know where they’re coming from exactly, and that’s great. If you see Jerry Seinfeld, he does brilliant jokes, but you really don’t know much about him, personally. I’ve gone the other way. I think if there’s laughs to be had at my expense, I should be the one doing it onstage. That’s been my theory since I began being in the public eye,” he says.
Comedy was his saving grace at an early age. He grew up in Ottumwa, where his father, step-mother and lots of family members still live. His mother, however, left home when he was very young, which made him a target for taunting by his peers.
“You walk to school in a neighborhood and the kids know your mom moved out, they’re mean,” he says. “They’re mean for whatever reason. I just remember being in class one day, and I sort of disrupted class, trying to be funny, writing something inappropriate on the chalk board. The kids that made fun of me started laughing. I said, ‘Well that’s a good feeling, that I like.’ So I tried to be funny throughout school.”
He really discovered his comedy chops in 1982, when he hit the stage during an open mic night at the University of Iowa student union. Standup comedy “was something I wanted to try,” he says.
“I got up there and I brought all my buddies and we had some Everclear punch. … I thought I was super funny, because my friends all laughed. Then the next year, in ’83, I moved to Minneapolis to really try to be a comedian and found out it was much harder if your audience is not incredibly intoxicated.”
Five years later, he moved to Los Angeles to write for his now-ex-wife Roseanne’s television show. He’s been there ever since, writing and acting for films and TV. But it all comes back to standup comedy.
“I feel like a lot of good things in other parts of my career come from standup,” he says. “It keeps you fresh. I also write still — I just turned in a movie for Relativity, which is a big studio out here.
“I continue to write, and I just think that doing standup is the genesis of a lot of creative stuff. It gets your mind working — you have to think, you have to write, you have to be on top of stuff. And as performer, whether you’re an actor or whatever, it’s a great opportunity. Not every actor gets an opportunity to go in front of live audiences … and I get asked to do it a lot. It’s all those things combined. It’s a challenge,” he says.
“I’m challenged going to Iowa in February. It’s really stupid on paper, but people will come out, so I’ll get there. It’s not easy to get there, but I’ll get there.”
And when he does, he’ll see lots of family and friends, maybe some Hawkeye basketball action and his favorite comfort foods.
“I have to be careful,” he says. “I was in New Orleans (for the Super Bowl) and it is all about the food. You gain 8 pounds when you get off your plane in New Orleans. Iowa is the same way. There’s some very fattening food that I enjoy in Iowa — the loose meat sandwiches and pork tenderloins. … I have to pace myself, and I will do that.”
Related: Tom Arnold will also be performing at the follow locations: