It took awhile, but Mike Tyson got used to people laughing at his life story.
“That’s what they say: ‘When are you going to do your stand-up again?’ They never say ‘your one-man show.’ They say, ‘When are you doing your stand-up?’ ” Tyson says.
That’s not likely to change soon, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” returns to Las Vegas in a comedy club.
It’s almost full circle for the concept that debuted four years ago at the same MGM Grand. But the first run in April 2012 was upstairs, a week in the Hollywood Theatre used primarily by magician David Copperfield.
Now Tyson is back for a bigger commitment, with select dates through June 26 in the Brad Garrett Comedy Club. The fighter has related his often-painful life story all over the world now, and adjusted to the reaction.
The Baddest Man on the Planet, the youngest boxer to hold all three heavyweight titles, finds it easier to switch than fight.
“I hate to even say this, but it’s more like a stand-up comic now. It’s more of that stuff now,” he says. “I always looked at myself as a serious guy, a tough guy. I realized I’m not who I think I am, not in my mind at least. I never looked at myself as a clown. You know what I mean? But that’s exactly what it is, I’m entertaining people.
“But this is what life is about: We have to laugh at ourselves or we never get over our trauma. Whatever trauma we have, if we don’t laugh we’re gonna be stained with for the rest of our life.”
The first time he ever performed “Undisputed Truth,” telling the audience he never knew his father somehow provoked a laugh. “I ran to the end of the stage to Kiki and said ‘Kiki, What’s going on?’ They’re laughing. Is it bombing? What’s up?’ ”
His wife and co-writer told him it was all good, to keep going. “I just wasn’t anticipating laughter at that moment. We wanted ‘em to go, ‘Aww,’ ” he recalls.
Three months later, “Undisputed” had a limited run on Broadway, helmed by Spike Lee (a more practiced version became an HBO special a year later, in 2013). On opening night, Tyson seemed a little peeved when he talked about his crime-ridden youth and declared, “A tree grows in Brooklyn, my ass!”
That one got a big laugh, and he retorted, “This ain’t no stand-up comic (stuff) guys. This is my life, my pain.”
“That was a serious moment,” he says now when reminded of it. “That was a real moment right there. I’m talking about my pain, guys. I didn’t realize my pain is funny.”
He does now. Friends such as Eddie Murphy thought he was holding out on them.
Who could blame anyone who saw, say, Tyson’s imitation of his nemesis Mitch Green? His extended monologue on their infamous street fight was rolled out with the pace and punctuation of a veteran stand-up storyteller.
Even this phone call, coming from Beijing and at the end of a long, jet-lagged day, has the ex-champ doing voices as he mimics the excited shouts of European and Australian audiences.
“If I just say the name (of first wife) Robin Givens or I say I sold my soul to Don King … they won’t let you finish. It’s crazy. Europeans are out of their mind! Out of their mind!”
Tyson, 49, says he still wants to be “riveting” and “shocking” and isn’t sure how this first week will go in a 250-seat club, where he can make eye contact with the audience.
“Will I get nervous? Make myself uncomfortable? Or will I just do my thing?”
He got the idea for “Undisputed Truth” in 2009, watching Chazz Palminteri perform his one-man memoir “A Bronx Tale” at The Venetian.
“It was just so mesmerizing. Man, you could hear a mouse piss on cotton,” Tyson recalls. “As soon as it was over” he started wondering if he could do the same thing. “I couldn’t think of nothing else.”
He and Kiki had already been working on the script when local producer Adam Steck found out Tyson worked out at the same athletic club and wondered if there was anything he might want to do onstage.
That first week at the MGM was strange and sometimes surreal. The champ broke into a random chorus of “Another One Bites the Dust,” and paused for a shout-out to his ex “cocaine buddies” in the audience: “I still love you!” An hour into the narrative, he still hadn’t got to the point where he turned pro.
Still, it was a compelling train wreck, which got the crowd in his corner and convinced people there was no shortage of material. The Broadway run and years of touring followed. Steck handed off both — the first to veteran Broadway producer James L. Nederlander — for what he calls “mailbox money” residuals.
But the Tysons started asking Steck if he could find them something close to home, so he can spend more time with his family without disrupting their school schedule.
“He just loves being onstage. He loves to be an entertainer,” says Steck, hands-on with the production again. “He thinks that’s what he was born to do. If it was up to him, he’d be on that stage 24/7.”
“It’s pretty perfected,” Tyson agrees. “I wing it more, but it’s scripted winging. The crowd’s energy decides how I’m gonna perform.”
But the champ is on the comeback trail, which changes things. Steck says “Undisputed Truth” accounted for about 80 percent of Tyson’s schedule two years ago.
Now, Tyson says it is “not even 10 percent,” thanks to his overseas movie career. He plays the villain in “Ip Man 3,” a martial arts franchise for action star Donnie Yen. The movie had only a token U.S. release, but in China it’s said to be more popular than the “Star Wars” reboot.
Tyson and Yen face off in an intense five-minute brawl — boxing versus kung-fu — which took three weeks to film, he says. The rest of his screen time is, gasp, dialogue.
“This movie has done something for me that you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “This is my finest hour as far as cinema is concerned. This is my finest hour yet.”
And if that somehow sounds like a line that would get a laugh if he said it onstage?
What if he said he watched the documentary about Marlon Brando (“Listen to Me Marlon”) and found something that sounds familiar: “Marlon Brando was such a ferocious animal. Right here in the moment. He could be talking to you about life and right there tears come out of his eyes … he’s an emotional monster. That’s why he had such a destructive life.
“How can you take care of your children with that kind of (personality)? How can you be a father?” he muses.
Whatever happens next for him, Tyson says he’s grateful. “I used the word ‘gratitude’ but I had no concept,” he says. “Money don’t mean nothing. It’s how you’re enjoying your life.”
Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.Preview What: “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” When: 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday (select dates March 17-June 26) Where: Brad Garrett Comedy Club, MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South Tickets: $59.90-$272.49 (800-745-3000)