Like the Jackson 5 and the Harlem Globetrotters before him, Mike Tyson has crossed into a new threshold of pop-culture iconography with his new Adult Swim cartoon, Mike Tyson Mysteries. Evoking the look, feel and political incorrectness of a 70s-era Saturday morning cartoon, the show centers around Tyson—you guessed it—solving mysteries with the help of his deliberately obscure Korean daughter, the dandy ghost of the Marquess of Queensbury and a beer-swilling, womanizing pigeon impeccably voiced by Norm MacDonald. And in the tradition of Adult Swim's non-sequitur-loving shows, it gets weirder from there.
SI: So how'd you end up the superhero sleuth of your own cartoon?
MT: Network executives came to me with the idea. At the height of my boxing career, no one would come near me [with this pitch] with a million foot pole. I couldn’t see myself in that sphere and I didn’t know if I was going to be portrayed as a big, mean villain guy.
SI: Your character in MTM is pretty ditzy. Is he supposed to be a parody of your public image?
No, it’s really me. I’m a horrible driver and there’s a scene where I’m sucking as a driver, picking up Buzz Aldrin, so they used things like that, and like my pigeons. It’s my real personality, away from the cameras.
SI: You’ve been doing comedy for a decade now. Was this always the plan?
I didn't think I was ever funny, but then I did my stage show and now people consider my stage show [Undisputed Truth] a standup act, which it was never meant to be. The first time I did it I was talking about my life—my hard, gritty life I lived, and it was supposed to be more of a dark situation, and everybody started laughing. So when I went on a break and went back and said to my wife, 'Am I trippin'? Why are they laughing? Am I screwing up? What am I doing wrong?' and my wife [Lakiha Spicer] said, 'They're laughing because it's a good show. Just go back out there.' I was a little upset because here I am spilling my guts about things that happened—how I don't know who my father is—and [the audience] is on the floor laughing. So we started ad-libbing and adding jokes and made it into a lighter show. I'm going to go with this comedy thing all the way because people think I'm funny and I like that.
SI: Does comedy make your difficult past easier to face?
Listen, I took myself too seriously when I was fighting and when I was younger. I wanted to be a serious guy because I was bullied a lot as a kid, so I wanted people to know that I don't fool around, don't play with me because you know what you got coming. But [with comedy] I've become somebody different. I became a funny guy and I'm very conscious of that, of how people perceive me now, so I won't have to be in the position of getting angry at somebody. I can't believe I used to think people [like that] were pu**ies. But now I'm conscious of my environment and my image and how I say things to people, how I conduct myself with people making sure I don't say anything that may be any way suggestive like, 'Hey, baby,' or something crazy, and the fact that I'm doing that, I look at myself and say, 'Who, I can't believe this is me.' It used to be that everything I said was somehow suggestive and now it's like—boom—cut dead. I premeditate my life now.
SI: So is it fair to say you're happy with the new you?
That word 'happy' is an interesting. I'm just very grateful. It's not about me, it's about gratitude and humbleness. I'm not saying I'm a master of being humble because if I were humble I wouldn't have to say that word humble. I'm on a path of understanding, you know. And that's an interesting journey, to not take yourself too seriously.
SI: The show has some explicit language. Are you going to let your kids watch it?
I let them watch it. They don't like it. They say, 'Daddy curse too much.'