Talking to Mike Tyson is sort of surreal.
He’s kind of funny. Self-deprecating. Charming, even. And he’s got that unmistakable lisp.
But this is a guy who could end me in about a second. And I’m overestimating my survival time.
This is, after all, the guy who was the heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 20. Who spent three years in prison after being convicted of rape. Who bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
And he’s the guy who starred in a one-man, Broadway show about his life. “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” was filmed for TV by Spike Lee and airs Saturday, Nov. 16, at 9 p.m. on HBO. And, Tyson insists, being an actor and stand-up comedian of sorts is a lot like being a boxer.
“The similarities is that I can’t wait to get my hands on the guy, just like I can’t wait to get on stage,” Tyson said. “The non-similarities is that I don’t have to go to the hospital after I perform.”
“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” is 85 minutes of the retired boxer on stage, by himself, talking about his life. Talking about his triunphs with some degree of humor; talking about his many failings with what he insists is nothing but honesty.
“Mike Tyson is the most honest human being I’ve ever met in my life,” said Lee, who has known him since 1986. “Most human beings are not going to display the dark parts of themselves, the demons they have, to the world.”
Lee describes the show as both “traumatic” and “the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
This “Undisputed Truth” is not, however, Tyson pleading guilty and asking for forgiveness for everything he’s done. He mocks his first wife, Robyn Givens, and her mother. He makes light of biting Holyfield.
Despite his conviction and prison term, he flat-out denies he’s a rapist.
“I did not rape Desiree Washington and that’s all I have to say about this,” Tyson says in the show. Actually, that’s not all he has to say about it — without using the word “liar,” he calls Washington one.
It’s a little uncomfortable when the audience gives him an ovation for that.
I don’t know what really happened. Neither does anyone other than the two people involved. But, clearly, while Tyson is long retired from the ring, he’s still combative.
And speaking of surreal, when Tyson recalls his mentor/coach asking him if he was afraid of white people, Lee flashes a huge picture of Mitt Romney on the screen behind the ex-boxer.
Tyson responds with, “I’m afraid of this (expletive),” adding, “I can’t believe Spike Lee didn’t have George Zimmerman up here instead of [Romney].”
It’s an attempt at humor with a fist inside the glove. As is “Undisputed Truth.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.