Comedians of color seem to do well in late night–OK, sometimes. I’m enjoying Mo’Nique’s and George Lopez’s shows. (Side note: I was enjoying Brian McKnight’s show, and I guess since he’s not a comedian, someone recently decided to add the annoying co-host, comedienne Kym Whitley and now I refuse to watch.) Then a few weeks ago, I woke up thinking about Arsenio—who knows why. But today I came across an article about Wanda Sykes’ cancelled late night talk show, so I thought I’d go ahead and pay the homage now.
The 90’s gave us a plethora of late night talk show alternatives to Carson & Letterman. People I had never heard of were getting talk shows, like radio host Rick Dees and others.
And then there was Arsenio Hall.
I only knew of him as Eddie Murphy’s BFF in Coming to America and in real life. But this dude was funny, and his show didn’t disappoint me.
I was in high school so I couldn’t stay up every night to watch, but I was nice with a VCR (I never met a VCR I couldn’t program!), so I didn’t miss anything.
There had never been a talk show like The Arsenio Hall Show, which ran from January 2, 1989 to May 27, 1994. It was so different, fun, edgy, and ‘in your face’ (for that time). And so many memorable moments were captured on his show—everything from President Clinton playing the saxophone, Magic Johnson revealing his HIV status, and confronting Madonna on why she wanted to be Black, you saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. And who can forget that “Woo Woo Woo” barking-type applause every night with circling pumped fists?
Sometimes it was just those unique Arsenio things that had us dying laughing. Like when he’d laugh at his guest so much that he’d curl up or roll over his own chair. When he pointed his elongated finger or wore those outrageous booty pants. Arsenio made us laugh in ways that other talk shows never did, or have since.
Arsenio was a host of Star Search in the mid 2000’s, but it wasn’t the same vibe, of course. I still miss him on late night TV.