Citing concerns over Hurricane Irma, Arsenio Hall has canceled his shows scheduled for Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 at the Comedy House.
He will reschedule in early 2018, the Comedy House said on its website.
Credit card refunds were issued Sept. 6, and cash refunds may be picked up at the box office, 2768 Decker Blvd., through Oct. 7. Tickets and identification are required for a refund.
The standup comedian turned movie star turned late night talk show host turned recluse is returning to the spotlight after a 15-year hiatus.
In 1988, Hall skyrocketed to fame playing Semmi (and the “extremely ugly girl,” Morris and Reverend Brown) in “Coming to America” with Eddie Murphy. A year later, he would enjoy a five-year stint as a late-night talk show host. And then, he just ... disappeared.
Now he’s back with a comedy tour and coming to Columbia for the first time to perform at The Comedy House. Go Columbia spoke to the comedian about standup, why he went into seclusion, and what he’s looking forward to doing in Columbia. Plus, we got the scoop on “Coming to America 2.” (Spoiler alert: they’re working on it!)
Q: Arsenio, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your start in comedy?
A: In 1979 I moved from Cleveland and was a standup comic in Chicago. I heard about Zanies (a comedy nightclub) and Second City (Chicago-based improv group).
I auditioned for Second City and as I’m leaving I’m excited and I wanted to walk to White Castle and get a bag of burgers because I couldn’t afford anything else. I pass Zanies and look up at the sign and said to myself, “I’m going to come back that night and try it.” So I got onstage that night – and my life changed forever.
One day I get a gig for The Deltas to be the emcee at an event that Nancy Wilson was going to perform at, and Nancy was late. I’ve never been so happy for a black woman to be late! When she arrived – and this I found out later – she was watching me perform and a man told her he’d give me the signal to let me know she’s there, and Nancy said, “No, let him go. He’s having so much fun.” So she let me do the rest of my routine, and I look to my left, and she’s standing there. So I introduce her, which I learned later I’d be doing a lot of on television, and she walked on and said, “Don’t leave.” So I said, “Oh, OK. Either Nancy is going to let me hit it or I just got discovered!”
And sure enough, she and her manager took me on the road with them. Then I did some dates with Aretha Franklin, and then I settled in a guest house behind Nancy’s manager’s home (in Los Angeles). I’ve never told anybody the whole story and didn’t realize I remembered it!
Q: Who would you consider your comedic idols?
A: I tell young comics if you haven’t taken something from Richard Pryor, you’re doing it wrong. He was the consummate standup and the greatest as far as advancing the art.
My favorite standup writer was George Carlin. But Flip Wilson changed the game. When I was a kid, I would look at television shows to the end and read every credit. And I would see “Clerow Productions” (at the end of “The Flip Wilson Show”) and figured out that that meant Flip Wilson owned it.
I got to meet him before he passed, and he was sitting on the beach at his house. He wasn’t sitting somewhere broke because he spent all his money. He knew the value of owning things. So he was my business role model and idol in that way. And he was a brilliant comic and storyteller.
He was amazing and did a lot of things he doesn’t get credit for. He had a label for comedians called “Little David Records.” So if you saw a new comic, you would get his album, and if you read the fine print, it would say “Little David Records.” That meant Flip Wilson was giving young black comics a shot when we were still doing comedy albums.
Q: From the mid ’90s to fairly recently, you spent a lot of time out of the public spotlight. What were you up to?
A: In 1999, my girl and I had a kid. I never thought I could have children, and all of a sudden my girl was pregnant. And of all the things I’ve ever wanted in life, that was the greatest gift from God. So my son, Arsenio Hall Jr., just started college, and as he became a teenager I was bored and said, I can’t just be the guy in the drop-off line at high school, because I have so much in me still.
So I went to New York and did “Celebrity Apprentice” that year (2012) and won. So our President (Donald Trump) had to anoint me as the Celebrity Apprentice, which was probably his personal nightmare. Having to choose between me and Clay Aiken, a black man and a gay man, that probably drove him crazy.
But the bottom line is, I won, and I came back to L.A. and told my son, “Mom is going to start helping with you more because I’m going to start working again and our life is going to be a little more like other people where the dad is not around as much because he’s working.” And I wanted him to see my work ethic. Because I stopped doing everything to take care of my son. And that was a blessing. My father worked all the time and didn’t know the value of knowing my favorite color and who my friends were. And when my parents got a divorce, my mother worked two jobs. So I was sitting on all this money and asked myself, “What does it mean?” And it was so I could chill for 15 years and just be a dad and be with my son.
Q: So now that you’re back in the spotlight, what’s your preferred entertainment medium: movies, talk shows or standup?
A: I’m a TV guy. I was a poor black kid from Cleveland who did what was free. And TV was my best friend. I was an only child, so TV was my brother and sister. I love TV. But TV has a certain kind of handcuff that goes with it that doesn’t allow you total freedom.
Standup is cathartic. And if I had to choose something to do forever, it would be standup, because standup allows me to be more me than TV will. But if I could do standup dates and come home and do a little TV, I would have a happy life from here on out, and I’ve had a great one up till this moment.
Q: So what can the audience expect to hear you joke about on this tour?
A: When I’m out there, I honestly don’t even choose what I’m going to do. I’ve written about two hours of material because I write about everything that goes on. I talk about everything from parenting, to black names, to winning “The Apprentice” to having an election where I knew all the people running. I talk about everything in the paper and everything in my past. I talk about everything except the lawsuit with Sinead O’Connor. There’s no upside to that!
Q: Have you ever been to Columbia before?
A: The closest I’ve been is a club in Charlotte. I’m looking forward to dinner Saturday night in Columbia because I hear Columbia has great cuisine. I’ve been told that culturally, Columbia is this potpourri of different cultures channeled through soul food. Sometimes I’m kind of reclusive and stay in the hotel and order room service, but my relatives in North Carolina said I have to go out to dinner when I’m in Columbia because there are some great restaurants.
Q: As far as things coming down the pipeline, what or where can we expect to see you next?
A: We’re trying to get a script ready for “Coming to America 2.” Until this year, Eddie didn’t want to do it because he loved the movie and didn’t want to mess it up with a sequel. That movie was a special part of my life, so we’re working really hard on that. We want to get it right.
I’m also working on a couple TV things. So next year, I’ll probably do a few less standup dates, but I’ll never stop again. I am so happy to be doing it again. And I was glad I was able to get it back. Some things, if you let them go for a long time, you can’t get ’em back and I honestly feel not only do I have it back, but I feel like I’m doing better standup work than I’ve ever done. And I think a lot of people don’t know I started as a standup and will be surprised that I do what I do, the way I do it.
Because I’ll say this: If you haven’t seen me live, you have not seen me.
I bring it.