‘Truth’ & Daring
His signature black shorts, black boots gave way to dress slacks and dress shoes. His seemingly impregnable defense lowered.
Center stage is old-hat for Mike Tyson. With runs in Las Vegas and Broadway, the former heavyweight champion has taken his one-man stage show “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” on the road. His 10-week national tour kicked off Tuesday in Indianapolis and comes to the Cadillac Palace Theatre for shows Feb. 15 and 16.
“I’m so happy Chicago chose us,” Tyson said in a recent phone interview.
“I have a lot of great memories of Chicago. After I won the title, [former Chicago Mayor] Harold Washington gave me the key to the city.”
Tyson, at that time a 20-year-old who became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history after beating Trevor Berbick in 1986, came to Chicago for the first time and immediately took to the city and the mayor.
“I was very grateful,” the 46-year-old Brooklyn native said. “Harold Washington had a lot of energy and a lot of charisma. I enjoyed my time in Chicago. It’s a melting pot just like New York. Al Capone ran that city. He’s from Brooklyn, too. You gotta watch out for people from Brooklyn [laughing].”
The show, which is scheduled to hit more than 30 cities, is the creation of Tyson himself and his wife and show writer, Kiki.
“She did such an awesome job,” Tyson said of his wife of nearly four years. “She didn’t understand writing so close. She thought she was damaging me by doing that. I told her, ‘the name of the show is “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” — we have to tell the whole truth.’ ”
A former marketing director for AST Sportswear Inc., Kiki Tyson’s only prior writing experience consisted of a few aspiring screenplays she penned with her brother, Azim Spicer. As a good wife naturally would, Kiki’s first instinct was to protect her husband, but Mike knew that wouldn’t fly.
“In my first draft I omitted the passing of his daughter,” Kiki said of the tragic 2009 death of Tyson’s daughter Exodus. “I didn’t know how he’d be able to stay engaged [in the show]. I don’t think we went into a lot of detail about the rape in the first show. I also omitted the Robin Givens’ marriage originally. I felt she got enough publicity off of Mike already, why give her more — but he convinced me to leave it all in. It wouldn’t be him if we didn’t talk about it.”
Kiki said it took just about three weeks to write the show. The couple was inspired one night while driving down I-15, the spine expressway of Las Vegas, which is littered with show and hotel billboards all the way to Primm. The former champ saw an ad for “A Bronx Tale” and immediately wanted to see it.
“It made me want to do this show,” Mike said of the Chazz Palminteri production. “It was inspirational, it was honest, it was gut-wrenching and it was true. He did such a good job with that show that I wanted to make people feel the way I felt after watching his show.”
After seeing the show, Kiki went home and started writing. She gave Mike an excerpt. Once Mike saw that she was writing in the tone that he wanted, Kiki began to put her husband’s life in sequential order, writing down what she thought was relevant. He added. He omitted. After three weeks, they had their script.
“It was a three-week process, but we’re always adding and subtracting,” Kiki said. “Mike does a lot of ad-libs during the show. So if something worked, I’ll add it.”
After the original two-week run in Las Vegas, which began last April, there was a brief stint on Broadway. There, the show picked up director Spike Lee.
“Spike was 100 percent committed,” Kiki added. “He got Mike an acting coach. I have the utmost respect for [Spike]. I approached him in the beginning, asking if I should run changes by him and he said respectfully that I didn’t have to do that. He trusted our judgment.”
(According to a publicist working with the show, Lee won’t be traveling to Chicago for this weekend’s production, and the director is not taking media requests for interviews.)
During its first two runs, reviews for “Truth” were mixed. But one constant in those reviews is the mention of Tyson’s honesty. The same mouth that has landed him in trouble — from biting or talking — is now allowing audiences to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.
“His show is poignant and funny,” said Marc Ratner, former Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and current vice president of Regulatory Affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), who was ringside for many Tyson fights, including the infamous Evander Holyfield ear-biting debacle. “I’m happy to see how at peace with the world he is and that he’s in a great place mentally. I’m happy for him.”
When asked what the toughest part of show is for him emotionally, the heavy-hearted former fighter throws out a response faster than one of his fight-ending hooks.
“Talking about losing the people I love,” Tyson shot back. “[His first trainer and mentor] Cus [D’Amato] dying, my mother dying, my sister dying and my daughter dying — it’s hard [discussing Exodus’ death]. But I look at it objectively. I don’t get emotional with the script. I’m very professional in that manner.”
Tyson, an International and World Boxing Hall of Famer, is now most famous to a younger generation for his film role in “The Hangover” and its sequel. The Las Vegas resident also had a cameo on HBO’s “Entourage” and most recently played a death-row inmate on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU.”
To prepare himself for the 10-week, multi-city grind, Tyson boasted that he does two hours on the treadmill each day plus weights.
“It’s like I’m training for a fight,” he added. “I’m nervous off-stage, but once I’m on-stage, I’m ready to attack and perform.”
Through a rape conviction, which he vehemently denies, failed marriages, admitted drug use and violence, there are still many people that genuinely like Mike Tyson, that care about Mike Tyson and that cheer for him. This, in his words, is for them.
“Those days are over,” he said. “This is a new guy trying new things in life. He’s trying to find out who he is and who he wants to be. I’m taking those steps and this is it.”