Since he hung up the gloves in 2005, Mike Tyson has been having the best post-sports career ever. The onetime undisputed heavyweight champ has crooned Phil Collins' “In The Air Tonight” for The Hangover, showed up on How I Met Your Mother, goofed around on Vine with UFC boss Dana White, roasted Charlie Sheen on Comedy Central, impersonated ex-Presidential candidate Herman Cain for Funny or Die, and Twitter-shilled Evander Holyfield's “Real Deal” barbecue sauce by joking that it would have made Holyfield's ear tastier.
There's also his array of non-comedy projects: a 2008 James Toback documentary on his utterly fascinating life, a one-man Broadway show, an energy drink bearing his picture, and his own boxing promotion group. Tyson is slowly evolving into a Bob Uecker or a Michael Strahan — one of those sports personalities who is as famous (if not more) for his retirement-era image as he is for his time as an athlete.
The softening of Iron Mike continues with Adult Swim's Mike Tyson Mysteries, a tongue-in-cheek riff on 1960s Hanna-Barbera detective-centric programs like Scooby-Doo or Jonny Quest. Clad in a blue and white tracksuit and armed with comically pensive one-liners that make the most of his distinctive lisp and gentle tone, Tyson leads a ragtag squad of mystery solvers. New episodes air Mondays at 10:30 p.m. PST/EST through November, with the show returning January. We caught up with Tyson to talk about his new gig and where life has taken him.
SF Weekly: You probably get a lot of people knocking at your door to create something new. How did you initially feel about Mike Tyson Mysteries?
Mike Tyson: I thought it was a crazy idea. I wasn't interested in it. My wife said I needed to have an open mind and look at it, so we shot a few episodes, and I still wasn't that interested in it, but then I saw the footage, and I accelerated in my enthusiasm then. I said, 'Whoa, this is awesome!' I had no idea they could do it in that kind of [way]. Man, it was done so professionally.
Mike Tyson Mysteries won't be the first time you appear in cartoon form, as The Simpsons parodied you with Drederick Tatum. Did you ever see it?
Yes, I believe I did. Wasn't I boxing in the ring? Yeah, I liked that. That was fun.
Do you watch cartoons yourself?
I love watching cartoons. I watch Marvel cartoons, I watch Hanna-Barbera, I watch D.C. I've always been into them. Tom & Jerry reminded me of being a little kid. My kids watch it now. I'm really into cartoons now because I keep up with my kids.
What else do you watch on television, sports aside?
Oh man, I'm into everything now. What can I say? Reality television took over the world. That's the nicest train wreck. Reality television's killing everybody.
You've had this major post-sports media career a lot of athletes don't have. Where did you initially see yourself after retiring?
I saw myself going into a real dark, soulless place. Just by the grace of God, I have a good wife. I met a great woman and she put these ideas in my head, and I thought she was insane. It happened. I really thought my wife was really a kook-pot [sic]. She was saying, “You're going to build your own production company. You're going to do movies.” I'm looking at her, and I'm listening to her [thinking], “Okay, baby, anything you say.” She's awesome. She pretty much visualized it. It's crazy thinking about it. I've had a Golden Globe Award. I have an Emmy [nomination] for an interview I've done. That's crazy when you think of that! That's just crazy.
Even though you have been acting in comedy roles since 1990, your sense of humor has only really come out lately, especially through social media. Did you always have a good sense of humor, or did you have to develop it?
When I was fighting, I took myself too serious. Cus [D'Amato, Tyson's trainer/father figure] was very serious. Cus didn't play. He didn't play around. If you laughed too much, he'd say, “What's so funny?” As time went on, I just started loosening up. I think children helped me do that a lot as well. My kids, they're all over the place. I'm not going to get mad at them. They're always goofing on me, tying my shoe[laces] together hoping that I'll fall and smacking me in the head with their toys. It comes down to just fitting in with family life.
You were in the recent WWE '13 video game, and you have been appearing in WWE here and there over the years. You were such a big part of 1998's WWF WrestleMania XIV. Were you ever at a point where Vince McMahon offered you a deal to wrestle or you ever seriously considered the idea of going into professional wrestling?
I don't know. I have no idea, but if he calls, we could always negotiate and talk about it. I love Vince McMahon. He's been very good to me.
In 2013, you founded Iron Mike Productions to start promoting fights. What have you learned about boxing as a promoter that you never knew as a fighter?
I realized that maybe I'm a little too hard on the fighters. I want the best out of 'em because Cus wanted the best out of me, and he was hard on me. It's very difficult with me because I think a fighter should be disciplined before even getting to the level of being a professional fighter.
Is there anybody in boxing or UFC right now who reminds you of a younger version of you?
Man, James Kirkland, he was really incredible. He's been having managing problems. I don't know what's going on. I can't believe James Kirkland's not fighting. He's such an amazing fighter. He reminds me of Henry Armstrong. I would do anything to have that man in Iron Mike Productions. Wow, what a guy. Get him tuned up, get him sharp, and get him ready to fight. Just a remarkable fighter.
How about in other sports? Who are your favorite athletes overall nowadays?
There's so many great athletes out there, especially nowadays. There's a guy — I don't know what the school is, [but] his name is [Ameer] Abdullah, the football player. He's a young guy. Man, he's amazing! God, he's a football player, and he was just amazing. I was watching highlights of him, and he made three touchdowns in a row. What an amazing guy. Then, of course, even though he's getting older, Kobe [Bryant]'s still amazing. He's still around, and this guy's a great athlete. There's so many great athletes. Derek Jeter, that's an awesome athlete. Barry Bonds, even though he's retired, he's an amazing athlete. All these guys, man.
Believe it or not, Lance Armstrong's amazing. The reason I say that is because everybody was doing what he was doing. If everybody was clean, he would still win. Listen, that stuff don't really help as much as everybody thinks it does. It really don't. If nobody used it on the Tour de France, he would still win. He had to even the playing field. He had to level it out. I think he's amazing. I think he's an amazing athlete. Lots of friends get mad at me for that. Right now, they just don't want to give him a break at all, but he's really an amazing athlete. I hate the fact that once he got in trouble, all his friends cut him off. All his friends ran. That shows society — all his friends, the Hollywood friends, the Hollywood girlfriends. He stumbled a little in life. Everybody in life stumbles and everybody bleeds. That's life. This is life we're living. Everybody's trying to do something in life. He made a mistake, and stumbles, and they all leave him. Listen, I had my problems. That's just a horrible thing to see. It's something to learn from. You look at him. He has blue eyes, and is Caucasian, and they still do it. When somebody's down and out, we leave. It has nothing to do with race, color, creed. This is just what we are.
[Jon] “Bones” Jones, he's another amazing fighter. I'm a big fan of the UFC, and I really admire those guys. If they have a bad fight, you ain't going to see no more. They ain't never going to get another fight. These guys are really fighting for their lives and livelihoods. Imagine if they did that in boxing. You wouldn't have boxing at all. Imagine if in boxing, they said, “He had a horrible fight. You'll never see him again.” Boxing would be over. There really would be no boxing because they have such horrible fights most of the time. The best fighters are not fighting the best fighters. I recently heard that Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya are going to get together, and they're going to put the best fighters in with each other and allow them to fight. I just don't see why Kirkland's not fighting these guys. He should fighting [Miguel] Cotto, and he should be fighting [Canelo] Alvarez. Look up James Kirkland, and you will see, man, this guy's an athlete.
You have had this big post-boxing career: the one-man show, all the acting, and now a cartoon. What else are you looking at as far as future projects?
I have my own production company. We may decide to do XM Radio. Sky's the limit. As long as I have passion for it, I'm willing to do it, as long as I have the passion and I'm not doing it for the money. I've learned over my experience that when you do things for the money, things normally get tricky and you're not really going to get the greatest work with the project. The project's not going to allow you to your highest potential. I have to be passionate about it to make it work.