Mike Tyson’s One Man Show Made Me Dispute The Truth
In the summer of 2013 I got four free tickets to see the taping of Mike Tyson’s one-man show The Undisputed Truth on Broadway.
I spent the majority of the day flying about Manhattan on my bike running errands. In the mid-afternoon I pedaled back to Queens. I had to pick up veggies from our co-op in Long Island City, drop them off at my apartment in Astoria, and then back head into the city again for the show.
By the time I made it to my apartment I was dripping with sweat. I dumped the loot from the co-op in the kitchen, had a quick shower and ate a pot brownie.
It was an absolute scorcher of an afternoon, and the sun bore down on me as I rode over the Queensboro bridge for the third time that day. I was running a little late and needed to haul ass. When I first moved to New York I thought the cyclists who rode in the city were crazy. But less than 12 months later, I found myself weaving through peak hour traffic without a helmet, Joe Rogan blasting on 11 through my headphones, with a marijuana delicacy fermenting in my gut.
I made it to the Imperial Theatre on 45th Street in really good time, a new personal record for a cross Manhattan jaunt. I found my wife K and our two friends from Perth Ali and Mel waiting in line. Ali and Mel were touring the States and crashing with us during their time in New York.
The high from the brownie began to take hold as we waited in line. I drained my water bottle then let out a long giggle for no reason.
The line itself was a trip. Firstly, it was huge, well over a thousand people. The thing started from the entrance to the Imperial and snaked around several blocks. And as you would imagine for a Mike Tyson show, the people in the line were predominantly black. Growing up caucasian in uber-homogenous Australia it was so rare to find oneself as a minority. But in New York it happened quite often, and for some reason I always appreciated the novelty.
After a short wait we slowly started to file into the theatre. A feeling of apprehension rose in my gut. The audience for the taping was way bigger than I’d anticipated. I’m a huge fan of the Mike Tyson documentary Tyson that came out in 2009. In it Iron Mike drops so many pearls of wisdom and hilarity, and the doco is a big reason why I desperately wanted to see his one-man show. But performing live is such a different beast. Would the champ have the chops to pull off a solo sermon on the mount?
The theatre was old and beautiful. Our seats were awesome — on the wing, right near the front. A DJ spun classic hip hop records from the stage. Cool banners repping different Brooklyn neighborhoods hung from the mezzanine. The vibe was warm and homely, but there was still an ominous sense of tension in the air.
The curtain came up and Tyson was sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage, dressed in all white, one hand on his chin like Rodin’s Thinker. An old-timey jazz number started playing over the speakers, and the Ella Fitzgerald-esque vocalist sang mournful lyrics about fucking up your entire life.
The song came to an end. There was complete silence in the theatre. Tyson looked out at the crowd. Then he chuckled and said in his trademark lisp “Welcome to my living room.”
This broke the tension and everyone lost their shit. Rapturous applause, screams and whistles matured into a standing ovation. My paranoia came back with a vengeance. The show wasn’t even five minutes old and Tyson already had everyone on their feet with his first line. The challenge to maintain such a high level of engagement seemed insurmountable.
I shouldn’t have worried. I can honestly say that Mike Tyson is the most entertaining and naturally hilarious performer I have ever seen live. The one-man show revisited a lot of the things covered in the doco but from slightly different angles. It charted Tyson’s rise from street urchin, to a promising teenage boxer, to a global superstar. And he talks in detail about his problems with celebrity, women, the law and substances.
At one point a guy in the front row fell asleep, and Tyson screamed “Wake the fuck up man!”, before threatening to put his dick in the sleeping guy’s mouth. Even though he wasn’t in shape, Tyson still looked scary as fuck. There were other times during the show Tyson would abandon a monologue mid flow, and bounce ideas off someone in the crowd. The skeptic in me wondered whether the sleeping guy and the other people he spoke to were plants, preconceived devices that would add flavor and variety to the singular performance.
Perhaps the biggest part of the show was Tyson’s revelations about his various addictions. He spoke in detail about exactly how drink and drugs had ravaged his life. But that was the old Mike. He announced that he’d been completely clean for years, and once again everyone in the theatre got to their feet and applauded.
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A couple months after the show I was trawling the internet and came across a breaking news story about Iron Mike. He was giving a press conference somewhere and admitted that he’d been lying about his sobriety. “I’m on the verge of dying, because I’m a vicious alcoholic,” he said.
I sat there, dumbfounded. I’d believed every word he’d said on Broadway.
The reality is, Mike Tyson is the maybe most brilliant fuck-up of our time, and a master performer. He’ll tell you that he’s revealing everything about himself, and you’ll believe it. But then he inevitably crumbles, and has to rebuild himself with the entire world watching.
I’m still a huge Tyson fan, and I learnt an important lesson from seeing him live on Broadway. The lesson is that is some people’s version of the truth, no matter how brilliant and honest it seems, always needs to be disputed.