What We Can (Maybe) Learn About Mike Tyson Through 'Mike Tyson Mysteries'
Mike Tyson was in the news last week for punching someone. While that may not be an historically notable headline, this time he did it on an airplane. The recipient of The Baddest Man on the Planet’s latest beatdown was an unruly passenger seen repeatedly harassing the former heavy-weight champion of the world, another entry on the long list of times Mike Tyson beat the sense back into someone dumb enough to cross him.
But what would happen if you replaced Iron Mike’s penchant for punishment with a passion for solving mysteries, à la Scooby-Doo? That was the entire premise of Adult Swim’s Mike Tyson Mysteries, which ran from 2014 to 2018. The show featured Mike playing an animated version of himself, with the late, great Norm MacDonald co-starring as a lecherous talking pigeon as well as Jim Rash of Community fame playing the ghost of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, antagonist of Oscar Wilde and originator of the modern rules of boxing. The show is even more bonkers than that casting and almost as crazy as the champ’s actual life story.
Mike Tyson remains one of the most controversial and enigmatic pop culture figures of our time, so co-creating and starring in a Hanna-Barbera style adult cartoon with Norm MacDonald and Dean Pelton is somehow one of the more tame ventures in his career. What if Mike Tyson Mysteries was the key to unlocking the puzzling persona of boxing’s biggest star? Mike Tyson Mysteries could be our best insight into the mind of Iron Mike – not the interviews, not the autobiography, not the one man show directed by Spike Lee, but the Adult Swim show about Mike driving around in a van “solving” mysteries. Mostly through punching.
To say that Mike Tyson has led a troubled life is like saying that Bill Gates works with computers. While it’s true, it doesn’t quite capture the scope of the subject. By age 13, Mike had been arrested 38 times. By 16, he was orphaned, taken in by Constantine "Cus" D'Amato, legendary boxing manager and trainer. By 20, Iron Mike was the youngest heavy-weight champion in boxing history. The next 20 years of his life would be a whirlwind of fights, drugs, incarceration, ear-biting, debt, depression, and triumph before he stepped out of the ring for good in 2005.
After his retirement from boxing, Tyson had a crisis of identity, saying in an interview with USA Today, “My whole life has been a waste – I've been a failure. I just want to escape. I'm really embarrassed with myself and my life… I want to get this part of my life over as soon as possible. In this country nothing good is going to come of me. People put me so high; I wanted to tear that image down.”
Mike would go through multiple marriages, battle addiction, tend to his pigeons, find god, go vegan on Ellen, get arrested a few more times, write a couple books, and, of course, star in The Hangover as he sought to define his life post-boxing. When Robot Chicken writer/actor Hugh Davidson pitched the idea about creating an Adult Swim animated show starring Mike as himself, Mike said, “When (Davidson) first approached me about the project, I was a little apprehensive because the pay wasn’t much and the concept was really odd. What was I going to do? And I had no idea what Adult Swim was. At first, I thought it was a bunch of old, rich senior citizen white guys, learning how to swim in an exotic lake.”
Mike would change his tune once he realized the kind of creative freedom that comes with making an Adult Swim show – namely that they allow cursing in excess. After seeing early sketches, he said, “This looks good. It looks like a real cartoon. So then, I celebrated my participation. Now, when they call me to do the show, I run to it because I know it’s gonna be sensational. Before, I just thought it was going to be bulls—.”
Mike Tyson Mysteries started off on a strange note, even for a show as strange as this one – Mike and his Mystery Crew receive a request via carrier pigeon from reclusive author Cormac McCarthy asking for help in writing the ending to his latest novel. The gang visits McCarthy’s ranch where they are attacked by a Chupacabra. Mike incapacitates the beast with a punch to the groin before Cormac McCarthy finishes it off with a hoof to the head. Oh, also, it turns out Cormac McCarthy is a centaur. Also the Chupacabra is actually John Updike who turned himself into a Chupacabra after faking his own death. Like I said, bonkers.
Each episode follows the same formula, where Mike, his adopted daughter Yung Hee (voiced by Rachel Ramras), Pigeon, and the Marquess of Queensbury receive a request via carrier pigeon from someone in need of mystery solving. The requests range from the mundane to the macabre, but the mysteries themselves are merely launch points for the main characters to get thrown into absurd situations instead of actual plotlines. More often than not, Mike and the gang completely forget about the call to action and, if the mystery is ever actually solved, it’s usually by coincidence and not the result of any actual investigation by our pugilist protagonist.
But underneath the framing device of cartoon mysteries lies a very genuine heart in a very silly show. The character of cartoon Mike is a protector, a father, and a reformed man looking to help people instead of hurt them. He avoids confrontation instead of seeking it out. He gives people second chances. The Mike Tyson as portrayed in Mike Tyson Mysteries is Mike as he wants to be – forgiving, empathetic, and in touch with his emotions. At its core, Mike Tyson Mysteries is about a guy with a troubled past who just wants to do what’s right, even if he doesn’t quite know what that is. He also wants to go back in time and kill Hitler.
Oh, also – SPOILERS – the show ends with Mike Tyson accidentally killing God.
Of course, a silly cartoon can’t tell us everything we want to know about the inner life of boxing’s most polarizing champion. But it does manage to capture the ethos of an older, warmer, more conscientious Mike Tyson. In an interview about the show, Mike imparted some wisdom that can only be learned through a lifetime of trials and tribulations, saying, “You spend the first part of your career just f—ing it up. And then, you realize you messed it up so bad that you take the second part and clean it up… That’s basically how it happens. If you’re not humbled in this world, this world will thrust humbleness upon you.”
If you want to see a humbled Mike Tyson solve mysteries in a van, all four seasons of Mike Tyson Mysteries are available on Hulu. If you’re very, very foolish and you don’t respect his personal space, one day you may find yourself on an airplane having Mike Tyson thrust the humbleness of his fists upon your face.
Top Image: Warner Bros. Animation / Williams Street
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