Tom Arnold: Don't Call It A Comeback Tom Arnold takes the stage to discuss his early job at a meatpacking plant, breaking into comedy, and his Viceland series, The Hunt for the Trump Tapes. Then, he plays a game about sports comebacks.
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Tom Arnold: Don't Call It A Comeback

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Tom Arnold: Don't Call It A Comeback

Tom Arnold: Don't Call It A Comeback

Tom Arnold: Don't Call It A Comeback

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/653755278/654762042" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Ophira Eisenberg chats with Tom Arnold on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. Mike Katzif/NPR hide caption

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Ophira Eisenberg chats with Tom Arnold on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.

Mike Katzif/NPR

Before Tom Arnold was a comedian, he worked in an Iowa meatpacking plant. "If you work at a meatpacking plant, especially on the kill floor, two things are for sure," Tom Arnold told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another. "One, you will get very drunk every night, and two, you'll have crazy dreams like you're best friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Arnold did eventually star alongside Schwarzenegger in 1994's True Lies, but befriending, let alone meeting, Schwarzenegger seemed unlikely for someone from Ottumwa, Iowa. Though he wanted to leave his small town, Arnold first found himself following in the footsteps of the men in his family. "My grandpa worked in the meatpacking plant for 50 years, my dad worked there, I worked there for three years to save money to go to the University of Iowa."

Arnold knew he wanted to break into comedy, and decided on the University of Iowa because its student union had a stage for student performance. He recalled thinking, "If I get on that stage, I can become a comic and everyone will love me." As a student he opened for Joel Hodgson of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, who told him to find his own voice in comedy. After school, on the midwest comedy beat in Minneapolis, Arnold met Roseanne Barr and began working with her.

Arnold went on to write for Barr's eponymous sitcom, Roseanne. While writing for the show, Arnold featured as the warm-up comic for the pilot episode. He said he was not well-received by the audience. Arnold joked, "I worked my way up. I was so bad at each job that they made me executive producer."

Arnold said he was unpopular among audiences following the end of not only his tenure on Roseanne, but also the dissolution of his marriage to Barr in 1994. However, the same year, Arnold starred in James Cameron's True Lies. Arnold said the role saved him from what could have been the end of his career. "Because of James Cameron, because of Arnold Schwarzenegger... it changed people's perspective of me, being in a piece of art like that."

Now a father, Arnold's career has changed course. He told Eisenberg, "I'm a 59 year-old guy with a 5-and-a-half year-old son and a 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, you know I'm not going to live forever, there's only so many times I can stand up for them and do something." Arnold said this is one reason behind The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, a Viceland series documenting his search for various recordings of of Donald Trump.

He said his lack of journalistic gravitas is actually an asset when it comes to dealing with critics. "Ignore the threats of destroying your credibility, honest to god, I have zero credibility, that's what they do, they try to destroy that. But if you have none... it's amazing!"

For his Ask Me Another challenge, Arnold played a game about one of his favorite subjects: legendary sports comebacks.

Heard on Tom Arnold and Jill Sobule: Nostalgia Kills.