When young comics ask Tom Arnold for advice, he has a simple response: "Start with the worst thing that has ever happened to you." Like many comedians, the 54-year-old Arnold has endured his share of hardships: an alcoholic mother who was married seven times and died in her 40s, a longtime addiction of his own (he has now been sober for more than 20 years) and a tumultuous marriage to Roseanne Barr. "To be liked or loved comes from an odd place for a lot of comedians," he says. "And if there are jokes to be made at my expense, I should be the one making them." Arnold, who will be doing stand-up at Hilarities 4th Street Theatre Aug. 16 and 17, talked to us about fame, fear and whom he finds funny.
Q. It was reported you received $50 million in alimony from Roseanne Barr after your marriage ended. True?
A. I never got any alimony. I had not spoken with Roseanne for 18 years until last summer when I did her Comedy Central roast. It was horribly difficult and very stressful for me. Leading up to it I said a lot of nice things about her, but when it came time to do it I realized I was a little full of shit. It turned out great, but I was happy to get out of there.
Q. You have appeared in more than 100 movies, most notably with Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies. What's it like returning to stand-up dates in clubs?
A. It's a lot different from a movie or TV set, but there is no other performance that is as fun or as real. I don't know if there's anything better. Before each show, it hits me that people are paying to see me, and that show is the most important thing in my world. They don't give you seven takes. You've got to be funny right away and let people know you're not an asshole.
Q. When did you begin your career in stand-up?
A. I moved from Iowa to Minneapolis in 1983 with $100 and a trash bag full of clothes. It was not the overnight success story that I had planned.
Q. Who is the funniest person you've worked with?
A. Hugh Grant and I worked on a movie [Nine Months] and had the run of the set until Robin Williams showed up. We were very jealous of him. Mike Myers is very funny and Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is way funnier than people think.
Q. What is your greatest fear?
A. Dead air, especially when I'm on David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel. I have to remember it's OK to take a breath.