Arsenio Hall: "Late Night TV Is Like the Woman I Miss, I Love It"

The talk show king talks his television return, his guest wish list and gives sound advice to Anthony Weiner’s wife.

Posted: 08/02/2013 12:30 PM EDT

The Arsenio Hall Show was a revolutionary television event that ruled the late night talk show circuit for five years. From 1989 to 1994, the 57-year old turned a stale, familiar format into a nightly hip party that television audiences could enjoy in the comfort of their own living rooms. Not only did Arsenio Hall boost hip hop music’s TV exposure and popularity and help to make superstar Mariah Carey a household name, but many also agree he can be credited with aiding Bill Clinton in becoming President of the United States. Now, after leaving his desk nearly 20 years ago and focusing on raising his son, 13-year old Arsenio Jr., he’s back.

The late night king promises BET.com that his new show will be as good as his old one, it even has the same name. Plus, Hall gives us the scoop on his upcoming guests — Prince is already booked — and tells us what he really thought of all those Arsenio Hall Show parodies.

How do you plan to reinvent or reboot the new show?
All those words — reinvent, reboot — they are flowery, wonderful words that we can dance with but here’s the reality: A talk show is a vehicle and you are really choosing a host. Just like we choose politicians to carry out our desires and represent us, you choose a host to represent you. When you watched me back in the day, what you were choosing was my sense of humor, my taste and my approach to celebrities. I’ll be the same Arsenio, just with a little less hair.

What was the response from your celebrity friends when you announced you were coming back?
George Lopez has been a huge help to me, nobody wants this to work more than George. I’ve sat down with George and Eddie Murphy, my friends who really know good comedy writing. That’s how I’ve made my writing choices. I’ve been showing Eddie submissions, asking him, “Do you think this guy is funny? Watch this. Read this.” The way people are helping me is very interesting. Even Jimmy Kimmel sent me money when I was on Celebrity Apprentice. And I’m talking real, real white man money [Laughs]. I know he believes in what the Magic Johnson Foundation does [the charity Hall competed for]. But it would be very easy for him to say, "Arsenio is coming back to late night, I’m not sending him s--t." Everybody’s been very cool with me.

So who’s on your wish list of guests for the new show?
When it was announced I got the new show, Prince called me and said, “Save me a night.” There are successful actor-rappers who got into the game after my last show ended like Ludacris, who I never got to interview. I know Usher very well, but I never got to interview him either. Maybe Hillary Clinton plays a woodwind instrument [Laughs]. I’ve interviewed her before, but she can come back, do something new and let America know where she’s headed. Robin Williams is booked. JB Smoove is coming on too. He’s a very funny man and a very funny writer.

If you had to do a monologue right now, which newsmakers would be on your hit list?
Right now, you and I would sit and we’d write five minutes of Anthony Weiner jokes. Not only do I find the situation funny but I also find it interesting. If I were interviewing him, I’d definitely tell him that every man should be blessed with a woman who sticks beside him the way his woman is sticking by him. My woman would talk about leaving me if I move her car keys and some s--t. I’m watching his wife and we are all saying, “Run, baby! He crazy! Run!”

The late night talk show world has always been very competitive. Before you left the air two decades ago, you vowed to kick Jay Leno’s "a--" when he replaced Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. What exactly did you mean by that? I know you two are friends.
Like Cain and Abel, we fought and let it go. There was probably a lot of stuff going on back then behind the scenes. It was an Entertainment Weekly cover story [you’re referring to] but you’re a journalist so you know how it works. What I said to them was, “Leno is coming to late night. He’s a friend.” They were like, “How you’re going to deal with that?” I said, “Look, I’m sure there are some people on the Clippers that are friends with people on the Lakers. But when that ball is thrown up you try to kick a--, and I’m going to try to kick his a--.” Now in context, obviously it’s a little different. But Jay and I still hang out, we pop into comedy clubs together and I’ve already hired two writers that Leno brought me. He’s helped me a tremendous amount with my new show.

There were several parodies done of your old show. Did you have a personal favorite?
Oh, yes. There was a brilliant one called Carsenio with Dana Carvey [on Saturday Night Live] that combined my hair and my clothes with Johnny Carson’s persona. Really, I think I liked them all because it means you're kind of famous. I usually choose what I like based on the writing. I think Saturday Night Live had another one where my audience was flying in through the sky. All the shows that spoofed us had great writing staffs.

I always thought you would do sitcoms or movies after you left your previous talk show. Why did you choose to return to late night over the other mediums?
Part of why I left was to do things of that nature. I remember when Michael Bay called me to do Bad Boys, Martin [Lawrence] and me. But I wanted balance in my life. I wanted to do other things. After leaving the show I realized they weren’t showbiz things. I didn’t have a family. I didn’t have kids. I played with a sitcom [the 1997 series Arsenio], but for the last ten years, to really do late night again, I had to wait until my son was ready for me to be around less. There was a certain point where my son and I talked and he said, “Dad I’d love to see you go back to the show.” And why do late night again? Let me put it to you this way. An ex-girlfriend always looks better to you than somebody new, because you don’t know somebody new. Late night TV is like the woman I miss. I know I love it. And I know I can do it.

The Arsenio Hall Show premieres September 9 on The CW or FOX stations depending upon your region (check your local listings).

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(Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

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