Comedian Tom Arnold appears in Tampa

He's better known as an actor, but stand-up comedy was his first love

mclear@bradenton.comApril 24, 2014 

Tom Arnold performs Friday and Saturday at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa. PUBLICITY PHOTO


He's known as an actor, a writer, a sports talk show host and Roseanne Barr's former husband.

But Tom Arnold got his show biz start as a stand-up comedian.

"At the University of Iowa they had an open mic night," he said. "You could get up and tell a few jokes or read a poem and whatever, and I got up and told jokes."

That was back in the '80s, and lately he's been putting more emphasis on his stand-up act. He'll be performing in Tampa for four shows this weekend.

He's far surpassed his original show biz goals.

"When I started, all I wanted to do was be on David Letterman's show," he said in a phone interview from his Beverly Hills office. "I didn't necessarily want to do stand-up. I just wanted to get on Letterman any way I could. I wanted to be on 'Stupid Human Tricks.' I wanted to be on 'Stupid Pet Tricks.' I trained some goldfish, and they actually came out and saw me."

As it turned out, he became a show biz star before he made it onto Letterman.

He had moved from his rural hometown in Iowa to Minneapolis and met his "future ex-wife" Barr. He became a writer on her show.

"I thought I was going to have a career as a writer," he said. "But they said, 'Why don't you appear on the show, and people will watch because of your relationship?'"

It was his role as Arnold Schwarzenegger's sidekick in the James Cameron film "True Lies" that cemented his stature as an actor.

"That movie came at a time when my marriage and my own show had ended, and I really needed something if I was going to continue my career," he said. "Besides that, it was a lot of fun. James Cameron, for whatever reason, let me do what I wanted, let me try different things."

One of that film's most famous scenes involved blowing up a defunct bridge that leads through the Florida Keys. Cameron didn't like the look of the explosion, so he had the bridge rebuilt so he could blow it up again.

"Arnold (Schwarzenegger) looked at me and said, 'Well, I guess we're not working for a few days,' " Arnold said.

In recent years, Arnold said, he's been realizing he still had a passion for stand-up, much like dramatic film actors feel the need to act in theater. And he decided that if he was going to be good at it, he had to do it regularly.

He's been performing at clubs around the country ever since.

"I'm really lucky I can do stand-up," he said. I don't have to take every lousy movie that comes along any more. Plus, I get to come to Tampa."

Details: April 25-26, Side Splitters Comedy Club, 12938 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Show times: 8 and 10:15 p.m. Tickets: $25-$30 in advance, $27-$32 day of show. Information:, 813-960-1197.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow

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