Comedy: Back in Utah, Tom Arnold to find himself again

Published July 30, 2009 1:00 am

The 50-year-old Iowa native returns to comedy clubs after 20-year absence.
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While traveling to Utah might conjure up some bad memories of his ill-fated marriage to Beehive State native Roseanne Barr, comedian Tom Arnold still has plenty of refreshing memories to fall back on.

After all, the 50-year-old comedian said in a Tribune interview to promote his upcoming standup gig at the West Valley City Wiseguys club, it was a trip to Utah where he found out who he was.

Two decades ago, on his first trip to Utah with Barr, Arnold received genealogy records from officials from the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just as President Barack Obama was presented with his own records several weeks ago, Arnold said. To his surprise, he found he was descended from Eastern European Jews, a lineage he had never known about.

The discovery added impetus to Arnold's quest to convert to Judaism, which was initially prompted by his marriage to the Jewish comedian famous for the top-rated TV show "Roseanne." Arnold said he still practices Judaism, and it was at a Passover seder in 2008 where he met his fiancée, Ashley Groussman.

He has attended the Sundance Film Festival nearly a dozen times over the years, Arnold said, including a trip to support "Happy Endings," the 2005 opening-night film, and was so entranced by the area's natural beauty that he sent several of his stepchildren on Outward Bound trips in Utah.

His comedic career began when he started drinking at a young age -- the only thing there was to do in Ottumwa, Iowa. "When I was young, you're always searching for your place," he said. "By the time I was 12, I was drinking. It made me feel good about myself."

Best-known for a stand-up act that notoriously included swallowing a bowl of goldfish, Arnold linked up with Barr in the 1980s on comedy tours. They fell in love at the same time her TV show -- on which he was a writer -- was catapulted into a TV juggernaut. A tempestuous marriage began in 1990, before a well-publicized 1994 divorce.

Despite the divorce and not speaking to Barr in person since then, it was Roseanne who "validated" him by thinking he was funny back when they met on the comedy circuit. And just as significant, it was Barr who inspired him to quit drinking. "I would have been dead without Roseanne," Arnold said.

Arnold will be 20 years sober this December, and he said it has been "20 years since [he] really did clubs." He said he will use his life experiences to make people feel better about their own lives, and is itching to hit the stage again.

"Anyone who comes to get away from their troubles, I will give them everything I can," he said.

Tom Arnold

When » Friday at 8 and 10

Where » WiseGuys, 2194 W. 3500 South, West Valley City

Tickets » $25 at SmithsTix



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