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Friday, June 12, 2015

Tom Arnold Opens Up About Fatherhood, In Vitro Fertilization, and Roseanne

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 1:00 PM


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The day I interviewed Tom Arnold, he had only hours before announced to the Twittersphere that his wife was expecting their second child, a daughter. But he had already revealed this news to stand-up audiences.

"The last two weekends, I told the audience, "Please don't tweet this or tell anyone, but here's what's going on,'" he said. "'My wife is pregnant, but it's IVF pregnant and we haven't announced it. Stand-up is where you can really tell the truth."  There's no telling what truths he'll reveal when he hits Cobb's Comedy Club for four shows from June 12-13. SF Weekly talked to the Roseanne, True Lies, and Hit and Run star, who can currently be seen on Sin City Saints, about his difficult childhood, his rise to stardom, his dysfunctional marriages, finding unconditional love, and his latest projects.

What will you be talking about at Cobb's this time around?

The people who come probably know something about me personally, so if there are jokes to be made at my expense, I want to be the one making them. I always try to be honest about the good and the bad. In my stand-up, they do this intro where they talk about all the shows I've done, and that I finished my 130th movie, and I spend the next 75 minutes destroying that intro. I don't like to criticize other people, but I think there are stories that people know about that I was there for, so I have a different take on things. There's historical stuff and also what's going on with my family.

Speaking of family, what are you like as a father?

I always thought that there's stuff that mom does and stuff that dad does. Dad does the rowdy stuff, and mom does the gentle stuff and putting him down at night. But because my wife's been on bed rest this past month because of pregnancy, I have to step it up and be the one at night, who actually sleep trains my son, even though I was scared shitless 'cause she's better at it.

Also, I was raised without a mother, so when I see him with his mother and he says, "Ma," that breaks my heart. It's the best thing ever. But it's made us closer. Because of this opportunity, the way he looks at me at night now is different. I didn't realize you could have such a deep relationship with a 2-year-old.

Congratulations on soon being a father for the second time.

After 23 rounds of in vitro fertilization that were unsuccessful with four different wives, the last two worked and we're very grateful. We're so happy, my wife and I. I feel very blessed. I have no idea how people have seven children, like in my family. It's a crazy amount of attention and work, but I feel very special.

Is it true that Dax Shepard offered to be your sperm donor?

Yes, he did. I met Dax maybe 12 years ago when I did Punk'd. I'm crazy about him. He came over, and when I'm depressed, which happens once in a while, that's one of the things I pull out, like one time my friend Dax came over with his wife's blessing and offered to let us use his sperm to make my child. That is a big thing in life. Somebody did for that me. I'm gonna have to not be depressed. It was so sincere. His sperm is excellent, by the way.

But it worked for us right after that. Maybe because the pressure was off, and I knew there was another way to skin this cat. If it doesn't work for us, I knew that he would make himself available. He's an amazing dude, and I'm glad we're friends.

You're on your fourth marriage. What are you doing differently to make this one work?

My mother left when I was four. My first three marriages lasted four years. I was engaged for four years before that. When Ashley [Groussman] and I hit five years, I breathed a sigh of relief. I try to be less sensitive and trust things are going to be alright. Growing up the way I did, where you're a kid and your mom leaves, it's not shocking that any other woman would, which is what they do in your mind. But you have to grow up and say it's gonna be better tomorrow. You have to trust that, and that's the biggest difference. I can also look at mistakes I've made in each marriage. There are things I've said that I wouldn't say again. Also, just because something's true, you don't have to share it. I thought early in my adulthood, no one's gonna censor me. But you gotta grow up a little bit. 

How did you finally make peace with your mother?

It was pretty fast after she died. I tried throughout my life, but it always went sideways. When she died, my brother and sister were mad I didn't go, but I felt weird, because we had an antagonistic relationship, and she had just said some weird things about me in the tabloids — that I was a bad son and a bad Jew. Now that I think of it, it makes me laugh. But I went to therapy, wrote down all these resentments and then what I was grateful for. I was upset that she left me, but I was grateful because my dad was a great dad. She was a crazy alcoholic, which must have been hard for her. I was one, myself, and it's not fun. So I had compassion and went to her grave and read the letter. I made a financial arrangement with her seventh husband, who was already engaged to someone else, and moved her remains to another cemetery with my grandparents. I gave her her maiden name back and came back to work on the Roseanne show.

The wounds from childhood...you do your best. You think, "Did this abuse happen because I was a bad kid?" It may be one percent of your childhood, but it's always there. But the moment my son was born, I realized I was him, and he's perfect and I was perfect, and the adults who did these bad things, it was on them completely. To think an adult man would do heinous things or a mom would — it's just easier to take the blame. I also try to remember moments where people were kind to me, like my grandparents and my father, so it's 99 percent positive.

With a single parent and six siblings, did you ever feel cared for?

We had babysitters, and when I was 10, my dad got remarried to the next door neighbor with two kids. But my grandmothers, every moment I got to spend with them, and I was my grandmother Dorit's favorite. It's hard to feel bad about stuff when you know you were one woman's favorite at one time. It was a pretty nice deal.

How did you go from meatpacker to writer to star?

If I wanted to go to college, I'd have to pay my way there, and it was the best job in my hometown, so I felt lucky to be there.  I was also the class clown since I was young because if you don't have a mom, in a working-class town, you're fresh meat to the older boys. But entertaining people at work will get you in trouble and eventually fired.

My dream of being a comic and writer made zero sense where I grew up. Mork and Mindy was on at the time, so there were many nights I'd dream Robin Williams and I were best friends and then wake up and chisel heads at the meatpacking plant. Then, years later, when we were filming Nine Months in San Francisco, I said, "This is just like my dream."

One night I went out, and Andy Kaufman was at our local disco in Ottumwa, Iowa. I went and talked to him for a moment. I thought, "Wait, he got here from Hollywood, so I thought it would be possible to get there from here. A friend offered me a job in Minneapolis doing comedy. I didn't realize they meant one weekend, so I quit school, put my stuff in a trash bag and left my life.

But it was the right place at the right time. In 1983, I opened for Roseanne and we hit it off. I knew how amazing she was. She liked me, and that was amazing. We became best friends. I wrote jokes for her, and then I ended up writing on her show. I was very blessed and grateful to her. Once we got divorced, she told everyone that I'm the worst person in the world and if they work with me, they'll never work with her. But I got lucky, because I worked on True Lies, and if you have one thing that's separate — because people always said I just rode her coattails and have no talent — it's hard for people to take everything away from you. I made a million mistakes since, but a few times I've been very blessed, and that's more than enough for me.

I think we were all blown away when we saw you on the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne, a few years back. How did that end up happening?

They announced they were roasting her. I hadn't talked to Roseanne in 18 years. The producer asked me a week before to be a part of it, and I told him to talk to Roseanne first. Two days before, he said I could come and do whatever I wanted. I never spoke to her, because I wanted it to work out.

So then I talked to my wife and my publicist, who said, "Over my dead body." She remembers every shitty thing she's done to me. There was devious stuff that was just awful. My wife has no visceral reaction because she's so much younger; she sees it as a bad reality show from the '80s, not my husband and ex-wife. So the day before she said, "You ought to do it. I support you."

But we had restraining orders against each other and documents that said that if she says something mean about me on TV, like I have a small penis, she has to pay me $100,000. If I say something about her vagina, I have to pay her. So all Friday night the lawyers were making it legal for us to be in the same room. Roasting is weird because I don't want to make fun of people, but I sat in the office and wrote 18 jokes for 18 years. I knew I needed one real moment, 'cause I'd known her longer than anyone else there.

So I went down. It was nerve-wracking. No one knew I was coming till the last minute. I've dealt with her enough to know things could change at any moment. But when we got to the moment, we had some real feelings there. She came backstage as I was getting my mic off, where we had a moment, and that was good enough for me. In 18 years, we'll do it again.

You can currently be seen on Yahoo! series Sin City Saints. How did this recent opportunity come about?

It came together very last minute. I had worked on a show called Legit with Jim Jeffries, and I knew the writer Chris Case, and I played his girlfriend in real life Kate Walsh's boyfriend in a movie that just came out, Any Day. So Chris asked me to do it.

Did you ever think you'd be on an Internet series?

When I first started in the '80s, there were three different networks, so the idea of doing content for Yahoo! was just crazy to me. While we were shooting, I said to director Bryan Gordon, "Why are we doing so many takes? People are going to be watching this on their watches. Why do we care so much?" But he said, "That's how things are done now."

Fred Savage was another director on the show. It's crazy to think that both of you started on the same network around the same time.

Yeah, he played a young guy named Kevin Arnold and that show was ABC's main deal for a long time, but when you get old like me, you have to get over people being little boys and girls. His first scene with me was directing me masturbating in a public bathroom. He was in the next stall saying, "Can you do that, except faster?" It was a surreal thing, because it was Fred Savage, Kevin Arnold, and he's a respected director. He's done a lot of amazing stuff. But you have to get over the weirdness of that. Fake masturbating is weird and showing part of your game is intimate, but having little Kevin Arnold directing and giving you notes is weirder. I wanted to get it over with quickly, so whatever he said I just went with it.

How did you get involved with the feature film Any Day?

I was in the hospital with a hernia when they called me about this. They asked me how I'd like to work with Sean Bean, and I thought they said Mr. Bean, which I always regretted not doing back in the day. When I realized that it was Sean Bean, I was excited because I'm always fascinated with guys that I think are talented from the UK, like Sean Bean, Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant or Stephen Rea. I think they have a different way of doing things and I hope to make myself better by watching it. He's a very intense guy, but I enjoyed working with him.

And you just wrapped Trailer Park Boys?

It's a show that I've been a fan of for a long time. It's amazing and I got to know the guys, so I shot three episodes and it's now on Netflix. I was out of town for 10 days when I filmed that show, and on each side of filming that show I did stand-up. But I try to stay home for a week or two in between. I have the luxury, I'm very blessed that I don't have to do stand-up every weekend, so I get to pick places like Cobb's that are amazing, and spend more time with my family. 

Tom Arnold, June 12-13, at Cobb's Comedy Club, ($25.00), 915 Columbus Ave, 928-4320 or cobbscomedyclub.com.



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