Tom Arnold is a man who needs little introduction. When it comes to making people laugh, he has been bringing his A-game to the masses for decades. As a writer, producer, and actor, he never fails to bring a smile to the face of his audience, no matter the medium. An undeniable force in the worlds of television and film, his hard work and dedication to his craft have not gone unnoticed and has garnered him such prestigious honors as the Peabody and Golden Globe Awards. At 57 years old, he still has a tremendous amount of irons in the fire creatively and recently added a brand new baby to his beautiful family. At at time where many are slowing down, Tom Arnold will be the first to tell you he is just getting warmed up! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the legendary Tom Arnold as he prepares to touch down in Baltimore this week for two evenings of shows at the Baltimore Comedy Factory on Friday, March 11th and Saturday, March 12th. In the interview, the two discuss Arnold’s journey as a comedian, his evolution as an artist, the impact fatherhood has had on him and his philanthropic work for children.
Over the years, you have become one of our favorite faces in comedy, in film and on television. What was it about comedy that drew you in early on and ultimately made you pursue your passion?
Comedy was something I always wanted to try. Growing up in a small town in Iowa, there is not a whole lot of venues for that. I grew up with a single father and some of my earliest memories are of hearing my dad laughing at a Bob Hope special downstairs. He was just laughing his butt off. I didn’t hear my dad laugh a lot but when there was a Bob Hope special on he watched it and laughed hard. I thought, “Wow. That would be a good thing to do. I can be a comedian and make people laugh.” When you grow up in a small town, if you are thinking like that, it is hard to make something like that happen. I worked at a meat packing plant for three years to save enough money to go to college. I had a feeling that if I got to The University of Iowa, something could happen. When I was young and crazy, it was all fun! It was all about getting on any stage, partying and having fun. Eventually, you learn to start writing and think of it in more serious terms. At my age, knowing how hard it was starting out, I am not sure I would have pursued it. It is something I definitely wouldn’t want to start now! [laughs] I like where I am at now and I love doing it. It is really something you have to work on. People may know who you are and little bits about different parts of your life, so you have to be honest with them and make it funny. I am not a person who makes fun of other people but you have to tell stories that maybe they know about and give them your point of view, which is often a little different.
It’s funny, in standup comedy, they do this fantastic introduction of you with all of your credits as you come out on stage and then you spend the next 75 minutes destroying it and making fun of everything! [laughs] I really enjoy it! I enjoy the interaction with the audience. It is such an awesome thing that people take their Friday and Saturday nights, pay money for tickets, get babysitters and drive out to see me perform. That is really awesome to me, so I am going to make sure that I do my best and that they leave there satisfied! I spend a lot of time, when I am home in Los Angeles, at home with the family. I drive my kid to preschool and I am also a writer, so I do a lot of stuff at the house. When I go on the road, I really do it! It’s really important for me to make that connection with the audience. I will literally take a picture with everyone in between the shows! You get to have a moment with people and I have never felt bad after a show! You still get a little bit nervous before going on stage and the traveling is not awesome but I love performing and you have to do it on the road!
Over the past few years, standup comedy entered into a new golden age. Having years of experience under your belt, what resonates most with fans these days?
I love comics and love watching comedy. There are a lot of really great comics out there. I think you have to have a different voice and that is what resonates with people. I like people with a voice that is a bit different and original. If you see Sarah Silverman, you know who is Sarah Silverman. Jim Jefferies is another guy I love because of his point of view. There is a young guy named Andrew Santino, who I did a TV show with last year. He is a guy I think is going to be huge. We all kind of cover the same material but with him, it is the way he does it. There is a lot of great comics like Bill Burr and others who are really doing things in different ways. Audiences love those people with unique voices and unique takes on things. There are also people with puppets who are hilarious! I don’t judge! However, you entertain the crowd is up to you. It is important for me to have the crowd recognize what I am doing is very specific, rather than just being a guy telling jokes. When things happen in my life, it really has an impact on my comedy. Recently, my wife and I just had another child. We have two little kids right now, who are my first children at my age. Also, my father passed away this Fall. All of this life stuff that happens, you figure out a way to make that entertaining on stage. Sometimes I forget how old I am but when you have little kids, you can’t think about that! You know you are going to be working for a long time and be around a long time. In my business, you get a job and it lasts a month. If you get lucky, you get on a show and it can last a few years but that is a very rare thing these days. However, standup comedy is my annuity! Even those guys I worked with in the meat packing plant years ago are getting ready to retire and they can retire! I, on the other hand, cannot retire! [laughs] I have also been blessed with having an amazing life. Standup comedy is one of those things that, once you have it, you have it for life. Don Rickles is still performing, let’s put it that way! [laughs] You have to admire that! I also have to say, when I do standup comedy, it makes me a better writer and actor. It is just one of the different things that I do that informs the other parts of my life. When you are acting, you show up on set and you’re always nervous but if you can get up in front of strangers for 75 minutes with just a microphone, you can shoot a scene in a movie! You aren’t going to freak out! There is no situation you will face and say, “Oh my God, this is overwhelming.” If you have the guts to get up in front of people and you are a long way from home, you can do anything. I think it really helps you in anything you do, especially when it comes to being a writer.
How have you most evolved as a comedian along the way?
It is something I have really worked out. I started out in the 1980s and it was fun. In 1988, I became a writer on “Roseanne,” so it was something I kinda dropped. I would do standup but it was really just Tom Arnold on a stage. A few years ago, I decided since I had never done a straight standup special, I wanted to build an act. I took a year, working at a comedy club hosting a night, and started building that act. You need to have that. You can’t go on stage with no material. My act now is very personal and it has to do with my life and my experiences. Again, I don’t slam other people. I think that is how it evolves. When you first start, it is all about jokes and stuff like, “I live with my seven roommates and I sleep on a couch.” If I did that now, people would probably think, “Oh, that is probably not true.” Well, it could be true. It could be true next week! Who knows! [laughs] You have to give an audience more of a personal experience because it is all about relating. If you are a father, people get that. If you have been broken up or divorced, people get that. If you have had other issues, people get it. Maybe my issues are worse than anybody’s and maybe I have had more divorces, whatever! [laughs] I think people really respect if you are honest with them. They also like to see that things have turned out pretty good! I think if they know going in that he ends up with children and a wife, then you can talk about and be brutally honest about the many failings you have had because they know in the end it will end pretty good. It’s fun!
With so much happening career-wise and with family life, I am sure it is difficult to find the right balance and still hit those bucket list items you might have?
Having these children was the ultimate bucket list item! To have a real family is amazing. Now, I just have to support my family for as long as I can. When you are an older father, you start projecting out the years you have ahead of you. I have done a lot of crazy stuff in my life. Last year, for example, I did the Bear Grylls show, a good example of that. I have these pilots I have been working on and I want them to be successful. I want to work with great people and get more opportunities. Ya know, I don’t know how people are not humbled in my business because even the biggest people have to eat a lot of crap at some point. Things still work out. By being around for 30 years, I have seen a lot! [laughs] When people have a successful movie, they start to get offered a bunch of movies. I know what that is like because it happened to me in the ‘90s. They start offering you more money and you think, “OK, we will make this good.” You also feel like it will never happen again because it is crazy money, a crazy once in a lifetime experience and show business is not real. That is the point you start to see show business as a job. You get up each day, you write, follow through with stuff and show up on time. You realize you are lucky to have an opportunity. That is how you look at it.
I did knock off a bucket list item recently. You can see it on March 20th. I am a huge fan of “The Trailer Park Boys,” which is a great show. It is coming on Netflix for Season 10. Snoop Dogg and I got to go up to Canada and film some episodes with them. There are a lot of shows that come up that you absolutely love and get a chance to work on. “Workaholics” is one of those shows, as well. There are so many great shows out there! It’s funny because often you will have a friend on the show and you think they will have you on because they are your buddy. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually how it works. Well, that is how it worked when I ran shows, I will say that! [laughs] I hired all my friends! The key is to stay attuned long enough, work hard enough and enjoy it along the way. It can be a grind and you can get beat down a little bit but you have to find something to appreciate along the way. That is another reason I love doing standup. When people come to see you perform, it is hard not to appreciate that!
You do a lot when it comes to helping kids. What can you tell us about your philanthropic work?
My kid’s heart camp, Camp Del Corazon, is pretty well known. Our camp is something I have been involved with for years. We have never said no to a kid. It is something that is very dear to my heart, literally. It has probably saved my life working there. It is inspirational when you have a 7-year-old who has had two heart transplants and you are worried about some pilot audition. It kinda puts things in perspective. I sell T-shirts in support of the camp at my shows. I tell people they don’t have to buy them but if they do I will match it. Last year, I got Sylvester Stallone to be our honoree. Once a year we do a big thing, this year we are honoring a famous lawyer named Marty Singer. It is the one thing I will reach out to all of my friends about, people like Judd Apatow and Jimmy Kimmel. It is my one ask a year for my friends. I really appreciate all of the people who support this camp. I do a lot of stuff as well. All the charity stuff I do is completely selfish of me because it makes me feel so good about myself! [laughs] I am telling you the truth! That is where it comes from and I highly recommend it to people who don’t always feel good about themselves. I am really grateful to be in the place I am in to be able to have the opportunity to lend my name to so many wonderful things. For example, I have been able to go to Afghanistan to entertain the troops and have been all over the world with the USO. There have been a ton of great opportunities that have made me appreciate my life and made me not think about myself for a little bit! The less time I spend thinking about myself, the happier I am! [laughs]
Thanks for your time today, Tom! Keep up the tremendous work!
Thank you and take care my friend!
Tom Arnold will be appearing at the legendary Baltimore Comedy Factory on Friday, March 11th and Saturday, March 12th. Visit the venue’s official website for tickets and showtimes!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.