The Television Critics Assn. summer tour took a sharp and strange turn Thursday when Tom Arnold took the stage to promote his new Viceland series, “The Hunt for the Trump Tapes,” which debuts Sept. 18.
What maybe wasn’t expected was the level of earnest outrage at the current political reality carried by Arnold, a comic and writer who has built a career on being a sort of genial goof since first rising to fame with his headline-grabbing 1990-94 marriage to Roseanne Barr and subsequent comic efforts.
Asked whether his series, which follows his citizen journalism crusade to find alleged tapes of Donald Trump behaving badly would have any effect on the opinion of the president’s fan base, which appears to forgive every controversy and misstep, Arnold was not in a joking mood.
“I don’t [care] about the 40%,” he said flatly. “I’m going to do this until he resigns. He is a crazy person. He is putting our country on the precipice of a war right now. There are things going on right now that affect our world that are scary, and I, for some reason, am in a position to do something that’s working.”
With a fervor that spoke to his feelings on the project, Arnold called out “Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett for his relationship with Trump and what he described as alleged incidents that lay waiting to be discovered from that reality show’s cutting room floor.
Arnold spoke in a rapid-fire pace peppered with asides and incomplete thoughts, his voice quickening as he went on before finally catching himself. “Anyways, it’s a comedy,” he concluded dryly.
The comment drew a collective laugh and breath from the transfixed journalists.
But as talkative as Arnold was throughout the panel, which veered from Burnett to Russian money laundering to “Shark Tank” host and frequent Trump foe Mark Cuban, he wouldn’t take the bait and speak about his ex-wife Barr and her support for Trump.
When asked about how she might react to his show, he responded with a curt, “I have no idea. . . I don’t know, we haven’t been married for 24 years.” Later, he touched on the racism of Barr’s recent tweets about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett that led to the star’s firing from ABC’s “Roseanne,” but went no further.
At the time of the controversy, Arnold had been a frequent source for quotes about his ex-wife, which he attributed during the panel to his promotion of a comedy show. He previously described Barr as “a ticking time bomb” and the tweets that led to her show’s cancellation and subsequent restart as “an act of self-sabotage.”
Arnold described his efforts on “Hunt for the Trump Tapes” as “personal,” and he admitted that his previous relationship with Trump before he became president was something he needed to “own.” Over the course of the series, the show searches for multiple alleged tapes, which executive producer Jonathan Karsh said included events at the Miss Universe pageant and Trump’s appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show.
The comedian and his producers described the show’s work with journalists and legal consultants to ensure that, despite its so-called comedic investigation tag, whatever truth is found will be revealed “for the good of the country.” They also promised appearances by fellow anti-Trump celebrities such as Judd Apatow, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rosie O’Donnell.
During the panel, Arnold was energized by the cause, but he also could sound as far out as the many conspiratorial-minded figures that have emerged from the woodwork over a fractious last few years
“You will know for sure there’s a pee-pee tape by the time this is over,” Arnold predicted. As unlikely as that seems, it feels entirely on-brand for a 2018 that has frequently defied expectations.
Follow me over here @chrisbarton.