Arsenio Hall is a guy who does normal things like the rest of us. But given his many successful years in the entertainment industry, they immediately become abnormal when he starts mentioning names.
He gets a yearly Christmas card like many people do, but it happens to be from NBA owner and legendary Los Angeles Laker Jerry West. He has a guy he’s so close to he considers him a “little brother,” but it happens to be NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. He had lunch the other day with a friend named “Eddie,” but Eddie’s last name happens to be “Murphy.” Yep, that Eddie Murphy.
“Sometimes, there’s no degrees of separation,” Hall says, joking about the countless celebrities and famous figures he can be linked to. “It’s like, I knew Nelson Mandela. I went to a movie with Nelson Mandela.”
Nearly three decades after he burst into pop culture consciousness as host of the hit late-night talk show, “The Arsenio Hall Show,” the man who is often simply referred to as “Arsenio” is still a household name. The comedian, actor, host, writer and producer has kept his stock high through the years by using his talents and his affable personality, whether it’s been in appearances on TV dramas and comedies, films or his being crowned the Season 5 winner of “Celebrity Apprentice” — the NBC reality show of President Donald Trump.
“He loved me on that show, but he hates me now,” Hall said of Trump.
I did the Rose Bowl with Stevie Wonder, and I hadn’t done a Yuk Yuk’s.
But for Hall, 61, a man with a diverse résumé and instant name recognition, he’s spent the past three years getting back to the craft that got it all started.
Growing up in Cleveland, Hall wanted to get on stage and started doing stand-up comedy. Since there were no comedy clubs in Cleveland, he moved to Chicago to get stage time and, after being discovered by jazz singer Nancy Wilson, began warming up crowds for shows by musicians like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder before he got into acting and TV hosting.
Between these gigs and his TV hosting appearances, Hall has played for almost every type of room imaginable, except the rooms most stand-up comedians get to play.
“I did the Rose Bowl with Stevie Wonder, and I hadn’t done a Yuk Yuk’s,” Hall said. “I should have been like (Jay) Leno, like even if it’s just a Sunday night, you get out there and do it.”
That all changed when the opportunity to do more stand-up comedy came full circle. At a charity event hosted by comedian and actor George Lopez, who Hall said appeared on his old show 19 times, Lopez wanted Hall to get on stage and do some material of his own.
“I haven’t been away from the stage since that night,” Hall said. “I’m literally (like) a young kid, at the clubs, hanging out four nights a week.”
Hall said he isn’t jumping back into stand-up and expecting to kill on stage after being away from stand-up for almost 18 years. He feels like he owes it to the art form to put in the work, writing and re-writing new material and performing it frequently, but that work has paid off in other ways.
“When you don’t use your s---, it turns to potted meat,” he said. “Everything I do, when I’m doing stand-up, I’m better at it. I’m sharper now that I’m doing stand-up.”
When Hall takes the stage — like he’s going to do this weekend at Comedy Off Broadway — he may get fans of his popular talk show, his movies or his stint on “Celebrity Apprentice.” But he is a self-proclaimed “Republicrat” who isn’t afraid to take shots at the politicians and public figures who deserve it, no matter how famous they might be (many of whom, he probably knows personally).
Away from the stage, Hall can be seen in the Adam Sandler comedy “Sandy Wexler” on Netflix or be heard as frequent co-host on the nationally syndicated radio program, “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.” He may also be seen on the big screen in the not-too-distant future, as he and Eddie Murphy are working on a sequel to their 1980s comedy hit, “Coming to America.”
But when Hall is on the stage, he is rekindling a lost passion that only grows with each improved performance.
“That’s the one thing people don’t know about me and, while I can still do it, I want them to know,” he said. “Now, it’s not about money or gain, it’s about ... I’m in love again. I’ve got this thing back and I’m in love again.”
Blake Hannon: firstname.lastname@example.org.