When the invite came across the Press wire for Comic-con, my eyes popped out and so did those of my Comic-con buddy Rafael Gaitan. We immediately tweeted each other wondering ifMike Tyson Mysteries was a real thing or if someone was pranking us. As you’ll see below, it was a real thing, and Raf an I had the priviledge of enjoying a session in a press roundtable with Jim Rash, Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson – and, yes, Mike Tyson.
It’s hard to overstate how exciting it was when Tyson walked into the interview room. I’ve done several of these rooms before, with relatively big stars, but never with someone who commanded a room like Mike Tyson did. He had a raw power and energy, a charisma and excitement around him, like nobody I’d ever seen. But what was most striiking about the Champ wasn’t his presence but how humble he seemed. Its true – Tyson is soft spoken, with a high voice, and is also extremely sincere. It was remarkable meeting him – and one of the treasured memories of my Comic-con 2014 will always be asking him the question below about why he loves pigeons so much.
The interviews with Ramras, Davidson and Rash (which will be coming soon) were also real treats -but I’ll never forget the real pleasure of talking with the suprisingly complex Mike Tyson.
Special thanks to our pal Hunter Daniels of Collider for sharing transcript efforts and asking great questions.
Read on for the full transcripts and video clips.
QUESTION: How does it feel to be playing an Asian-American?
RACHEL RAMAS:It‘s the same as any other character, really. I don‘t do an accent or anything.
Have you had much interaction with Mike Tyson?
RAMAS:Today is probably the most.We were in the booth together one time and he‘s really sweet as pie, he truly is.Very fun and gung-ho.
Was it at all scary to be in a small space with a man who is world famous for—
RAMAS:Well, I‘m a boxer.No, I‘m not.Well, he‘s certainly a commanding presence.And you know, no one would want to make him angry or anything.But other than that.He‘s very sweet.
What do you bring to your character, as someone raised by Mike Tyson that you wouldn’t bring to another character?
RAMAS:Well, if you see the show, he really projects an innocence.So, I think that being his daughter, the roles kind of get reversed.
Like Penny in Inspector Gadget?
RAMAS:I don‘t know that reference.I mean, I‘ve seen that show, but I don‘t remember.What if I said yes and that was the opposite of what I meant?But if you think that‘s the correct analogy, I will accept it.Yes, she‘s kind of like a friend to him and he is kind of like a gentle giant.
What does your character want?
RAMAS:I just want to take care of him, you know the pigeon is a bad influence.So I have a tenuous relationship with the pigeon.You know, [My character is] sort of the Velma-y character.If there‘s a lot of exposition, she usually does it.
Did you watch the documentary? Were you familiar with his life?
RAMAS:I mean, I was familiar with him.I have his book, but I haven‘t read it.I‘ve seen bits of the documentary.But really, it‘s not true to him, this character.But the way we write it, he‘s very sincere and genuine.
What are the mysteries?
RAMAS:Well, they vary.Some are, ‘Come quick!There‘s been a murder!‘ – we don‘t know why they call the cops, they just send a pigeon – but some are more mundane.In one someone wants help buying a house.Mike is enthusiastic about all the mysteries and we kind of go along for the ride.Crazy things end up happening like Werewolves, Chupacabras.I think it really has the feel of those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
So, it’s a little bit like Mike Tyson’s Scooby Doo?
RAMAS:A little bit.But the humor really stems from the relationship between these characters. they really do become a family, so seeing them all interact, to me, that‘s the funniest part of the show and then the mystery is really secondary to that.But I think that people who really like that kind of show, like Scooby Doo or Mystery Team will really like it too.
Can you tell us about the pigeon character?
RAMAS:The pigeon, who is played by Norm MacDonald, is not a pigeon.I mean, he is a pigeon, but he was a man who was turned into a pigeon by a witch.So in the show, he‘s a man in the body of a pigeon.
The mysteries in the show, are they more like a Raymond Chandler novel, or are they more like a Scooby Doo episode where it’s more obviously structured?
RAMAS:No.There is no format to the mysteries.It‘s really, when we‘re writing it, we come up with the jumping off point of what the mystery will be.But I think, in the vein of Adult Swim shows, you don‘t want it to feel cookie-cutter.It‘s not a parody of any of those shows.It‘s really its own thing.We‘ve started noticing that in every episode, things seem kind of normal, everyone is acting normally, and then something really weird happens in the end.But it‘s not like there is a mask comes off in every episode.
Is there a Big Baddie for the show, like a Buffy-style villain?
RAMAS:No.He doesn‘t have a nemesis or anything like that.Yet.
When you first heard about the show, what was your reaction? What did you expect from the title?
RAMAS:I thought it was going to be sort of like the Mr. T show from when I was a kid and sort of like the Scooby Doo show, so I thought it would be fun.But at the time, all I knew was there was going to be a pigeon, because Mike likes pigeons.And it was going to be Mike and then his daughter and then the Marquis.But none of that truly made me think, A: I will be a good show, B: it will be funny, and C: it will make sense.But once we cast it and[Producer Hugh Davidson] and I had been working together for years and Jim [Rash] and I had known each other from The Groundlings.So, once we figured that casting out and once Norm McDonald came on, it was like, ‘Well, this is too good to be true.‘ So that‘s where the show kind of found its legs, just in the casting.
Wait, so the show was in development before Mike Tyson had approval or involvement?
RAMAS: Mike came to Warner Brothers with the idea that he wanted to do this cartoon. He loves Hanna-Barbera cartoons. So it started out that Mike Tyson Mysteries was the idea. But from there we kind of let loose. And we went to a brainstorming session one day and, I think— is there some ghost in another Hanna-Barbera cartoon?
The Funky Phantom.
RAMAS: Okay, so they were like, ‘Oh we need a Funky Phantom thing.‘ Then it was like – I always think shows always benefit from female energy – so I thought, ‘We need a woman, you know, on the show.‘ So it became that he would have a daughter. And then [Tyson] wanted a pigeon. It really came like that. But in terms of really finding what the show was, it wasn‘t until we had written a few episodes that we really figured out everyone‘s voice. And now it‘s The Marquis is the voice of reason; Yung is the protective daughter; Mike is the energetic go-getter and sometimes acts before thinking; Pigeon is a degenerate and it‘s like they‘re a great dysfunctional family.
Did Mike Tyson write up a pitch package and come to Warner Brothers, or…?
RAMAS:I don‘t know. You‘ll have to ask Mike that. But I know that he really wanted to do a cartoon and approached Warner Brothers.
QUESTION: Are you looking to do self-contained episodes, or will there be a grander arc?
HUGH DAVIDSON:You know, I think I personally would hope that they‘re contained to themselves and feel like they‘re worth your time to watch the 11 minutes and they‘re not just one of those fan shows for weirdos: the one show where you can only enjoy it by the tenth episode.But at the same time, I do like some shows that have that.You know, Seinfeld did it so well.They had little things where, if you didn‘t see those earlier episodes, you wouldn‘t need to to enjoy it.But we wouldn‘t have season long arcs.But I think there will be things that recur.After the first ten we‘ll see what seems rich enough to revisit.But we‘re not going to plan anything.Otherwise it‘s that sort of precious writing thing where it‘s like, ‘Oh, that‘s so funny, what we wrote.‘ We‘ll see if it‘s funny.
So, Rachel Ramas told us that the show came about because Mike Tyson went to the studio and said, ‘I want to make a cartoon.’ Did he write a pitch package?
DAVIDSON:I…I doubt it.I bet Mike [Tyson] has a lot of meetings with various entities and says, ‘I would like to have a Mike Tyson ____.‘ Whether it‘s a ship, or a planet, or a t-shirt factory.But at the same time, I do think that Mike had a genuine love of this stuff.And it‘s like one of the things that— I find him very surprising.The things that he is knowledgeable about.They‘re kind of interesting or sometimes arcane.But he‘s a genuine fan of all of this stuff, probably more than I am.Of all the old cartoons.He knows it all.So I think he just wanted to be in one.
At one point did you get involved, if the project predated you?
DAVIDSON:They had made a bit of a teaser of animation.I think they were kind of getting their sea legs.And then, all I know is, I kept seeing the poster at Warner Brothers and I thought it was the worst idea I had ever seen in my life. ‘I‘m so glad I have nothing to do with that.It looks so terrible.‘ And then, like two years later, I‘m so involved in it.So I couldn‘t say no to that.
How did you get persuaded to be involved in this project then?
DAVIDSON:At a certain point I just did it as a sort of favor.But then once, I think once, I knew Jim Rash.I performed with Jim at Groundlings and had some say in who we were going to get in the show.It felt like something that could be legitimately good and fun.And I was a genuine – I know it sounds like bullshit – but I was a genuine fan of Mike.Like, I used to watch those— I mean, I guess the whole fucking world did, it doesn‘t make me special.But there was also something, even then, he would get interviewed and he was fascinating.He was weird and it‘s like…So he has got depth.So if there was some celebrity that was going to be in a cartoon, he‘s a good one for it.He‘s lived this life with a lot of ups and downs.Like, he‘s a Shakespearian human being.He‘s a fascinating person and he‘s very aware.And he‘s fun to write for.
Regarding the writing process, it seems like there is a lot of improv background going into it. Did that factor in a lot?
DAVIDSON:Our background as improvisers has largely— all that‘s done for me in terms of writing is, have an internal clock as a performer as to how long have I been on this stage feeling like, ‘This isn‘t fun.It‘s uncomfortable.‘ Or if I‘m in a scene and someone else is funny and I‘m the person just standing here, give this character something to do as a writer.
But there‘s not a lot of improvising other than encouraging the actors to make the characters their own.And there‘s not a lot of jokes.It‘s not a verbal, clever show.It‘s more about the behavior.I find that funnier, rather than the old, perfectly-crafted line.Also, these types of shows, they don‘t have the writing staff that those types of comedies tend to have.
They have fifteen people trying to come up with the perfect line – even on set – trying to pitch to actors.The elevator door opens and the character has to say something witty because they‘re surprised by what they see.There‘s 15 guys from Harvard going, [Snaps fingers].And there‘s part of me that doesn‘t really like that.And behavior to me is funnier.So I‘m probably more on the side of things like Larry David‘s show, Curb Your Enthusiasm where it feels less witty.But you still want them to be funny.
But all these characters are like, Mike himself, I think he‘s very funny because he‘s very emotional.He has big, emotional reactions to things.And his acting is surprisingly joyful to be around.He keeps things simple, but he‘s very committed as an actor.He just tries.He‘s supposed to be sad: Mike, you can tell, he tries to be sad.He‘s supposed to be happy, he‘s going to try to be— he doesn‘t try to be funny and he doesn‘t try to be smarter than the material.
Like, a lot of, I think, retired sports figures or celebrities who would approach this material might try to play it cool.He never tries to play it cool.He‘s very vulnerable as a performer and he makes the show funny.Because you don‘t feel like he thinks he‘s funny.So I think it allows you as the person watching it to feel like, you can laugh at this stuff and not feel like it‘s a bunch of people who think they‘re so goddamned clever.
So it doesn’t feel like Mike is not in on the joke, right?
DAVIDSON:Right.But there aren‘t so many jokes.I mean, it‘s like – yes, they are a mystery solving team that looks like those shlocky eighties mystery solving teams – but for the most part, they try to get the thing accomplished.Mike does it in a straight-forward way.And the comedy comes from them maybe not being expert in that area and then them having emotional reactions to whatever the situation is, whether it‘s hard to do or not.
How complex are the mysteries?
DAVIDSON:I think people who write mystery novels make a lot of money because they‘re fucking hard to write.I can‘t write a goddamn mystery, I‘d be a mystery writer!These things are just some bullshit happens and then Mike gets involved.It‘s usually just people asking for help and them Mike tries to help them.
They basically came up with the name Mike Tyson Mysteries I think, before I got involved.I don‘t know anything about mysteries and I don‘t know how to write one.You have to spend a couple of years being Dean Koontz to figure out what went on at the farm house that night…How the fuck would I know?These things, you got to crank them out.We just wanted to feel relatable.
So if someone asks Mike for help, it‘s inherently funny.It‘s more realistic.A couple asks Mike to help them buy a house.Like to me, it was so funny listening to Mike say the lines like, ‘I‘m concerned that they‘ve gone out of their budget.‘ It‘s twice as funny.There‘s no joke.There‘s not any joke at all.But hearing him say that.He‘s like, dead serious, like he‘s concerned!It‘s extra funny.You know, and he‘s really good at that.Giving himself over to having…Because there are jokes that are obvious within the material, so he just does what‘s there and he does it to the best of his ability and I think the result is that it‘s very funny.
Are there any topics you don’t think he would touch on?
DAVIDSON:I think he would…He‘s a guy, if you look at any part of his life, he‘s brutally honest.Way too honest for most of us.We won‘t probably touch on stuff that might make you think of something that really happened and was unpleasant.
But we do want people to feel like there is pathos to it and you know…Like Mike has Yung-He – who‘s his daughter – and she wants to go to college, which is weird because she‘s still wearing a fucking tracksuit with a question mark on it.It‘s like, she‘d say that, and then to hear Mike say, ‘I don‘t know how I feel about you going away to college.‘ He does that so well.It‘s very funny.And I don‘t know where you‘d get to see things like that outside of this show, I think.
Can you explain the pigeons?
DAVIDSON:This is the part of the show that makes no fucking sense.In real life, Mike has all these pigeons, right?And pigeons used to carry pigeons, right?You know that?So then the ‘Big Buy‘ that you want people to believe is that, somehow, you write down your mystery, you attach it to the leg of a pigeon and it ends up at Mike Tyson‘s house.And then Mike Tyson reads the mystery.So, for the most part, that‘s how they get the mysteries.And there‘s a pigeon coop at Mike‘s house.
I‘ve been to Mike‘s house and in the back yard there‘s a real pigeon coop.It‘s like a really nice house and then, the backyard is just a crazy, wooden pigeon coop.And he goes out there every day, just petting them.It‘s beyond crazy.It‘s very funny.So that‘s the basis of the idea.And then how they find out where they‘re supposed to go — that‘s just not what we do.
What’s one piece of merchandizing you’d like to see from the show?
DAVIDSON:In one episode Mike‘s manager comes to him and tells him about an opportunity to make a line of Mike Tyson neck ties because the word tie reminds him of Tyson.And this guy, he‘s got a bunch of bad ideas about how Mike should be licensing his name.There‘s several bad puns in that episode.But I would buy any of this bullshit.I like the sweat jacket, the one in the show.The Yung-Le one.I hope there is a lot of Yung-He kinda stuff.So hopefully we‘ll sell a lot of shit.
What do you go for with the world around Mike?
DAVIDSON:It‘s very real.Like super real.What I would want to write is, things around me that I observe and think are funny.And I‘m a human being.I don‘t know anything about mysteries.I could give a shit about superheroes.You know, real stuff is funny to me.And Mike being in that world, just dealing with real stuff.We put him in a house in the suburbs of Las Vegas.And one of them, they get a message that‘s like, ‘Will you give me a ride home from the airport?‘ They just go to the airport and it ends up being Buzz Aldrin that they pick up.Because one of the writers had at one time interns on some shitty celebrity prank show or some goddamn thing.And he ended up as a PA having to pick up Buzz Aldrin from the airport.So we basically just stole that life experience from him and shoved it into this and made a mystery out of it.
QUESTION: How did you get into doing cartoons?
MIKE TYSON:This is what really happened — every now and then, remember when they had Bart Simpson?They had me on [The Simpsons] and Bart Simpson would bust my chops and stuff and I would get mad and threaten the guy?And I would get mad and, I took myself totally too serious back then.You know?And that‘s what it is.
Did you have any influence on the appearance of your character as it was drawn?
MIKE TYSON:No, no.No.I just know that, when it was time to perform the character, I did the best I could.I wasn‘t concerned with wanting to have some creative control or coming up with my own scenario.I just want to be involved.Get me in a scenario and let me do my best.I‘m a performer.You put me in a scenario and I‘m like, ‘Boom!‘
Do you have a catch phrase for every time a mystery comes through?
MIKE TYSON:No.I think I have to work on that.
Some of your cast members mentioned that you brought the idea to Warner Brothers, how did that work? What made you want to do cartoons?
MIKE TYSON: I just want to try everything. I want to see how good I can be, the best I can be at what I‘m doing. I want to do everything. You know? I want to be in a musical. I want to do everything. I want to try and sing.
Are you going to sing the theme song?
MIKE TYSON: No. It‘s going to be on stage. It‘s going to be a Broadway show. On stage.
Can you sing us the theme song now? Are there words to it?
MIKE TYSON: As a matter of fact there is words.
What are they?
MIKE TYSON: I just don‘t remember them right now.
How does it feel to perform dialogue that is written in ‘your voice’ by other people?
MIKE TYSON: If you‘re a professional, you‘ll make it work. you can be like, ‘I‘m not going to do that, I‘m going to do it where I‘m satisfied.‘ But I‘m very comfortable being uncomfortable so I just go for it.
Do you improvise at all?
MIKE TYSON: I like to spend some time with the script so I can do the best I can do with what I have. I can always change it, but I like to see what I can do before I change it. I want to be a serious actor one day.
How do you get into character?
MIKE TYSON: I‘m very emotional, I‘m very excited to have the chance to work and perform and go for it. I‘m not afraid to be a jerk or anything and laugh at myself anymore.
You’ve reinvented yourself probably more than anyone—
MIKE TYSON: I don‘t know that I‘ve reinvented. I just think I‘m more, in this stage of my life, I just work and I grow up to be more responsible. This is a stage of my life where I‘ve got more going on and stuff. It‘s just a matter of time. I‘m still working on it.
What’s your mystery-solving style? Do you get all your facts first?
MIKE TYSON: No, no. No. I get my pigeon. When it‘s time to get a mystery solved, I go to my pigeon coop, get the message and get my team. My – I thought she was Chinese, but she‘s Korean – my stepdaughter, I get my ghost of the Maquis of Queensberry and then I get my pigeon and we go on little brain searches and figure stuff out.
Where does your love of pigeons come from?
MIKE TYSON: I‘m going to explain it like this: where I come from there is like a culture, like a person that has horses or something. Everybody I‘m associated with in my neighborhood; everybody I know, we all have it. We all understand it; we all have the same lingo, we all know. Most of my of life is when outside, I‘m looking up. I‘m looking up for hawks, I‘m looking up at what kind of stray bird that is. That‘s the type of mentality that a pigeon sire has.
I‘m sure you know some guy who flies birds. I‘m sure you have— everybody knows somebody who has pigeons. And that‘s just who we are. That‘s just our life. We live our life, but we love our birds. We constantly look up because we‘re always thinking of a stray bird or a bird coming back. And it‘s just what it is.
Do you have a certain bird from your past that you miss?
MIKE TYSON: I like Rollers. Home ones make the money, but I like the ‘Rollies.‘ I like the ‘Rollies.‘ They‘re a lot like me. There are different kinds of ‘Rollies.‘ You may have watched Sir Anthony Hopkins… What was that movie? The one where he is in the cell?
Silence of the Lambs.
MIKE TYSON: In that movie he says, ‘You don‘t mix two Deep Rollers together.‘ They have to be a shallow one [And a Deep Roller]— My mother and my father, in metaphor, they‘re both Deep Rollers, you know? And when you mix Deep Rollers… I‘m the offspring of two Deep Rollers. They crash. They kill themselves. They can‘t stop. They get into the roll and they go so deep that they get into a suction and they can‘t open up their wings. They‘re going too fast and they smash into the ground, you know?
And I‘m like, descended from two Deep Rollers, but I‘m learning not to crash. And that‘s my metaphor because they die. They die. They‘re going to die, I don‘t care what you do when you let them out, they may survive the fall, but when you let them out, they‘re going to hit the floor. They‘re going to die. That‘s just what they‘re going to do. Nothing is going to stop them, that‘s just what they do. So I learned not to be too reckless and not to hit the ground.
Do you have a favorite mystery that you’ve done so far?
What might that be?
MIKE TYSON: I won‘t be able to tell you. But I promise, once I tell you, I‘ll come back at the end of the show and tell you, ‘This my favorite.‘
Have you ever done Genesis at Karaoke?
MIKE TYSON: No. But I‘ll tell you, people always ask me to do that stuff.
And you’ve never said yes?
MIKE TYSON:Well listen, this is where I stand: I met [Phil Collins‘] daughter, he had a young daughter, and she said I represented her well in the movie.So her father is happy.