Arsenio Hall is an American actor and comedian and was the first Black late night talk show host, on his groundbreaking ‘The Arsenio Hall Show.’
Who Is Arsenio Hall?
Arsenio Hall is an American actor, comedian and former talk show host. In Chicago, he tried out stand-up comedy and was soon “discovered,” later opening for Aretha Franklin and others. He appeared in the 1980s film Coming to America and Harlem Nights, but he is best known as the first Black late night talk show host. His groundbreaking talk show The Arsenio Hall Show ran from 1989-1994. He has starred in a variety of other TV projects and hosted his own late night show once again from 2013 to 2014.
Arsenio Hall was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 12, 1956. He is the son of Fred, a preacher, and his wife, Anne. Hall’s parents separated when he was six years old. At age seven, he became interested in magic, and began performing at birthday parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs.
He attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, majoring in communications, though he transferred and graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Though he started out in advertising, in 1979 he moved to Chicago, switched to stand-up comedy and was “discovered” at a comedy club by singer Nancy Wilson. He got jobs opening for musicians such as Franklin, Tom Jones, Patti Labelle, Wayne Newton and Tina Turner.
TV Shows and Movies: ‘Coming to America’
Throughout the ‘80s, Hall appeared on various comedy and musical shows, including Solid Gold, Motown Revue and The New Love American Style, and hosted a short-lived show called The Half-Hour Comedy Hour. He made his feature film debut in Amazon Women on the Moon in 1987. Hall also appeared in two films with friend Eddie Murphy: the box-office hit Coming to America (1988) and Harlem Nights (1989).
‘The Arsenio Hall Show’
Back in 1987, however, Hall had tapped into what would be his most successful professional endeavor. He took over hosting duties from Joan Rivers on The Late Show. His easygoing, playful and somewhat risqué banter was a hit with audiences. Based on that success, he was approached to host his own syndicated late night talk show. Two years later, The Arsenio Hall Show was born. Hall’s deal included hosting and executive producing duties on the show, which was produced by Paramount and his own company, Arsenio Hall Productions.
As the first Black late night talk show host, one of Hall’s distinctions is that he provided what was the first, and for a time, only, showcase for hardcore rap and hip-hop artists, and for controversial guests like Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader.
Starting a half-hour earlier than Johnny Carson’s late night staple The Tonight Show in many regions, and booking younger, newer TV and musical artists than his established rival, Hall drew a young, hip audience. The show became famous for its Dog Pound “Woof! Woof!” (with pumping fist) chant and featured a range of guests that included Paula Abdul, En Vogue, Bill Clinton, Diana Ross and many more.
When Carson retired in 1992 and Jay Leno was chosen as his successor over David Letterman (whose show followed Carson’s), Letterman left NBC for CBS and started his own Late Show against Leno’s. Leno started drawing young viewers away from Hall, and Letterman, who had a longstanding young audience, also cut into Hall’s audience. Though the ratings dropped, Hall said in a later interview that the show was still profitable and that he chose to walk away to explore other creative arenas and take time for himself. The Arsenio Hall Show aired its final episode May 27, 1994.
Other Movies and TV Ventures
Hall received two NAACP Image awards in 1991, a Key of Life Award for his work as “a crusader in the fight of human rights,” and another for his show. In 1993 he executive-produced the feature film Bopha!, a story about a family during apartheid, starring Danny Glover, Alfre Woodward and Malcolm McDowell and directed by Morgan Freeman.
After three years away from the public eye, Hall returned to television in 1997 with his short-lived sitcom Arsenio, co-starring Vivica A. Fox. In 1998-99, he made regular appearances on the TV series Martial Law.
Hall hosted a revival of the televised talent show Star Search from 2003 to 2004. He also appeared as guest co-host on such shows as Access Hollywood Live and Piers Morgan Tonight. In 2012 Hall showed the world just how business-savvy he is on the celebrity edition of Donald Trump’s hit reality competition The Apprentice. He beat out the likes of Victoria Gotti, rocker Dee Snider and American Idol singer Clay Aiken to win the top prize for his charity: the Magic Johnson Foundation.
‘The Arsenio Hall Show’ Revival
Hall made a comeback to television in the fall of 2013 with a reboot of his syndicated talk show backed by CBS Television and the Tribune Co. Upon realizing he missed his previous work and receiving encouragement from his teen son, he decided to return to the format, with the idea of there being a cross-generational audience.
“Maybe there is some nostalgia: ‘I used to watch Arsenio when I was in college,'” Hall said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “But we’re doing a show for people who have moved on, and now they can sit around with their kid who can stay up late, and there will be a lot of stuff they can both dig.”
Unfortunately, the show didn’t attract enough viewers and was cancelled after one season.
Hall had a son, Arsenio Hall, Jr., with his then-girlfriend and personal manager, Cheryl Bonacci, in 1999.