Remember when Mike Tyson was a cannibal? A rapist? Ha-ha. Me neither.
Call it the comeback of comebacks or maybe collective amnesia brought on by gut busting. Because somehow the infamous boxer with the nickname "the Baddest Man on the Planet" is now a really, really funny guy. The kind of guy you might invite to a house party, not hide your kids from (well, maybe not).
Recently I rewatched Charlie Sheen's roast, and Tyson's turn at the mic was, in a word, inspired. Seriously. Just listen with your inner ear and you'll get it. It's like scary good.
Then, last week, someone sent me the Hall of Famer's interpretation of Herman Cain with the subject line, "WOW." I nearly choked on my Activia when I watched as Tyson's notoriously tied tongue somehow loosens up enough for a Southern accent.
"I'm gonna wear a flag pin the size of a fat baby's head. CAIN!"
In less than two minutes, Tyson knocked me out. He wasn't playing the washed-up weirdo; he was actually acting. And he was actually good. Then something hit me — and no, it wasn't Mike Tyson (too soon?). Why was I laughing so hard? Was that tantamount to being a rape apologist? Is it OK to find this overweight former heavyweight hilarious?
A smart friend of mine pointed out that "part of working toward a criminal justice system that is not irrevocably broken is believing that it works, that people can turn their lives around and begin contributing to society."
I get that. I do. But as a consumer, validating stuff with every click, dollar or minute I spend on something, I like to know what I'm voting "yes" on. So I did some research on the guy America seems to only vaguely recall being the bogeyman of boxing.
Facing his 39th birthday on June 30, after serving a prison sentence for rape and after pitfalls that have included declaring bankruptcy, biting off a portion of Evander Holyfield's ear, and marrying and divorcing twice, Tyson is trying to resurrect his career — again.
In a 1988 television interview, Tyson's wife at the time, actress Robin Givens, told Barbara Walters that she was "very, very much afraid" of her husband. "He shakes, he pushes, he swings," explained an eerily calm Givens. They divorced a year later.
Then, in 1992, 25-year-old Tyson was found guilty on one count of rape and two counts of criminal deviate conduct for the sexual assault of 18-year-old Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. He spent nearly three years in jail.
Two years later, in 1997, Mike Tyson bit off a portion of boxer Evander Holyfield's right ear, then his left. Tyson was banned from boxing for a year and fined $3 million. After that he fought professionally some more, served some more time in jail. He fought again. Had money trouble. Won more fights.
In June 2000, after knocking out an opponent in less than 40 seconds, Tyson delivered one of his most inflammatory quotes to date. When asked about fighting then-champion Lennox Lewis, Tyson said, "I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!" Two years later, Lewis knocked him out in the eighth. A defeated Tyson got a tribal tatt on his face and a documentary that premiered at Cannes.
Then The Hangover happened. In it Tyson plays a less-coordinated caricature of himself. Tons of people thought his role was akin to Tom Cruise's cameo in Tropic Thunder. I, on the the other hand, found it sort of sad. After decades of being a troubled but undeniably talented athlete, Tyson was reduced, in my mind, to acting the fool.
But something seems to have changed in the years since his comedic debut. Mike's been contemplative, calling the first 44 years of his life "a f—-ing waste." And his crazy verbal outbursts now appear to be the geysers of a previously leashed mind.
I don't know. Maybe he's nothing but a retired boxer trying to stay relevant in a society with a short attention span. Either way, he's got mine.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.