Comedian and former talk show host Arsenio Hall was inspired to entertain watching his father, a Baptist minister, address the congregation. The 58-year-old hosted the popular late-night talk show “The Arsenio Hall Show” from 1989-94. Another incarnation of the show ran for a year before being canceled last week. He had begun a campaign to buy the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team on the show. He tweeted: “I lost my job … AND The Clippers, in a 48-hour period! #badweek … Love y’all.” He also wrote: “Thank you everybody for your support. The lights are off on stage 6, but you know me, I will never stop making you laugh. See you soon.” This interview took place a few days before he found out. You can follow him on Twitter @ArsenioHall.
How serious are you about wanting to own the Clippers?
I am 100 percent serious. I think the thing that would upset Donald Sterling more than anything is if anybody of my complexion owned the Clippers. One day I was thinking about the Green Bay Packers, a publicly owned team, and thought: Suppose we did the Veronica Mars game with the Clippers. Suppose we raised money publicly and bought the Clippers. Once I get the Clippers, I’m gonna change the whole thing around. You know, not so many hot dogs and nachos. I’m gonna come up with Roscoe’s chicken in a waffle cone! How about that with hot sauce and syrup on the side.
By the way, [the price] is a billion dollars. I’m close. As of today, I have $3,000 [laughs]. If I can’t raise a billion, here’s the cool thing: We know how this situation started, and we know what it’s all about. All of the money I raise will go to the national NAACP. So it’s a win-win. Oprah’s gonna give me some money. Oprah has a half-billion under a couch cushion someplace, where Stedman’s sitting. But if I don’t buy the team, it will be great to give money to an organization that fights racism every single day, the NAACP.
Weren’t they going to give Donald Sterling another award?
Not only were they going to give him an award, they gave him an award. So they were going to give him another one, and then all this happened so they canceled all that. Maybe we will learn some things we need to learn. There are a lot of people who throw money at the black community to cover the things that they do wrong.
Arsenio, do you consider yourself an ambitious person?
I don’t think I’m ambitious. I dream and I pursue those dreams. I have a way I love to see my son live and my family live, so I try to make a good living and work hard. As far as ambitious, I have heard too many people with cancer or a serious illness say they never hope for another day at the office. So I’m really about the quality of life and taking care of those I love. I mean, I have been blessed by God to be incredibly successful. What I try to do is work as much as I need to work and not allow money to become the czar of my life.
Speaking of that, have you ever questioned the value of what you do?
It’s interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever questioned the value. You get in trouble when you look at show business as anything other than a job like everyone else’s. I always read stuff about how laughter can heal. You read about the healing power of just being happy and positive. I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I will never be a great man like Martin Luther King or even my friend Magic Johnson, but here’s the deal: I’ve dedicated my life to making people laugh. God gave me a gift and I use it the way I use it, and that is my contribution to life. Hopefully, I do something for people other than myself as I travel the journey, you know?
Show business is such a fickle business. What got you interested and what keeps you interested?
I don’t know if I’ve ever said this to anybody, but my dad was a Baptist preacher. I remember when I was about 5 years old, I had always had a curiosity about what he did. I would sit on a pew as a little boy with the congregation every Sunday, and one day he said, “Do you want to come up in the pulpit with daddy?” I saw the church in a different way for the first time. I saw the crowd and all the eyes looking at my dad. I sat behind my dad for the sermon and I think from that day on I knew I would do something as an orator. I knew that speech would be my life, but I couldn’t have imagined [being a] stand-up comic. I knew I would never be the great man he is or have the discipline he has in life, but I knew I would use the gift that I got from his DNA to somehow make a living.
I think from that day on I always wanted to be in show business. I remember sneaking and watching television late at night and being enamored by Johnny Carson’s sharp suits. I have always been caught up with show business. I was a magician as a kid. I noticed that Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett were magicians as kids. I remember writing them a letter. It sounds unheard of but I got a letter back from “The Tonight Show.”
I went on one day as the star of [the movie] “Coming to America.” I was able to say, “Mr. Carson, you all wrote me a letter saying, ‘Not now, but keep dreaming.’ ” I said, “I kept dreaming and, sir, I’m sitting with you and a cigarette right now.”
It’s crazy. That is why I tell kids not to give up on the dream. I mean, I’m a knucklehead from Cleveland, and if I can make every dream come true — and by the way I’m talking about having wonderful relationships, a wonderful child and being a successful entertainer — you can never give up because the answer to your dream may be coming tomorrow.
How have your dreams changed since you first started out?
I think it’s really important to keep renewing your dreams, to raise the dream bar a little bit higher. Otherwise, you can get bored with your life. Sometimes I wouldn’t talk about my dreams because I was afraid they would lock me into having to do it. I would dream silently. When you dream silently, nobody can tell you you are a failure. Now I try to amplify my dreams. I try to dream publicly.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pasheridan.