Arsenio Hall got introduced to North Carolina through Clay Aiken and, before you scoff at the notion, remember that Aiken is an exemplary representative of our state.
If you didn’t know, Aiken, who is from Raleigh, was teaching kids with autism when he was 19 years old. He was one of the creators of the National Inclusion Project, has been a UNICEF ambassador and served on a Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. He ran for Congress, but lost. I hope he runs again, and wins.
Hall, a veteran stand-up comedian and actor who hosted his own talk show and co-starred with Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America,” became friends with Aiken when they appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012. During a Thursday afternoon interview, Hall said he and Aiken are still friends even though Hall, who is headlining Raleigh’s Goodnights Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday, rendered Aiken a runner-up on national television for the second time.
Aiken finished second behind 2003 “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and Hall beat Aiken to win their season of “Celebrity Apprentice” and while I’ve never watched either one of those shows, even I knew most of these facts.
As Hall was leaving Raleigh on his way to a show at Wilmington’s Thalian Hall on Thursday, he didn’t sugarcoat his admiration for Aiken.
“He’s my friend and he’s a good, Christian boy with a Southern accent who can sing his face off,” said Hall, who delivered one of many outstanding performances in “Harlem Nights,” an underrated comedy that stars Richard Pryor and Murphy. “If there was a (North Carolina) flag and I had to design it, it would have Clay Aiken on it.”
The Wilmington show was Hall’s first stand-up performance in NC and I’m happy to report that I was there for it. Hall was brilliant and hilarious whether he was talking about his first Bojangles experience (as of Thursday night, he still hadn’t eaten there), Halle Berry’s little toe (Hall has seen it) or why women are better at rolling joints, at least on the cleanliness scale.
Hall’s feature act, Wilmington comic Blaire Postman, was excellent as well and she will open the shows for Hall at Goodnights this weekend as well. I’ve seen Postman do stand-up several times, but the bit she did Thursday about the Super Bowl halftime show was not only new to me, it was also one of the funniest things I’ve seen and heard this year.
A couple of hours before he took the Thalian Hall stage, Hall, a Cleveland native, and I discussed his beloved Cavaliers, how he would do an uncool thing he did differently now, what has remained the same in stand-up over the years and more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Hall on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: Did you think you’d live long enough to see a Cleveland team win a championship?
Arsenio Hall: You know what? When I was a little boy, I remember the Cleveland Cavaliers going out and getting Nate Thurmond because they thought they were one player away from a championship. That was back when the roster consisted of people like Lenny Wilkens and Bingo Smith and Austin Carr. People named Foots Walker. I never met a guy named Foots in my life and I’ve met a lot of black men. [interviewer, Hall laugh] I actually think that was on his birth certificate. His mama named him Foots.
But back in the day, I thought, you’re young. You’re a naive kid and I loved basketball and I thought we would win back then and it never happened.
As a young man, I remember those great teams with Brad Daugherty, Craig Ehlo, Ron Harper. I thought that era would bring about a ring. Then there was that horrible moment where, if your TV was muted, you would have thought a sniper shot Craig Ehlo. He went down. “Down goes Ehlo!” [interviewer laughs] It was because Michael Jordan had shot that jumper and started pumping that fist and it broke my heart again.
All of a sudden, this kid from Akron comes along, LeBron James, and here we are with a championship. They’re calling us the new Titletown in basketball and I love it (but) you know, I was a little afraid when Tristan Thompson started dating one of the Kardashians. That made me nervous because usually it’s hard to accomplish anything when there’s a Kardashian in your bed. [interviewer, Hall laugh] Usually, if there’s a Kardashian in your bed, the only person who profits is the Kardashian. I think he’s cooled out on that relationship to focus on basketball and we’ll see what happens with that relationship after the playoffs are over, but right now? We are in the driver’s seat and are on a collision course with Dub City (the Golden State Warriors.)
TC: I’ve always thought of you as being really cool. Can you think of any uncool thing you’ve ever done?
AH: Um, wow. Yeah, we all do things at some point in our lifetime that aren’t cool. I just gotta think of one that’s entertaining and not too vicious.
One time I wrote a letter to a journalist. This guy hated me. He was with The Washington Post. I think his name was Tom Shales and I wrote him a letter that was really mean telling him I didn’t care if he didn’t like me. I called him a dinosaur-ass motherfucker. [interviewer laughs] If I had that to do over again, I wouldn’t write him that letter. I would wait a few years until Twitter was invented and then I would tweet him the same shit.
TC: [laughs] Speaking of Twitter, what do you think has been the biggest change in comedy in the last 20 years?
AH: Twitter is incredible as far as being able to reach your core demographic specifically. You can tweet that you’re going to Wilmington or that you’re going to Raleigh and you can actually hit people in Raleigh, you know? That’s something that you can’t even do with USA Today. [Hall, interviewer laugh] USA Today has a more specific demo. It’s people in Raleigh who like pretty pictures and pie graphs.
TC: That’s it. A lot of pie graphs.
AH: Absolutely. Twitter’s kind of changed that and affected stand-up in that way.
The thing that I think has changed with stand-up is, there are people who are not on television who are incredibly popular and can pack large theaters. There was a time when you had to have a show. I remember a time when (Jay) Leno would go on Letterman once a week and do his pet peeves. He had a specific name for it. It was probably “Jay Leno: What’s Your Beef?” or something like that and then he would say all his (tour) dates. Back when I had a show, I would put George Lopez on. I put George Lopez on 19 times. He would come on and say, “Here are my dates. I’ll be at Milk Through Your Nose in Raleigh” and he would do all his dates.
Now, I think social media is amazing at how comics can reach people coming to your area. It’s an amazing marketing tool. You can also use it to float jokes to see if a premise works. … (Social media) has changed the game in more ways than anything else has.
Otherwise, stand-up is the same thing. You’re judged on your creativity. You’re trying to always stay in the mix and write jokes. There are still comics fighting over who stole what. “Hey man, I was the first person to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Good night.’ You stole my joke.” [interviewer laughs] All the same bullshit still exists. The topics have changed. The names have changed, but the stand-up game is still the same. The only thing that’s different is that social media is a beast. It’s a helpful tool for anyone who does stand-up.
TC: You’ll be on stage in Wilmington in a few hours. Any pre-show rituals or superstitions? Any food or drink you have to have before a show?
AH: Here’s my routine. I have a coffee. I have a Starbucks large…I’m looking at the text now. A large, skinny, iced caramel macchiato, which sounds very Caitlyn Jenner, but that’s my drink.
TC: [laughs] Whatever works, right?
AH: Yeah, whatever works for you. I have that, I sit with my iPad and I look at notes and I turn on CNN in the background, but because it’s CNN, I put it on mute. I just do the reading. … That is pretty much my routine. Unlike a lot of comics, I like a quiet environment.
I’ve got friends, whether it’s going way back to Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” tour or whether it’s the current George Lopez “Black and Brown” tour…George’s dressing room is buzzing. There are pretty ladies walking around, comics coming in and out. You might see a celebrity or two pop in. I’m very quiet before the show starts. Back in the day, Eddie was the same as George Lopez. The dressing room is bustling, but I like it real quiet. Now, after my show, I like to turn my dressing room into a George Lopez-Eddie Murphy dressing room, but before, I’m very quiet.
I was in George Lopez’s dressing room recently and Eddie Van Halen walked in. Then Maria Menounos walked in and then three fine, fine chicks who weren’t with anybody walked in. I would never be able to focus. I just want CNN on mute and my coffee.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
Better instruments. Better music. Papa roach.
— zach reinert (@zachreinert03) May 12, 2017