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Mike Tyson is just trying to entertain you



One doesn't often start an interview for an entertainment feature by asking about the interview subject's rape conviction. But Mike Tyson has always been an extraordinary guy, and his time in Indianapolis plays a part in his theatrical monologue, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which opens a national tour Feb. 13 at the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre. (It was originally scheduled as a two-day run in Indianapolis, but the Feb. 12 date was canceled last week.)

Tyson's on-stage retelling of his life includes, as The New York Times put it in a review of the show's Broadway run, "a strident denial that he raped a Miss America contestant in 1991, a crime for which he served three years in prison." Those three years were, of course, served in Indiana; he was convicted in Marion County for a rape which occurred at Canterbury Hotel.

Undisputed Truth first premiered in Las Vegas; Spike Lee took over as director prior to the Broadway premiere, and it's the Lee-directed version of the show that will tour the country. The Nederlander Organization, the producer of the tour, has said that the fact that the tour will open in Indianapolis is entirely coincidental, a product of efficient tour scheduling. But it remains an inauspicious place for Tyson to make his case, seeing as his "undisputed truth" has been, well, successfully disputed in a court of law.

Which brings us to the interview, a phone conversation monitored by Tyson's publicist, with Tyson on a speakerphone line that rendered him sometimes difficult to understand. I threw a couple questions at Tyson to begin: Does he have anything in particular to say to the people of Indianapolis, and will it feel any different to play Indianapolis than anywhere else?

Tyson answered with a drawn-out "No." He continued, "That was just a moment in time. It's going to be awesome, since they saw me then, and now they're going to see me now; they're going to see the contrast and difference. They saw me coming out of there in handcuffs, and now they're going to see me as an entertainer to just entertain them. I don't look at it as bad placement as an opening for me."

Is the rape part of the monologue? "Yeah, that's an element." Why does he revisit those parts of his life, night after night? "It's just a form of entertainment, and I think that when the people in Indiana hear it, they're going to be entertained by it."

Tyson's publicist later followed up to clarify that while Tyson considers the show to be entertaining, as a whole, he doesn't view the period of his life that included the rape conviction to be entertaining, or the way in which he recounts it, to be entertaining, in particular. That was my understanding of Tyson's words as well, though there's something to a quip a colleague made when I explained the situation: "You think you've got it bad; try being Mike Tyson's publicist."

Working with Spike

I asked Tyson what Spike Lee brought to the show when he came on as director for its Broadway run. "I can't say he didn't change anything. He's put a great deal of his emphasis into the Broadway play [as a form] now, because he's got a real knack for it." And did he ever push Tyson into uncomfortable emotional territory for the better of the play? "Yeah, he's gonna work you; it ain't no buddy buddy with Spike. You've got to come to do a job." For that matter, is there anything Tyson doesn't feel comfortable saying on stage at this point? "No, everybody knows my life; they can tell if I'm lying or not; they know what I did and didn't do during episodes of my life. You can't lie to the audience."

I decided not to ask Tyson about the nature of celebrity and the business of monetizing, in a sense, his life story and paying people to watch him to proclaim his truth, partly because I thought the question might be a bit unfair. I did put this to him: It's hard enough to honestly take stock of one's life and speak one's truth, so why would he add in the complication of doing it on stage?

"Don't get me wrong; it's really tough, extremely tough," he said. "That's why I'm doing it, and that's why people want to see me doing it. I won't do nothing if I won't risk humiliating myself; that's just what it is, where it has to be very precise, there has to be perfect timing, for it to be successful. I'm a rush junkie or something. It just has to be right."


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