There are things that everyone knows about Mike Tyson. The weird stuff. The frightening stuff. The flat-out insane stuff. The stuff of legends. Holyfield’s ear. Years of domestic strife. Bouts of volatility and violence (an occupational hazard, perhaps). That face tattoo.
But there’s also other stuff. Like an inexplicable fondness for pigeons, arguably the most common bird in the aviary hierarchy. You’d have guessed maybe peacocks. Or bald freaking eagles. But no, Iron Mike loves pigeons. He also loves theater. All kinds of theater. He digs Porgy and Bess and cites the little known (among non-theater heads, at least) Cuba and His Teddy Bear – the Reinaldo Povod-written play starring Robert DeNiro that enjoyed a 53-show Broadway run in ‘86 — as one of his favorites. The dude is a little bit enigmatic. He’s also a known hot-head, though not these days, as both recent behavior and self-testimony indicate that Tyson is a changed man, maybe even a bit of a Zen man.
Still, when you’re tasked with calling Mike Tyson up on the phone to interview the champion heavyweight boxer-turned-actor about his one-man play Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (directed by similarly legendary Spike Lee) — for which he’s currently wrapping up a 19-date tour with a stop at the Kimmel Center in Philly and a penultimate stop at the Wang Theatre in Boston — you’re a little nervous.
This writer was tasked with just that. The following are excerpts from a conversation held over a very bad connection on an iPhone, from the cafe car of a southbound Amtrak. Excerpts because the other thing Iron Mike is known for is that signature lisp. If you’ve ever tried to talk to anybody on a cell phone with a bad connection on an Amtrak cafe car, you’re likely aware that it is....difficult. (A seventh listen to the recorded transcript of this interview revealed that Mike Tyson did not, in fact, tell this writer that he once watched Ben and Jerry perform A Bronx Tale. Though that would have been amazing.)
Mike Tyson on deciding to do a one-man play.
Me and my wife was watching [not Ben and Jerry] do a Bronx Tale onstage and it was just so amazing, you can’t even imagine. Inspiration is an understatement. We was hanging on every word they said and I said ‘Baby, I think I can do this.’ Because, I mean, when I’m in Europe, and in Asia, I’m onstage talking about myself. People ask me questions from the crowd. But when I do it in America, I feel like it’s coming from an artistic point of view. And so we did it for two weeks at the MGM Grand and sold out every night....mostly foreigners. Every night, foreigners! And then Spike Lee called me when I was in Poland and asked me to take it to Broadway. And now we’re on a nationwide tour.
On pre-stage ritual.
I make sure I’m in the best physical and spiritual shape I can possibly be in. I just think of myself as being, like, one of the great stage performers. Like, you know, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Julie Garland, and all those guys. Frank Sinatra. I’m talking about real entertainers, I’m talking about really explosive entertainers. The dancers! That kind of stuff.
On a bomb threat that got called in to his New York show.
Yes, there was a bomb threat. But they caught the guy, they caught the guy. But that’s okay. And they’re going to do that to me? Can you imagine me dying on a Broadway stage?! Holy Moley! Well they got the guy...I think it was fake. He wanted to do another, um, Colorado movie theater shooting....online....and that helped the FBI catch him.
On his favorite story to tell onstage.
When I had my street altercation with Mitch Green. I had a street fight with Mitch Green — a boxer – and I’m explaining to the crowd what happened. Oh, amazing. It’s not meant to be, but it gets a lot of laughs.
On the suggestion that that's good, because isn't his show meant to be half-comedic and half-serious?
No! I don’t want to be anything comedic. Nothing comedic! But sometimes people laugh.
On his favorite city on the tour.
I’ve been to....man. I’ve been to St. Louis, I’ve been to San Francisco, San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Where else? San Diego. Where else? San Jose, Atlanta, North Carolina, Mississippi, Miami, Tampa, all over the place.
On his favorite city on the tour to hang out in, though.
Hey, I don’t do no hanging out. But I did like Durham, North Carolina, that was a nice town.
On whether he had to read Fifty Shades of Grey to "research" for a scene in Scary Movie 5.
My wife reads that stuff, I don’t read that stuff. They just told me what to do. I don’t listen to my wife about no Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah, I don’t want to read that stuff.
On stage versus screen acting.
I love stage acting, I don’t love anything more than stage acting — that’s instant gratification right there. You have people breathing, you have instant gratification.
On his favorite sports movies of all time.
Gentlemen Jim and Raging Bull.
On the best Rocky movie.
Big time Rocky fan. The one with Mr. T in it was the best.
On the one question he never wants to be asked again.
I don’t know...I’m so accustomed to answering any question anybody asks me. I’m not afraid to answer any questions.
On Zach Galifianakis.
He’s a really good guy. I think he’s a good guy. He’s a very normal person. He’s more normal than I am! He’s real normal, a good guy.
On the funniest actor in The Hangover.
Zach was the funniest. Zach. Zach. Zach. Zach. Number one, Zach. Zach was funnier than everybody.
I just love animals, you know. They need people to take care of them. It’s a cold world out there. They live longer under the care of human beings than they do in the wild, in the care of the nature. Nature is harder on them.
That’s just what I do. That’s my culture, that’s where I come from. You do that.
On his favorite pet pigeon.
No favorites, I have a lot of pigeons I like.
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
May 2 @ 8 pm
Kimmel Center,300 S Broad St.
May 4 @ 8 pm
Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St.