For those unaware, Thomas Duane “Tom” Arnold is an American comedian and actor who has starred in countless comedic and dramatic roles over the past decades. In December, eager, nervous and sweaty F Newsmagazine arts editor and Roseanne enthusiast Alexander Wolff interviewed Arnold about his ongoing stand-up comedy tour which stopped in Springfield, Illinois.
Alexander Wolff: You’ve worn a lot of hats in the industry over the past few decades. I mean, you’ve been an actor in countless films, ranging from more comedic roles in the 90s, to more serious roles now. You’ve been a sports show host. The voice of the Arby’s oven mitt. I want to know, what’s been your most fulfilling role in the last decade?
Tom Arnold: Oh, in the past decade.
AW: Ye-yeah [stutters] or before then I guess.
TA: Well, y’know, you’re right, I’ve done a variety of stuff. I’ve been in well over 100 movies, TV series… and was the voice of the Arby’s oven mitt.
AW: Your IMDB is impressive.
TA: I’ve been lucky, because I love sports, I got to do a sports show. It’s hard to say that that wasn’t the most fun, but all these things add up to how I support myself. I started stand-up thirty years ago at the University of Iowa. They had an open mic night at the student union; you could tell jokes or read a poem or whatever. I went up and told jokes and had all my drunken friends there. I thought, ‘I’m going to be a famous comedian, make big bucks, be on David Letterman.’ It was 1982, and you know, it takes a long time, you get excited about stuff. I actually left school to do that and I thought ‘Oh this is going to be amazing,’ but it was a lot of work.
AW: I was just reminded of you recently; I was watching the old reality TV show Blind Date — Do you remember this show?
TA: I… think I remember Blind Date.
AW: You had a cameo on the show.
TA: Oh my god.
AW: Do you remember this?
TA: [laughs] No. What did I do?
AW: It was when you were hosting The Best Damn Sports Show Period, and you had this really brief cameo where you gave this couple relationship advice [laughs].
TA: I’m coming to Springfield, Illinois, to do stand-up, I think that’s why we were…
AW: oh [laughs]. It must feel really satisfying to get back to your roots in that capacity. Just the experience of being on stage and performing comedy that way, rather than mediating it through a film role.
TA: Yeah, it’s great to be able to do them both. It’s funny, because when you do a lot of one, you think, “Boy I miss doing the other” and it goes both ways.
AW: Do you ever have to deal with hecklers?
TA: Not too bad for me, maybe they were in the beginning. But when people come to my shows they know who I am. They may know me from a movie, they may know me from something personal, because I talk about my personal life openly. All comedians have the t-shirts or DVDs or whatever. At the end of each show I have t-shirts that I sell, but I have a camp for kids with major heart disease.
AW: That’s heartwarming.
TA: But I also tell people you don’t have to buy these t-shirts; I’ll sign anything you have, I’ll take a picture with literally 400 people. But during that process you have a moment with people.
AW: Have you ever seen the movie One Hour Photo with Robin Williams?
TA: Oh yeah, yeah. With comic actors, they can definitely be very dramatic. The best ones that is. Peter Sellers was great. Like when you see Robin Williams in that movie, I love Robin in Good Will Hunting. I love seeing people that I respect and that I know get a chance to do something different.
AW: Yeah, it seems like one of those roles that would really stand out as being a type of role where you see your acting and dramatic abilities. How does it compare to characters you’ve played in the past?
TA: There’s a film I just finished that I really liked; it’s called Any Day. It’s very dramatic. I like to do that once in a while because it’s an opportunity. It’s not just about the pay day. It’s about making something a little different.
AW: Yeah it seems like one of those roles that would really stand out as being a type of role where you see your acting and dramatic abilities. How does it compare to characters you’ve played in the past?
TA: There was a movie called Touch that Paul Schrader directed, and I liked that character. On television on Law and Order, I played a guy who was a version of this preacher named Ted Haggard, and he had sort of a double life. In this movie called Gardens of the Night, which is the most dramatic thing I’ve ever done, I was basically playing a pedophile, and it was a tough, horrible thing to do. But as I know from my childhood, those people are out there, and so I think it was important to do.
AW: It seems like it would be a challenging role to play. Thinking about other depictions of pedophilia in movies, like Happiness by Todd Solondz, it’s always a fine line between showing someone perpetrating those actions as very mentally ill and showing how those actions are horrible and hurt others.
TA: It is a horrible thing, but I think these movies are good because the reality of it is that there are these certain kinds of people and they help you become more aware that they aren’t just caricatures of evil, they’re multifaceted people who are very sick with a great deal of evil to them
AW: Well, it was great talking to you, Tom, I really appreciate it.
TA: It’s been great, and good luck to you.