Friday, April 19, 2013

The undisputed reinvention of Mike Tyson hits Atlanta

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 2:18 PM

"Everything you say is interesting. I don't know what it is but every experience you've had is interesting to me." - Jimmy Kimmel, to Mike Tyson

There's something about Mike Tyson. Especially when he sits down on a couch and the cameras start rolling. Whether he's groveling on Oprah in front of his former ear-bite victim Evander Holyfield or telling Conan about the time he got Las Vegas police to escort him to the dope house while high, he's such an unlikely but highly likable communicator. Sure, his diction is fucked and sometimes he tongue-twists his syllables and says something like "West Vile Nirus" on Jimmy Fallon instead of "West Nile Virus," or lets out a random Neanderthal growl (3:50 mark above) when at a loss for words. Yet somehow he's emerged as an eloquent storyteller, if only because the story of his life is so fascinating.

It's part of the reason why his autobiographical one-man show Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth has been something of a critical hit - or miss. Even as a wreck of a man, Tyson's too compelling to stop watching. Atlanta will get its chance when the tour stops through the Fox Theatre this Saturday, April 19.

The public makeover of Mike Tyson from self-confessed animal inside and outside the ring to dopey recovering addict to cuddly cameo performer (per The Hangover, et al.) is either the most accidental or well-engineered rebranding campaign in recent history. OK, maybe a bit of both. But it doesn't make him any less sincere. Instead of using smoke and mirrors to whitewash his dishonorable past, he's won sympathy by keeping it raw, emotional, and a little ridiculous.

As Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times wrote:

Tyson recollects his scandals with a tranquillity that thankfully doesn't dilute the absurdity. He's found sobriety, but he hasn't undergone a personality transplant. His own outrageousness leaves him slightly awe-struck. He knows he's a character, and while he may be too old and tired at 46 to play the tabloid clown, he appreciates that some of his antics are hilarious (as well as potentially lucrative) in the retelling.

The show, written by his current wife Kiki Tyson and directed by Spike Lee, was originally going to be titled Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits. That probably wouldn't have won him any new female fans in light of his historic entanglement with first wife Robin Givens and his 1992 conviction on charges of raping Miss Black America beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington. Jezebel's Lindy West disapproved big time when Tyson appeared on an episode of "Law and Order: SVU" last February:

Now, Tyson completed his sentence and is free to live his life at this point. But that doesn't mean we all have to be complicit in the rehabilitation of his image. That doesn't mean SVU has to hire him. Like I said, SVU's not perfect, but it's something - a small counterpoint to the rape apologia that currently pervades our culture.

But by the amount of love Tyson's received on the late-night circuit, his transformation is something of a knockout. Almost like a remix of the kinder, gentler former champ George Foreman. But with catharsis and comedic spills instead of grills.

The funny thing about Tyson's comeback is how he's done it by retelling many of the same stories we've already heard. This is, after all, the man who gave the most revealing post-fight interview in the history of boxing after his 2005 defeat at the hands of Kevin McBride. But instead of the tragic bent of the award-winning 2008 documentary Tyson, which was basically another extended sit-down with the champ, he's recast himself as a self-deprecating humorist.

It's the kind of reinvention that probably reveals more about the audience than the man on stage. As much as America loved Mike Tyson the boxing god, we love a fallen god turned underdog more. Especially one who's learned to laugh at his pain.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth. $57.15-$142.50. 8 p.m. Sat., April 20. Fox Theatre, 880 Peachtree St.

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