Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not a fan of the works of Tom Arnold or the man himself. Rather, over the course of many years, I’ve come to appreciate his position as Hollywood’s modern-day Everypatheticman. When he was first foisted on the public as Roseanne’s Yoko,* I found even a few seconds of him hogging space on the small screen unbearable. All those nervous tics and giggles and desperate glances for approval, the beads of sweat, the self-deprecating attempts at pussywhipped humor, the likely hair plugs… Hell, I could look in the mirror and find my own pathetic condition more amusing.
Then came The Jackie Thomas Show, a short-lived sitcom in which Arnold played a version of what we suspected was himself, a pompous no-talent comic who lucked into starring on his own sitcom. With a strong supporting cast and some more forgiving house mates at the time, I watched a few episodes, and I had to admit it was not half bad. More importantly, for the first time, I started to see the unmistakably human despair and longing behind his less-flattering surface desperation. I would come to appreciate more of this quality as he began his role as co-host of Fox Sports’ in appropriately named The Best Damn Sports Show Period. As a host and interviewer, the guy is incapable of simply giving himself over to his subject, incapable of taking himself out of the equation.
Arnold’s crowning achievement as an overlooked gem of my lifetime came during a Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview that I listened to a few years ago while sitting in my car, waiting for my Mom and my boys to take care of some last-minute impulse Christmas shopping. He discussed his struggles with various addictions, his weight, his troubled upbringing, his time with Roseanne, and just about every other train wreck you could imagine. Arnold was calmer than I’d ever heard him, but that eager-beaver, open-nerve desperation was still lurking. In a time where too many people want to be a star and where “reality”-based attempts at exploiting various interpersonal weaknesses rule the airwaves, there’s something reassuring about Tom Arnold carving out his niche as America’s true no-talent star. David Brent's got nothing on this guy.
*I had already found Roseanne’s act tired long before Tom joined in on it, so maybe the Yoko analogy isn’t quite accurate (and not that I ever faulted John for Yoko, but that’s another story).