When Mike Tyson was first presented with the idea for the Adult Swim series "Mike Tyson Mysteries," he passed.
"I didn't want to do it," he said during the show's panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Tyson explained he was worried the show would look primitive, and he credited Warner Bros. for having the persistence to change his mind and showing him footage that put his doubts to rest. "I thought it would be like the first Edison [movies], all click, click, click," he recalled, but the show had a sophistication in its Hanna-Barbera look that the former boxer appreciated. Once Tyson signed on, producer Hugh Davidson and writer Larry Dorf joined the team.
"It was already developed a teeny bit when we got involved," Davidson explained. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, I can't imagine this working.'"
"Mysteries" then assembled a group of occasional mystery solvers in the vein of 1970s cartoons like "Jabberjaw" around Tyson, including "Community's" Jim Rash as the Ghost of the Marquess of Queensbury, Norm MacDonald as Mike's best friend Pigeon and writer Rachel Ramras as Mike's adopted daughter Yung Hee. With his team assembled, Davidson saw the possibilities. The cast trained and worked at the Groundlings Theater, and that shared experience and familiarity instantly hooked him in.
"The Groundlings training and the world of improv still comes up," Davidson said. "On stage, when you don't have any props or sets, you have to make a big deal out of small things. Comedy writers who don't have that background tend to create funny from the premise."
Although "Tyson" features ghosts and a talking pigeon, the creative team finds sketch-style comedy by asking questions like, "Why haven't you gotten the air conditioning fixed?" The big reactions the writers generate to something real also amplifies Tyson as a character. "He's grounded in this reality," Davidson said. The writers admitted they often create funny situations just by adding Tyson to mundane events. "Imagine what he's like at a movie theater," Davidson said.
The new season, which begins this fall, will also see Tyson's celebrity acknowledged. "Let's make it real, it's a real world," Dorf said. "He can't go anywhere where someone doesn't ask him for a picture. So we put [that part of his life] in the show."
"It makes Mike [the character] more likable," added Davidson. "It humanizes him."
"We've also started to have more fun with Yung Hee," said the character's voice actor, Rachel Ramras. The level-headed center of the group will learn to hold her own against Pigeon's barbs in the new year. "We also had a lot of fun with the Marquess this season," added Ramras. "He gets very emotional at times."
Two seasons in, Davidson said he sees the show becoming much more about the characters than its initial premise. "The show seems to be an action-adventure show," he continued. "And it isn't really about that." He said he views the show as a comedy first -- and sometimes a genre show with vampires. "I think it's nice that it looks like a Hanna-Barbera show, but beyond the look, there isn't anything about it that's really a kid's cartoon."
With the look of the kid's cartoon comes the Hanna-Barbera-style 11-minute episode format. Davidson said he viewed the runtime as one of the greatest challenges. Those precious few minutes require the same beginning, middle and end as anything twice that length. "It's easy to do at 22 minutes," Davidson said.
"We'll frequently get a script that's fifteen pages and we'll get to page eleven and the mystery hasn't even happened," added Dorf. "We're still arguing about dust in the kitchen."
"Sometimes we have to remember to put a mystery in," Ramras said, adding that she finds the plots are often the least interesting element to plan in the writers' room. "I get excited to write the characters."
The character voices are recorded together, except for Tyson's. While much of the cast is well-versed in improv, they tend to stick to the script when they're in the studio. "We now know how to write for everyone, so hopefully, it feels a little improvised," Ramras said.
Although he records alone, Davidson referred to Tyson as the show's "superpower," adding, "There's a million retired athletes who could've been given a show and they'll [act] cool or be worried about their reputation. Mike doesn't care. He throws himself into it like he's just getting into acting and happy to have a job." He recalled a recent recoding session in which he needed Tyson to cry. "It sounded so authentic," he said.
Davidson said Tyson trusts the producers to not make him look "like an asshole" and takes on any challenge the script might present. "You can't go into it and be afraid to be that character," he added. The show's version of Tyson is meant to be impulsive and, although he might have the right idea, he will react too fast to handle it properly. "It's a running joke based on a part of him, but it's not all him."
"Also, we trust him," Dorf added. "We used to not give him long speeches, but now we're willing to give him a speech." Dorf added that Tyson's timing and delivery reminded him of Tracy Morgan's performance on "30 Rock."
Explaining his courage in recording, Tyson said, "I want to be up against a situation that, if I fail, I run the risk of being humiliated." To him, that level of adversity allows him to rise to the challenge. "It can't be a walk in the park."
Asked if he offered the writers any story ideas, Tyson laughed and said he suggested that Yung should buy a cat, creating a "Sylvester and Tweety" element for Pigeon. "He should dump on the cat sometimes," Tyson said.
Despite his initial resistance to the show, Tyson said he's happy to be part of project. "This seems to be working," he said. "So let's just hang out here for awhile."