There's more than a twinge of excitement in comedian Tom Arnold's voice as he talks a mile a minute about his adventures with some of America's most powerful political leaders. They're even more impressive to hear when you realize he's not a political comedian.
Even Arnold doesn't seem to understand how he got through the door of the political elite and their connections. He's rubbed shoulders with the likes of former Vice President Al Gore, President Donald Trump and in the case of his recent run-in with Survivor and Apprentice creator Mark Burnett, bump shoulders.
"I'm not a political comedian so I don't talk about politics in my act," Arnold says referring to his stand-up shows, including the one he'll do at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hyena's Comedy Nightclub in Dallas. "I talk about my personal life and how I'm an old dad with young kids. People don't talk about politics at a comedy club for God's sake, but I feel like if people get to know me personally because they read all the nonsense and can share stories they've heard about and at the clubs, I can tell the real story."
Arnold was born and raised in the small Iowa town of Ottumwa and started performing stand-up at open mics at the University of Iowa and later as a road comic. He made his way to Los Angeles, where he broke into television with comedy specials like Tom Arnold: The Naked Truth for HBO and as a writer and executive producer on the hit '90s ABC sitcom Roseanne.
Arnold also moved into films, starting with a breakout role in director James Cameron's 1994 action comedy True Lies alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, followed by numerous other titles, like Exit Wounds starring Steven Seagal, the 1997 film remake of TV's McHale's Navy and a hilarious, uncredited role as a boisterous Vegas cowboy alongside Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. He also served as one of the sports pundits on Fox Sports' comedy chat show Best Damn Sports Show Period and has a long list of TV appearances on just about every hit comedy and dramatic show over the last 20 years, including Sons of Anarchy, The Simpsons, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Hot in Cleveland. Just read his IMDb page.
These days, Arnold hosts the TV show The Hunt for the Trump Tapes for Vice Magazine's channel Viceland in a role that even he probably didn't imagine was possible for him or the country back in his road comic days. One month after Trump won the presidency in 2016, Arnold claimed in an interview on a Seattle radio station that he possessed tapes of America's future president saying "every racist thing ever" in outtakes from Trump's NBC reality show The Apprentice that he obtained from industry friends long before anyone thought the term "President Trump" could become reality, according to The Guardian.
Unfortunately, Arnold said in 2016 that confidentiality clauses carrying stiff legal penalties, and the belief that the tapes weren't necessary because Trump's candidacy seemed to be imploding long before election day, kept the tapes from being released. So he's looking for other channels to obtain and release some of Trump's most embarrassing home videos. So far, Arnold has talked with celebrities like Howard Stern and Schwarzenegger about their awkward moments with Trump, and with journalists such as David Corn and Jane Mayer about what the tapes say about Trump's
"The thing I wanted to tell Burnett is just show Trump unedited," Arnold says referring to an incident with Burnett in September at an Emmy party fundraiser where the two got into a shoving match that escalated when Arnold claimed The Apprentice creator tried to choke him and that he caught the whole incident on tape. "He spent so much time editing him to make him look good."
Arnold says he went to the party at the invitation of documentarian Bryan Fogel and realized when he arrived that Burnett was attending the function. He also said Burnett was the aggressor and none of it was staged for his Viceland show.
"I see a guy at the top of the stairs who looks like Mark Burnett and then I say, 'Oh, gosh, it is Mark Burnett,'" Arnold says. "What are the odds? He's trying to block me at the top of the stairs like we're in frigging grade school and Burnett was a special forces paratrooper in the Falklands."
Arnold tried to walk away from the awkward encounter, but Burnett pursued him.
"He put his chin into my face and psycho eyes me and he's so pumped," Arnold says. "He clamps down on my esophagus and tries to choke me out."
Arnold says he fought back to defend himself and tweeted about the encounter while waiting for police to arrive at the scene. Burnett's wife, Roma Downey, tweeted a photo of her wrist claiming Arnold "tried to ambush my husband Mark and me," a claim that Arnold calls "so insane."
"People were high-fiving me as they would leave," Arnold says. "The best part is they claimed I attacked the CEO of MGM TV and his friend and his wife and they let me stay at the fucking party and I wasn't even invited to the party. Even in Trump's America, you can't do that."
Arnold says that during the week before his run-in with Burnett, whom he filed battery charges against with the Los Angeles Police Department, someone sent him one of the more infamous and potentially damaging Trump tapes. Arnold says the tape is currently in the possession of someone high in the journalistic food chain, but he can't say who, except that "I passed it to a very respected journalist."
"Someone was brave enough to get me that tape, and I took a little piece of that tape and texted Mark Burnett because I wanted him to be aware of it," Arnold says. "It's not something, I'm told, I can put on my show, but I sent it to a respected journalist friend of mine."
Even if a tape exists of Trump's liberal use of the N-word that's been corroborated by Arnold, Apprentice star and ex-Trump White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Penn Jillette, Arnold admits that it's very possible that it's still "not enough" to make a dent in Trump's fervent base or the political establishment.
Arnold's relationship with Trump goes back to his start in show business. Arnold recalls one of his first meetings with the future president at the now-defunct Trump's Castle casino in the late '80s while he directed his then-wife Roseanne's third comedy special for HBO.
"I was getting ready to figure out how to shoot it there, and I met him before because of New York and stuff and he was Donald Trump," Arnold says. "He says, 'Hey, listen, I have a buddy who has these amazing vintage cars and will give them to you for free and just let you use them and we can have a chauffeur drive Roseanne out. And you know? I'll be the limo driver. I'll escort her out.' Then I realized he put himself in the special. Later, I get a bill for $45,000 for the car. I said, 'No, Trump said I could get it for free.' He's so full of it, but he's hilarious."
Arnold says Trump and his NBC team tried to get him on one of the Celebrity Apprentice seasons, but he turned them down because he jokes "it's the only show so bad that I didn't do it, and if you look at my IMDb page, I've literally said yes to everything else but The Apprentice."
Of course, Arnold doesn't find Trump even remotely funny now that he's the leader of the free world.
"He came into government and he's not even trying," Arnold says. "He took all these regulations down and nobody's running the ship in any of these departments. There's no transition team. There are people in the Department of Energy who don't know what the eff is going on. He doesn't have any of the best people. He's generally incompetent, and the people around him are faking that he's a genius and he's not a genius."
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Arnold says he tries not to let his political run-ins and scuffles bleed too much into his comedy, even if the more ridiculous stories are perfect fodder for a comedy show.
“I look at the crowd and half of the people want to hear about the show and the other half absolutely do not and I can sense it," Arnold says. "I’ve done enough shows to know where the line is basically and I’ve gone over the line before and the line changes every day. Plus, I’ve had such a rich life and I’ve got plenty of stories, but it’s also bad when you can’t just talk about your own life. I just do the best I can.”
Most just want to hear something funny that doesn't make them question their patience and sanity, he says.
"It has been interesting doing comedy in this time," he says. "I was doing comedy in Boston the weekend before last and people come out, like there's a construction worker in the front row and a woman who's a professor and I figured it out. People are coming to be entertained and I need to do it too and we have fun. It's interesting times, but we've got it figured out. Stressful times and comedy clubs are the way out of it."